Month: March 2014

Worship pastor: Music has impactful ministry

Trouble is ordinary. Pain is common. Trials nip relentlessly at the heels of the trials in front of them. They’re essentially the ticker tape of the human existence. Only rarely and for short seasons can easy describe life on earth. If that were not the case, a sizable portion of Scripture would seem to speak to a problem nobody has.

As it is, though, everyone does have that problem—cancer for some, bankruptcy for others, flat tires for nearly everyone at some point.

Scott Bryant, worship pastor at Lamar Baptist Church in Arlington, said he sees music as a God-given tool that can be used for good or bad—as a balm for a deflated soul or as claws that tear down a soul one swift swipe at a time. When used as God intended, he said, it reflects the scene of perfect worship going on around the throne in heaven. Whether a sacrifice of praise or a shout of jubilation, worship, he said, can help heal hearts and restore joy.

“John reminds us that God created all things,” Bryant said. “Nothing apart from him exists. That’s everything. That would include leadership. That would include music. That would include worship, which began before he created time, and that’s a whole study within itself. I have seen the value of that when people are hurting and a song will minister to them—the words and where those words come from, if they’re scripturally based, if they’re theologically correct and right for the situation. Sometimes music can really reach a person at that level more than words or other things. All of us have probably experienced that, whether we’re happy or sad or in between or just needing encouragement or direction, the Lord just speaks in so many ways.”

Bryant said that in his role as worship pastor he often witnesses firsthand how the Lord speaks to people in the congregation—breaking hard hearts, comforting grieving hearts, guiding aimless hearts—as those deep, soul-level transactions register on the countenance of the people.

“You can see that expressed in corporate worship,” Bryant said. “You can’t read people’s hearts—only God can do that, but when you see what’s going on, on the outside, you can kind of tell when God’s touching hearts where it’s needed, and sometimes people will verbalize that later.”

Bryant explained that certain scientific aspects of music—harmonies, melodies, tones, scales, the way sound travels—are obvious testaments to God as creator. He said certain tones can soothe, and others can stir, while some, such as those used in war, can even cause a person to become ill and unable to fight. The measurable science behind it is what has allowed things like music therapy to have some success, Bryant said. What some in that field do not realize, he said, is that the science only affirms both the general and special revelation of God and the Bible’s claims that God did indeed create the world and created it with intricate order.

“I think it’s a great industry, [but] it’s kind of like some of the other sciences; they tend to want to shut God out,” Bryant said. “To me, they are discovering about the creator and what he’s already doing, but then not giving him credit, glory and honor for that. Science is cracking the door open for Christian people called to that to inject that [field] with Christ and with what it should be. But for me, the Scripture is the foundation.”

Bryant said he saw firsthand how music seems to have some way of ministering that can penetrate to the spirit when nothing else can, during his grandmother’s final days on earth. He recalled that she had suffered multiple strokes and could not really respond anymore. Living several states away, Bryant would call and talk to her on the phone, even though she could no longer talk back. One day, though, he felt led to sing her favorite song to her—“There is a Savior.”

A few minutes after hanging up from the one-sided conversation, the nurse attending to his grandmother called his phone.

“The nurse said [my grandmother] cuddled up to the phone and tried to mouth the words of the song as I sang,” Bryant said. “She said, ‘I don’t know what you said or did, but she responded like no other time.’

“Sing for people, even if you don’t sing very well.”

Bryant pointed out that Scripture tells of God using music and worship to minister to people time and time again, citing the 1 Samuel 16 account of a distressed Saul becoming “refreshed and well” when David played the harp for him. Bryant went on to say that references to music and worship in the Psalms are almost too many to number and that it’s not just happy and joyful songs that fill the book, but often songs sung as a sacrifice of praise in deep and troubling times. Bryant said often offering that sacrifice of praise, being willing to be obedient to give thanks in every circumstance, can take the focus off of self and put it onto Christ—something that he said can calm and soothe a troubled soul.

