By Todd E. Brady
Vice president for University Ministries, Union University, Jackson
Shakespeare said, “Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”
When we first met at Camp Carson Youth Music Week in 1990, I didn’t realize that Paul Clark would sing at my wedding almost a decade later. I also didn’t realize that I would end up naming my fourth son after him 20 years later. You don’t name your children after just anybody, but Paul Clark wasn’t just anybody. Most people can count on only one hand, or even one finger friends like Paul Clark. In so many ways, he was one of God’s choicest instruments. A tall trophy of God’s grace. A minister of ministers. A rare and good gift. A once-in-a-lifetime kind of friend.
I am merely one of the many people who have been influenced by, taught by, challenged by and encouraged by Paul. A graduate of Union University, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, he served as a staff member at several churches—Liberty Grove Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn., Parkway Baptist Church, Goodlettsville, Tenn., First Baptist Church, Fenton, Mo., Beuchal Park Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky., Metropolitan Baptist Church, Wichita, Kan., First Baptist Church, Jackson, Tenn., and Briarlake Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga. Folks in these churches could tell stories of rich relationships and God’s grace that was made manifest to them through Paul’s ministry. Most recently, Paul ministered to thousands across Tennessee as he served as Music and Worship Specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Rather than any position which he may have held, Paul’s life and ministry was a continual response to the God who held him. He knew and never got over the fact that Jesus sought him when he was a “stranger, wandering from the fold of God.” Indeed, “God rescued him from danger,” and “interposed his precious blood.” Like us all, Paul knew that he was a debtor to God’s grace and that he was “prone to wander.” For this reason, his life was a continual prayer that God would take his heart and “seal it for Thy courts above.”
Paul’s greatest earthly joy was his family, and his love for his family extended to so many of us that we felt like family too.
He had the ability to see both humor and God’s hand in every circumstance. Some of my deepest belly laughs were with Paul. There are many like me who will forever think about Paul when we hear the song, Sleigh Ride at Christmastime. It may seem odd, but I have always considered it a high honor that Paul invited me to put those socks on my hands and ride in that sleigh with them. (The reader who attended Music Week at Camp Carson understands.)
On the other hand, some of my greatest moments of corporate worship were under Paul’s leadership. Many of the most profound insights about God and His work came through my conversations with Paul. He was the most sincere, caring, passionate and thoughtful follower of God I have ever known. If I wanted someone to pray for me, I knew who to call. I knew that Paul wouldn’t just say he would pray; he would actually talk to God on my behalf. One Sunday morning at 2:30 am, I called to get his advice about something I felt God was leading me to share during a Sunday morning service at a particular church. He was the kind of friend who took my call in the middle of the night, was gracious about being woken up, and of course said what was helpful and spot on.
There was nothing loud and proud about Paul. No one could usher us into worship like Paul. If someone asked me to preach revival services and mentioned the worship leader coming, I asked them to let me pray about it before I answered. If they said Paul was leading worship, I immediately said “yes.” There are some things you don’t have to pray about.
Paul helped me and others realize that God is always the Audience of our worship. It is God who looks on the heart. For this reason, he always led us to focus on the God to Whom we sing rather than the style with which we sang. When it came to leading worship, Paul was motivated by John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and worked hard at loving God with “all [his] heart and with all [his] soul and with all [his] mind” (Matthew 22:37).
In a sense, a stroke took Paul from us three years ago. Since then, I have thought many times, “I will call Paul and he will help me walk through this. He will know just what to say.” But I couldn’t call anymore. If there has ever been a time when I’ve asked God “Why?,” it’s been during these last three years.
Paul taught me so many things. His influence on me was profound. Because of him, I saw God and what it looked like to walk genuinely with Him.
Most of all, Paul taught me to always look, whether I understood circumstances or not, to the One Who would “tune my heart to sing Thy grace.”