By Jessica Connor
CONWAY – One United Methodist pastor is using his musical talents to help the kingdom – and inspire others to do the same.
The Rev. Scott Johnson of Union United Methodist Church, Conway, has just released a CD of contemporary Christian songs, “Love Still Wins.” Spanning acoustic, rock, piano, contemporary Christian, roots and blues genres, the album is billed as a personal diary of honest music with an honest message.
“It’s about my personal experience of being a Jesus-follower and the struggles of trying to follow Jesus and lead a congregation,” Johnson said. “Some songs are a reaction to what’s going on in my life, some are my prayer journals and some I’ve written in the midst of writing a sermon because I couldn’t get in prose what I wanted to say. So I stopped, wrote the song, and then I was able to write the sermon.”
Featuring songs like “Our First Love,” “Anthem of a Weary Heart,” “Portrait of Grace,” “Our Lovely King” and “How Long,” the CD is a way for Johnson to use his God-given gifts to share the Good News with others.
All the vocals are his, as are the piano and acoustic guitar, plus some bass and electric guitar. Various other musicians are also featured. Johnson wrote all the songs except “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” which is a remake of an old Isaac Watts hymn, two versions of which are in the UM hymnal.
Johnson hopes other people will be inspired by his creative effort and do something similar with their own talents.
“God holds us responsible to use the gifts He’s given us whether or not we think they’re useful,” Johnson said. “To be self-critical is good, to have self-knowledge is a key to wisdom, but it also can hinder you from actually following through. If God puts something in your heart, you should use it. People are afraid of using it, but you only get one shot at living this life, and I’ll take failure over failing to act any day.”
After all, Johnson said, God might one day ask why we didn’t use the gift He gave us.
“You could say, ‘I didn’t feel comfortable.’ But God would say, ‘I didn’t give it to you to be comfortable. I gave it to you to use it,’” Johnson said.
The CD is also important to Johnson for another reason – helping Union with the Congo, his church’s effort to raise money to construct wells and latrines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Half of the sales of CDs purchased directly from Johnson go to that fund.
Music a ‘universal language’
Music has always been a part of Johnson’s life and is the recurring theme of his personal walk with Jesus, he said: “It kept me grounded, got me through various things, and I just think music is at the core of my ministry. It’s how I connect with God.”
That’s the beauty of music, for Johnson – it transcends language.
“It’s a universal language, and that’s why music points to God and is from God, because it transcends words,” he said.
His congregation is musically inclined, as well, and they try to capitalize on what Johnson calls “homegrown talent.” They have a choir every other week, and in between they have different musical offerings.
“Our goal is to help our congregation be producers of worship instead of just consumers ... to pull people from the congregation and have them be a part of the worship,” he said. “Excellence is maximizing what you have.”
And that’s just what he hopes others will do – not only in their own worship services, but in using their gifts to help the kingdom financially, spiritually and physically.
“Whatever you’ve got, leverage it for the kingdom,” he said. “Whether music or art, do whatever you can do to contribute outside of your typical income.”
As he said, the Parable of the Talents is done on a ratio for a reason.
Johnson thinks creativity might be a key way the UMC can gain members, as well. He thinks many people lose interest in the church because they feel they cannot express their creative ideas within a church setting. But as he points out, the Sistine Chapel was an expression of Christian art, and even an atheist still knows who Michelangelo is. Others should follow suit in expressing their own creativity – even recording a CD of their own if so inspired.
“Go put your stuff to work and trust God with the outcomes,” he said.
What’s next for Johnson? He has started cutting the set list for his second album, and right after Christmas, he will start the recording process. He expects the new album to be released in the spring.
No matter what, he’ll be using his God-given creativity for the sake of the kingdom.
To purchase a copy of the “Love Still Wins” CD from Johnson, with 50 percent going to the Union with the Congo fund, the cost is $10. E-mail Johnson at [email protected] or call 843-397-9100. To purchase online instead, the cost is $12.97 for the CD and $9.99 for the MP3 download. Visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/mydeardemas .