The music minister also pointed to Zephaniah 3:17 and said it serves as a word picture of God singing over his people to calm and comfort them as would a father with his child.

“[There’s] a passage in Hebrews [that says] Christ himself is with us in worship,” Bryant continued. “Music and worship matter to God. Knowing that God’s presence is there with us—that brings about everything and anything anybody could ever need—physically, spiritually, emotionally.

Bryant said music employs the body in the physical act of singing or playing, the mind in the act of thinking about the words and the heart and soul in the act of offering the innermost part of a human being to God in worship. It connects every aspect of a person to what Scripture calls the two greatest commandments—loving the Lord with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength and loving people as one’s self.

“Everything comes out of that—heart, mind soul and strength—-sing praise with your heart and your mind,” Bryant said. “Sing with all your strength.”

Bryant said involvement in the local church plays a crucial role in facilitating the ministry of music—not only in encouragement and unity among believers but in evangelism to unbelievers as well.
“If what you’re experiencing in there is healing you and your mind and your heart, you want to share that, so we go and we take Christ to them as quickly as we can and as soon as we are able, and immediately if at all possible, bring them into that church so that they can experience that,” Bryant said. “They can’t get that anywhere else. You can’t get that on a car radio. You can’t get that at home on your own. You can only get that corporately. Now there are people who are shut in and are physically unable to do so and people in other parts of the globe and underground and what have you, but you can find other believers, and other believers can come to you and you can experience that corporate worship together.”

Bryant said he would tell members of his church that if they have a problem for which they need to seek help, they should do that, but also said he continues to see, time after time, the true and effective ministry of music.

“It is very important and brings about healing and can touch us in a way that nothing else can,” Bryant said. “And it’s not because of the music or the musician. It’s because of the creator.”

Special Report: Mental health motion addressed by EC

NASHVILLE—The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has concurred with the spirit of a motion referred from the 2013 SBC annual meeting regarding mental health ministry.

In its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville, the Executive Committee voted to amend an annual ministry report form it solicits from the SBC’s entities to include questions asking appropriate entities what they are doing to assist Southern Baptist churches in equipping and ministering to people with mental health challenges.

The Executive Committee also voted to “continue to seek ways to work in cooperation with SBC entities and others to address the severe challenges imposed by mental illness.”

SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page will name a volunteer advisory body of professionals in the mental health field to advise him on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources, the Executive Committee noted.

The Executive Committee was responding to a motion by Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, at last year’s annual meeting in Houston.

The original motion Floyd introduced asked “that the messengers of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention … request that the Executive Committee and the Bylaw 14 entities of the Southern Baptist Convention work in cooperation to assist our churches in the challenge of ministry to those suffering from mental health issues, and that each entity in their written annual ministry report inform the messengers what they have done, are doing, and will do annually to assist our churches in equipping and ministering to the people in our churches and communities who suffer with mental health challenges.”

Bylaw 14 of the SBC constitution names as entities the International and North American mission boards, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics & Liberty Commission and the SBC’s six seminaries.

Separate from the motion, messengers to the 2013 SBC annual meeting approved a resolution on “Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God,” affirming the “immeasurable value to God” of those with mental health concerns, committing to “affirm, support and share God’s love and redemption with those with mental health concerns” and opposing “all stigmatization and prejudice against those who are suffering from mental health concerns.”

The resolution calls for the SBC to support “the wise use of medical intervention for mental health concerns when appropriate” and to “support research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”

The resolution affirms that “those in Christ cannot be separated from the eternal love of God that is in Christ Jesus” and asks Southern Baptists and their churches “to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families.”

Counseling prof: “Careful, compassionate” must characterize response to mental illness

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., and nominee for 2014 Southern Baptist Convention president, brought national attention to the issue of mental health in a motion he presented to convention messengers at last year’s annual meeting of the SBC in Houston.

The motion itself requested that each SBC entity include in its annual report to the convention an update on “what they have done, are doing, and will do annually, to assist people in our churches and communities who suffer with mental health issues.”

