Min. Rylan Harris is Minister of Worship & Arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia while he pursues a Master of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Music and Worship at Candler School of Theology. He is a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia and remains active with the Hampton Ministers Conference each June.
I recently attended a symposium and it was perhaps one of the greatest four days that I have spent in such a long time. I can say this largely in part because I was surrounded by not only some of the greatest musicians, singers and scholars in the country but more so, I was surrounded with a portion of some of the greatest friends that God has allowed me to connect with! One of my “big brothers” happened to see me in passing one evening and after he and I had sat and talked for hours, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Get that discouragement off of you!” I do not have to tell you that it took everything within me not to shed tears at that table! Friends, please do not mistake what my friend was saying to be inappropriate and insensitive because it isn’t. He never said that is was a problem to be “discouraged,” but what he did make crystal clear was that, it can’t stay on you—it does not have the right to!
Often times I sit back and reflect on my childhood; days that even though are not so far behind me—still invade my thoughts and dreams ever so often. Now, when I was a little boy, I can remember certain games and toys that I would see as my siblings and I walked through the different department stores with our parents. Of course, at that time the Negro National Anthem was not “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” but rather, “…don’t ask for nothin’, don’t touch nothin’, and it won’t be nothin’!” While we walked through the stores, even though we knew not to pine over things that we wanted, nothing could stop us from seeing and looking. I can remember seeing things that I wanted to have and I was willing to do just about anything to have that new shiny toy!
While my baby brother was probably more of a game player and collector than I was, I still recall getting that “one” thing that I wanted so badly and being overjoyed and overwhelmingly ecstatic when out of the clear blue sky, my parents had gotten it for me. Just like children all over the world, it became that thing that I played with all day and night and it was the thing that I dreamed about while I was away at school or at church—anxious to get back home to it again. It occurred to me as of recent that not everyone may be an athlete, or a poet or a writer and prolific speaker. Not everyone may be a great musician or a singer; a dancer or an actor or actress. However, no matter what age or stage you are in life, at some point you have been a child. Yes, at some point you did not have a care in this world. Yes, there was a point in your life where the everyday thoughts, cares, worries, doubts, fears, frustrations, trials, tribulations and business of an adult did not phase you because you were only just a child! It did not matter to you how food got on the table; all you knew was that it was prepared for you in love and boy, did it taste good! It did not matter to you how the lights worked, how the water ran or how the house or apartment stayed comfortably warm in the wintertime and refreshingly cool in the summer.
Get that discouragement off of you!
All you knew (albeit consciously or unconsciously) was that everything was right. Moreover, if you had a household like mine, even the things that “weren’t right” were somehow “right” because our parents let us be children while they remained the adults and the parents. Nevertheless, I point us back to the innocence of wanting and finally attaining that brand new shiny toy.
Minister of Music
For the past seventeen years, God has allowed me to serve in the office of Minister of Music, choir director, worship leader, music director—you name it. I must admit that when all of this began for me, I had no idea what any of it even meant. My father had only been pastoring for a little over two years at that time and one particular Sunday, he just asked me to “stand in.” I did not know that I would be “standing in” for seven years. It was during that time when I was fortunate to manage and lead five fully functioning choirs and small ensembles while merely just an elementary, middle and high school student. I had no driver’s license or learners’ permit during the first six of those years but still managed to prepare, plan, attend and lead all choir rehearsals, Sunday morning and afternoon worship services; revivals, concerts, conferences; weddings and funerals. Yes, I was blessed to have teachers and mentors (some who are gone now and quite a few who are still here) who taught and guided me through the first stages of ministerial development but I also was learning how to listen to God for myself. There were certain things that no one else could share with me; I would have to learn how to seek God’s face and hear directly from Him. I liken my experience similarly to that of Samuel’s.
“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.’ So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.” – 1 Samuel 3:7-9
This familiar passage of Scripture stands out to me in such a magnificent way because, as I have stated, there are going to be things that God cannot and will not reveal through anyone else to pass along to you. Sometimes, it is you who He needs to speak to directly! I had to learn at an early age how to pray for myself. God was preparing me then for something much greater than myself.
Hurt and Bruised
By the time I had turned eighteen, I had been hurt and bruised by this thing called “ministry” so much that I did not want to have anything else to do with it. I got tired of the incessant name calling, the teasing and the innumerable criticisms largely in part from those who couldn’t sing or identify a single note on the piano if it had been pre-labeled for them. Nevertheless, as a child/pre-teen/teenager, you are not thinking on that level. In many cases, you just learn to take it and try your absolute best to sweep it under the rug. My version of sweeping it under the rug was me saying, “Hey, I’ve done that and I don’t want to do that anymore!” Well, that is not how the call works. I had to learn very quickly that when God has called you to something, you do not get to “return to sender!” No, ma’am! No, sir! The Word of God reminds us that before we were ever shaped in our mother’s womb, God knew us! Interestingly enough, “knew” is past tense, which leads me to believe that we had already lived out, and walked out and carried out our anointing, our ordination and our sanctification before the very presence of God long before He formed us and wrapped us in the flesh and dispatched us into this earth. He told Samuel (a little boy; a child) “I’m about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle!” (1 Samuel 3:11) What do you do friend, when God Himself FaceTime’s you with a secret? Are you still with me? I certainly hope so!
God has granted me the opportunity to serve in a capacity that I never asked for. Actually, quite the contrary. Like the Apostle Paul pleading to God to take away the thorn in his flesh, I asked God to take every single gift He had given to me and give it to someone else—I do not want it! However, the more I prayed for Him to take it away, the more He increased and enlarged my territory. One night, I just finally stopped praying for God to take it away. Therefore, I altered my prayer to say,
“Lord, show me how to use it and how to use it correctly! Show me the way that You intended for it to be used and shared amongst your people!”
