GUEST BLOG ARTICLE: The 2011 Baptist Church Music Conference from Steven Skaggs

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the brief run of Church Music Today, we have been blessed to have several guest bloggers (see a complete list here) and today is no exception. It is my pleasure to welcome Rev. Steven Skaggs as a guest blogger to give insight to the 2011 Baptist Church Music Conference held in Houston, Texas. I am thankful to Steven for his time and talents shared in this article!

The Baptist Church Music Conference held it’s 55th annual session June 5-7 in Houston, Texas at Tallowood Baptist Church. This year’s conference theme, “With Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength,” reminded attending Baptist church musicians that among all the duties we may have in performing our job, our priority is always to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV)

The first session of the conference, on Sunday evening, began with a celebration concert in the Tallowood chapel led by the youth of the host church. The Tallowood Players, an auditioned youth dramatic team, offered readings and interpretive movement for this and subsequent worship sessions. Their contributions were some of the most creative and professional I have seen from such a troupe, but were also moving and worshipful. The middle school and high school choirs sang anthems utilizing a wide variety of musical styles. Information about the church and resources such as the scripts used by the drama group are available at the church’s web site, http://www.tallowood.org.

The Sunday evening session continued in the sanctuary with the presentation of a major work commissioned by New Orleans Baptist Seminary in 2000 titled Requiem for the Millennium. The 132 voice choir and soloists were accompanied by orchestra and jazz quartet in this work meant to reflect the musical styles of New Orleans including jazz, blues, and gospel.

Morning and afternoon sessions each day began with worship led by Rodrigo Rodriguez, a Christian classical guitarist from Equador, pianist and song leader Craig Adams from LifeWay, and speaker Mike Harland, Director for LifeWay Worship. Rodrigo’s unique arrangements of hymns and songs of praise added a sense of meditation to the services and prepared attendees to receive God’s message through Mike. His opening sermon on Monday morning was based on I Chronicles 25. “What we do is part of the warfare of the church,” Harland shared, noting how the worship leaders featured in the scripture passage were also part of David’s army. Mike’s messages each day were encouraging as well as challenging. “God did not call us to lead music; He calls us to lead people,” he said.

Break Out sessions for Monday included: “Making Music Missional;” “Web Technology for Music Ministry;” and, “Ministry Students Forum.” I attended “Multigenerational Worship” presented by David Hasker, worship pastor at First Baptist Church, Melbourne, Florida, in the morning session. David discussed issues his staff and church encountered in their move to multiple services 8 years ago featuring different styles of worship and their decision to move back to multiple services unified by a “multigenerational” philosophy. He noted that the first biblical use of a term translated to the word worship described the experience of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:5–a multigenerational worship experience. “I cannot find a single example in the bible of exclusive worship experiences for different generations,” David said. You can learn more about Melbourne FBC or contact David through their web site at http://www.fbcmel.org.

The afternoon worship session featured a large combined senior adult choir from four Texas churches. Their presentation, “Southern Favorites,” included songs such as “On the Jericho Road” and “Yes, I Know.” Tenor, Adam Paul Williams, a contemporary Christian artist with some southern gospel roots, also shared a few songs with his amazing voice. Mike Harland’s message, based on Colossians 3:16, encouraged us to fill our worship with God’s Word. “God is never going to give you a spiritual solution by a musical means,” Mike shared.

I attended “Youth Choir Ministry for Today” during the afternoon breakout session. Randy Kirkpatrick, music ministry associate at Tallowood Baptist offered ideas and resources for successful student choirs followed by a good question and answer session with those attending. His helpful handouts included a listing of “Music High Schools Guys Like to Sing” and ideas for creating identity and excitement in youth choirs. Some excerpts from his “Trends in Student Music:” Care about the kids first and foremost; increase coordination between all areas of ministry to students; increase use of adults in student music ministry but as care-givers, supporters, and inspirers rather than disciplinarians or authority figures; use a variety of musical styles; and, communicate. “I would rather spend some money on fun, innovative printed mailing than to buy a new piece of music.”

The Monday evening celebration concert included special guests Johann Acuña, violinist and Associate Minister of Worship & Arts at Sugar Land Baptist Church, Sugar Land, Texas, accompanied by Ludwingk Rios, pianist. They were followed by The Singing Women of Texas comprised of 149 women combined from 7 regional groups offering a program of traditional hymn and inspirational song arrangements.