With the topic being introduced within the convention and the Executive Committee announcing its response to the motion, attention now turns to the various convictions, perspectives and interpretations held by Southern Baptists across the nation. In a genuine desire to handle the issue of mental illness compassionately and in accordance with the Bible, many will turn to the wisdom and advice of those who have devoted their lives to the study of the topic.

Frank Catanzaro, professor of counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, fields questions every day from Christians and non-Christians on what the Bible has to say about mental health. Having served as a missionary with the IMB, a minister in the church setting and a professor and associate dean in academia, Catanzaro has the advantage of having studied the counseling and mental health issue in depth and having interacted with it in daily ministry situations. 

In an interview with the TEXAN, Catanzaro emphasized the need for a better understanding of mental illness as Southern Baptists seek to respond to the motion brought before them. He said he would encourage Christians to handle the task with caution to ensure they do not unintentionally excuse behavior that can change with a biblical approach to counseling.

“The defining of mental illness can be subjective and difficult in nature,” Catanzaro explained. “The problem is, there really is no objective physiological anomaly that someone can point to with certainty to say, ‘Yes, this is an illness,’ like they can with something like diabetes. There’s nothing like that for depression or anxiety or fear. The difficulty is contained in the objectivity of the diagnostic criteria. Can I objectively state that every person who experiences depression, anxiety, fear or any other ‘diagnosable’ anomaly is in fact mentally ill? I believe that often we are too quick in making those diagnoses because of our desire to be helpful in a meaningful way and because of our fear of approaching those who suffer and exacerbating their problems.”

It’s a difficult ministry decision, he said, and one that requires careful handling.

“I appreciate what Floyd said in that he doesn’t want us to ostracize or set those people apart,” Catanzaro said. “I agree with him one hundred percent. We need to embrace people who struggle in these areas. But we’re not physicians, and we don’t deal with them in the same way physicians do.”

That is why, he said, it is vital that ministers have a good working relationship with medical doctors in their communities to whom they can defer when issues bleed over into their scope of training and expertise.

“There are physiological anomalies that can explain mood disorders that often go undetected,” Catanzaro said. “Two of these are thyroid conditions and blood sugar issues. These can cause depression, lethargy or manic episodes. These often undiagnosed conditions can be an explanation for what is commonly observed to be a ‘mood disorder’ and are often not explored before anti-depressants are prescribed. This is why as Christian counselors we need to rely on the medical professionals to rule these diagnoses in or out so that we can minister more intelligently to those who struggle rather than relying first on a diagnosis of mental illness.”

Although Floyd’s comments at the convention last year did not mention medicinal care for those struggling with mental illness, he did say that often their circumstances require “intervention,” noting that, “It is time now that the Southern Baptist Convention is on the front lines of the mental health challenges.”

Catanzaro expressed agreement with Floyd that more has to be done in ministering to people facing these types of challenges. Leaving the responsibility of medication to the medical field, Catanzaro talked about his approach as a counselor.

“I don’t deal with the medication, but what I do is I listen for unbiblical thinking, and I try to counter it with biblical truth,” he said. “I try to encourage people to think carefully about who they are in Christ. And the Bible teaches us very clearly that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Catanzaro said he often sees people misunderstand the issue and submit the care and cure of souls to the medical community. Some mental disorders are soul-based disorders, he said, explaining that many have characterized the fallen nature of humanity as illnesses.

In his comments at last year’s convention, Floyd quoted a tweet from Rick Warren, which said, “Why is it … if any other organ in your body breaks you get sympathy, but if your brain breaks, you get secrecy and shame?”

In response, Catanzaro said Christians should be the first to offer grace and readily share the burdens (Galatians 6:2) of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ instead of ostracizing them. He went on to emphasize the importance of letting the science of medicine treat quantifiable illnesses and letting biblical instruction and encouragement address the symptoms of a sin nature.

“If my pancreas is broken and I have a blood sugar issue—if that’s what you want to refer to as being broken—that is objectively diagnosable. You can’t do the same thing in the brain,” he explained. “We rarely have total confidence that we’re dealing with a broken brain. Possibly we just have broken thinking.”

