I figured out why I admire the ministry and music career of Bill Gaither. It’s not about Bill Gaither.
When I attended a Bill Gaither Homecoming in 2001, I felt like I’d had a taste of Heaven. Homecoming was the perfect term for that concert. It had more of a feel of a music aficionados’ jam session. The audience happened to be fringe bystanders watching this one big party of music people enjoying themselves.
Years later, after purchasing a Gaither Vocal Band CD, I checked out Youtube videos of some of my favorite songs. The same feel was there.
Bill Gaither, born in 1936, is a singer and songwriter of Southern Gospel and contemporary Christian music. Many of his songs such as “Because He Lives,” “It Is Finished,” “The Longer I Serve Him” and “He Touched Me” have found their way into traditional church music. I’ve appreciated how their songs have grown in complexity and maturity of spiritual depth over the years. I have many favorites but I especially cherish “Worthy The Lamb” and “Through.”
In spite of his standing as an icon of the gospel music industry and his contribution of over 700 gospel songs thanks to his gifted songwriter-wife Gloria, Bill’s presence on stage was felt rather than seen. It took an interview with another great Christian artist, Steve Green, for me to realize why Bill didn’t dominate the stage.
It wasn’t his stage.
Steve Green, in a Facebook live session, tucked in this gem in the midst of his comments. “If God preserves you, it’s for Him. Any platform He gives you — it’s not yours, it’s a loan. It’s really His.”
Since it isn’t Bill’s stage in the first place, Bill chooses to share the stage. How does he do it?
- Bill Gaither fills the stage with other people and gives them a chance to shine. A Homecoming stage is crowded! Unlike so many other vocalists, even Christian vocalists, you have to go looking for Bill. It almost feels like he’s brought half the audience up on stage with him!
- Bill Gaither encourages and acknowledges his co-workers. Acknowledging the other band members is done in such a natural way too that you truly feel like everyone from his vocal team to his pianist to his sound man are his friends and they ought to be your friends too. In one video, as Wes Hampton finished his solo part in “Wherever I Go,” Bill had his hand on Wes’ shoulder in affirmation. The other two singers followed suit, giving pats on Wes’ back. Wow! Such camaraderie. Bill was anything but a stage hog.
- Bill Gaither is humble. You’d have to be humble to put up with Mark Lowry put-downs. Have you ever watched one of their shticks? They’re almost cringe-worthy but I’m laughing anyway and so is Bill! It happens too often for it be ad lib. Bill sets himself up for Mark’s sass. One of my favorite Mark Lowry phrases is about Bill’s signature songs, “He Touched Me” – the song that “bought the bus.” It’s those little remarks that shows me Bill has surrounded himself with people who are comfortable in their own skin and are willing to laugh at themselves.
The ministries of Bill Gaither and Steve Green have caused me to think about my own creative ministry. How willing am I to share my platform with other writers and ministry workers? Let me tell you a little secret. Christian writers are encouraged to build our platform, to get out there and make ourselves known, to broaden our audience, and build the numbers.
I’m wondering if Bill’s approach is the far more Scriptural one. After all, it’s not our platform. It’s on loan and we share it first and foremost with the God who gave it to us in the first place.
Jesus said a number of times in the Gospels, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” He also taught the principle of the greatest among you shall be your servant.
Good thoughts but . . .
. . . how do I as a writer do that in practical terms? How do I do that in my work in the located church? I think Bill Gaither sets the example. I need to:
- Share my stage with like-minded people. No man or woman is an island, especially in the creative process. It’s a team effort and everyone – from the writer to the editor, the graphic artist, the critique group, and the prayer team – are on that stage and deserve to be seen.
- Encourage and acknowledge other writers and ministry workers. After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the Message.
- Reveal my humanness. No, I don’t have to parade my faults but I do need to step off the pedestal and be just another one of the girls. This message came clear to me when a newspaper reporter from the big town of Dodge City, Kansas interviewed me about my story published in that month’s Guideposts. She did more than the usual oohing and ahhing that she was talking to a real published writer who had had this amazing experience. I hung up the phone, my head spinning with my own greatness. Then I remembered what I had been doing when the phone rang. I went back to the bathroom, picked up my brush and knelt on the floor. After all, I was still a mom and wife and I clean toilets like everyone else.
Steve Green offers the final encouragement for platform building. If our platform is not ours to begin with, but on loan from God then “Make much of Him,” Steve says.
Psalm 115:1 says it in one concise sentence:
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness.”
I think Steve Green and Bill Gaither would agree.