Almost 20 years ago we hit a crossroads. My wife and I were living in an apartment outside of Philadelphia with a new baby. She worked at Red Lobster in the day while I stayed home with our daughter. Rita would get home about an hour before I had to go and play my “Top 40” club gig somewhere in the Philly vicinity until midnight. We plugged into a church and led children’s worship, occasionally playing in the “adult” band. It was a wonderful time of learning and serving wherever the Lord opened doors, but I knew that we needed to make a commitment one way or the other.
Then came the “possibility” of playing and touring with a well-known Christian artist if we moved to the middle of nowhere. East Texas.
So after much prayer and some tough goodbyes, we loaded up our Ford Escort and headed south to fulfill our ministry dreams. Fast-forward six months and the only touring we were doing was mowing the ministry lawn and babysitting our friend’s kids. Hmmm, not quite what we expected.
During that time however we plugged into the local missions church to help wherever we could, and before I knew it they were offering me a weekly salary of $50 if I would put together a band and started leading each week. Believe it or not, we were ecstatic. To actually get paid to lead worship. Wow! So between leading, teaching guitar lessons, trying to write songs, God was providing. Rita was known as the “Queen of Yard Sales” as she furnished our singlewide mobile home and clothed our kids with secondhand bargains. We were happy to be involved in ministry and God was meeting our needs. What could be better?
Every morning I would head down to the church, put on some coffee, and begin singing prayers to God with my keyboarding friend Ed Kerr. We would sing and record any ideas that felt honest and worshipful, hoping that we could craft a song that our church could sing in the coming weekend services. We had never heard of CCLI or even knew of the potential to earn any income from a “worship song.” It was an innocent exercise of trying to connect with God in our hearts and potentially serve our congregation with a new song.
After a few years of writing and recording songs for our church to sing, we were asked by Integrity Music to record a live worship album. Thrilled, we doubled our efforts to seek the Lord and try to capture those moments in song. We signed a songwriting contract with Integrity Music, which required us to write at least 12 songs a year for an advance of a thousand dollars a month. It felt like we hit the lottery of life. To earn some income to provide for my family by writing songs to the Lord seemed like the ultimate privilege. And it has been for the past 15 years.
Why am I telling you the long version of this story? Because maybe you can relate to the simplicity of new beginnings, and how God has a way of opening doors when we faithfully serve “right where we’re at.” Also, I want to pass on the observation that once you start doing ministry for money, it can “poison the well.” The quickest way to lose your joy in ministry or songwriting is to think too much about potential income.
Ignorance Is Blessed
As time passed and God began to provide for us through writing songs I could see some subtle changes occur in my heart. I became “conscious” of the fact that if we wrote a certain kind of song it could potentially earn more money. Yuck! Fortunately I had a pastor who was very good at challenging me to actively work at keeping my heart and motives pure. Staying plugged into my local church has always been an anchor to my soul, along with praying and meditating on scriptures like, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
All of us will be challenged to keep our hearts and motives in check throughout our lives. It’s an odd combination of “God’s will,” our ministry dreams, our legitimate desire to be a provider for our families, and so on. It’s rarely one or the other. I find that it’s always a sprit-soul-mind mixture of intentions and priorities that need to be examined from season to season. As Thomas Jefferson is attributed as saying, “The price of freedom is constant vigilance.”
No matter where you are in your ministry today, ask yourself, “What are my motives for ministry?” It’s not bad to consider how to support our families or ourselves, but if that becomes the bottom line, then it will “poison the well of our hearts” and rob us of joy. Also, let’s consider the fruit of faithfulness. Generally speaking, in God’s economy, if we serve faithfully where we are at, He will usually open up doors of opportunity and provision. God is good and worthy to be praised.