Top Ten

TOP TEN THINGS I’M STILL LEARNING
by Chuck Bridwell

I’ve been a music minister a long time.  I had my first part-time church in 1962 at age 19 when I was a sophomore at Oklahoma Baptist University.  I’ve often thought that maybe I should go back to that little church and say, “Forgive me, for I knew not what I was doing,” but if any of those kind folks are still around they probably wouldn’t remember me anyway!

The point is that having been around for a long time I’ve had a chance to make a lot of mistakes and even learn a few things along the way.  (The original working title for this article was “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned.” but as I was writing it I realized that I haven’t completely learned some of these since I still fall short from time to time.)  Anyway, here they are in Letterman-like reverse numbering, but not necessarily in any order of importance:

10. LONGEVITY HAS WONDERFUL BENEFITS

I served in my last church before retirement for 11 years, and I served my previous church for almost 24 years.  In that church where I served for almost a quarter of a century I saw families formed and grow before my very eyes.  I could look at my senior high choir and see kids I first saw in the hospital when they were born.  I saw people go through many events in their lives: weddings, funerals, divorce, birth of a child, graduation, and so forth.  What wonderful opportunities for ministry!

Also, that church saw and loved my family through the stages of our lives.  Some of the same people who, in 1975, greeted my wife, my two daughters (who were ages 4 ½ and 3), and myself when I arrived as their new minister of music were also in attendance a couple of decades later when I performed the wedding ceremonies of my girls to wonderful Christian young men.  Then the church celebrated with us our grandparenthood!

Longevity also allows you to build a “Trust Bank.”  As you minister to people and genuinely love them, they will love you and trust you.  In a Trust Bank there will occasionally need to be withdrawals, such as when you have a new idea that no one quite understands.  You might just have to say, “Trust me on this one.”  Or when you make mistakes, your Trust Bank is there to help you overcome your blunders.

9. YOUR MINISTRY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR MUSIC

A few of years ago, I had a very interesting week which included these four counseling appointments:

  • A young couple who wanted me to perform their wedding.
  • Another couple in the choir who were on the verge of divorce.
  • A teenage boy who had struggled with drug problems and was sent to me by his parents to encourage him to get back into my youth choir and into the youth program.
  • A 12th grade girl, who was scheduled to go with me on our youth choir mission tour in a couple of months, was informing me that she had just found out that she was pregnant.

Now, this is not a typical week for me and I am not a professional counselor, but these people knew that I cared about them so they came to me for help.  I had a chance to listen, help where I could, and sometimes refer them to people better equipped to deal with their situations.

People in our ministries are not just numbers or voice parts.  They are important individuals who matter to God.

8. YOUR SPOUSE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR CHURCH

You do realize, don’t you, that, although sometimes it’s tough being in ministry, it is much tougher being married to a minister?

Debbie and I have been married for over 45 years.  We not only love each other, we like each other . . . a lot!  We are very different in a lot of ways, but we have much in common, not the least of which is our commitment to Christ.

Every Monday night is our “check up” time.  We set aside that time for a short devotion and to ask how the other is doing.  It’s also time to bring up things of a serious nature that need to be discussed.  There’s nothing that’s off limits because of our trust in one another.  And, of course, we talk about the grandkids . . . a lot!

Then, Friday night is “Date Night.”  For us, that usually means going out to dinner and a movie.  Sometimes Date Night gets bumped by a church activity, in which case we reschedule to Saturday night.  We both really look forward to Date Night.

We also like mini-getaways, even if it’s just one night to a nearby hotel or resort.  (You can’t have too many honeymoons!)

I might add that it’s great to have your spouse as your best friend, because there are times in ministry it’s going to seem that your spouse is your only friend.

7. YOUR CHILDREN’S TIME WITH YOU IS SHORT

When your children are growing up they are so much a part of your life that it seems that they will always be in your home, but trust me, they won’t.  Now that our daughters are married and living away, I am so grateful that my wife and I rarely, if ever, missed a concert, sporting event, play, awards ceremony, or cheerleading event in which they were involved.

In fact, one of the best decisions I ever made was to coach their softball team at the local youth center for eight years.  I didn’t really “have the time” to spend a good portion of three afternoons a week doing this, but it was a golden opportunity to let my girls know how important they are to me.  In addition, I got to know a lot of their friends and, hopefully, contribute something to them as well.

Even at that, when my girls became teenagers, I felt that our “connection” was becoming looser and I knew that something needed to happen.  So I planned a special time with each one once a week. Jennifer was in the ninth grade and Melinda in the seventh.  I would take Jennifer to breakfast or lunch every Wednesday and Melinda on Thursday.  We would talk about “stuff”, usually not serious.  Just whatever was on our minds.  We continued until they left for college.

I’ll never forget a day when Melinda was in the 12th grade and it was our day to go to lunch.  It was also finals week and she wasn’t where we were supposed to meet.  I figured that her schedule must have changed.  Anyway, I went back to the office and a few minutes later I received a call from her wondering where I was.  I told her that since it was finals, I thought that possibly schedules were different and maybe she forgot that I was coming. She said that one of her tests went a little long, but then she said something that meant the world to me: “Daddy, I would never forget my time with you.”

