My Fathers’ Music Part Two

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What is the Role of the Family in Public Worship?

Psalm 145:4 NKJV
One generation shall praise Your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts.

Author’s note:  Part Two takes my story into my teen years and into my early professional life as a music teacher and minister.  For a season, my Father and I made our own music together. We traveled through several surrounding states, made two LP albums and wrote many songs together.  When I entered my 30’s a seismic shift took place in our lives and in the church in general


A Young Professional

More Musical Fathers
In the sixth grade, when I started playing clarinet in the school band, a series of new musical fathers took me on, my band directors.  I loved their music, too.  Just as described in the Bible, “under the hands” of my musical fathers, I learned to love all kinds of music.  Jazz, symphonic music and what is called “The Great American Songbook”—the music of Broadway and Hollywood—became “my music.”  Dad was with me all the way, playing for me at our denomination’s Teen Talent program and other County/State Fair contests.  Dad formed a church band with adults and students. We played at our church, at other churches, for nursing homes, and even had our own live radio show on KFFA.  The great “Sunshine” Sonny Payne was our engineer!  My music was my fathers’ music (plural—Dad and my band director-fathers.)

In college, more musical fathers influenced me.  To the shelves of my musical library were added great choral music and music theatre.  By way of recordings, Tony Bennett has to be counted among my musical fathers. I learned to love orchestration and to appreciate its power in the interpretation of the feeling of the meaning of song lyrics from Tony’s albums.  My passion for and study of orchestration is the result. I also styled my own singing in the expressive, interpretative style of this master of song.

After college, I came home to teach 9th grade band at my high school.  I immersed myself in band music, guided by my classical/jazz musical father, Mr. Stan Balch.  At the same time, when we formed “The Phifers” gospel trio with Mom, Dad and I started writing songs together.  To add it all up, my first taste of what could be called “My Music” was a combination of great music from jazz, concert band, Broadway, and the church.  For me this was a natural collection of styles.

A Time of Painful Separation
In the 1980’s, the Praise and Worship Renewal took me to a musical place of my own and, sadly, my Dad could not go there with me.  Praise and Worship music was different from Southern Gospel.  My Father’s music was about Jesus and all He has done for us.  Praise and Worship music was about Jesus but sung in a different way.  These were songs of prayer sung directly to the Lord, not just songs of testimony to others about Him.  I was now writing my own songs.  My music was different from my Father’s music.  This was painful for both of us.  I couldn’t stay where he was, and he couldn’t go with me where I was going.  There was nothing we could do but continue to love each other and each write our own music.  The pain of my Father not understanding my music was hard to take as was the end of our song-writing partnership.

Part of a Larger Picture
What was happening to us was happening to our two generations.  Songs of testimony were giving way to songs or praise and prayer.  I still loved my father’s music and continued to use the gospel songs, hymns, and choruses of his generation, but the bulk of my song selection came from the songs of my generation.  The heart of this mutual respect was the acceptance of the new music; it was meant to be used along with the old.

Sadly, this was not done everywhere.  Mutual rejection—the old folks rejecting the songs of the younger generation and the young rejecting the songs of the older generation—was too often the case.  This culture of mutual rejection became known as the “Worship Wars.”  Why are worship wars so deadly?  When we reject the music that is dear to another person’s heart, we have also rejected that person. Music is that personal and important.

Why should such an unnecessary war ever happen between generations in the same spiritual family who are under biblical directives to communicate with each other? The reason was the lack of a biblical understanding of the role of songs in worship. Songs are tools we use to do the work of worship; they are not worship.   Without a biblical, trans-generational perspective, people simply liked what they liked and those with the most power won each battle.  The church, however, lost the war.   The voices of the generations, each so necessary if the church was to hear “what the Spirit is saying,” were lost to each other.

Love, not Rejection
Without fail, if one wants to lead people in worship, a few important things must be born in mind.

  1. The Worship Leader must love the people he/she wants to lead in worship.
  2. The Worship Leader must respect the music of praise and worship, all of it, not just the music of his/her own generation.
  3. The people and the Worship Leader must know what God expects of their music in order to elevate their worship beyond their preferences.

These essentials will lead to a culture of respect and acceptance of each generation’s music.  This culture will lead to peace, not war, among the generations.  The Holy Spirit can then anoint the chosen songs from each generation and present Jesus as the center of the worship.

Learning to Love
The Lord will bless those who learn to love the music of all the generations in the congregation.  There is no reason for any generation to be excluded from public worship.  Musically skillful worship leaders can lead everyone in the exaltation of Christ.  There are few new subjects for worship songs.  Songs of similar content and contrasting musical styles can converge in the skillful hands of a Chief Musician, like the confluence of two mighty rivers. Joy and beauty can return to the house of God as all come together to worship Him in the beauty of holiness.

But, what about the lost?
The errant theology at the heart of worship wars is that the purpose of public worship is to attract unbelievers—”Worship is a church growth tool.” There is no scriptural support for this view.  It is born in the marketing cultures of the moment.  The biblical purpose of worship is clearly stated:

Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

To glorify the Lord in public spaces is a vital witness to the lost, but that is a benefit and not the purpose of worship.  Worship, and therefore the songs of worship, are for God alone.  The church is called to be a holy counterculture with its own music, values, and truth, not a pale imitation of the world.  The culture is hopelessly divided along generational and ethnic lines.  Demographics rule the marketplace. This is the strategy of the business world and of hell—and it works.  In John 17, Jesus prayed that His followers would stand out in stark contrast to this divided world with our indivisible unity.  Our song selection for public worship reveals who we are really following.

John 17:20-23 NIV
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Has the clamor of this culture grown so loud in our thinking that we can no longer hear Jesus praying?  We must align our desires with His. I never gave it a thought, but I was benefiting from the generational transfer of music from one generation to the next.  This is commanded for those who seek to honor God with their lives.  This is the job of older generations and should be the delight of those coming behind them.  We must not let the marketplace steal this from us.

Semper Reformanda!

Stephen Phifer

© 2019 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Continue reading with Part Three:


My Fathers' Music Part Two

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