Pastor Ron approached me anxiously as I slid my guitar back onto its stand.
"Phil," he was saying, "I can finally put it into words."
I looked at him blankly.
"I can explain it now," he continued. "The problem I have with contemporary worship. I figured it out while you were playing."
As a worship leader, it isn't the response I generally hope for. I wasn't surprised, though. It was a pastor's retreat, and some of these men were hostile toward new music. I'd accepted an invitation to lead worship in hope of providing them a positive experience - our little team had woven several favorite old hymns and a few well-known worship songs into (what I'd hoped would be) a nice tapestry of praise.
Apparently, it hadn't worked for Pastor Ron. The clipboard in his left hand had tally marks next to the words: "I," "my" "me" and "mine."
"I couldn't believe the sheer number of personal pronouns in those songs," he explained, "so I started counting them. One chorus alone of that Hillsong thing used the word 'I' six times!"
"Okay," I responded slowly, "let me get this straight: During worship, you were sitting with a clipboard counting personal pronouns?"
"That's right," he said. "It's evidence that you've embraced a man-centered Gospel. Our ministries need to return to the God-centered truths of the great hymns."
Ron was a well-trained, spiritual guy, and I was familiar with his ministry. A bi-vocational pastor, he worked hard to support his church, but it was dying a little more each week. I desperately desired to see that little dry place become a fountain of Living Water.
Behind all the bluster, he did, too.
I was looking at Pastor Ron, but inside I was looking to Jesus. I prayed quickly, and it went something like this: "Lord - please fill my mouth with wisdom. Give me the answer that will touch Pastor Ron's heart."
In faith, I exhaled and started moving my lips.
"Ron, you're right," I heard myself say calmly. "Today's praise song writers have picked up some really bad habits." I had his attention, but both of us wondered where I was going with this.
"To be fair, though," I went on, "today's psalmists have picked up bad habits from the only Biblical role model that exists. King David had to write his songs without the help of our good theologians."
It was Pastor Ron's turn to look bewildered and I plowed ahead.
"Take Psalm 18, for example," I continued. Reciting that beautiful passage from a submerged memory, I emphasized the appropriate words:
I love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
"In only three verses, David uses 14 personal pronouns," I said. "As long as song writers keep depending on Biblical role models, they'll continue to make the same mistakes."
I had nothing more to say, and the two of us stood over my guitar in an awkward silence that seemed to go on for about a week. Pastor Ron finally broke the hush.
"That's a pretty good answer," he said simply, and the silence returned as we both recognized God's presence in the moment. As it turned out, Ron and I went on to become friends; he supported renewal and encouraged me in many ways.
It's humbling when the Glorious, Almighty God uses us to speak truth to each other. That day, though, I drove home in wonder, pondering a mystery:
God allows - actually calls - us to attach our personal pronouns to His greatness. It doesn't diminish His glory one little bit when I declare Him as my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my God...and the One in whom I take refuge. In fact, it's probably when He's most glorified.