The complexity of the entire issue, Catanzaro said, is evident in Allen Frances’ new book, “Saving Normal,” in which he addresses the danger of creating disorders out of normal human behavior.

“Dr. Frances is a psychiatrist and was the chair of the DSM-IV (the edition of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ which preceded the current edition) task force,” Catanzaro said. “He represents a significant voice sounding the alarm relative to the difficulty in making an appropriate diagnosis. Of this complexity he wrote,

‘Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors are the final result of an indescribably complex coordination of billions of cells firing off in a carefully tuned, exquisite equilibrium.’

“This statement causes me to think of ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14),” Catanzaro said. “For us to say that ‘this is a mental disorder’ or ‘that is a mental disorder’ may oversimplify the complexity of who God has caused us to be and might just overcomplicate our ministry to those who are in pain.”

—With additional reporting by Sharayah Colter, staff writer

SBTC founding board member Roy Baxley dies

Roy Spurgeon Baxley, layman and outspoken supporter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, died March 1. He was 92.

Baxley, a businessman, served as a founding board member of the SBTC in 1998. He went on to serve as the Business and Finance Committee chairman for four years and was elected in 2000 as the second vice-president of the convention.

“Roy Baxley was one of God’s choicest servants. He was a personal friend, denominational leader, loving husband and father and above all a disciple of Jesus,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said. “Without his leadership the SBTC would not be where it is today.”

Baxley was born in San Antonio but grew up in East Dallas and graduated from Pleasant Grove High School, later known as W.W. Samuel High School. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force as an aerial photographer.

He married his wife Lynn in the summer of 1944. She died in 2010 after more than 66 years of marriage.

A longtime member and deacon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Baxley contributed to various Southern Baptist causes over the years. The Baxleys were significant supporters of theological education, with strong ties to both Criswell College in Dallas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

At Southwestern, Baxley was instrumental in supporting the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibit the seminary presented in 2012 and 2013. The Qumran dig site that served as part of the exhibit has been named Baxley Archaeological Park and is currently undergoing renovation to be further utilized by school groups.

Baxley and his late wife were honored by Southwestern in 2013 with the B.H. Carroll Award as a result of their support of the seminary. When presenting Baxley with the award, President Paige Patterson noted their contributions to the school’s Anabaptist Study Tour and the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

“You know it’s just great when you find a man that God has blessed who wants to turn around and bless God in return,” Patterson said of Baxley. “There will be a whole bunch of people in heaven someday that are there through the witness of these students that [he has] made possible.”

When accepting the award last March, Baxley expressed his gratitude.

“We decided many years ago that what the Lord had blessed us with, we needed to return as much as we possibly could to help spread the gospel,” Baxley said. “We both felt all down through the years that one of the best ways to do it was to back the educational facilities that turn out our people who are willing to go all over the world to spread the gospel.”

In the week following his death, all flags on the Southwestern campus were flown at half-staff “in honor and memory of this great patriarch of the faith,” Patterson said.

Baxley is survived by his daughter Barbara and her husband Brown Adkins III; son Jim Baxley and his wife Debbie; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and one great-great-granddaughter.

Funeral services will be on Saturday (March 8) at First Baptist Church in Dallas.


Annual ministry wife award nomination deadline March 15

Less than two weeks remain to submit nominations for the 2014 Willie Turner Dawson Award presented each year at the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. Nominations may include ministry wives such as the wife of a pastor or the wife of any ministry staff member, women in other areas of ministry or women whose husbands have retired or are deceased. Women nominated should be those who have made a distinct denominational contribution that extends beyond the local church.

Janet Hunt was honored with the award last year, joining a list of impactful women including Texans Susie Hawkins, Dorothy Patterson, Carol Ann Draper and Barbara O’Chester. 

Nomination essays for the 2014 Willie Turner Dawson Award should be mailed by March 15 to Donna Avant at 11704 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, Tenn., 37934 or emailed to