A Cord of Three Strands

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Integrity:  Strength

A Cord of Three Strands


Wisdom for a Lifetime of Ministry

Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Eccl 4:12 NIV

Personal Challenges

With all the challenges of collecting years of experience (stiff backs, sore joints, brain cells misfiring at crucial times, pills for the morning and for the evening, convincing a pastor or board member that a man in his fifties can still be a worship leader) there are some true joys. One of those is gaining the attention of young ministers and sharing in a few moments things it took years to learn. Serving in one capacity or another since emerging with the bachelor’s degree in 1971, I still believe in the ministry of music, and I believe in where it is going as we are led by the Spirit. What can I say to you to help you weather your storms? As I written man times, we must build our lives and ministries on the Solid Rock, Christ Jesus. Here are some things to consider.

The Wisdom of Solomon

The passage from the pen of King Solomon speaks to relationships. It is not safe to be the only ONE. We must make friends in the ministry. TWO people, as in a man and wife, can each defend the other; with THREE there is lasting strength and safety. As we add faithful friends in the ministry to our heart’s inner circle, we get stronger still.

Too many young ministers are all too quickly damaged or even broken by the ministry itself. If your life and ministry hang by a single strand, the ministry will break you. If you develop a second strand you will have greater endurance. But if you live by three guiding disciplines you can enjoy a lifetime of ministry. You can reach middle age and old age better, not bitter, whole not helpless, a blessing and not a burden. Just as friends are important, we must also make friends with the disciplines, by that I mean the fields of study in our lives. Music is my friend. My life-long study of music continues to be rewarding. At the age of 30 I began my study of biblical worship. Now, in my 50’s, I am making friends of the Church Fathers and the Reformers as well as my tradition’s fathers and mothers.

Here is a framework for a life-time of ministry: a three-fold cord upon which you can hang a lifetime of ministry with confidence. I think of them as three key words:

  • Theology—your knowledge of God.
  • Doxology—your study of praise and worship, and
  • Spirituality—your walk with God.

I have seen short-comings in these areas steal a lifetime of ministry from colleagues, men and women who were called of God to this ministry.

The First Strand—Theology

Knowledge of God.
In the 1970’s, the ministry of music was focused on people. We were raised safely within the confines of our particular traditions. The gap between “adult” music and “youth” music was just beginning to be seen. In my tradition, we were expected to present music to “prepare the hearts of the people for the preaching of the Word.” We had to know the songs of the gospel hymnal and the current gospel songs. Choirs did anthems each week, cantatas each Christmas and Easter and a patriotic package near July 4th. We didn’t have “praise and worship,” we had “song services.” In our tradition we also had “altar services” featuring a long series of “choruses” usually led by a piano player. In short, we could get along pretty well by knowing music and not knowing much about God.

The late 20th century “Praise and Worship” movement changed all that. Now the ministry is focused on engaging people in ministry to the Lord. Now each of us must be a theologian. Worship is theology incarnated in liturgy. What you know about God is more important than how many songs you know.

Knowing Jesus is the great privilege of being a believer in Him. We don’t just know about Him; we know HIM! Jesus is a complicated individual. The Bible speaks of the many ways we know Him:

  • in death and resurrection,
  • in the fellowship of His sufferings,
  • as Savior, High Priest and as King,
  • in the power of the Holy Spirit, as Baptizer and healer,
  • as both His servants and His friends,
  • as commanding officer, and
  • as the lover of our souls.

Repeatedly we are called to know Him and to know His ways. This is our Theology.

Embedded Theologies vs. Acquired Theologies

Each of us has two types of theology: (1) embedded theology, and (2) acquired theology. The first is a “gift” from life. It is comprised of all the beliefs we have “caught” from our culture of origin. Much of it is of great value but some of our embedded theologies are products of the traditions of men, not the Word of God. Acquired Theology, the second kind, is a grace from God. These beliefs are developed through the work of the Holy Spirit in our study and experience.

We must learn the ways of the Holy Spirit, the biblical principles of worship, and the goals and purposes of God. These things are changeless. A functional worship theology will help us identify the changeless essentials so that we can flow with intentionality through the coming changes.

