My Genesis Moment
Everybody Starts Somewhere
The Genesis Moment
There comes a moment in every artist’s life when the playful interests of childhood begin to shape the God-intended vocations of adulthood.
For me, this moment was captured in a long-forgotten and recently re-discovered photograph. In this photo, I am about 12 years old, in my first year of playing clarinet in the school band and my father is standing behind me smiling and playing a “C” chord on his Kay guitar. This is part of a publicity photograph of our church band, “The Phifers.” We played in our little church, live on the radio early each Sunday morning, at other churches and concerts when invited, and often at nursing homes. In addition to the band, Dad accompanied me in many talent contests in church and at local fairs, coming in first place most of the time.
When I look at this photo, something stirs deep within me. This is it, my moment, my Genesis Moment in music ministry! I see how serious I was with my early attempt at the proper embouchure and hand position and my classy bowtie. I wanted to look like the musicians in the old movies I loved.
By the time I rediscovered this picture my perspective had changed. I looked beyond myself and saw the joy and the sense of accomplishment on my father’s face. As a father, I understand the joy my father had in me, his son. He was following the commands of scripture. There we find a man named Heman, a “Chief Musician” to use biblical language. He was among the first musical directors at the Tabernacle of David. He, and presumably all the other leaders, brought their children into their worship leading ministry.
The King James version says they were “under the hands” of their fathers. The NIV uses the word, “supervision.”
1 Chronicles 25:5-7 NIV
…these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. …God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the LORD, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king.
A Legacy of Encouragement
My “Genesis moment” came early in my musical career but it has shaped the last five decades of my life. I continue to play my clarinet at every opportunity. There is something so elemental in playing my instrument. It centers me. It connects my childhood and my adulthood and prophesies joy for my future. It is the original way I learned to give glory to the Lord through art.
I owe this life-long blessing to my father, J.D. Phifer. He was a mechanic, not a church music director, but he knew the value of getting young people and other talented ones involved in the ministry of music. Our church band was only the beginning. There were several singing groups he put together and played for. He did all the booking and planning. All we young people had to do was get in the car and go. He made it easy and fun for us. Now, several decades later, we are all serving God in all sorts of ways: preachers, worship leaders, deacons, pastor’s wives, singers and players and more.
One more story: In the Assemblies of God there was a radio ministry called “Revivaltime” which featured a 40 voice group called “The Revivaltime Choir.” Many young singers grew up listening to the Revivaltime Choir and made it a life’s goal to sing in it someday. Well, things changed in the 1990’s. When the radio program changed format, the choir was eliminated. They made one final tour which included the church I was serving in North Carolina. A young lady came up to me and said, “Pastor Phifer, you don’t know me but I am from your home church. I am in this choir because of your father. He heard me singing one Sunday during worship. He turned around in the pew and told me that God had given me a wonderful voice and that I should get in Mr. Burton’s choir at school and learn how to use it for God. Now I am singing in the Revivaltime choir to people all over the world.”
I was amazed. The young girl had her Genesis moment through my Dad 30 years after I did! I realized that I had spent my adult life doing with choirs and orchestras and huge music theatre productions exactly the same thing my father had done with his guitar and the people of our little church—I had encouraged people in their gifts and provided opportunities for them to minister. He went to work in the heat and dirt in the repair shop of a Chevy dealership and I went to work in a nice air conditioned, cleaned-every-night office but we served the Lord in the exact same way. Like Heman, we were “Chief Musicians,” taking young and developing players in our hands to lead them to greater things.
Downsizing Worship Teams
There was a time when the congregation was represented on the platform by a select group of singers and players—the worship choir and orchestra—and the larger, the better.
- Generations met in these groups and ministered together, the old, the young, and those in between.
- Singers did not have to be soloists to sing in these groups.
- The orchestra parts were written for advanced players on the top parts and developing players on the lower parts specifically so that one did not have to be a jazz improvisation soloist to play for worship.
The worship culture in many churches has turned against this biblical structure in favor of down-sized teams of just a few rhythm players (“the band”) a small set of singers chosen for their excellent solo voices.
- Choral sound, orchestral dynamics, and even 3-part harmony have been discarded.
- These groups are often led by musicians who do not have the skills to lead more complex musical ensembles while at other times, capable musical leaders have chosen the smaller ensemble for the purposes of achieving cultural relevance and the relative ease of working with fewer people.
For whatever reason it is done, the current trend toward more “professional” sounding music and more “creative” looking worship presentations includes an inherent danger—the idea that developing players and singers have no place on the platform.
As we press to perform on an equal level with those in the entertainment industry, our focus on the next service or two creates a blindness to the days and years ahead. Indeed, as worship leadership continues to shrink in numbers in the name of increasing artistic quality this minimalism serves to remove the next generation and those with less than spotlight-worthy skills from the whole process.
If this trend continues, the church will soon be totally dependent on secular systems to train players and singers. Some of these musicians will sing and play well but they may also bring dangerous things to the ministry: pride, self-serving, the star/backup mentality, and all manner of personal sins and addictions. I am a passionate advocate of music education but we cannot depend on public schools and night clubs to train church musicians. They will not, indeed, they cannot teach musical spirituality. Musicians need a holy place to play!
Some Things Can only Be Hand Delivered from One Generation to the Next
Toward this end, this is my warning to young players:
- Your private instructors can teach you how to sing or play.
- Your band/orchestra/choir directors will teach you to make music with others.
- But you will only learn the spirituality of music and the joy of ministering to the Lord with music in a church music/worship ministry.
Generation to Generation Is a Command.
I am not here to tell leaders how to do this but each music/worship leader needs to find ways to encourage and give opportunity to young and developing players. Some things are only hand delivered from one generation to the next. Among these are music and spirituality. We must deliver these precious things by hand to those who will take up the ministry when we are gone.
Each of us had our moment of Genesis. I’m sure most of us don’t have a photograph to mark the moment, but, if we think about it, we can remember it. In that moment, like the words of Paul, we started putting away childish things to become an adult. (1 Cor 13:11-12)
A lifetime of music/worship ministry flows from the Genesis moment. It does not happen by accident. It happens when leaders become teachers.
Everybody starts somewhere. Shouldn’t it be in the house of God?
For pastors/worship leaders who are interested in how to convert your worship team into a full-fledged Worship Arts Ministry, may I recommend my book, Loose Him and Let Him God, Discipling the Creative Christian.