(Author’s Note: This essay was written between 1995 and 1997 when I was part of the music faculty at Southeastern College (now university.) I was also head of the Worship Department. As a card-carrying Baby Boomer, I had lots to learn from the students. We now call that age group the Millennials, and they are now fully invested in leadership in local churches and will soon take over denominational leadership positions. Today (2022), I have updated some of the terminology and 20+-year-old facts, but the lesson about how to minister to the Lord remains an essential one.)
Learning How to Minister to the Lord-A Liberating Truth
Before I became a worship leader, the phrase “minister to the Lord” intrigued me, but I didn’t understand it. I first heard the phrase as part of the narration of a musical, “Come Together,” by Jimmy and Carol Owens. Every time the words were used, something stirred within me, but it was a contradictory sensation. On one hand, it made no sense to me. But, on the other hand, I could not dismiss it. It was as if the Lord was telling me, “You don’t understand this now, but someday you will.” Little could I know then that this truth would become the main engine that powered all my ministry machines.
The problem was my concept of ministry.
Growing up in a small town with southern classical Pentecostal culture, I had developed the idea that ministry always involved the strong helping the weak. Ministry happened when a pastor, deacon, or at least a mature believer, would lay hands on someone with a problem to pray for them or counsel them. From his or her position of power, the ministering party would impart strength, wisdom, faith, or some other missing quality to the person in need. When would God ever need ministry from me? How could He be weak and I strong?
As a teenager, I had been called to the ministry. It was to be my life. I was supposed to be strong for the weak, wise for the unwise, informed for the uninformed, and so on. I was baptized with the Holy Spirit so He could flow through me like a river and bless the people who came in contact with me. I was to learn the Scriptures so I could always give an answer. I was to go to Bible college to sharpen this call, this mind, and this heart so that I could be strong, even superior, so that I could minister to people.
The Lord countermanded my Bible college plans and sent me instead to a small state college to major in music. With a call to preach, but an assignment to get a music education degree, it seemed natural for me to pour my concept of ministry into my musical preparation. I would become a versatile, superior musician, one who was so good that he could minister to people with music regardless of what kind of music they liked. I would do it all, every style on the map.
After a few years as a public school band director, I started my life as a minister of music. For the first five years, the only worship leading I did was altar music. Even today, prayer music is a favorite form of worship leading for me. But for those first five years, that was almost all the worship leading I did. This was 1975-1980, and I served in classical Pentecostal churches that were not really into worship except around the altars. During that time, I learned much about how songs can flow together and about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but I was ministering to those who were in the altars praying—my concept had not changed.
In 1980 I moved to a new state, a new region of the country, and into a new church that was heavily influenced by the charismatic renewal. For the first time in nine years of music teaching and ministry, I was asked to regularly lead the Sunday morning worship time before the message. I had a deep hunger in my heart for the presence of the Lord. I was convinced that the essence of my Pentecostal was our heritage and that we were in danger of losing it. I sensed that the visitation of God was not limited to history, not my personal history, not that of the local church, not even that of my denomination. God wanted to meet with us each time we gathered, and it all had something to do with worship, corporate worship. I knew there had to be more to it than singing a few fast songs and then a few slow songs. I was not satisfied with formulas that “worked;” I wanted to understand. I asked the Lord to open my heart and mind to the subject of worship.
He did. And one of the first things He opened to me was this concept of ministering to the Lord. A teacher came to our church, Roxanne Brant. She was a tall, elegant lady of the Word of God. She was teaching a seminar on knowing God’s will, but one of her books was Ministering to the Lord, A Vision, A Search, A Discovery—someone had written a book on ministering to the Lord! I consumed her book, and the truths in it changed my life. I discovered that the church had a three-fold purpose:
- to minister to the Lord through worship,
- to the church itself through fellowship and discipleship, and
- to the world through evangelism.
I was thirty years old and had been a credentialed preacher since I was eighteen, but I had never been told about the three-fold mission of the church. I had never known that worship was a mission. I had always stated that winning souls was the most important thing (I knew I was supposed to think that), while I was secretly more comfortable ministering to the saints. I was a teacher and enjoyed watching my students grow in the Lord and in music. Ministry to the Lord was a foreign concept. But, if it was the first of three essential ministries of the church, I had better learn what it meant to minister to the Lord. The fact is I can, and I must minister to the Lord! But how can I minister to God? Does God have needs that I can meet? Of course not. He is “Holy, Holy, Holy” and has no needs at all. It was clear that my mind and my concept of ministry would have to expand to include ministry to God.
The mind expander was named Nicole.
Our oldest daughter came along in the late 70s, and by 1980 she was one of those loving daughters who makes glad the heart of her dad—there it was! That is what ministry to the Lord is like! I was in every way superior to Nicole; I was bigger, stronger, smarter, (When she became a teenager, this is no longer true!), and wiser than a three-year-old girl. But did she minister to me? Oh my–Yes! When she reached for me, when she asked for me, when she wanted to be with me, when she wanted to please me, that little girl, inferior though she may have been, ministered to the heart of her big, superior father. So much for the great ministering to the small! In 1982 another little girl, Jennifer, came along. In a few years, I could hear her running down the hall of the house with, “Daddy’s home!” at the top of her voice while I was still on the front porch!
The fact and example are: loving children minister to loving parents like no one else can. A person in music and worship ministry is apt to get a lot of compliments from people, but the acclaim and appreciation of our children is the most meaningful. Once, a few years later, I was off somewhere to teach worship. I found a note that Jennifer left for me. You must understand how she felt about her room. It was her domain and her hiding place. She had organized all her animals in perfect order, and they served her faithfully. Her note to me ended something like this, “And I love you, Daddy, more than anything in my room.” Do you see how she ministered to me? She exalted me to the pinnacle of her world, above all its other inhabitants.
Worshipers are children of the Heavenly Father.
Jesus spoke of God as Father more than any other way. Here is the illustration of our interaction with God. Not only does He deal with us and provide for us as a perfect father, but He also responds to us as a perfect father. “If we being earthly fathers know how to give…” the Scriptures say, it does no damage to Scripture to extend that to “If we being earthly fathers know how to receive love from our children, how much more does our Heavenly Father receive the love of His children.” Why else would Jesus exalt loving the Father to the highest privilege of humankind and the highest duty of man? Let’s explore this:
- It is to this ministry that we are to bring “heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
- This is object of the first four commandments.
- This is the great conclusion to which the wise King Solomon came after spending his life in experimentation with alternative sources of happiness.
Few truths personalize worship the way this one does. A gathering of thousands of believers expresses worship to one Heavenly Father.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Steve Phifer
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