Half a Day with Dr. Gustafson

Today I was privileged to enjoy about 4 hours of singing in a choir led by Dr. Dwight Gustafson, former Dean of the School of Fine Arts at BJU. The churches with whom TCBC fellowships have enjoyed a semi-annual combined worship service for several years–one on Good Friday and the other around Thanksgiving. This year, rather than having individual choirs minister at different times during the service, we are having one combined choir led by Dr. Gus, our guest conductor.

We are singing 4 songs:

I enjoyed the musical experience as much as I have any since college, and I’m very much looking forward to the service tomorrow night. Regardless of how the service goes, however, I’ve already been edified. Here are some of the blessings from the day:

Dr. Gus bemoaned the fact that people come to church, sing a few songs, then get ready to hear a message. What they don’t realize is that each of the hymns has already communicated a message! Our job as a choir [and I’ll add as worship leaders] is to help make them aware of that.

Dr. Gus repeatedly expressed his burden that we present to our hearers and to God music that is done as excellently and thoughtfully as possible. Why? Because our God is unspeakably glorious and surrounded with splendor.  Indeed, God is splendor!  God is beautiful, and so should His worship be!

As an aside, Dr. Gus said the issue of appropriate worship music really comes down to one question: “Who is your God?” While many will write that off as being overly simplistic (and I refuse to have this become a debate thread), his message was clear: worship music should be a reflection of its Object. Amen!

Dr. Gus graciously refused to accept less than our best. As a result, he had a group of 60 pretty average musicians (with a few notable exceptions) singing music more excellent and beautiful than they probably imagined possible. I’d like to bottle that ability up for future use!

Perhaps most significant to me was this: he was all about the message of each hymn. He helped us think on it, and he insisted that we convey it with our phrasing, our intensity, our faces, our voices.

That emphasis on message over mechanics (though he stressed the latter to serve the former) struck me as funny. Why? Because young guys like me think our emphasis on passionate, focused, thoughtful worship is somehow something “new”–something our fundamentalist forebears never considered. You know the reasoning: older fundamentalists are stoic; they’re only worried about style, not substance; their worship is dead and thoughtless; it’s certainly not emotional. Emotion didn’t exist until this generation of fundamentalists.

Such thinking reminds me of my knee-jerk reaction upon hearing a cheer ring out across Corinth when the result of their democratic election was announced. For a fleeting moment I congratulated myself on being an American, a citizen of the nation that has graciously exported democracy to the rest of the world, including Greece.

Then in hit me: “You’re in GREECE, man! You’re in the cradle of democracy, where elections were held millennia before your nation was even founded!” I had to laugh at my own silliness, provincialism and arrogance. I was embarrassed by my assumption that all things good began with me and mine.

That’s the sensation I had this morning as an older statesman of fundamentalism taught a bunch of kids how to think through a hymn in order to fervently worship our Savior.

Wow. And I thought we came up with that!

Perhaps some humility is in order. And some perspective.

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One Response

  1. I’m green with envy Chris. I believe he is the master cunductor among believers and otherwise, but espcially among believers. Glad you had a great time. Gus will always bring out the best of his singers!

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