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Southern prof aims to challenge hearts, minds through music

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When he was nine-years-old, Carl “Chip” Stam fractured his leg and spent the eight weeks that followed in traction. Little did he know how important a break it would turn out to be.

While in the hospital, Stam received a get-well card from his father’s boss. Inside was a crisp $5 bill, which, in the early 60s still bought something. With it, the young Stam bought a musical instrument which began a lifelong love affair.

“My parents asked me what I was going to do with the money,” he said. “I told them that the music store had a ukulele for $5. So when I was nine, I started playing the ukulele. When I got in high school, I began playing guitar. I always tried to make music on anything I could play. I never stopped singing. I sang in the car, in the shower, most everywhere.”

Some four decades later, Stam is sharing his love for music — and church music in particular — with Southern Baptists. In August, he was hired as an associate professor of church music and worship and director of the Institute for Christian Worship at Southern Seminary.

Stam teaches several classes, but perhaps is best recognized by Southern’s student body as the worship leader for Thursday chapel services in Alumni Memorial Chapel.

“What I am aiming for is a prayer experience though Scripture and song and listening and participation that is biblical and authentic, credible and personal, yet challenging to people’s hearts and minds.

“I think a lot of people sadly think of the song service as our exaltation of God and sharing of our faith with others and not as part of the edification of the body. I see song and praise and thanksgiving as both a part of exalting Christ as Lord and teaching God’s people about the richness of the full gospel experience.”

Stam also plays trombone in the chapel orchestra during Tuesday chapel services. While he relishes leading worship and playing in the orchestra, conducting choral music is his primary passion.

“I love conducting … [particularly] what I’m doing with the oratorio chorus — being the maestro — and conducting and molding a grand expression of artistic excellence in a way the performers and audience can drink from that well,” he said.

The well that is Stam’s background, both spiritually and musically, is a deep one. His parents were classmates of Billy Graham at Wheaton College.

Stam’s great-grandfather and grandfather had operated a mission in New York, reaching out to the poor and down-and-out. His grandfather also served as an attorney for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

His great uncle and aunt — John and Betty Stam — were missionaries to China in the 1930s and both were beheaded by communist enforcers for preaching the gospel.

“My grandfather’s family was sort of a missionary dynasty,” he said. “I grew up in a strong evangelical home under the shadow of Wheaton College, Christianity Today and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. There was also a wonderful Christian camp in New Hampshire I attended each summer which was very formative for me.”

In 1970, while a student at the University of North Carolina, he helped start a campus church — Chapel Hill Bible Church. He spent his college years in the church and served as its minister of music and worship from 1975 to 1981. He returned to the church in 1991 as pastor of worship and music, where he remained until coming to Southern Seminary.

Stam served as director of choral music and associate professional specialist from 1981-91 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Stam plays the acoustic guitar and leads Thursday chapel services from the right-hand side of the stage. This is a conscious effort to keep worship focused on God and not man, he said.

“I am very uncomfortable leading worship from the center of the room,” he said. “I know God doesn’t live at the center of the room, but there is something symbolic about leading from the center of the room when everyone is pointed toward you and you have their attention toward the middle.

“Rather, I’d rather be off-center as if part of a circle of worshippers. There’s a huge difference for me. It’s different if you are teaching or reading Scripture. To me that same thing doesn’t apply, but when we’re in song, I don’t want anyone to confuse singing to God with singing to a song leader.”

Stam sees biblical theology as the lifeblood of authentic worship. While he teaches students at Southern, Stam himself is a student. He is working toward a doctor of ministry degree.

“It (theology) informs everything I do in terms of planning and leadership and balance and the idea that God is both the subject and object of worship,” he said. “What we do is gather around right thinking about God. It is a worship experience that is informed by the God who has revealed himself and wants a relationship with us corporately and individually.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CARL STAM.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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