Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Three decades of music ministry. Hmm . . . which sounds older? Thirty years, or three decades?

Today I name names:

Henri Manasse, friend, boss, music chair. Karen and I called Henri my godfather. We sat next to each other in the choir at the Village Church. He hired me part-time while I was a student, to do some record-keeping work at the U of I College of Pharmacy, where he was Associate Dean. Later he hired me to manage his office staff. As chair of the music committee at the church, he also arranged for me to be the assistant to the minister of music.

Don Doig, minister of music, Village Church of Western Springs. Don was Chicago’s sweetest-voiced tenors, a professor at Chicago State University, and our choir director. He traveled to sing, and as his assistant I had the privilege of directing his fine choir. As assistant in the church, I also directed the children’s choir, worked with a high school ensemble, and directed hand bells. I did this for three years, then when I went back to grad school part-time, I continued as a volunteer substituting with the choir. Thanks to Don, I had some experience to offer as I was called into full time church music work. Shortly after we moved back to Illinois 11 years later, Don was diagnosed with cancer, and he died way too young. I still regret that I didn’t have the chance to use him as the tenor soloist in oratorios at College Church.

John F. Wilson, friend, collaborator, mentor. I’ve mentioned John several times in recent posts. He set me on the worship pastor track, and encouraged me all along the way.

Jerry Sheveland, pastor, Berean Baptist Church, who took a risk on an inexperienced candidate in 1985, when there were plenty of older, experienced options. I served with Jerry for four years, and when he left I felt that I had worked through a probationary period. It was good for me to begin this life with a man who really did not understand music, but well understood his congregation! Jerry took a church in southern California, and from there became the “pope” of the Baptist General Conference.

Steve Thompson, friend. Steve could have done my job at Berean, very well indeed. That he did not want to was something of a mystery to me in 1985. Later, I understood his wisdom. Steve was a friend, colleague, co-conspirator, and confidant. Steve was also a cycling buddy, and now is among the cloud of witnesses.

Gary Allen, elder, Berean Baptist. When Jerry moved to California, Gary was head elder. Under his leadership, I was given the responsibility of where the buck stops in worship. I did not exactly have free rein (or free reign, ha!) but I did blossom in ways that surprised me and others. During this long interim—16 months—I made a lot of mistakes, and had some amazing successes. Gary was a good leader.

Roger Thompson, pastor, Berean. Roger’s arrival was a timely breath of fresh air. I was beginning to tire of holding the bag alone. We understood each other. He once said, “If I tell Chuck, I think this should be orange, he knows what I mean.” Well, we never did talk to each other that way, but you know what he meant, and I (usually) did get it! Also, Roger could read music, but did not consider himself a musician. We only had five years together, but they were good ones. I learned a lot, and enjoy the rare times we can be together.

Kent Hughes, pastor, College Church in Wheaton. More than a year before I landed at College Church, Kent had preached a sermon, “Vision 2000.” I picked up a copy of this sermon in August, 1995, read it in October 1995, and was impressed with his articulate vision and the church’s commitment to historic worship. Imagine my delighted surprise when I ended up a candidate, then a staff member on Kent’s team. With Kent, I had a pastor with a strong aesthetic sense to go with his keen theology with a vibrant ecclesiology. We shared a decade of ministry on which I look back with gratitude and amazement. It was not always easy, and no we did not always agree. But I trusted Kent, I admired the staff he assembled, and I thrived musically, pastorally, and theologically.

Greg Wheatley, friend, collaborator, coffee conspirator. Like Steve, Greg is a guy who, when I arrived, I wondered why he wasn’t doing this job. Lucky for me, he wasn’t the least bit interested, but was always available to fill in for me, talk about the work, and inspire me. Happily, I have lived long enough for Greg to finally take on this work and is currently serving a congregation as their music director.

Interns. These young people get their own post.

Josh Moody, senior pastor, College Church. The two-year interim between senior pastors at College Church was not the season of thriving that I had experienced at Berean. That’s a whole different story, probably best left untold. The short version is that, whereas earlier the interim prepared me for the long haul, the later interim convinced me that this part of my life was probably wrapping up. Josh’s ministry, and our work together, did nothing to disabuse me of that conviction. We had a good relationship, but did not have the “connection” that I had with Roger and with Kent. Perhaps I was more tired than I knew; probably I misunderstood and misread the culture of the staff and  the elder team. Ultimately, it really seemed the right thing for me to step away while everything was “OK.” Through the process, Josh was understanding, encouraging, and affirming. Many people in ministry don’t get such a gracious exit.

So many more people I could call out. I hope I will over time. And of course, there are still people of great influence in my life—some continuing, others are new in the past three years. Each, like these I’ve named today, are God’s gifts to many, and thankfully I can say, also to me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

All the things I'm not

“I have served two large churches, because I’m not talented enough to serve a small church.”

Another, rather more detailed and disparaging description: I’m a church musician who does not play the organ; a worship leader who does not play the piano or guitar; a pastor without a seminary degree; a choir director whose performance degree is in trombone; a conductor mostly trained on the job.

When I am in the mood to put a positive spin on it, I admit that my strength in music ministry has been as a steward of others’ musical gifts. I do not deny that I have a certain musical sense and vision. I have a gift for programming—whether the selection of hymns for a Sunday morning or the creation of a seasonal service or special concert—I know how to put things together. I did not know that 30 years ago; it took others to recognize and name that as a spiritual gift. Some think I am a gifted administrator; I think I just have a strong self-defense instinct.

Early on, it was a challenge to appreciate the clearly superior gifts of the musicians in my care. I felt threatened by the amazing pianist, the creative organist, the guitarist who could instantly harmonize any melody they heard. I had to get over myself . . . my insecurities and real or perceived shortcomings . . . to get to the point of celebrating the amazing gifts that others offered so faithfully and generously. Only then did I have the freedom to be a steward, and to joyfully put others before myself.

