Hi, my name is Angela Swain, and I serve here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College as assistant professor of music and the Department of Worship Ministries. I’m also a wife to Dr. Matthew Swain, who not only teaches here, but serves the local church as a worship pastor and has for many years. I am also a mother to two wonderful preteens right now. So, I have a lot of different ways that I’m serving the Lord at the present. In particular, as it pertains to a specific call to ministry, that is ministry to the local church.
This has happened over the years through a variety of means: through kind providences of the Lord’s circumstances and the Lord providing the council of friends through prayer. Over the years, it’s really taken the church to help me see how the Lord would intend to use me for the church. A number of years ago, after I became a Christian, there was a general sense, like all believers, that I would be used of the Lord to minister to others. That is to say that we would share the gospel through all of everyday life, whether we’re eating, drinking, shopping at Wal-Mart, or diapering a baby; whatever we do, we’re serving him and giving him glory in those activities. However, later on in life, there became a more specific call that I was sensing. It would later be confirmed by friends and co-laborers in the church that my life would be used specifically for the church. And, that the spiritual gifts the Lord had given me, the musical talents as a musician, it would be my desire to use them exclusively.
I think that this can be best explained if I use other examples of females from the past. Fanny Crosby, who was a phenomenal musician in her own right, a songwriter, and an advocate for many things in her life, but exclusively used her penmanship not only to represent Christ in the world, but for the church. I think of Francis Havel, who wrote the song, “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated Lord to thee, take my moments and my days, let them flow with ceaseless praise.” The lyrics in that song really express my heart. Everything the Lord’s given me to do, I want to do it; not only wholeheartedly as a believer, but specifically in a way that would build his church in the kingdom.
In fact, I feel like I have a lot in common with Francis, that she too, was a musician. She was a professional musician who could have gone many different places. Her father was even invited to be a professor for the chair of the music department at Oxford. Even through the lyrics to that particular hymn, as she contemplated those, she realized she wanted to be set apart. She made a decision to exclusively only use her musicianship for the church. She wouldn’t play in public venues for the sake of music or for artistry sake, but she wanted to be even more exclusive than that. So, for those gifts and that outpouring that was emitted from her life to be used in such a way that would build the kingdom. And we’re still singing her songs to this day. Although, I have that in common with her as being female and a musician, I find that there is also a commonality in the desire to use that musicianship for the church.
As I went through college and began studying music for the express purpose of being a music educator and wanting to use music in ways where I could make a difference in the lives of others. So, as I progressed through that, I realized there was more than just teaching whole notes for the sake of music and teaching music for its own sake. I desired so much more than that. I mean, all along the way, I was using my gifts in the church, always serving the church through my musicianship, being behind the piano, singing, helping with music, children’s choirs, in whatever ways a musician serves in the church as a lay leader. However, the older I got and the more I loved the Lord; the more I desired to serve in that way. So through circumstances, I began to sense a specific call to take this musicianship and point it in the direction of the church and say, “Lord, I’m yours; use my musicianship for the church.” I didn’t know what that looked like as a believer. I didn’t know what that looked like as a woman, but I knew that I wanted to be biblically minded. I don’t want to be, “I am woman hear me roar.” I don’t want to do anything out of your will. But I want to be what you would have me be and to do what you would have me do. So, you have to show me. And in his kind providence, he made a way through circumstances.
Fast forward, I felt led and called to attend seminary because I wanted my musicianship to be informed by theology. I didn’t want to be a musician for music’s sake. I wanted to know more about his word. I wanted to, especially as I worked with musicians in a variety of contexts, be able to defend the faith and apologize the faith in ways unique to artists. So, I felt called to get this degree at seminary and I learned so much. And during that time, the call increased more. The desire to be used of the Lord exclusively for the church. And that’s where I met my husband.
I was single during those years, and I met him there. He was on the journey of being called specifically to ministry as a worship pastor. A minister of music goes by several different names, but to lead music for corporate worship in the local church. We both could see the handiwork of God as he brought us together. Now, I had no idea that I would ever get married. I was a single woman who was desiring to serve the Lord and be obedient in what he called me to do. And along the way, as we’re following the Lord and pursuing him, sometimes he can change the plan or bring things into our story that we didn’t realize were coming.
So, as my now husband, Matthew and I began to date and eventually got married. We realized that our call to ministry was now twofold. It had increased. Now, for me in particular, I knew more of what it looked like. It wasn’t only being a musician for the church, but also being a wife to a worship pastor. And then as we had children; being a mother. The call to ministry essentially was saying, “take my life and use me in these ways.” I want to be more than than just a Christian who gives you glory for everything, as we’re all called to do. I could sing at the Met. I could do all sorts of things in the arts world and be a Christian, in that world and give him glory and witness. However, I have always desired to be about the Lord’s work at the local church. To do whatever I can as a fellow church member; whether that’s doing things outside my comfort zone or things that don’t involve music. Even though I felt exclusively called to serve as a musician; it was being available to serve the body of Christ in a variety of ways.
Now, it’s been my privilege to not only serve all those years as a single female behind the piano, helping rehearse groups, writing music, rehearsing music, rehearsing choirs, rehearsing bands, and orchestras, all of it. However, now the privilege of serving alongside my husband and both of us feeling that call to use all of these gifts exclusively for the local church. And we never, ever imagined, which God brought into our life later on through his kind providence, that we would be training other musicians to do the same. Who would be serving in a variety of ways, as believers in the community at large and in the world of the arts at large, but those who have felt a specific call to use their gifts for the church. They could go play in this band or be a recording artist or whatever it may be; all those things people can do as Christian believers and contribute to the kingdom at large.
Even so, I find that here at this seminary, it has really manifested in our own lives. There’s something sweet and special about that call to serve the local body, because through it, so many things in the periphery just remain there. You’re able to focus on corporate worship and that’s what every believer is called to do; it is to worship and to worship together as a group of believers. So, it’s a joy and privilege to follow God in that call. Now, it wasn’t just this one specific call one day. It was just a general sense of, “yes, lord, here I am.” Use me, however, and just walking through each day and allowing his kind providence through the circumstances of life, to lead me where he wanted me to be. And, certainly, I am today in a place, I never imagined I would be. I couldn’t have planned my life really any better; not that there haven’t been rough moments, trying times, or seasons of trial. And that’s been a part of God’s call and the ministry as well; as he continues to shape me personally. It’s certainly more than a profession. There is a sweetness to say that there are a whole lot of things that I could be doing as a woman, as a female, and as a musician. However, there is such reward and such sweetness to serve the local body in this way, as a musician, for his glory, and for his church.
My name is Angela Swain, and this is my called story.