Monday, May 3, 2010

A privilege I don't covet

I have had occasion to preach. A sermon. In a church service. With people in attendance.

As opposed to "preaching to the choir."

It is a privilege I don't covet, and I am all too happy to be a partner to preachers, by planning and preparing music appropriate to the text of the day.

But I will spend the bulk of this week in the annual Workshop on Biblical Exposition at College Church. This is a gathering of several dozen preachers, for "spring training" in a particular approach to Christian preaching. As ours has been the host church for years, and my previous senior pastor was the host/co-headliner of the event, it has always been one of those "command performances" in my annual calendar. And (like men's retreats, and Sunday evening services) something I don't really look forward to, but am always glad I went.

I do not look to these weeks as a way of inching my way to what some consider 'real ministry' ... that is, to become a preacher. But I have found over the years that by going through the Workshop I become a better student of scripture, and thus a better partner to preachers and the preached part of our gathered worship. And yes, sure, on those random occasions when I do preach, it helps immensely!

The Workshop has 3 components:
  1. Instruction: background, tools, and topics presented by mature, gifted pastor/preachers. (This year the focus is on Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature.)
  2. Model exposition: the Workshop leaders (usually 2, sometimes 3) preach a recent sermon as a demonstration of this particular approach. A couple of comments here. First - "model" as in example, not as in "hey, look at me and try to top this!" My experience is that these are always offered very humbly. And (and this is a part of the humility, I think), the sermons are to be the preacher's most recent (or most recent of the genre), and not their "silver bullet" sermon.
  3. Small group workshop: here's where everybody rolls up their sleeves and gets dirty. All participants prepare outlines and preaching points, and these are shared for peer review in groups of 5-8 fellow preachers, who often don't know each other before the week begins. Guided by a gifted or more advanced preacher - always an alumnus of the Workshop - the group helps one another fine tune their work in the passages at hand. That's humbling, and encouraging.
So, as a musician, where and how do I fit into this? Well, to be honest, some years I beg off the small group aspect. But most years, I do my homework and come to the small group as prepared (or not) as the other preachers. And I take my lumps, and I contribute to the conversation. And at the end of the week I have a little more in my toolbox, and have sharpened up some older ones, and I move ahead and say ...

"Preaching is a privilege I don't covet."

But I do enjoy the felllowship of this kind of ministry, and I have the very great privilege of preparing our daily time of singing together. Of introducing new songs and old hymns, and interacting with pastors who are eager to learn more about what they could be doing musically in their churches, and how to find resources, and how to interact with their musicians. These are conversations that I could not have if I did not engage in all the Workshop. They know I am not just dropping in to lead singing, then retreating to my office until the next morning.

I wish other music pastors came to these Workshops with their preachers. (And yes, I wish preachers would go to Music workshops with their musicians, too!) For one thing, I would like to become acquainted and spend time with more church musicians who see their work as Ministry of the Word. For another, I think a lot of really committed church musicians are more serious about this kind of ministry than their senior ministers are aware, and would eat it up and benefit from it. Also, preachers can and do inhabit their own little worlds, just as musicians can and do. It would be great if more of these partners spent this kind of time together and became "iron sharpening iron."

Of course, almost nothing in anyone's education for ministry suggests this kind of partnership, cross-pollenization, or camarderie. So, we should be creating it wherever we can. And that's what I look forward to in my "preaching week" this week.

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