Hmm, that is when the doors swung open. Please allow me to say that it was not so much the doors that were the problem, it was what and who was behind those doors that caused and still causes my face to be pressed to the ground in prayer before God.
The world and the people of this world are always longing after something “new.” They want something fresh, something exciting, and those who are in the spotlight and in front of the cameras (music artists, musicians, rappers, etc.) are burdened daily with the responsibility of producing something “new” and something fresh. Unfortunately, the universal church-at-large has fallen prey to this ideological and irrational way of thinking. Moreover, (as I am speaking largely in part as the occupant of a specific office within the life of the church) the Ministers of Music fall victim to the ugliness and meanness of this ever-growing phenomenon every single day of the week. This theory leads me to say that to many Pastors, church officials and to many congregants, the Minister of Music and the Worship Leader has indeed become that brand new shiny toy!
You see, when a child sees that toy, he or she is not concerned about when, where or how that toy was manufactured and what it took for that toy to look and appeal to the eyes of the future buyer. That child does not care how much that toy may cost or what it may take for it to be purchased; the sacrifices that have to be made in order to obtain it. All the child cares about is having that toy. Now, as I have stated, once the child gets the aforementioned toy, it then becomes the child’s most prized possession and nothing else can take the place of that toy. Until one day, the inevitable happens, and for whatever reason, the child does not care for that toy anymore. The toy, although paint-chipped, scratched and bruised in some areas; it still functions just like it did when it was “brand new” for whatever reason—good, bad or indifferent is no longer appealing to the child and the child is then on to the next best thing.
I do not particularly care what the denomination of the church is or whom the leaders may be, I have seen this practice in full effect for almost two decades (some reading this three and four more decades than I have) and that is literally more than half of my life. I am not ashamed to say that I, too, have been to many a “shiny new toy” all used up and put on display and then one day…While we all have much more growing and learning to do, it is a sad state of affairs when the church finds itself taking orders and instructions from the world!
If you will notice that throughout my discourse, I have been extremely intentional about the keeper of my metaphor—a child. A child cannot be blamed or victimized for being a child. The Church of Corinth was made aware, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I [even] reasoned like a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things!” (1 Corinthians 13:11) When will the church and her leadership grow up? The people of God are not shiny new toys, purchased and then handed off to be played with, bullied, butchered, battered, worn and torn and then when they’ve been used up and no longer “appealing” to the eye, tossed off to the side and subsequently thrown away! As a Minister of Worship & Arts, just a few months shy of my twenty-eighth birthday, I do not like what I have seen and we can no longer go on this way. Yes, you may hear the voice and hear the fluency of the chord progressions but do you know what it took to get there? Do you recognize where the gift(s) were originally manufactured and packaged? Do you know what it took to even look appealing because, not everything we purchase is “brand new;” some of it is re-polished and sold again. Musicians, singers, worship leaders, Ministers of Music—do not get bought! Who you are and what you have is NOT FOR SALE! I refuse to sit in another conference or workshop talking and crying over the same things. Un-appreciation and under-appreciation is #real; own it, admit it and let us all go to God in prayer and BIND IT! I do not write to you my dear brothers and sisters from a place of bitterness and anger, but I do write to you with a level of consciousness and heaviness of heart simply tired of the same constant fight that is claiming the lives and the minds (literally and figuratively) of far too many people!
Pastors and leaders, I implore you to actively get to know your people; especially those who serve alongside you. A warm and welcoming, “Good Morning” and “How are you doing” goes a very long way. In many cases, understand that while the Minister of Music may be paid (however large or small), they are not magicians who can produce professional, award-winning singers. However, they do work tirelessly with countless volunteers who express a love, passion and unquestionable commitment to offering their gifts, talents and abilities to the Lord within the household of faith that they currently hold membership.
Elevate Your Thinking
Finally, elevate your thinking from the child-like excitement of getting that “shiny new toy” to the adult reality of purchasing your first car or home or even obtaining a nice piece of fine jewelry. No, it may not have been a mansion or a Rolls Royce; it may not been the highest weighted diamond but whatever the case may be, God blessed you with it and you’d do anything in the world to hold onto it and to protect it. While my comments may be in some way biased, I hope that you can take something from these reflections and join with me in prayer for the awesome task and responsibility that is the office of the Minister of Music. To the one who sits in this seat, yes you—I am talking to you: God sees you! He sees your work and He sees how you are using the many gifts that He has placed inside of you to carry out! He see the tears that you cry and He knows your heart. Always remember that you are a real person with a real heart and with feelings just like everyone else. However, let me be very clear beloved, you are not a toy and you are not under the employ of children! I cannot promise you an eternal absence of hurt, disappointment and occasional discouragement, but what I can promise is that God rewards faithfulness. I sat in my apartment just four years ago and the Lord gave me these words that I have been privileged to record since that time…I want to share them with you and perhaps you’ll consider adding them in your own personal prayer time and devotion:
“Hide me behind the cross, hide me behind the cross; so that none of me is seen; only You get all of the glory. Cleanse me now, wash my heart and hide me behind the cross!”
No, there is nothing “new” about the cross; it is old, rugged, battered and torn but it is what happened on that cross that causes us to stand back up when we have been knocked down! It is what happened on that cross that causes us to cherish it forever and always! So friends, don’t just stay at the cross but get behind it and stay there! You may be currently leading and ministering from a hurt place but my encouragement to you my dear brother and sister—do not stay there!
GET THAT DISCOURAGEMENT OFF OF YOU!