Music Missions: The Story of Parkway

Parkway Baptist Church in Pascagoula, Mississippi is a Story that is ever-unfolding in the hearts of local Jackson County Mississippi Baptists.

Most recently, our dear friend and co-laborer in ministry, Pastor Martin Britt, served this church faithfully while fighting his own personal battle with terminal cancer.  Martin had previously worked in Christian Counseling and touched thousands of lives during that career.  He was an impeccable Bible teacher, especially on the themes of Heaven, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Kingdom of God.

Martin left us for Heaven on September 6th and left an indelible legacy at Parkway and across the Mississippi Coast.  We are forever grateful for his ministry.

As I worked alongside Martin this summer, it became painfully obvious to us both that Parkway was in dire need of a music minister, as they had been struggling to fill that position for the past few years.  Sunday morning services had become sparsely filled with soloists, worship videos, and sometimes special music guests; but, as all who love to gather in worship realize, it’s just not the same as ‘live’ worship with a worship leader and a musically gifted team to lead you every week.

In July, I offered to fill that gap as a solo worship leader, singing from the piano, leading a few worship songs and hymns for the few dozen Sunday morning worshipers. The moments were sweet and somewhat somber as we all knew Martin’s days with us were soon coming to a close here on earth.  The worship team at Church on the Rock Pascagoula would soon join me on Sunday mornings — quickly working through our 9:15am sound check, loading up our cars to trek up the road to Parkway (( less than a 5-minute drive )), lead a 3-or-4 song set of songs for Parkway, then scoot back to COTR for our 11am start time.

We have continued to follow that Sunday Morning pattern since Martin’s homegoing to Heaven and our lives have been supremely blessed and changed for it.  We love the folks at Parkway, and they are loving us in return by singing, increasing in attendance and participation, and affirming us weekly with their appreciation.

I first heard the term “music missions” during the Brownsville Revival, when my mentor and friend Lindell Cooley, founded his worship ministry label as such.  Martin and I both loved Lindell’s music and we are both avid students of revival in the Church.  We discussed ‘kingdom’ principles all the time, and how that the various congregations in our cities must somehow find the way to work together, as is the model of the Kingdom of God, to bring about unity, revival, and missions for the salvation of lost souls, hurting souls, and broken people.

We believe that “music missions” is coming to fruition through our music ministry efforts at Parkway and across our Mississippi Coast.

Parkway Baptist Church is in a season of grief, but not without Hope!  Parkway is a beautifully diverse congregation of people from very different socio-economic backgrounds who have loved one another through the death of their beloved pastor, through the trials of a changing congregational dynamic, and who are now walking through the “refreshing” of a new and wonderful Hope that God will revive them for His glory, and for the increase of His Kingdom.

I would ask these immediate prayer requests;

  1. PRAY for Parkway Baptist Church … as they love one another, as they re-evaluate their opportunities for ministry, and as they seek pastoral leadership in the days ahead.
  2. GIVE if you are able … to our Music Missions efforts as we serve Parkway, Church on the Rock, and other local small town churches who are diligently searching for worship leaders and worship pastors.
  3. ATTEND a Sunday worship service with us if you are near the Gulf Coast!  The folks at Parkway and Church on the Rock are a beautifully diverse “family” of sister churches, loving one another, serving one another, and unifying our community.

Click here to GIVE NOW … simply memo your gift:  “Parkway Missions”.



Teaching and Learning

The best way to learn is to teach.

I’ve heard this axiom all my adult life it seems.  I’m sure I first heard it from one of my middle school or high school teachers. That would make so much sense.

I accepted a Teacher Assistant job this year at Trent Lott Academy in Pascagoula. Trent Lott Academy (TLA) and it’s counterpart Singing River Academy in Gautier are designed specifically for 5th- and 6th-grade students in our public school district who are transitioning from lower elementary to upper elementary curriculum, learning modules, and testing standards.

