This is a blog entry I never would have wanted to make. As most all of you know by now, Grace Life Church’s own Julie Thompson (I called her “Jules”) died last week from a medically rare, freak illness. I won’t go into the sad details. Let’s just say it was a Sovereign God’s time to call Julie home.
Among many things, these thoughts have risen to the surface of my heart over the past week:
I didn’t know how much Julie meant to me until after she left us. Of course, I loved Julie….She has been a dear friend and sister to me in the seven or so years we worked together. However, I couldn’t quantify my brotherly affection for her until it was too late. To be quite honest, there seems to be something wrong with that. Maybe it’s a product of still inhabiting a fallen world. Maybe it is my own shortcomings….
With that in mind, I will purpose to work at assessing the depth of my love for all people with whom I interact—especially the three ladies in my home (my wife and my two daughters). I will try to capture the wound of this past week in a bottle and drink deeply from it to the end that I will more biblically value each and every person in my little corner of the world.
How I wish I could get 60 seconds with Julie so I could just tell her what she meant to me. Not that 60 seconds would be long enough—or 60 minutes for that matter…but you know what I mean.
Being a soloist/praise team member/choir member is a leadership position. One thing I didn’t see coming is the depth of connection that folks had with Julie who only knew her from her singing in our services. Of course, I would expect an unspeakable sense of loss for her husband, Scott, and her five beautiful children, Isabella, Rosie, Oliver, Vivienne, and Anne Genevieve. I would be surprised if her parents, Lyle and Linda, her in-laws, Jimmy and Judy, her brother, David and his wife, Natalie, her sister-in-law, Stacey and her husband, Will and the entire family didn’t go into mind-numbing shock at the news of Julie’s sudden passing. Folks in Julie’s small group, in our praise team and choir also feel as if they lost a family member.
What I didn’t expect is that folks from all over the world contacted ME to express their sorrow. Why would they call, text, and email me? It didn’t have anything to do with me. It’s probably because they didn’t know who else to contact. It could also be that they understood Julie’s leadership role underneath mine (and underneath Bro. Jeff’s). They went right up the authority chain to me because Julie didn’t have a musician’s role—she had a ministry role. One thing is for sure–I didn’t realize so many people associated her with her Music Minister. She wasn’t just a singer. She was a communicator. And she did so in the context of the local church. In so doing, she held a Christ-honoring influence over most everyone who became used to her presence on the services—from our congregation, to our church plants and partners, to anyone who watches our services at our website. These folks didn’t just hear news of Julie’s death, they experienced loss!
What does this mean for us as Music Ministers? We have to make sure that we understand the massive influence of those who are given the responsibility of standing before the congregation and singing/playing/reading/speaking. We have to properly communicate to folks who are already in our churches’ Music Departments and to those who seek membership that it is not a light, casual thing with which to be involved. It is a ministry that does wield influence and models Christianity to our communities and world. It’s much more than making music. It’s making ministry.
Julie understood that. As you may have heard in her testimony, once she became aware that God had given her a new heart, she didn’t want to return to singing in church until she knew God was ready for her to (by confirming it in her heart, her husband and church leadership). She had sung in church for years (since she was 15 or so) but didn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord. During that time, she would tell you that she didn’t understand this principle at all. It was more about impressing people with her talent. But once that new heart was beating in her soul, any and all glory received was to be directed to her King.
This is why at Grace Life Church we have standards, drawn from scripture, that are lovingly looked to for those who are members of our Music Department. We expect folks in our choir to also be in personal accountability through their small groups. We expect them to be a member in good standing. We expect them to be at church even when they aren’t singing on the service. We expect them to have a good testimony to the community. (None of this in perfection—but a heart to repent into maturity in these areas.) It is not a light thing to be seen Sunday to Sunday before the congregation. It is a de facto leadership position—whether the musician realizes it or not.
She cannot be replaced. I wish I had a few more Julie Thompsons waiting in the wings. I don’t. Fact is, I have never met anyone quite like her. Julie had a standard for musical excellence that I have seldom seen in any musical circles. Maybe, before I knew her, those standards were to the end of her own glory. I don’t know. But what I do know is that when she would push me to make a choir special more effective, when she would agonize about her pitch on one particular note, when she would insist that we would all pronounce a particular syllable a different way (that’s stuff I’M supposed to be pushing!) it was all to the end of communicating her Savior’s gospel.
Pray for those who will now have to step up and possibly sing some of the solos Julie used to sing. They are huge shoes to fill. Fortunately, none of this was about Julie. Otherwise, filling them would be impossible. Thank the Lord, all of this has been, is, and will be about our matchless Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, while Julie cannot be replaced, others can develop their own ministry and relationship with our congregation and others that watch our services.
It is my prayer that the young ladies and gentlemen in our church now and who may end up at our church in the future would be inspired by Julie’s standard and effort to rise to it and—dare I say—even surpass it, not by making music for art’s sake but for God’s glory. That would make Julie smile, just as it makes me smile to know that I had the privilege to be her friend, her brother, and her Music Minister.