On the Other Side of Ministry

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Five Fun Things to Do that Are More than Fun

Playing in the Orchestra

You should hear the mid-to-low brass in this group—one of the richest sound combinations in the church orchestra. The trumpets, woodwinds, and percussion are equally fine players. Wednesday nights and Sundays I take my place among the clarinets and try to count my rests correctly and remember what key we are in. After several decades of providing musicians a place to play, I am now one of them and I love it. I am living on the other side of the work.

The work we have chosen to do is demanding. There are at least two sources of intense time pressure:

  • the weekly routine and
  • special projects.

This makes for a full life which our buddy Vern Sanders helps all of us manage through this excellent online resource at Creator Magazine.

But there is more to life than work, even a work as world-changing as ours! I want to speak to this other side of life, to personal interests that can be just as demanding as work and just as important.

Some things on the other side of work are more than obligations, they are great privileges. Family demands, from marriage to parenthood, to grand-parenthood, to sibling dynamics, all come under this demanding and rewarding dimension of life. Friends fill the comfortable gap between home and work as they exchange camaraderie for our time.

The time that is left, after work, family, and friends, is the subject of this article. How can we most effectively use this time? We have surrendered so much of our lives to the control of others, isn’t the rest of it ours? Yes, of course it is. The remaining hours of the day and week also require wisdom to manage them to our best advantage.

Now in retirement, as I look back on a meaningful career in music and worship, I am developing a new perspective on the life demanded by music and worship leadership. Duties that fell into my portfolio year by year and outside interests I pursued from time to time now yield unforeseen benefits. What the Psalmist said is true, the Lord has “hemmed us in, behind and before, and laid His hand upon us.” (Psalm 139) When I was a young man, God led me into pursuits that would be of great benefit when “the rockin’ chair” threatened to “get me,” to quote the classic song, Stormy Weather by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehier.

No rockin’ chair for me!
I spend most of my time in a desk chair. My avocations when I was young have become my vocations today. This places personal pursuits into a more valuable place in our lives. Thinking of this and of how important it is and how easy it is to overlook, I wanted to suggest five ways of enjoying life today that are like putting joy in a bank to draw on later in life. These five things are suggested in addition to one’s devotional life and physical disciplines.

Number One: Stay Alive as a Musician

By about the 10 year mark of my music ministry, I had developed this philosophy, “My job is not to play; it is to help others sing and play.” This was my answer when people asked for a clarinet/piano number from Freeda and me. In 1985, we attended a Worship Symposium conference in South Carolina which had a worship orchestra. For three days I played my clarinet in this small group—no charts, no conductor—just skillful players finding the key, feeling the music, listening to the words, and playing our hearts out. I felt like my soul had experienced a warm, extended, therapeutic bath. From that moment, I knew that it was a mistake to put my horn away. Playing my clarinet centers my soul in a way that nothing else does. This is the original way I ministered in music. When I play, I feel like I am the “little clarinetist boy,” playing just for Jesus. And when “He smiles at me,”—there is nothing else like it. When I got home, I bought some reeds, got my Buffet R13 checked out at the music store and found my old method books.

Lesson learned.

Over the years I have played in community bands and in small college bands which seldom have enough clarinets. The same thing happened when I took a lead role in a musical—I renewed my love of acting.

An artist must remain an artist, especially if he or she is a leader of artists.

Today I play at every opportunity including the orchestra a Victory Church in Lakeland, and in our excellent community band.

Number Two: Engage in Continuing Education

Working on an advanced degree has the double benefit of improving the quality of your work and that of your life beyond work. For six years, working on a masters of music education degree was my main avocation. As any degree program should be, the MME was a life-altering experience. At the same time I gained improved skills in my work, I also found a passion for doing original work in worship studies that shapes my life and work today.

Some may be thinking they have been out of college too long to go back, but that is probably not the case. I had been out of college nine years when I started the masters. I took one course at a time over six years. Three classes of fulltime students started and finished the program in those same six years. The nine years of teaching and music ministry gave me an advantage over the younger students. Twenty-four years later I started the doctoral program at IWS at age 51. Believe me, it is not too late for you!

These days because I did the masters work and doctoral work, I am qualified to teach at the collegiate and graduate levels. These hours of study were vital to my life and work when I was younger and have provided satisfying work for me on this side of life.

Number Three: Find a Hobby that Refreshes You

Years ago I was a guest minister for a minister of music whose church was just eleven miles from Lake Erie. I asked if we could go see the lake. He looked at me like this was a strange idea and said he had never been there. He had been serving that church for over five years! Needless to say he was overcome by the work!

The point is this: each of us needs something that interests us to the point of forgetting all our troubles and helping us “come on and get happy.” (Sorry, another Harold Arlen song!) This is not wasted time—it is a Sabbath of sorts, a rest for our minds.

Since I was a child I have loved old movies. With the advent of DVD technology it became feasible to collect them. The day my doctoral thesis was approved, I started collecting classic films. I love this hobby. While it is hardly a cardio workout, studying old films and the climate that produced them is intellectually stimulating, emotionally satisfying, and a ton of fun. I sorrow at the bleak TV/Cable/Satellite/Computer offerings available today but I have my own sources of quality entertainment.

Number Four: Cultivate Life-long Friends

We need people in our lives whose names are not on the rolls of our singers and players and fellow staff members. One of the benefits of playing in a community band is the likelihood of new friends who are not in our ministry. Face Book is an excellent way to re-kindle friends from former churches and communities. I have FB friends from every phase of my life. I am a phone call or text message away from life-long friends who can morph into prayer partners at a moment’s notice. Bonds formed long ago can benefit us for years to come.

Number Five: Enjoy the Company of Your Spouse

I know this might seem a bit off-topic since our spouse is our partner in those joyful but demanding details of life that have little to do with the work. I really haven’t changed the subject. Freeda and I celebrated 42 years this year. Since I have been free from church staff ministry, we are enjoying more time together than we have ever known. Guess what—I like this lady! She is fun to be with. She makes me laugh like no one else can and she even gets my jokes(or at least she pretends to!) I am so glad we made time for each other all these years. When she was my accompanist, we enjoyed making music together. Now we are both in the same orchestra so we have dinner together every Wednesday night before rehearsal.

So, get out before the rockin’ chair gets you! For goodness sake, go see Lake Erie!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

On the Other Side of Ministry

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