by Robert Earl Houston
DETROIT, MI – I am a blessed pastor. For a multiplicity of reasons. I have the privilege of leading one of the oldest congregations in the nation, the First Baptist Church of Frankfort, Kentucky. It’s an exciting time in the life of this congregation of believers.
As I sit here in Detroit and after some observation over the past two days, I want to celebrate what my musicians have lacked.
In pastoral ministry in the past years, I have had a tremendous cadre of musicians – starting with my sister, Phyllis Houston Smith, Danny Osborne, LaShell Aldredge, Professor Anthony James King, Audrey Bell, Edd Sullivan, Melanie Lanier, Rico Ware, Christopher Stallings, and my current minister of music, MInister Elijah Griffin.
They’ve all lacked one quality.
Unfortunately an arrogance – a diva-ness or king-ship – is cropping up in the ranks of those who give God praise via the instruments of worship. The Word of God declares that one thing that the Lord detests is a “proud look.”
When you are blessing with special gifts and talents, it behooves you to guard those gifts but it is also incumbent upon the musician to still be cooperative, loving, nurturing, and how about just being a friendly person? How about being cooperative? How about leading people into worship before the sermon instead of producing an “it’s all about me” moment?
Unfortunately some churches have become the hostages of gifted, talented musicians who believe that without them ministry cannot occur; they then play not with the Spirit of God, but with an arrogance and ownership that locks out the Holy Spirit. They don’t flow, they dam up. They don’t worship, they work. They don’t encourage, they terrorize.
Personally, I’d rather have a musician that doesn’t hit every note correctly than to have one that is so full of themselves that they literally become a distraction to the worship experience.
I’m blessed with a tremendous Minister of Music, Minister Elijah Griffin, and he has a heart for ministry. He really does. He is probably one of the best musicians I’ve ever seen – he studies music, he learns the chords, he learns the music – and I’ve never had any problem with him. He moved away a few months ago and recently returned to our church – and me and my congregation welcomed him back. When he left, I told my church that I was not in a hurry to seek another Minister of Music, that this is in the Lord’s hands, not mine. And He blessed us with him.
This week, I was asked to help a dear friend with a devotional period. I walked on the stage, with a cane, and the “band” looked at me like I was crazy (I had never worked with these musicians before – guess they didn’t think I was “their caliber”). They barely spoke. They demonstrated, to me, that they weren’t there to lift up the name of Jesus, they were there as a clannish clique looking for a check. I played, walked off the stage and thought to myself, “Lord, I’m glad I was never like this.”
Mind you, I’m a musician myself. I’ve been playing since 1977, and I’ve had opportunity to minister in music at national conventions, GMWA, and other venues. I was taught at the very beginning and mentored by gifted musicians like Lorene V. Wilder, Gilber Gill, Ken Berry, Saul Kelley, Michael Stone, Rev. William Whittied, Jr., and others at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Yes, each one was tremendously gifted in their own way. Some could read music, some couldn’t. But they taught me to not focus on your weaknesses, but focus on your strengths and above all – to consider being used by God in worship as a privilege and not a right.
I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at GMWA years ago which discussed the Pastor-Musician relationship and on that panel was myself, Dr. Melvin Von Wade, Sr., and Pastor Donnie McClurkin. I never forgot something Donnie said – “the Lord is the one who gets the glory in worship.” ‘Nuff said.
I was raised on gospel music. My mother, Naomi Houston, made sure that we were exposed to gospel music literally seven days a week. On Sunday morning, we had a steady diet of Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, the Caravans, Rance Allen, GMWA, and other gospel groups. As a result every member in my family was gospel-musically inclined. My father, the late Minister Phene Houston, played the bass guitar. My mother was a Choir Director, lead soloist, and dabbled in some piano. My sister, Phyllis, is a church pianist/NFL mom. My sister, Nora, is a soloist and bass player.
However, my tastes in music are no longer limited to just gospel music, but, gospel music are my roots! I love jazz, pop, R&B, opera – just about everything except for rap (just don’t like it – or at least most of it). I’ve lived long enough to understand than gospel music has genres – traditional, quartet, praise and worship, contemporary, instrumental, rap (yep, rap), and other forms of expression.
One of my favorite forms is praise and worship. Tonight, while watching a DVR of “The Stellar Awards” I watched (and wept) as Israel Houghton was leading a chorus of “Moving Forward” – one of the most powerful worship songs I’ve ever heard. The lyrics caused me to reflect on what was a very personal sermon from me on Sunday. I dealt with DELIVERANCE. I broke several “preacher rules” on Sunday – most of all, we didn’t have a traditional Invitation to Christian Discipleship. Instead, we had an altar call and asked people to come forward – not for church membership, but for deliverance.
It was a cathartic moment because for me, deliverance had just come about in a profound way lately. I’m no longer bound. No longer tied up. No longer tangled up. I’ve been set free. Yes – even Pastors can be strong in their delivery of the way and still have some spiritual issues they wrestle with. As I preached Sunday – if there is something that you’re dealing with and you provide the solution – it’s victory, but when the Lord steps in and provides the solution – it’s deliverance. I have experienced not victory, but deliverance.
Those words of Israel hit me like a flood tonight. Especially as he walked off stage and audience was lifting the rafters, spontaneously, and kept recording this chorus:
You make all things new
Yes, You make all things news and I will follow You forward, oh
You make all things new
You make all things new and I will follow You forward
I’ve come to declare that if God has either allowed you to discover victory or deliverance – go forward. Don’t look back at your past! Don’t grab or create any “souvenirs.” Whether it was from a sinful circumstance that you created or were dragged into; Whether it was from a relationship that was toxic or you were the toxicity in the relationship; Whether it was from a past habit or sin that you thought you could never break; GO FORWARD!
You don’t owe an explanation or elaboration. Matter of fact, I can tell you this from the last few weeks – that which God has set you free from will be that which God will allow you to help others realize that same freedom.
Brother or Sister Pastor – GO FORWARD!
Brother or Sister Church Leader – GO FORWARD!
Brother or Sister Layperson – GO FORWARD!
God will allow you to experience a peace that you’ve never experienced, by His grace!
Just because it is the Christmas Season – this is one of the best Christmas songs ever written.