Tuesday morning’s worship featured the powerful voice of bass-baritone, Keron Jackson. Google his name to find his inspirational story featured in a Dallas Morning News article and hear him sing on several YouTube clips. Mike Harland read scripture from Ezra 7:8-10 and pointed out that, like Ezra, we should devote ourselves to study scripture, obey scripture, and teach scripture.

Breakout sessions for Tuesday included: “Ministry Students Forum” with Joe Crider who has recently accepted a position at Southern Seminary and, “Smaller Church / Bivocational Ministry” with Joe Glass, a bivocational minister of music at Sharpstown Baptist church in Houston.

A breakout session which drew a lot of interest was “Conflict Management,” a look at “Relationships in Ministry” by Blake Coffee, founder and executive director of Christian Unity Ministries. Blake, an attorney and pastor’s son, feels “uniquely gifted to address unity in the church, having consulted with hundreds of evangelical churches and denominational entities across the US and around the world.” Go to http://www.churchwhisperer.com or http://www.christianunityministries.org for more information.

Mike Wilkins, with LifeWay Music Service, also supplied a great packet of music for a reading session and even had enlisted the aid of a choir so the clinicians could opt to sing or just listen! Mike and LifeWay are long-time supporters of Baptist church musicians and offer special deals on music during the conference. Call 800-368-7421 or go online atwww.lifewaystores.com/lwstore/music.asp to order music from most any publisher.

Charla Greenhaw and Ralph Manuel opened the Tuesday afternoon session with a duo-piano recital followed by Huston’s Children’s Chorus, a world-renown children’s choir, featured 40 voices under the direction of Stephen Roddy. Their broad repertoire reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of the group. This was perhaps the most disciplined and joyful music of the conference. It featured a new multi-movement composition by Joseph Martin with text by Mattie Stepanek who died in 2004 just before his 14th birthday due to complications of a rare neuromuscular disease. Visit http://www.mattieonline.com to learn more about Mattie and this work that is scheduled to be published this summer.

The conference ended after the Tuesday evening session which featured Nancy Lanmon Munn, a classically trained soprano who, after singing for a decade with opera companies in the United Kingdom, has returned to the U.S. to sing Christian music. Kurt Kaiser, an editor for Word music and composer who pioneered the rise of contemporary Christian music in the late ’60’s, received the W. Hines Sims Award, an honor awarded by the conference each year to creative musicians who have had a significant contribution to Baptist church music.

Let’s see…what have I left out? Oh yes–an impromptu choir of Brazilian Baptist’s gathered to sing a favorite hymn in Portugese translated “My Country for Christ.” This group included several people with ties to Kentucky.

The Baptist Church Music Conference is a professional organization serving and served by Baptist ministers of music, denominational workers, and educators from around the world. The conference seeks to equip, train, encourage, and affirm the unique role of members as minister musicians through a varied and inclusive program. To learn more about the conference go to http://www.sbcmc.org.

One of the main reasons I enjoy the Baptist Music Conference each year is the diversity of topics covered and musical formats and styles represented. The 2012 conference will be in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Steven Skaggs is currently serving as the Interim Associate Minister of Worship at Gilead Baptist Church in Glendale, Kentucky. He has ministered in full-time and bivocational music positions for 30 years beginning with his home church, Mt. Tabor Baptist in Buffalo, Kentucky. He most recently held the position of Minister of Music at Immanuel Baptist Church in Paducah for over 7 years where he also served as minister to senior adults.

Rev. Skaggs has served as an officer for the Baptist Church Music Conference and the Kentucky Baptist Men’s Chorale. He employes the use of a wide variety of musical styles, from Gospel to Classical; from contemporary praise to classic hymns, as a tool to lead congregations in corporate worship. He holds degrees in church music from Campbellsville University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Steven and his wife Shirley currently reside in Paducah and will celebrate 38 years of marriage this year. They have one son, Matthew, who, with his wife Melissa and their daughter Katie Beth, live in Lexington where they attend Calvary Baptist. You can reach Rev. Skaggs at steven.skaggs@comcast.net.

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