TUPELO • Randy Wood believes in long-term relationships.
In 44 years of music ministry, he’s served exactly two churches.
Wood, who turned 68 last week, said there’s no substitute for time spent together when it comes to ministry impact.
“You have to be around people to build relationships,” he said. “The more years you serve, the more you know your people. You build trust, and you see generations growing up in church. It’s a great thing.”
Born and raised in Pontotoc, Wood grew up in a family of musicians, most notably his cousin and former Ole Miss quarterback Jim Weatherly, who penned the song “Midnight Train To Georgia.”
Wood said his love for music, and his decision to enter the ministry, grew out of memorable gatherings with a musical family.
“I grew up in a musical family,” he said. “We’d gather at my grandmother’s house, and I would watch and listen as a child. Looking back now, I see how it unfolded. The bottom line is, the Lord led me.”
Wood’s first music ministry gig was at First Baptist Church in Verona, where he served as that congregation’s music minister for 29 years. He said his years at Verona were fond and formative.
“I started at Verona in 1975,” he said. “I had married my wife Marilyn the year before. We saw lots of change and growth over those years.”
In February 2005 Wood left First Baptist in Verona and moved slightly north, to First Baptist in Tupelo. He said his first priority at his new post was getting to know the people.
“I told the search committee I wanted to meet the people where they were,” he said. “I wanted to build relationships, establish trust, and lead them in the songs they could best worship through.”
Wood said when he came to First Baptist in Tupelo, the church had a strong musical program with a time-honored musical style.
“This church has a strong choral background with great choirs and musicians,” he said. “It was choir-led with traditional hymnody and piano and organ.”
Wood said the church, which now hosts two weekly worship services – one with piano, organ and traditional hymns and the other with contemporary music and a full band – has embraced the changes in musical styles.
“Our people have responded well to the changes that have taken place over the last 15 years,” he said. “It’s a process, and there has to be give and take. You have to be sensitive to the fact that everybody has a style of music they love.”
Wood said in his experience, patience and mutual trust are key to successfully introducing change in church.
“It goes back to that trust factor,” he said. “You meet people where they are and move slowly. I didn’t push for things quickly. The change was gradual; it just sort of evolved.”
Wood said his own musical tastes have evolved over the years as well.
“I grew up in a traditional Baptist church,” he said. “I love the old hymns. But I love the new songs, too. There are some tremendous songwriters out there, and great bands. We just did a song by All Sons and Daughters and we’re working on one by Rend Collective.”
Wood said the battles within some churches over musical styles, often dubbed the “worship wars,” are a distraction from the larger purpose of worship.
“Those two words – war and worship – don’t go hand in hand,” he said. “It’s a daunting thing to lead worship. It’s a 2,000-year-old thing we’re trying to figure out, and I haven’t always done it right.”
Wood said after 44 years leading worship, he still has to remind himself that his work on Sundays is just part of a bigger picture.
“Our worship doesn’t just happen on Sundays,” he said. “It’s daily. As much as I love to sing and play, that’s just part of it. Worship is moment by moment, day by day. He is worthy of our best praise, and we are to offer all we are to him every day.”
Still vibrant and youthful at 68, Wood said he has no desire to retire.
“I love what I do now more than ever,” he said. “There comes a time to ‘wrap it up,’ but I don’t plan to retire. If God wants me to shift gears that’s fine, but I want to work as long as I can and share the Gospel with as many people as I can.”