Monday, October 31, 2011


It was 1985, and I knew very little about actually doing music ministry full time. I had assumed some months earlier that I would be crafting a life that did not have music at the center. In fact, in late 1984 I was not even entertaining the notion of vocation in ministry. I told my Karen on my 29th birthday that at 30, I would symbolically put my personal set of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians up on the top shelf - a memorial toa rich and satisfying music education, and a silent witness to my amateur status. Then the phone rang, that winter got complicated, and before I knew it we lived in a different state, I was in a new career, and these people celebrating my birthday were barely known to me.

I was 30 years old, and a brand new pastor for worship and music. It was a Sunday. I was surprised that (a) they knew, and (b) they cared.

20 years later, and I was supposedly "seasoned" - ordained and now in my second church. I can barely believe that two ministries have failed to see through the sham, and here I was about to turn 50. That birthday would fall on a Thursday - rehearsal night - so my Karen agreed that a special birthday trip would allow me to miss a birthday night rehearsal. Perhaps not surprisingly (a) they knew, (b) they cared, and (c) they schemed. I was genuinely surprised one week early.

Time passes, and things change. But a vocation in church music is a great vantage from which to mark the passage of time, the changing of things. It is also (perhaps not unlike youth ministry) a vantage from which to notice . . . "man, you're old!" Especially in our fast-changing culture, there are few places in church life where one's age is so evident. A public role in worship - and people notice the hair changing color. The vairety of media to explore and discover new songs - and it's hard to keep up. The pop culture references among a staff mostly young enough to be my kids - and I'm thankful that my own grown kids help me track at least a little bit.

But it may be true in churches all over, the worship pastor that survives in that role past 50 (especially if he looks over 50!) is uniquely endangered. I can't - and don't - claim to be wise, so this is not a personal observation: but a biblical respect for those who have lived and served well ("elders" in a cultural, not an ecclesial, sense) is often no protection for the music ministry man. Even the aging hippy in a contemporary church will, ultimately, be the old guy.

Well, be that as it may, I approach another birthday with joy and satisfaction. I have a renewed perspective on my vocation. And I can even begin to see how certain limitations may make me a better minister. Not to mention, that a lot of young bucks cannot sing, convincingly, the song that is taking me to my birthday later this week:

Down the decades every year
Summer leaves and my birthday’s here
And all my friends stand up and cheer
And say man you’re old
Getting old
Getting old

Yeah, I'm right behind you, Paul Simon. And I can't wait to celebrate my birthday at your Chicago appearance!

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