(Author’s Note: This essay was written between 1995 and 1997 when I was part of music faculty at Southeastern College (now university.) I was also head of the Worship Department. As a card-carrying Baby Boomer, I had lots to learn from the students. We now call that age group the Millennials and they are now fully invested in leadership in local churches and will soon take over denominational leadership positions. Today (2022) I have updated some of the terminology and 20+ year old facts but the lesson about how to minister to the Lord remains an essential one.)
A Peaceful Family
My Life Verse
My life’s job description became Psalm 29:1,2, “Give unto the Lord, O Ye Mighty. Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” I made this the foundation stone of all my ministry. Every song, every service, every project, every production, every rehearsal, would be measured by “the glory due unto His name.” I would gather to my side singers and players who had their hearts set on pleasing God, on ministering to Him. Quickly, my vision expanded to other artists: actors, directors, visual artists, and craftsmen of whatsoever craft because they are important to God as well.
Mary of Bethany became our role model. She and Martha made the Lord feel welcomed in her house, ministering to Him. She lavished her best gift on Him. She did what she could. The Lord Jesus personally received her personally given ministry with these words, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” That became the goal of every artist (musical or otherwise) in our fellowship: personal ministry to the Lord and the sense of His acceptance of our gifts. From 1980 to 1993 in two churches, and later from 1997 – 2007 in two more churches, I tested this foundation stone. What were the results?
Creative People at Peace with One Another.
Yes, it can happen. High-strung creative types can work together when they are all working to please the Lord, to minister to Him. This can only happen this way. All our crowns (our personal achievements, dreams, and goals) keep us in separate kingdoms until we all cast them at His feet. Ministry to man divides talented people into excellent talent, average talent, and non-talent with lessening degrees of importance as talent lessens. Ministry to the Lord equalizes everyone. With ministry to man there are important people and unimportant people, stars and bit players. This is not the way God sees us. Each of us is the apple of His eye. God is not any more impressed with the best soloist in the church who knocks it out of the park every time than the barely competent back row bass that no man ever hears. This equalization is essential to peace within the creative community of the church. Only this strikes a death blow to pride. Only this allows us to take joy in the success of others. God’s plan for one’s success does not come at the expense of another.
A Sad Goodbye
This was illustrated to me the night I resigned to the choir and orchestra at the church in Winston-Salem, NC. Other than my officers, they had no idea their leader of almost nine years would be gone in two weeks. I’ll never forget what Peggy Bost said to me. She was one of those faithful choir singers who was never in an ensemble or worship team, and never sang a solo, just a faithful choir-singer. (God bless them all!) Here’s what she said, “Pastor Phifer, I’ve been in your choir for nine years and I want you to know. You have never made me feel insignificant.” That moment will stay with me forever. It is highest compliment my ministry has ever received. It meant that what I had been trying to do had been done.
- God had become the object of all our work and He is an equal-opportunity God; we are all equally important to Him.
- Faithfulness had become the coin-of-the-realm in our kingdom.
In fact, it wasn’t our kingdom at all. It was His. Great talent only meant a different assignment, not greater importance. I told them that all the time. When your talented people become humble servants, you are on your way to peaceful, powerful ministry. If talent, ministry to man, had been the foundation of our ministry, Peggy would never have been important, and she would have felt it and known it deep within her. I would have made her feel her insignificance every time we made music. But faithfulness, ministry to the Lord, was the foundation and she felt significant every time we sang. Loving parents do not just love their talented children, they love them all. That is a picture of our Heavenly Father.
A Congregation that Worshiped God.
The people in these music and arts ministry were not the only ones I told about ministering to the Lord. I believe in the power of an informed Holy-Royal Priesthood. The focus of my ministry has become informing the people of God about who they are in God and how important their worship is to Him. The Father is seeking for True Worshipers. Like He did that day with the woman at the well in Sychar, Jesus still thirsts for a drink from the well of our gratitude and devotion. Each time we gather it is as if He says to us, “Give me to drink.” We are God’s children and as we worship Him, we are looking into His fatherly face and expressing our love. Just as surely as each of us has the capacity to grieve Him, to bring a tear to His eye, (and we all know that! We’ve been told often enough.) each of us also has the capacity to please Him, to bring a smile to His face. I live for that moment when, having led God’s people in worship, I sense the Lord’s acceptance of our sacrifice, His pleasure in our gifts. I can almost see the smile on His face. This truth empowers people as it humbles them—only God’s truth can do that! A congregation that has a vision like this for worship is not difficult to lead. A congregation that has no vision is next to impossible to lead. The worship revolution we all seek only comes when the people come to church to give and not just to receive, to minister to the Lord.
The Scriptures told me about ministering to the Lord. My children taught me how. God’s people have proven the benefits to me. It is no wonder that loving God is the first and greatest commandment. As I have said countless times just before leading worship, “Let us focus all our love and attention on the Lord. Let us give unto Him the glory due His name!”
© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved