“How to direct a West End musical on the gymnasium floor of a high school in rural Alabama”
It may have been an elective I missed. Maybe I was just too busy with “Systematic Theology,” “Expository Preaching,” and “Ephesians in Greek,” but I cannot remember anything about music, casting, costuming, set design, or theatrical lighting. And yet here I stand – along with my wife and a handful of talented, committed people – on the far side of directing and producing four performances of Honk! Jr. at Sweet Water High School in Sweet Water, Alabama.
What just happened?
And what does it mean for Christian ministry in the future?
I’m a full-time pastor. A preacher, teacher, and counselor. Not a musician, and certainly not a theatrical director!
Well…that’s not entirely correct. I am a musician and have been since the 2nd grade. Since then, piano, oboe, and singing have played an important role in my life, all the way through college, when I graduated with a degree in Bible and a concentration in Missions, only to go on into seminary for a Masters of Divinity. You read that right: with all the passion for music, God has given me a burden for ministry, and specifically missions. If that sounds like a strange combination, well, it was that combination that got me into this situation three years ago.
Three years ago, Honk! Jr. was impossible. Three years ago, I had never been on stage for a musical, only under it. OK, I was a chorus member in a college opera (a weird, Old West twist on The Elixir of Love), but I had only ever been in the orchestra pit for three musicals, two of them in high school. That was the extent of my musical theater experience.
But three years ago, I found myself with my recently-recovered oboe in hand, a charter member of the Flying Bricks Community Band with two concerts to our credit. I had joined because I wanted to get out of my office in the church building and into the community to build relationships with my neighbors and bear witness for Christ. And because I love playing good music.
Music and ministry, together again!
That summer, we provided the music for our community theater’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which has some great oboe parts. As I played, I listened to the young actors sing and realized I might be able to help coach their vocal development. (Not that they were bad, you understand!)
So I offered voice lessons. And no one called. No one, except the theater director of Thomasville High School, who was looking for a vocal coach for an upcoming production of Broadway’s Little Women. One thing led to another, and vocal coach yielded to music director. Little Women yielded to Oklahoma! and then to Peter Pan. Finally, a long-held desire to climb out of the pit was fulfilled when my wife and I were given the lead roles in the Arts Council of Thomasville’s production of Music Man last summer.
Of course, I was pastoring and preaching and praying this whole time. But our very supportive church realized the need for a pastor to be involved in the community, to get outside the four walls of the church building and shine for Christ, to experience what it means to be a witness among neighbors and coworkers.
Only, it wasn’t just my neighbors and church members who were watching; the principal of Sweet Water High School was watching, as well. And no sooner had Music Man closed than he was approaching my wife and me with his wild idea of our producing a musical at his school, which had never done anything like this before.
We told him he was nuts. We told him we weren’t qualified. We told him how much work it would involve. We told him we would do it. (After praying about it, of course.)
And so, here we are, after four months of auditions, rehearsals, design meetings, stage construction, costume assembly, and tech wrangling, with a wildly successful musical under our belts and a nascent theater program spreading enthusiasm throughout a rural community. This, along with dozens of new relationships formed, and doors opened for showing and telling the love and truth of Christ, was a worthwhile thing.
What was it all for?
How will all this turn out? I don’t really know. I know that the Lord has combined my gifts and calling in a unique way, and I hope I have served him well in each opportunity he has set before me. I know that I remain committed to serving him in our church, as well as in our community.
And that’s really kind of why I’ve written all of this out. I think too many of us in ministry – and too many people in our churches – have an idea of what a pastor is supposed to be and do. He’s supposed to minister the Scriptures and pray at funerals, weddings, hospital bedsides, living rooms, and (of course) the pulpit. I don’t disagree with any of this, and I do all of it.
But how does he love his neighbor? How does he bring glory to God by seeking the good of others? In a rapidly secularizing culture, what perceived value does he bring to his community? And if he brings none, how does that affect his witness?
I’m not suggesting that music be a pursuit for everyone, only that it is something the Lord has given me. I am a minister and a musician, with no intention of being a music minister. I simply hope that my musical gifts can open doors for the Gospel that my ministerial gifts cannot.
For others, this may mean coaching a baseball team. Or starting a landscaping company. Or volunteering at the library. Or running for an elected office. Or hosting a neighborhood backyard barbecue. Or organizing a 5K benefit.
I submit that if we who are ministers sequester ourselves within the church, there are many of our neighbors we’ll never reach. And we’ll never understand just what we’re asking the church to do when we repeat the Great Commission. And we’ll probably be less effective at encouraging them to fulfill it. And we will completely miss the point about being salt, light, and a city on a hill.