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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Power of Encouragement

Of the many inspirational events and moving worship services experienced at the Baptist Church Music Conference this week, one of most powerful has been the testimonies of guest speakers and honorees. Mike Harlan shared how his minister of music sat down with him the very night he surrendered to the music ministry to begin to work with him and help him get started. Little by little, he gave Mike more responsibilities and encouraged him along the way. For those that may not know, Mike Harlan is now head of the Worship division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Chuck Bridwell shared how Gerald Armstrong picked him out of a group after hearing him sing as a young junior high boy. Here again, guiding him in music ministry, and encouraging him, Chuck, himself recently retired from years of ministering to hundreds himself. Armstrong had done that for many; Chuck was not the only one.

Guy Anderson shared the encouragement that Ray Burdeshaw had been to him and many others in Alabama. What was just as amazing that evening was what happened to one of our Korean students at the Seminary who was also attending the conference. Years before, Ray Burdeshaw had gone to Korea and worked with some children in a children’s choir, encouraging them. Now, years later, one of those very children had finished a music degree in Korea, and was working on a Master of Church Music degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and led congregational singing on the very night that Burdeshaw was being recognized for a Lifetime Ministry award. What joy there was when the student was able to share his appreciation to this one after so many years!

I could not help but reflect on so many that took me aside and became my mentors and encouragers. John Neal, minister of music at my home church in Moore, Oklahoma, asked me to help clean up after a youth fellowship when I was in the 7th grade. That may not seem like much, but I was so shy and so insecure I wasn’t sure that I was really able to do anything; no one had ever asked to help before. John volunteered to help me in singing, gave me voice lessons for free, taught me how to do basic directing for hymns, let me sing in front of Sunday School departments, nursing homes, and even sing in a real worship service on a Sunday evening. Paul Box was my pastor at the time, and he and his wife, Pattye, former missionaries were also there in the background encouraging me and played a large part of our being sensitive to answer the call to missionary service, ourselves.

Finis Steelman, a 6 foot 2 Choctaw Indian served as one of the first pastors I served under as a minister of music and youth when I was in college. Whether it was helping him haul hay, or go visiting in the hospitals, he pastored me through my mistakes and failures and guided me in how to do ministry and being faithful during difficult times. T. W. Hunt opened the world of what worship really was when I was at Southwestern Seminary, and lit a fire that keeps burning to this day. I had the privilege of serving under Calvin Ussery and Harold Johnson in Sherman, Texas during those seminary days, both of these men continued to shape my understanding of what ministry was all about. College friends, like David James, who now coordinates student ministry for the Baptists in Arkansas, were prayer partners and models of those living out their faith.

Russell and Annette Herrington took me in as a young green music missionary in language study in Costa Rica, allowing me to get a grasp of what we would be doing later. God allowed contact with some of the most godly men and women I have ever known through the friendship of other missionary colleagues in the years that followed. Leaving missionary service was a major adjustment, yet God supplied friends in New Orleans to help. Teachers who became colleagues were encouragers: Harry Eskew, Ken Gabrielse, Becky Lombard, Darryl Ferrington, Mike Sharp, Leo Day, Benjie Harlan, and Gary Hallquist. Bill and Peggy Day have been great encouragers where I now serve as music director, and he is pastor. There are so many more, and I hesitate to mention names, for fear of leaving out some, but here are just a few. The greatest encouragers I have saved for last: my parents, and most of all my wife, Kathy. Kathy’s consistent walk with Christ, and transparent life have been the greatest influence and encouragement in my life and ministry.

The point of all this is not just to share some neat stories of about people who have encouraged others, but to impress on young worship leaders the necessity to not only do what you are called to do, but to look around and take someone with you. Only time and eternity will tell the power of that one word or action you might have had in the life of a young student in the kingdom of God. I am reminded of Ray Boltz’s song, “Thank You,” in heaven we see the fruit of what God has done through our obedience to Him. If we think back to those who have influenced and encouraged us, we will realize the power of encouragement and what a difference it can make. Let’s not fail in sharing our appreciation and not fail in looking around us and sharing that word of encouragement. It will change a life.

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