I’ve served in worship ministry leadership for over 18 years. During this time I have had the awesome privilege to serve in both the local church setting and also in citywide ministry, working with many churches and multiple worship leaders and musicians. Over these years I have learned that as worship and music pastors, many times we focus on the technical aspects of our ministries more than the spiritual and relational aspects, which are really the areas where we make the largest impact.
That’s why, in my first article for TFWM, I’ve chosen to talk about lessons in leadership rather than the “How-To’s”. Those will all come in due time.
There are three words on my mind at the moment. Those are; “Pain Builds Character!” I was reminded of these words in the early 1990’s when I visited my friend, a martial arts instructor, who was teaching me the arts in exchange for my serving as his sparring partner. Now, in actuality, I was more of a human punching bag than a true sparring partner, however, I knew that if I was to develop myself in the area of self defense, there would be a price that needed to be paid. Because of this, I was willing to endure a beating because I knew it would develop my skills. Every week as I left his home he jokingly gave me the friendly reminder; “Remember John, pain builds character”!
Recently I have been sorting through some much neglected filing in my office. As I sorted through miscellaneous papers I ran across a letter that was written by my wife during a particularly difficult time in our relationship. The pain that came off that page engulfed me as I read the words that were written by a woman who just wanted to be noticed by her husband and have a part in his life. Through tears I thanked God for the healing that He has brought through the pain, while at the same time realizing how far I still have to go to communicate my love for her and to be what God wants me to be as a husband and a father. It’s in these moments that the reminder comes back to me. “Pain builds character”.
In John chapter 17, verses 19 through 23, Jesus prayed for Himself and for His disciples. As I read this prayer there is one section that stands out to me – the KEY to successful relationships, to personal growth and in developing our worship and music ministries. Jesus prayed for His followers to have UNITY.
The concept of unity is something that is often misunderstood and misapplied, especially in the church. Many times when we say we want unity we aren’t talking about true unity at all, but we are talking about “Uniformity”. This being an absolute oneness or “sameness” of style, gifts, personality, temperament, etc. God made us all different people in order to compliment each other.
Another misconception about unity is that it is 100% agreement on all issues. We hear people say things like; “Our team is “unified” because we all agree on…” In reality many times the strongest teams are those who have vastly differing opinions and viewpoints, however have committed to stick together for a common goal.
Another thing that’s interesting to me, is that Jesus didn’t even pray for “Union” (An absolute coalition or a contract). He didn’t say; “You will always be together”. Because Jesus was aware, as are many of us, that for whatever reason, relationships can be broken. Absolute Union only comes out of what Jesus DID pray for and that is UNITY – Oneness of the heart, of faith and of purpose. This is a oneness, which only the Holy Spirit can bring about. It cannot be achieved through a mere contract or even a commitment to another person. It can only be achieved through faith in, and love for, Jesus Christ.
As I’ve pondered this “Unity” I have been drawn to a story in Acts 15, where Paul and Barnabus, (who were a successful team on the first missionary journey) divided over a personnel issue on the second missions trip. John Mark desired to go with them on this trip, however Paul didn’t want to take him since he bailed out half way through the first trip. Now, one might think that, in ministry, this type of division ought not take place. I can only imagine the passion in which both Paul and Barnabus felt about their views on the issue. Their solution is found in verse 39, where we read; “And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another…” The team that saw such victory on the first missions trip was divided over an issue that seems to be one of personal preferences. A quick glance at these verses can easily lead one to not only see disunity in the early church leaders, but some may even justify division in the church today on such a verse.
It is vitally important as Christians that even in our disagreements we be united together as a family under the headship of the Lord Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. It means that we “choose” to love each other, through our disagreements. This is done by being honest with people in admitting that we have shortcomings, differences, and make mistakes, even in pastoral ministry.
Too often I see leaders in the church trying to “agree” on some contrived story of an event in order to communicate unity. Unfortunately, this does more to communicate disunity and insecurity than it does unity, openness and honesty. Believers in the church, and even leaders, will disagree on many issues, even to the point of division. The important thing to focus on when this happens is that it is ok to “agree to disagree” and therefore part company. However, it is never ok to divide so sharply over an issue that we lose our unity in Christ. In the end, the Apostle Paul, who wanted nothing to do with John Mark makes an interesting request in his letter to Timothy. I Timothy 4:11 reads; “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”
We don’t know what happened to bring them back together, nor do we know the pain that each felt at their parting. However there is one thing that I do know from similar experiences. Parting with a brother or sister in Christ is always a painful moment. Whether we “agree to disagree” or part on “less than friendly terms”, division of any kind is always hard. Let us, as Christians, always stay mindful that in ALL relationships Jesus desires for us to have “Unity”. Learning the art of unity amidst division is something that is birthed only through the pain of broken relationships and seeing them healed. I believe that Paul, Barnabus and Mark all experienced this pain and the healing that comes only from being submitted to the Lord in unity. That pain, just like being knocked around a boxing ring, serves to build character in our Christian life. Character that God wants birthed in us so that we can turn around and minister grace to a hurting world.