Principal Stewart Smirthwaite (TLA) is one of the most intelligent, well-balanced, and fun-loving leaders I have ever worked with.  We have been coworkers for several years as I drove buses for our district and enjoyed morning greetings, occasional chats at district events, and a few somewhat tedious moments with a student or two.  We agree that bus drivers are as much educators as classroom teachers and administrators, as bus drivers are the ‘first face of the district’ that our bus rider children see everyday, and — the last.  All our roles are critically important to the child’s daily learning experience.

So, now that I am in the classroom setting, the perspective has shifted a bit.  I get to see first-hand the daily progression as our students move from first-time greetings of new friends, to next levels of study and curriculum, to more challenging solutions and outcomes — all within the context of growing up as preteens in a most complex and diverse world.

The role of teaching is one of tremendous responsibility. And quite humbling at this grade level. Children, in general, are filled with loads of sugar-induced energy, which can quickly turn to exhaustion, which can wildly turn to impatience, which can immediately turn to distraction, which can become …. who knows what?!.  All in about two minutes!  Factor in a range of emotional influences in our society such as entertainment, competition sports, and puberty!

[[ pause for third cup of coffee … and, I’m ADHD … so, pardon the interruption ]]

Where was I … oh yes, #influences.

So, what about influence?  Who are the influencers in the lives of children each day?  Who cares enough to offer influence?  Good, or bad?  We all know that electronic devices are now a 24/7 influence.  Like it or not.

One of my mentors, Simon Sinek, has written and spoken quite prolifically about the influence of electronic media on the current generation of #millennials and #nexGen young people.  Another excellent mentor is Dr. Tim Elmore, who coaches and consults those of us in education, ministry, and coaching.

Children learn from what they see, hear, and feel. They model the actions, behaviors, and attitudes that their parents, grandparents, guardians, teachers, ministers, entertainers, superstar athletes, and other leaders express. They are watching, listening, and experiencing.

With one full week of teaching in the bag, I realize all over again just how urgent and important it is that I continually learn. Learn from my superiors. Learn from my peers. Learn from my students.

Children are a ‘heritage’ from the Lord, scripture teaches.  If that is so, we must do our utmost to inspire, motivate, protect, and nurture the minds of the children whom the Lord himself has placed in our paths.  Our futures, and theirs, are at stake.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is dispair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy; — St. Francis of Assisi


FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. It’s the new buzzword. And, everybody’s using it. Well, everybody who’s that annoying over-the-top-my-life-is-amazing arrogant sales person that just won’t leave you alone about the greatest new MLM or investment deal they’ve discovered that you will be sorry you missed out on … unless you act NOW!

So — what are you really missing? Is life really that urgent that you simply must act now — or, your life is going to be miserably boring or hopeless unless you dive in to this amazing opportunity?

Well, sometimes — yes. You need to “jump”, as Will Smith teaches. Maybe if only to overcome an unfounded fear of the unknown, or to boost self-confidence, or literally to get off the fence of doubt and disbelief. Sometimes we all veer off the path of strategic plans and goals that are good for us. Sometimes we all get a bit distracted by time wasting efforts that do not really produce the good things in life. If you’re ADHD, like me, you get distracted more often than …. hey, squirrel!

Then, there is that nagging inner demon that every over-achiever and workaholic ultimately will have to face: you are addicted to the rush, the next deal, the next win. And, in fact, you are probably very insecure and lacking in self-confidence, so you push for the next big win, simply to get the recognition you so deeply crave. Else, you are such a loser and life is worthless, and you’re the epitome of failure.

King David of Old Testament days wrote this biblical song, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

Just a few short verses before that he’s telling himself and his hundreds of servants and musicians how God is a refuge and a very-present-help in times of trouble. Keep in mind, this is the same ‘little David’ — the shepherd boy — who was ridiculed and mocked by all his older brothers, tasked with all the grunt work like shoveling sheep dung, overlooked by his own Dad when the prophet came calling for a new king … probably burned up his entire childhood and teenage years trying to belong, to receive some sort of atta-boy, some kind of recognition, some sort of promotion … and, then it happened.

