Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
When i was around 15, i went to camp with my church at Glorieta, NM. It was youth week, and churches all over the this part of the country had sent their kids on buses to spend a week singing, crying and listening to preaching. We were in the big main auditorium and it was a great experience.
One night, they had an altar call and i really felt led to surrender my life to ‘special service.’ (That’s Baptist youth-speak for ‘doing what God wants you to do with your life, but really, really hoping it doesn’t mean ‘overseas missionary.’) I had played the piano since i was 7, and had played the guitar for a couple of years by then, and i didn’t have too many other abilities that just jumped off the page, so music seemed the natural fit.
I went down front and some people ushered me to a back room where they signed me up to receive literature on Church Music, and soon my mailbox at home was flooded with information from schools and little flyers on ‘how to lead a choir’ and things like that.
Now, let me go on record as saying i am not knocking choir or traditional church music! But it wasn’t for me.
I didn’t really like singing in the Youth Choir at church, didn’t like it at all when the Adult Choir sang their weekly ‘special’ before the sermon, and pretty much zoned out on a lot of the hymns we sang at church.
But i loved music. Just not most church music.
So i figured that somehow, i’d gotten my wires crossed with God that night at Glorieta and kept on playing the guitar in my room on Friday nights when the other kids were at football games.
The thing that was strange to me was that people at church really didn’t listen to church music the rest of the week, either. Variety shows were still sort of a big deal on TV back in the 70s, and nobody sang with a piano and organ on those. On Saturday night, even the stodgy Lawrence Welk Show had a big band and people dancing and played toe-tapping tunes that sounded like they were from the 1950s, before Bill Haley and Elvis shook things up.
I really didn’t like that either, but my parents watched it, which meant I watched it. (To this day, I will admit to tearing up like a teenage girl watching The Notebook when i remember Joe Feeney singing Danny Boy. It. Wipes. Me. Out.)
A few years later, people started getting cable and church people would watch Bill Gaither on Saturday nights with his group. They had drums and guitars—not like we had DRUMS and GUITARS in my garage band, mind you, but it was a baby step toward modernization.
Our pastor, bless his heart, let us do ‘youth night’ once every few months, and we’d bring our guitars and drums and do the music for Sunday night church. I’d bang the piano out of tune, and we’d do a couple of rocked up hymns and I Wish We’d All Been Ready, the 70s Christian Rock anthem. He had the foresight to know that we’d be playing somewhere, so it might as well be at church.
The thing i never could figure out, and could never get explained to me was this—why did the music that people listened to on Saturday Night have to sound different than what they listened to on Sunday Morning?
It wasn’t until 2001 that our church decided to dip their toes in the ‘contemporary waters’ and since the Music Director, who had studied church music in Seminary had no idea how to write chord charts or arrange songs for a band, and since i’d been doing it since i was 14, he asked me to help out. He left after a year or so, and his assistant took over in the newly minted Worship Leader position, and i went on staff, part time, to help her out as the Praise Band director.
So it took 25 years for God to reveal what my ‘call’ in Glorieta had been about.
After a few years, she left to be a missionary to Tanzania, and i spent a year leading worship as interim, before some people decided they really wanted a choir again, and hired someone to do that. Nice guy—we’re friends. But, my feelings were kinda hurt, so i left, and pretty much stopped playing music altogether, figuring that my ‘time’ was done and my call from God was complete.
Three years later, Brandon called and told me over lunch that he was planting a church in Wills Point, and after i figured out where it was, and that it was within driving distance from our home in Lake Highlands, i agreed to help for six months until we found a suitable replacement.
We didn’t, and i’m still here, loving what i get to do every Sunday.
God’s timing is a funny thing. Poor Joseph, in Genesis 37, had to wait years for God to reveal it, enduring hatred from his brothers, slavery, imprisonment—what we would call a horrible existence. But he stayed true to his call and his God and it all worked out according to the divine plan.
David was anointed to be King of Israel at a very young age (I Samuel, starting around Chapter 16) and faced nothing but trials, being chased by his enemies, and having spears chunked at him by the reigning King. But he, too, remained faithful to the calling God placed on him, and ended up the greatest King that Israel ever had, and despite his failings, revered as ‘a man after God’s own heart.’
I’m not saying i compare to those guys. I didn’t stay true to my call, and i spent 10 years trying, and failing to figure out what it was, and take pretty regular detours of my own choosing.
But God has a plan for you, too.
It may not have been revealed at the front of a big church service when you were a teenager, but there’s something He wants you to accomplish among your family, and the people you’re in community with.
Let’s not waste our Saturday nights or any of our other, limited days without finding what that is. And let’s certainly not waste our Sunday mornings not gathering together to celebrate it.