Beyond Excellence: A More Excellent Way

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Integrity:  Excellence

A More Excellent Way

But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
1 Cor 12:31 NKJV

Jackie Singing 2

Rev. Ansel (Jackie) Brown

I used to say, “The secret of my success as a minister of music is finding a song for Jackie Brown to sing with my choir and orchestra.” And I meant it. Ansel (Jackie) Brown was one of those rare men whose heart could be trusted completely. He was an amazing singer, actor, athlete, and preacher who exhibited not an ounce of pride. He was the first black athlete to earn an athletic letter at the University of South Carolina and was drafted by both the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Redskins. Instead of the life promised by professional athletics, Jackie turned to the ministry; he was the staff evangelist at First Assembly of God in Winston-Salem, NC where I was the worship pastor. We became immediate and deep friends.

As he and I approached age 40, in the space of less than a year, Jackie developed cancer. While we were producing a Singing Christmas Tree that should have featured him, Jackie lay dying in a hospital room. I was one of the few who could visit him there. If ever I have sensed the Kingdom of God on this earth, it was in that hospital room where my friend lay wasting away. Inexplicably, the sovereignty of God included losing this man who advanced so nobly the cause of Christ. Jackie spoke to me that day and his last words to me have shaped my life.

I was typical in many ways.
I loved God easily enough and I loved leading public worship. Loving people was not so easy. When they did what I wanted them to, we got along just fine. But if they weren’t there when I needed them, my patience grew thin amazingly fast. Because the ministry demanded it (Ministers of music must produce!) and because artistry wants it, I was project-oriented, not people oriented. Jackie saw this in me although I was completely blind to it.

On my next to the last visit with Jackie, He could only speak in a whisper. He had something to say to me so I sat on the edge of his bed and leaned down to hear his words.

“Steve, you can’t love God without loving His people.”

With those words from that man in those circumstances, the two parts of the Great Commandment were forever linked in my heart—love God, love people. As Paul said, this was the “more excellent way.”

More Excellent than Excellence

Who wants to be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal? Yet, that is the dangerous destiny of the worship leader who does not love both God and people.

  • Love for God prompts our love for people and
  • love for people shapes the way we lead worship.

Every worship leader wants excellence. We want the best—the best songs, the best players and singers, the best tech, and the best relationships over, around and below our leadership level. This is the earnest desire of the faithful worship leader. And still we must want more—a way more excellent than excellence. It is the way of love.

We all know all or parts of I Corinthians 13 by heart. We are all challenged by Paul’s eloquent expression of the qualities of true Christian charity, the love that Jesus said would identify the believer to the world. The Great Commandment—love for God and for people—is the engine of the Great Commission. The power to preach the Gospel and to make disciples is obtained and maintained by the love we have and express for God and for people

That makes love the basis for worship and worship leading.

  • Love for God prompts us to search the scriptures to find what pleases Him so we can connect to Him in worship.
  • Love for people constrains us to seek out effective liturgies (worship sets) so that our brothers and sisters can also connect with Him.
  • Love for God and for people sends us daily to the place of prayer.

The “more excellent way” of love demands a constant connection with God in private prayer if we expect the flow of His power in the public place of worship.

The Bible speaks of the community of faith as a loving fellowship.

  • When old people love young people, they can listen to their songs, even if they can’t quite sing along.
  • When young people love old people, they can listen to their songs, even if the music and words seem quaint and out of date.
  • The love of each generation for the other makes it possible for the whole family to worship together.

It is impossible to worship with others if they are the object of your derision. But if they are beloved family members, we can not only hear them—we can join them! Youth need the example and wisdom of their elders. Older family members need the passion and vision of their progeny. We need each other as much as we need God.

“You can’t love God without loving His people.” Jackie Brown

This way of love is the “more excellent way.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Beyond Excellence: A More Excellent Way


  1. Ran across this article and just loved it. I attended First Assembly and knew Jackie pretty good. He loved God so much and it shown in his music.
    My favorite song of his was “Seven Rows Back” which he sang in the last little concert he did at the church. I cried like a baby.
    Our Lord surely enjoys Jackie’s voice each and everyday.
    May God continue to bless Jackie’s family.
    Thanks for the article Steve!

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