He’s delivering hot wings and beer to the older brothers and the chicken little warriors — including King Saul (!) — who won’t go kill off the boasting bragging giant Goliath. David pushes his way to the front lines, declares “I can take him”, throws off the king’s armor, grabs his slingshot, and fells the giant with one smooth stone. Then he chops off the head of the potty-mouth heathen warrior so he can go mount it on his wall back home and boast of his kill.

Now, who’s the man?! Look what I did! Check out that nasty Goliath mount on my wall!

Of course, there were rewards at stake. The king’s daughter and NO MORE TAXES for life. What a deal! How’s that for motivation?! Talk about FOMO!!

So, how does that guy become the King who writes Psalm 46? Hearing God. Waiting. Contemplating. Waiting some more. Listening, not boasting. Waiting, not hurrying. Waiting, not self-promoting. Waiting, not over-achieving. Waiting, and evaluating. Waiting, and worshiping. Waiting, and listening more. Waiting, and looking upward, rather than only forward, or backward!

See, David was ultimately installed as King following a really nasty transition of power. King Saul despised him, deceitfully promoted him, and maliciously sought to murder him — but God always seemed to help David escape.

He did win the prize. He did take the throne. And, he was the greatest king Israel has ever known — to this very day. But he abused his throne. And he sinned greatly. Before God and the entire nation. And he was ashamed. And he suffered multiple consequences of chaos and disorder because of his sins.

So now, he’s asking God to help him. And he’s afraid. Not of missing out, but of losing his fellowship with God. And of losing his only hope of restoration and redemption with his family and friends. With his entire nation of fans and followers. So, he’s waiting. And listening. And worshiping.

I wanna be that guy. Yes, I wanna be a king. Yes, I wanna be a rockstar. Yes, I wanna get my shot. Yes, I wanna win the prize, and the reward! Or, do I really?

I’m finding that being “the man”, the big dog, the king-of-the-hill … is really just a pursuit in egocentric idolatry in many ways. Men age and grow weak. Big dogs get replaced by bigger dogs. Some kings become wild-eyed paranoid pimps and get dethroned.

I want to be the man in Psalm 46. I want to listen more than boast. I want to worship more than make war. I want to love deeply and be loved. I want to be honored and not just feared. I want to lead by serving not by enslaving. I want to be a better old man than I was an over-achieving workaholic young man.

O Lord, teach me to wait. Teach me to listen. Teach me to worship. Teach me to be still and know that you are God.

College at 55

I have given the better portion of 40 years of my life to worship leading in some form or another.  I was on church platforms at age 15 as a youth music minister with a guitar strapped on me, leading congregations in gospel songs, hymns, and 70s contemporary Christian music with my mom and brothers.  By my college and early married years in the 1980s, I had shifted over to piano and digital keyboards to lead “with the band” as we composed choir and ensemble pieces that blended traditional church hymns with contemporary songs, and of course those good old Gospel standards from the Gaithers.

As I turn 55 this year, we have come to know worship music as an industry category, no longer just a ‘phase’ that church musicians are going through; but an actual industry unto itself, launching new worship artists at an ever-increasing pace.

I recently re-enrolled in college at William Carey University to complete a bachelor’s degree, which I had put off due to marriage, raising children, and the demands of work life.  As I discuss my options with advisers and professors, I find myself more excited and inspired than ever!   The expectations and opportunities for worship music which serves the Church, and also reaches the masses of un-churched is virtually limitless.  The culture has demanded of us — the Church — that we respond with greater focus on purpose, excellence, clarity, and yes — good theology.

Worship leading for churches has never been more challenging for we musicians.  Technology has introduced cool and hip new methods of learning, teaching, training, and performing.  Raw talent is a must, of course. But the motive of the heart and the desire to make disciples of Christ with our musical gifts has never been more important for us as leaders, in my humble opinion.

I love what I see occurring in the worship music industry.  But, if I am honest, what inspires me personally and as a worship leader is what I see occurring in the local congregations across America.  At 55, if feels as if I’m beginning again.  And I love it!

As my friend and mentor Lindell Cooley would instruct his congregation and followers:  Worship God. Enjoy His Presence. Forever.