The Second Strand—Doxology

Skill in Leading Worship.
From a solid base of the theology of worship we move to the study of leading worship. “Doxology” is the term I have adapted for that study. In Doxology, theology puts on flesh. Eternal things are expressed in temporal media and ceremony. Culture comes into play at this point. Who am I leading? How do they worship? What embedded theologies affect the choices I must make? How can I as a worship leader be an agent of change in that congregation? Worship Leaders are agents of change because True Worship is transformational. It provides comfort without reinforcing comfort zones as healing flows in worship and reconciliation happens between worshipers.

Since music is the principle art of worship, music is a life study for the worship leader. As songs flow through the circle of 4ths and 5ths and the use of complimentary styles, music theory becomes worship leading theory. Much of music history is really the history of worship. Form and Analysis studies help the worship leader form and analyze worship sets. Composition and arranging are useful skills for the worship leader. Since people, not music, are the worship leader’s product, pastoral skills are needed to lead a company of talented artists in the church. They make music in order to worship and witness. All of these skills form our functional Doxology.

There are the polar opposites forces that exert pressure on worshiper and worship leader alike. The worship leader must find the dynamic center between these opposing forces. A proper Doxology helps the leader consistently find that center point. We are expected to be both artistic and pastoral. We need to plan and still be spontaneous. Both form and freedom should characterize our work. The character of God, both His immanence and His transcendence, should be evident in our worship leading. Above all, the twin dynamics of Spirit and Truth must be present in each service. Wow! Who can walk such a tightrope without tumbling into the abyss? What super-hero can hold such powerful forces in dynamic tension? I can and you can, if we have a functional and flexible doxology flowing from a rock-solid theology.

The Third Strand—Spirituality

Walk with God.
Private worship is the essential force at the heart of the ministry of leading public worship. Jesus promised to reward in public what was done in private.

“But you, when you pray, go into your room and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father WHO IS IN THE SECRET PLACE; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 7:6, NKJ

The Apostles said that prayer is the work of the ministry. The church fathers declared that The Rule of Prayer is the Rule of Faith. Today we say that a life of integrity is the only way to live if you want to lead worship. The Psalmist agrees:

“Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Ps 24:3-6 NIV

Let me speak to the young leader. Your generation has chosen to seek His face, not plaques, politics, positions, or power, but the face of Jesus Himself. Yours is the generation who will see the entrance of the King described in Psalm 24. To be a part of it, we must have clean hands and pure hearts. We must reject idols, and speak the truth. Christ-centered, Spirit-dependent Spirituality will take you through the fire. You will be a man or woman of principle, not a “whatever works” pragmatic leader. You will be loyal and respectful of your leaders even if you believe he or she is wrong. You will seek the approval of God, not the applause of men. The fire of your passion for God will check any ungodly passions in you: lust, ambition, and pride. The fire of your passion for God will ignite all the godly passions in you: love for your spouse, love for your family, love for your pastor, love for your church family, and enjoyment of your hobbies and studies.


The three strands of Theology, Doxology and Spirituality make a strong rope indeed. There will be times when all you can do is “tie a knot and hold on.” But you can make it. God has not called you to fail. Your calling is your life. This three-fold cord will help you keep the end in sight. One day you will look back on countless lives touched for the Lord Jesus. And you can look forward to a golden moment when you hear him call your name and say, “Well, done my good and faithful servant. Enter in to the joy of the Lord. You can stand before God and give a good account because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Why? Because you knew God (theology,) you knew how to worship Him and how to lead others to worship him, (doxology,) and you walked with Him all your days (spirituality.)

Leaders must have confidence in the work they are called to do. We deal in the “means of grace:” worship, prayer, the Word, the Lord’s Table, fellowship—the dynamics of the Kingdom of God! These things are powerful! Note how many miracles in the Book of Acts happened when the Apostles were attending to the “routine” of daily prayer.

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Eccl 4:12 NIV

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

A Cord of Three Strands

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