Being a firm believer that all ages should be engaged in serving the Lord in music ministry, finding ways during a pandemic has been challenging. Since March, our church like virtually all others, has had to adapt to the ever changing challenges of providing music leadership in the safest way possible. As I’ve talked with many of my fellow worship leaders, I’ve realized there is not a one-size fits all approach. Context, location of church, demographics of the church, number of people in the fellowship affected by the virus and so on, will influence decisions related to how best to utilize your musical teams. In my next blog post I’ll explain our process of reincorporating our orchestra into worship, but I wanted to share with you about our first choir rehearsal in six months on August 26th.
The church choir is about music for sure, but more importantly, it’s about setting aside our personal preferences and working in unity to serve and proclaim the message of the Gospel. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV). The first song I chose for us to sing in our rehearsal was “By Our Love,” a song of unity for the church. It was quite emotional for everyone in the room. This was the first time most of our people had sung outside their home or car in 6 months.
I’m a list guy; I love them. Anyone who knows me well knows that lists keep me focused. I see information better in a list than in written prose. When I email my college students at Truett McConnell reminders about what’s due and what we’ve worked on, I tell them a Whittaker list is coming! In fact most of my blog posts include a list of something. So, I started a list of things related to this first rehearsal so I would remember what happened and wanted to share my observations with you. Behold! a Whittaker list:
Here is a snapshot of (most of) us recording our song for worship. Four generations present, worshiping and encouraging each other–what a blessing!
2 Corinthians 5:1- 7
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.
I recently read a post that the Holy Spirit used to convict me in a major way—the phrase was directed at believers who have doubtless been struggling these last few months and it said, “we’ve made an idol out of certainty.” As I’ve mulled over this concept I had to ask myself, is my need to understand and be in control of all that is happening around me replacing my need for faith? Friends, I’m afraid it has. By nature I’m a very organized person. I like a plan; I pride myself on communicating as often and as clearly as possible so everyone under my leadership understands the plan and is “together.” Over the last few months I’ve realized that my security has been in working within constructs of certainty. I’ve made an idol out of certainty.
Am I alone in this? I doubt it. In my 20 years of full-time ministry, I’ve NEVER had my understanding of how to serve in local church ministry turned upside down like this. I long to connect with our people in person, I miss rehearsing our choir and orchestra, I miss making plans for events such as our biggest event of the year—Christmas at Ivy Creek. I just can’t fathom why these things, which minister to countless souls, should not happen. I’ve literally prayed so many times, “God what are you doing? What am I missing here?” In my frustration, I’ve been reminded that my faith is not completely yielded to the leadership of the Holy Spirit if I’m constantly praying that God return us to the normal we once had if all I want to do is erase these last few months like they didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have learned what I’m learning now! There is no way back to the certainty of before March of 2020. The Holy Spirit is saying to me, “I’m in control–I’m not surprised by what is happening around you–walk by faith and not by sight–don’t miss what I am teaching you in this.”
As I’ve mulled over my lack of faith, I’ve realized that my attitude has reflected my building frustration that I am not in control—this has come out negative and harsh to many around me. Everyday our new normal is disrupted with a change…it’s exhausting and frustrating. But, the Spirit reminds me again and again—walk by faith—trust me–remember what IS certain–I never change! Stop using your human constructs to understand what I’m doing; stop making an idol of certainty and relinquish control to me.
If you’re struggling as I am, here are a few ways the Lord has reminded me I can do the work of walking by faith and not by sight:
Life during this pandemic has changed the world as we know it rapidly. The other day I was talking with a friend about how much I dislike the ubiquitous phrase, “social distancing” to refer to the idea that we should keep six feet of space between ourselves and non-cohabitating people. In fact my son Tyler told me a joke today that social distancing is a fancy way of describing a restraining order!
All joking aside, I’ve had a gut repulsion to the term “social distancing.” It has never sat well with me until about six weeks ago I noticed that some businesses began using the term, “physical distancing” and I began to ponder how important the distinction is between social and physical distancing.
The term “social distancing” says to me that I am to do the following thing literally: Avoid ALL social interactions. What? At face value, one could argue that we are to avoid all social situations–no socialization period! WOW! I know, I know—that’s not what most understand it to mean, but I question anything with flagrant ambiguity. I would argue that it’s not inclusive enough. Let’s float the idea that “social distancing” applies to only in-person social encounters, and not all social interactions as I suggested previously. Even then, I would understand social distancing would apply only to social interactions. What about medical interactions, or business interactions? Are those exempt from distancing because they are not in social situations? I think we all know that those types of interactions are NOT exempt from distancing rules. I wish I could understand why social distancing came to be the preferred term and not what I would argue is the better term, physical distancing.
The term “physical distancing” is a more inclusive and exact description of what should be taking place during the pandemic. This phrase lets me know the following things:
I’m concerned that the term “social distancing” might be misunderstood to imply that we are to avoid social interaction altogether. Surely we are not that literal, but some have avoided any in-person interaction during this time when I believe we need each other more than ever. In fact I wold argue that we need to be less social distant figuratively than we were before the pandemic began. We can, and should be, more socially connected while being physically distant.
One of the most difficult parts of living through quarantine was the loss of ability to interact with others regularly. Ministry became increasingly difficult as we had to learn to interact with our church over video calls and livestream worship services. These technological tools became a lifeline for us to stay spiritually and socially interactive with others. Personally, my brothers, sister, and Dad have begun regular video calls each week to check in with each other, something we didn’t do well enough before. Our social interaction has increased even though we’ve been physically distant. We should be more socially interactive while being physically distant.
It’s vital that we as the intergenerational church make sure that we not remain socially distant from our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially our eldest members who may need extra encouragement and help. We must continue to adhere to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV: therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We must find ways of encouraging and spurring one another on while being physically distant. I encourage you to find at least one way to do that today. Be an encouragement and make a difference in someone’s life today.
“Intergenerational Worship” is worship in which people of every age are understood to be equally important.