Paradoxically, only as a contented steward could I fully enter into those activities and undertakings that gave me greatest pleasure and most fully used my gifts.
* I finally gained the courage to undertake the preparation and conducting of oratorios. With fond memories of Messiah, Creation, and Saint Paul, I can—if I have to!—go to my choral grave content.
* A long string of internships blossomed into what was the highlight of my last few years in full-time ministry. It is a thrill for me to see former interns thriving in the musical world as they encounter it.
* I still get great pleasure from helping others with questions of hymnody and related liturgical questions.

It is good to know my limitations. It is better not to feel stuck with them.

Thirty years ago this month, 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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I have the distinction of being the first full-time pastor for worship and music at two large churches. Both were overdue for this position—Berean because of its quick growth in less than 25 years; College Church because of its long history of outstanding music ministry.

A friend of mine in another region of the country was courted for the College Church position. It seemed a perfect match on all sides. But when it came down to standing as the candidate, George felt it was not right to do so. He demurred, and he passed along my name.

The search committee already had a lead on a guy in the Chicago area. Who just happened to be in a study cohort with me. Both he and the search committee felt that this was not going to be a good match. As Dave left the process, he suggested that they get in touch with me.

Now the search committee was curious. How was it that two  people, who did not know each other, and lived in different regions of the country, with no prior contact with College Church, would recommend the same unknown person from yet a third region?

Every position I have held since college, has come to me through—because of—someone I know recommending me. My first full-time job, my post-grad school “day job,” was offered to me by the guy who sang next to me in the church choir. Henri was also the music committee chair, and arranged for me to work part-time as the assistant to our minister of music. A friend in an influential publishing company recommended me to Berean. Two friends who would have been quite happy (and successful) at College Church, recommended me instead. This trajectory continues right to the present, with my academic work. But that ‘s a story for another time.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That rankles, doesn’t it? There are many who could have done better than I, wherever I have been. I haven’t deserved the positions I’ve had. When I pursued something “on my own,” it was a near disaster. The lesson for me has been to be faithful to what God has given me to do; do the work of networking and job hunting when necessary; and then just be surprised at what God is going to do anyway.

Your results may vary. But this is my story, and it is a story of grace.

Thirty years ago this month, 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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Road Hazard

To this day, I suspect that Berean’s search committee had resumes from two Charles Kings (it is, after all, a pretty common name) and that they pulled the wrong one when making the call. Mistake or no, there I was, and I hope Berean will agree God gave us eleven good years together!

During a time of restlessness, nine years into my tenure in Burnsville, I scanned music ministry job postings. We ended up going to interview with a church in North Carolina. It was a botched weekend, on the church’s side: they had not been clear about the expectations, and it seemed they were eager to move much faster than we were, or than we thought they were. There were other issues that concerned Karen. We returned to Minnesota, disagreeing pretty strongly about whether to take the next step, which seemed to be tantamount to agreeing to go.

We were approaching our 20th wedding anniversary, and a decade in ministry, and had the most difficult, most terrifying season of life together. Finally, even my thick head could see that even if I didn’t see the danger Karen saw, she has a better danger radar than I do; she is smarter than I am; and that this move might just undo us. Call it feminine intuition. I call it the Holy Spirit. She was right. And when I gave that church my final “no,” we stepped back and assessed the situation.

Karen, being Karen, thought she was wrong to be so obstinate. I believed she had to be in order for me to pay attention to her keener spiritual sense. She promised never again to say “no” to a job I was interested in. I asked her to say “no” as often as she needed to to keep me from being stupid.

Two years later (during which time I was not looking for other positions!) I was candidating for the worship and music position at College Church in Wheaton. True to her word, Karen never said “no.” I had finally learned enough (if no more) to ask, include, and press her input at every step. When we were asked to come to College Church, it was for both of us an exciting step to take. Not easy, mind you . . . leaving people you love, and a home in which you are happy, is never easy. But it was exciting.

Thirty years ago this month, 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.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Back stories

I had a conversion experience as a high school student. The respect I had for the church and the Bible, and the belief that prayer was an actual encounter with God, became living realities when I understood that the one thing that kept me from actually knowing God was my sin . . . and that God himself had removed that barrier, through the gracious work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This happened in a context other than my home church, and over time I began to attend this other church, where among other things I was singing in the youth choir. One Sunday morning, this rather informal church sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”—a hymn I have loved since my childhood. And as we sang it hit me: This is what I have missed in the services here.

It is that combination of a vibrant, personal expression of faith and devotion, along with the humble reach toward the transcendent, that I have tried to foster in my work as a pastoral musician. That is what Karen and I experienced in the Village Church. It is where I think we got to at Berean Baptist. It is the balance College Church has always worked so carefully to maintain.

I never considered a vocation in church music. As a Christian believer, I assumed I would be involved in a church. As a musician, I assumed I would help make music in a church. I assumed my day job would develop into my career. When I got part-time work on a church music staff, it was just a (delightful) second job.

It looked like my six-year music education had equipped me for a healthy avocation in music. As I approached my 30th birthday, I left the church staff position to complete a MEd degree to gain credentials toward a career in higher ed administration. Then I got  a call from my friend John.

John Wilson was chief editor at Hope Publishing Company. He asked if he could submit my name for a church position in a suburb of Minneapolis. Why not? These things seemed not to work out, and I was content with my re-oriented “plans.” Almost on a lark, I entered the process that landed me in Burnsville. I celebrated my 30th birthday in the fall that year. It was a Sunday. I led worship and directed the Berean choir. It was a gift to wake up to my new calling.

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.