I miss that time with my girls.  It was all too short.

6. ALWAYS TAKE YOUR DAY OFF AND ALL YOUR VACATION

I believe that this is very important, both for your mental and emotional refreshing, and also for your family’s well being.

Now, saying that, through the years I must admit to having been not so consistent at the day-off observance (remember, I said that I’m still learning), but I’ve been excellent at the vacation part.

Guilt and job performance pressure (usually self-inflicted) are the enemies of honoring God with your time off.  A “Sabbath” is not just an ideal, it is a necessity.  You can’t wait until there is nothing on your “to do” list to take your day off or to go on vacation.

It’s not a sign of commitment to God’s work to ignore your time off.  Although you may be well-meaning, it is bad judgment that may eventually cause a breakdown in your health or a disaster in your ministry.

5. DON’T IGNORE YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH

I play full-court basketball four days a week.  I do this for three reasons:

1.  I need the exercise

2.  I love basketball

3.  I hate jogging

I know that my sedentary work-style demands exercise if I have any chance for even reasonable fitness.  The guys I play with are all younger than me, some by as many as 25-30 years, so the aerobic workout is as hard as it is fun.  If for some reason I can’t play basketball, then I will exercise on a treadmill or do a “power walk” around the neighborhood.

I am also trying to improve my eating habits, which is tough, given the kind of schedules we keep as music ministers, and also, the fact that my food tastes lean more toward chili dogs than bean sprout salads.

To keep up the pace our ministry demands, and to continue to serve God in our later years, we must honor our bodies more than we are inclined to do.  I’m not a model physical specimen, but I’m working at improving my health.

4. BEING IN MINISTRY DOESN’T INSURE SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Although there have been some wonderful spiritual peaks during my many years of ministry, it is also a fact that some of my lowest spiritual times have occurred during those same years.

It’s very easy to rationalize that your own spiritual needs are being met as you plan worship services, counsel others, or prepare devotionals for rehearsals or retreats.  Don’t believe it!

There is no substitute for time alone with God in prayer and Bible reading which has nothing to do your job.  Also, great religious books and recordings unrelated to research and planning can help you to become a better Christ-follower.  In addition, don’t hesitate to consult a spiritual mentor or professional Christian counselor if you need help.

3. YOUR PASTOR NEEDS YOUR TRUST AND SUPPORT

Your pastor probably isn’t going to be your best friend, but he needs to know that you love him, trust him, and support him.  This kind of servant spirit on your part is God-honoring.  No pastor is perfect and it’s easy to become disappointed or frustrated as you discover his flaws.  But just remember that he is discovering your flaws at the same time.  Nobody’s perfect.

Ministry with a pastor is much like a marriage.  You and your pastor need to grow together in love and trust because of your commitment to serve Christ together in your church.  Communication is the key.  Talk things out when a misunderstanding occurs and be committed to serving God together as a team.

Being a pastor can be very lonely, but your support can make it much easier for him to fulfill his calling.  Nobody wins when you and your pastor are not committed to each other.

2. NEVER THINK “IT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME”

Some of you reading this article have experienced a forced resignation.  It may have been over conflict with a pastor or other church leaders.  It may have been over a moral impropriety or some other reason.

Each year while still in full time work I attended an annual music conference comprised of 50 music ministers from some the largest churches in America.  One would think that these guys “have it made” in ministry, but I don’t remember a year that at least one member of the group was missing because he was no longer in the ministry.  I have sometimes caught myself looking around that meeting and thinking, “Who could be next?”

Every time I have talked with someone who has experienced a forced resignation, they have said or at least implied, “I never thought it could happen to me.”

Friends, we must be careful and wise.  There, but for the grace of God, go I . . . or you.

1. WHEN THINGS GET TOUGH, REMEMBER YOUR CALL

My call to ministry came when I was 14 years old.  I remember it just as vividly as my salvation experience, my graduations from college and seminary, and my wedding.

However, I have been through some tough times in my ministry and if you’ve been in ministry very long, you probably have too.  Tough times are inevitable with your pastor, fellow staff members, choir members, or even in your family.  At times we may wonder if ministry is worth it.

Sometimes your heart that was so full of love for the Lord, can become shriveled because you ignored your spiritual health while attempting to produce a “dynamic music ministry.”  Or possibly you will be falsely accused of something.  Or maybe your wife and kids fall victim to certain pressures on them or the unwise time choices you have made.

When things get tough, remember that the same God who saved you also called you to serve Him.  Your strength comes from Him.  Correct the things that you can and ignore the things that you can’t.  With God’s wisdom and strength you can “finish the race that is set before you.”

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So there they are.  My Top Ten.  This list is not intended to be “Everything You Need to Know,” but just a few of the things I’m still learning.

One of my favorite scriptures is one which can serve us well as ministers.  In Micah 6:8, the question is asked, “What does the Lord require of you?”  And I am daily trying to live by the answer found in this Scripture:

“To act justly,” (to treat people fairly)

“To love mercy,” (to be forgiving)

“And to walk humbly with your God.” 1


1 From the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973,1978, 1984

by International Bible Society.  Used by permission.

This article reprinted from “Let’s Worship”, Winter 1999-2000, LifeWay Christian Resources.  Used by permission.

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