Scripture reminds us to give honor to those deserving of honor (Romans 13:7; Proverbs 3:27; Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17). Yesterday, one of the most influential men in my life, apart from members of my own family, celebrated his birthday. I wasn’t able to party with him, so I’ve decided to take a bit of a departure from what would be a typical Parking Space 23 post and share a personal note of gratitude to Dr. Clayton Erb.
This year marks 37 years of Dr. Clayton Erb serving as the Minister of Music at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. While statistics say the average pastor lasts 3-5 years before moving on, Clayton has raised the bar in longevity, demonstrating what being devoted to the local church entails. In the process, he has shown the immense benefits that come from such faithfulness. In an era where church musicians are unhealthily concerned with image, slick haircuts, trendy facial hair, and fitting into skinny jeans, more than they are with God-honoring music1, Clayton has invested his life in a music ministry that shows reverence for the Lord and a love for the Gospel. His nearly four decades of serving the people at Grace Community Church has not shifted with the fads of the day, but has demonstrated an enduring quality that befits the church.
For a measly period of four years, I got to bask in the wisdom of this musical and spiritual titan on a regular basis. During seminary, I liked to consider myself his “unofficial intern” and I spent as much time as I could learning from Dr. Erb. He invested in me in a manner that I will never be able to repay, and for which I will be eternally grateful to God. However, Clayton’s influence in my ministry began long before I ever stepped foot on the campus of Grace Community Church. Several years prior, I had a dilemma regarding some things I was doing in my church music ministry. The pastor I was serving alongside recommended I make some phone calls to other music ministers, so I decided to swing for the fences and give this juggernaut a call in the middle of December. I felt like a little kid approaching his hero.
As any church musician knows, December is the worst time to receive an interruption. Yet Clayton took significant time out of his schedule one afternoon to help me, a complete stranger, work through a few ministry questions I had. In later years, I would come to appreciate the enormous scope of what it meant for him to set aside this time as he prepared for the Grace Community Church Christmas Concert.
I am so indebted to this man and to honor him for his birthday, I want to share 10 things I learned from the incomparable Dr. Erb…
- Set a high standard… from the very beginning. If you demand excellence from the start, those who should be serving the church (not just those who can) will put in the time and effort necessary. Make it hard to be involved in leading the congregation musically (this actually goes for any leadership position in the church). Engrain in your ministry the mindset that serving and being a church musician is a privilege. It’s hard to remove people from ministry once they’ve been given the platform, so make sure they’re qualified before they go before the people.
- Know your job. The job of the Minister of Music is to protect the congregation from bad musicians. Just because someone wants to serve in music, doesn’t mean they should. Imagine if we allowed anyone who wants to preach to get into the pulpit.
Drive a sports car. Prove to the young people that even in your 80s, they will never be as cool as you.
- Focus. There’s a lot of things in the church that can distract. Stay out of politics and focus on your work.
- Invest in people. Musicians are not a resource for you to use, they are people for you to shepherd. One reason people love Clayton is because he spends time with them. They know he cares and they know he prays. Even his barista’s and restaurant servers know he cares about them.
- Love your pastor. Foster that relationship, because the two of you are going into battle side-by-side each week.
- Surround yourself with trustworthy, God-fearing people. If there was ever a Dream Team in church music ministry, it’s the team with which Clayton has surrounded himself: Bill Brandenstein, Mark Rice, Stephen Sturz, and Sharon Devol.
- Teach others. Clayton has been around the church for a long time and seen it all. It would be a shame to not pass on what he has learned to others. I’m one recipient of his discipleship and there are other men in pulpits across the world who have learned from him.
- Laugh… a lot. Those who only know Clayton from his serious Sunday morning pulpit persona, are missing out. He takes his job seriously, but just ask the choir and orchestra if they’ve ever had a rehearsal where they didn’t laugh. Clayton takes his work seriously, but not himself.
- Exercise genuine humility. Musicians are experts at false humility, which is just another form of pride, but genuine humility points people to Christ. I’ve wanted to honor Clayton today, but ultimately, the reason I want to honor Clayton is because Clayton points to Christ. Clayton has made me love my Savior more deeply, and caused me to understand the immense privilege it is to serve our great God.
I’m not just saying all this because it’s polite, but this list truly could go on and on. I need to cut it here because our culture can only handle Top Ten lists (and you’ll stop reading if it goes any longer).
Clayton, thank you for all you’ve invested into the church. Words will never express the gratitude I, and many others, have for all you have done to serve our Savior. You are truly a man among men.
Happy Birthday and Soli Deo Gloria!
- By the way, Clayton pulls off the the haircuts and facial hair better than anyone, and has been setting the standard long before the hipsters were even in diapers ↩