By Charity L. Cohen
Special to The Alamance News
“It’s just a journey that is part of the process of going through life, and using the gifts that God gave you to help other people. I’ve always wanted to help people and help them grow musically and spiritually.” – Rev. Joel Marshall, retiring from First Baptist Church Burlington after 36 years
Rev. Joel Marshall’s first assignment as First Baptist Burlington’s Minister of Music, was to organize one of the church’s biggest ceremonies of the year, the annual “Hanging of the Greens” for Christmas. A daunting task that would’ve scared anyone away during his first week on the job, but not Marshall. After a week of meticulous planning, researching, and collaborating with other members of his faith community, Marshall was able to lead the event to its usual standard of excellence.
“But it wasn’t just me doing all the work,” Marshall said. “It all came together with help with a lot of people.”
This moment was tangible evidence of what Marshall already knew, and what would help inform his journey as a minister of music: understanding that no one can do it all by themselves.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the church and the good people here. . . I enjoy equipping people for ministry, and have always tried to do that, because there’s no way that any one person could do could do it all.” – Rev. Joel Marshall
Retiring music minister shines light on others, not himself
Even now as he retires after 36 years of service with First Baptist Church in Burlington, Marshall wishes to take the spotlight off of himself, and shine it on his wife, Becky Marshall, his family, and the community of people who’ve supported and assisted him through the years.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the church and the good people here,” he said.
Part of why he loves music ministry so much is because he is able to give back to others, as others have given to him.
“I enjoy equipping people for ministry, and have always tried to do that, because there’s no way that any one person could do could do it all,” he said.
At a young age, Marshall felt a God-ordained calling over his life and knew that he wanted to use music to lead people to Christ.
Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee to two parents who were heavily involved in the church, Marshall was immersed in music and evangelism at a young age. He began playing the trumpet in the fifth grade and was involved in school bands; he eventually branched out and learned how to play the guitar and eventually, received choral training. Like many teens and young adults, after high school, Marshall felt that he didn’t have a clear direction, but under the guidance of the minister of music at his church, his obvious next step was to go to college to study music
His family moved to Virginia after his high school graduation, giving Marshall the opportunity to study music at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia where he received his Bachelors of Music Education. After graduating from the Conservatory, Marshall worked on the live show staff at Kings Dominion theme park.
His role on the live show staff, alongside his future wife Becky who worked at the park as well, was his first opportunity to “equip” and prepare other musicians.
“A lot of the things I did [at Kings Dominion], apply to my ministry [at First Baptist Burlington],” he said. “Some of the same things, rehearsing, planning, planning programs and so forth – so that was a good experience.”
While in Virginia, he and his family attended Bon Air Baptist Church where he met his wife Becky through a church musical that they were both working on.
“So the running joke is, I was working with the instruments for that musical and she was getting together the costumes and nothing has changed,” Marshall said with a laugh. “We’re still doing instruments and costumes.”
Marshall attributes much of his success to the support and backing of his wife of 41 years. In fact, when speaking of his music ministry, he rarely uses the word ‘I,’ only ‘we’ because to him, it has been more of a collaborative effort with his wife than an individual one.
“She has given so much to caring for you, friendships, inviting people to church, ministry through children’s choirs teaching Sunday School, serving on committees,” he said. “I am aware that 36 years would not be possible without Becky’s support.”
Marshall’s calling into music ministry became more clear after working as an assistant for handbells and orchestra at another church in Virginia.
“I really enjoyed being in the music ministry. I enjoyed rehearsing and putting together programs and playing,” he said. “I just really felt a great satisfaction with combining music and ministry.”
OTHER THOUGHTS ON HIS CAREER AND RETIRING:
“I’m so glad that my calling was in music. I didn’t really feel a calling to be a preacher, but I’ve really been able to minister through music.”
“I really enjoyed being in the music ministry. I enjoyed rehearsing and putting together programs and playing. I just really felt a great satisfaction with combining music and ministry.”
After he and Becky married, he attended Southern Baptist Seminary where he received his Master’s of Church Music in 1986. Within that same year, he received an offer to serve as the Minister of Music at First Baptist Burlington.
Much of his job requires planning out the music and leading rehearsals for each Sunday’s service, special musicals, and theatrical programs that the church hosts.
While serving in his capacity, he has been able to build a network and join a community of others who use music to connect people to God. He and his wife are never too far from the music world. An avocation that the two of them hold dear is their involvement with the North Carolina Baptist Singers, a statewide group made up of about 150 people from churches across North Carolina. The collective has approximately a 100-person choir and a 50-person orchestra.
Marshall leads the NC Baptist Singers as the orchestra director and has been performing in this capacity for over 10 years. The group meets close to eight times a year to present concerts in various locations.
“It’s been a great resource, because when you’re with 150 other ministers in music, it’s like we all have the same challenges,” he said.
Marshall is satisfied with his career as a minister of music. For him, leading people to God through the power of music, while also encouraging other musicians to connect with God has been fulfilling.
“I’m so glad that my calling was in music,” he said. “I didn’t really feel a calling to be a preacher, but I’ve really been able to minister through music.”
Retiring, but hoping to continue music ministry in other ways
Marshall with conclude his 36 years of service as First Baptist’s minister of music at the end of this month, but he will continue to stay close to music.
“Music is where we find our place to be and find our energy,” he said.
He looks forward to continuing his active involvement as a member of his faith community, as well as traveling more and growing his instrumentality with the trumpet and guitar. He hopes to return the support of his wife by supporting her entrepreneurial endeavors with her custom sewing and furnishing business, The Finishing Touch. Additionally, he hopes to continue equipping people for music ministry, but in another capacity – as a father of three and grandfather of four, with one more grandchild on the way.
“We’re starting to do some things musically with our family,” he said. “Some of the grandkids are showing some musical talent and so that’s fun to just bring the guitar and we can sing and play songs.”
No matter where Marshall’s next path leads him, he is sure that he will continue to be connected to music and grounded to the Word of God.
“It’s just a journey that is part of the process of going through life, and using the gifts that God gave you to help other people,” Marshall said. “I’ve always wanted to help people and help them grow musically and spiritually.”