Leading the Next Generation

Andy Stanley states in Next Generation Leader, ” … I was given an incredible headstart as a leader. For that reason, I am convinced that it is my responsibility to pass on what I know to the generation coming along behind me.”
Now, I’m no Andy Stanley.  But, I also was given an incredible headstart from a ‘pastor-father’, who poured much wisdom and knowledge into my life at a very early age.  Specifically, that of a church leader; and I’ve been doing the ‘work of the Kingdom’ ever since.
As I approach mid-life (forty-somethings are almost gone … ha!), I find it interesting that what motivates me now, is to see the generation coming behind me get …  IT.  See pastor Craig Groeschel‘s take on IT.
As I begin to settle in to my new role as Worship & Creative Arts pastor at Oasis Church Gulf Coast, I am blown away by the tremendous passion for Christ that I see in our students and young adults.  The zeal to ‘do something big’ is that never-ending ‘bug’ that just won’t leave us alone.  “It” permeates everything that we do at Oasis, and God simply seems to keep pouring gas on the fire that is lit within us!
Already in 2012, more than 200 decisions to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, have been made through our Sunday worship ‘experiences’ (services) — both on campus at home, and via internet campuses across the nation.  We baptize a few dozen new believers each month, just at the ‘home’ campus in Pascagoula, and we hear reports every week, of dozens of new believers becoming more fully devoted to Christ and His Church through public baptism, connection to small groups, and commissioning (sending) into ministry or Christian service.
Most of the decisions FOR Christ here locally, are coming from the ‘Millennial’ generation … the 20-somethings and under, who most of the Baby Boomers (my age group) had somewhat ‘written off’ just a decade ago, following the hedonistic 80s and 90s that we all witnessed.
This ‘next generation’ actually DO know what they want!  And, it will scare the daylights outta you if you are not ready to listen to their heart.  They desperately want, and need, to be ‘fathered’ (led with discipline) and ‘mothered’ (nurtured and affirmed) … and they WILL be.  If not by the Church, then by their chosen Social Media group.  WHOEVER will hear them!
That said, let me echo my pastor with a battle cry for this generation.  HEAR them.  LOVE them.  And, LEAD them!
They … do not ‘see’ life as we did in the ‘golden era’ of the 40’s and 50’s — the ‘Mayberry RFD’ panacea world, with good old homespun stories, folk songs on the front porch, and fresh veggies cooking on the stove every evening for dinner.  They have not been modeled how to respect authority.   They do not know HONOR, like we did.
WE — Baby Boomers and Busters — must TEACH them.  And, we must LEAD them.  That means we must make TIME for them.
And, yes, it will call for some inconvenience.  And, yes, it will cost you.  And, yes, you’ll have to invest in them.  But — OH how it’ll be worth it!
This year is an election year in America.  If you choose to let another generation watch you carelessly and selfishly live YOUR life, as you wish,  spending time with ‘your 4 and no more’ (churches), and taking care of your own (family), without regard to your neighbor …. then, you have NO RIGHT to complain of the outcome.
God did not put you here to ‘consume’ His creation.  He put you here to ‘produce’ life, and to steward all that HE has already provided.  He is looking for fathers, mothers, producers, and ‘tenders’ of His Garden.
So, what will YOU do?  What is YOUR response to this generation?
Will you ignore their needs and desperate cries for help?  Will you continually condescend to their childish behaviors and symbolically “put them in time out” (jails, detention halls, etc), forcing someone else to ‘take care’ of them?  God forbid.
It’s TIME … TIME for the ‘dead to rise’ as the popular praise songs say!  No more casual Christianity! No more callous leadership.  No more selfish, self-promoting agendas.
GIVE yourself to the generation coming behind you.  FIND good in that kid who drives you nuts.  SHOW the love of Christ to children (especially) who rarely see Love in action.
Again, to quote Andy Stanley from a recent sermon series, ” … we are not trying to make a POINT anymore … we’re going to make a DIFFERENCE …”. 
To quote my pastor, Eric Camp, ” … we (Oasis Church) will NOT throw away this generation … we will LOVE THEM to Jesus!”