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My thirty-two years of ministry have been exceptionally joyful – in large part, I believe – because of the wonderful staff associates God has given me.
Tom Ashcraft, who passed away last Thursday, was among the best.
I remember the first time I met Tom. We had an opening for music director at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Recently retired to the area, Tom was not currently serving a church. His daughter Stefanie, a good friend of our family, mentioned that he might be interested in the position.
It took enormous effort to contain my enthusiasm. First, finding a talented music director committed to traditional Christian worship is not an easy task. And then there was the additional fact that Tom was a legendary choral director in the PCA.
Before our meeting, I listed all the reasons why I hoped he would at least consider the position. Whatever persuasive skills I have, I was ready to deploy them.
Tom entered my office, we shook hands, and then sat down. Tom looked at me, and said, “Well, when do I start?” Thus, without fanfare, our relationship began.
During the time we worked together, Tom made all the music selections for Lord’s Day worship – not just choral selections, but hymns and responses, too. I had complete confidence in his choices. He prized what I prized, texts faithful to the scriptures and that the congregation could sing with confidence.
Tom was a leader, a model servant of Jesus Christ, and a man to be followed.
He had suffered poor health for sometime, and I was concerned that the responsibilities of his work might be too much. I shouldn’t have been; he was tough. He always reported for duty, prepared and cheerful, never complaining.
I encourage my staff to park away from church buildings, and leave the best spaces for visitors and persons in the congregation who need them. Of course, I never expected Tom to do that. One evening at a Bible Conference, I stood out in the parking lot, winds howling and flurries falling. In the distance, I saw a couple bundled up, walking to the building. It was Tom and Emily! Whatever the standards, he met them, whether expected of him or not.
I remember the first time Tom led the choir on a Sunday morning. Same choir as the weeks before, but the volume was noticeably improved. One of the entrepreneurs in our congregation came up to me after the service and said, “Now there’s a leader. He can take the same group of people and get so much more out of them.”
During the time he served with me, I watched Tom build the choir and incorporate young instrumentalists into the worship of the church. Tom put to lie the myth of the generation gap. Young men and women want skilled, competent, and experienced leaders – leaders who set high standards and care about the glory of God and the people they serve. Tom was that kind of leader.
Tom and Emily brought professionalism to our choir rehearsals, and also plenty of good cheer. His and Emily’s 57 years of marriage was a testimony to faithfulness. That their two daughters, Alicia and Stefanie, are faithful servants of PCA churches speaks volumes of their character as parents.
I pray that God will comfort Emily, Alicia, and Stefanie, and the grandchildren. Tom has entered glory, but his presence among us will be sorely missed. His example will endure, and his funeral service will be a time to give thanks to God for a life well lived. It will also give opportunity to take to heart the biblical admonition: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).