Thirty years ago this week, I became a full-time pastoral musician. That’s what I call it now. Back then we called it “minister of music” or in my case, “pastor for worship and music.” At Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota—those daring people who risked hiring me as their first full-time music pastor—Minister of Music would have been too “mainline.” For my own part, I was attracted to the title’s order: worship, then music.
I thought I knew a thing or two about worship. I had made a rather diligent study of the new literature on the subject, through the previous five years. In our home church, the Village Church of Western Springs (Western Springs Baptist), Karen and I had deeply appreciated the attention given to the details of the weekly gathering, and the excellent approach to music—congregational, choral, and instrumental. We had the privilege of being part of that; and I had the privilege of helping out on the music staff. Along with my friend and mentor, John F. Wilson, I had the opportunity to teach the occasional class on worship matters, and to help plan services. I thought I knew a thing or two about worship.
It wasn’t long before I realized how little I did know. About worship. About managing choir rehearsals week-to-week over 40+ weeks per year. About running a program, working with volunteers, about being a pastor to musicians and others. Those Bereans really took a risk. I hope they felt that it was worth it. For me, at least, it was grace.
Over time I came to see how being a church musician is a pastoral calling. I found my way to biblical and theological principles that guided my work. I failed, despaired, tried to give up. I thrived, grew, and came to think this was the best gig ever. (Some days included all of the previous two sentences!) Others identified and named gifts that I did not realize I had or was exercising, while “just doing my job.”
For 27 years this was my life. First at Berean, then at College Church in Wheaton. For nearly three years now I have been exploring and pursuing how that vocation is meant to be lived out faithfully in the coming years. Because, even while stepping away from this work in a full-time capacity, I still understand my core vocation to be service to the church in her worship life.
Thirty years ago this week, I became a pastoral musician. I’m still trying to sort out all that means, and I’m still eager to fulfill that vocation, in whatever form it takes.