Meet Justin Carlson
Under the longtime leadership of Dr. Ted Gentry, TCPC has a rich tradition of excellence in music and arts. Not only has Ted led our congregation in a robust vision of worship and song, he has reached out to the music community of Lexington in significant ways. TCPC has become known as a local congregation that is passionate about seeing music and art flourish in our great city.
Therefore when we began dialoguing about expansion plans, a top priority was finding a worship leader who would continue this same vision and passion. Our standards were high, because our theology of worship is high. Though contextualized to a different genre and culture, we wanted someone who would be for our new location what Ted has always been at our current location.
Through a long, thorough, and prayerful process, God has provided that leader.
When we began searching, I reached out to friends in the PCA and one of them told me, “If I were you I would contact Justin Carlson, but he is in his dream calling and probably won’t even consider the possibility of leaving.” Still I reached out to Justin, and though a strange journey of God’s providence he has accepted the call to be the Director of Worship and Arts at TCPC Downtown.
I wanted him to answer a few questions so that you can get to know him.
Tell us about yourself and your family
My wife, Betsie, and I have been married for 10 years. We have two children, Benjamin (3) and Lisi (9 weeks), who teach us about the goodness, patience, and mercy of God daily. We delight (most of the time) in Benjamin’s curious imagination and learn a great deal about faith just by watching him. We also have an English Springer Spaniel who makes sure that we do not forget him. He is a rascal, but we love him.
We have lived and worked at churches in Memphis, Nashville, and Roanoke, Virginia. In fact, we have worked together most of our marriage. It has been a gift to work together. Our marriage has grown as we have ministered together. We are always striving for a greater understanding of the role our marriage plays in God’s Kingdom. We want the gospel to be central to our marriage–the way we love each other, the way we parent, and the way we love our neighbor. We want to be more gracious, more merciful, and practice hospitality without grumbling. We want to rest in the simple things.
Betsie enjoys a good cup of tea, journaling, traveling, quality time with her family, time with people, being outdoors, running, Trader Joe’s, cooking, a good glass of wine, and a quiet house in the early mornings. I enjoy music, dark chocolate, coffee, a good novel, indie films, hiking, basketball, a new pair of socks, puns, and anything that restores my sense of wonder and celebrates the mystery and beauty of God.
And, lastly, we are proud Tennessee Volunteer graduates and fans. Your blue needs a little orange.
Why did you decide to join the TCPC team?
It is interesting, even strange, how God works. When Robert called me a few months ago, I was clear that we had no plans to leave Roanoke, Virginia. We loved the place, the people, and our church. But we listened. We quietly resisted the possibility of moving but listened some more. Either way, the process was a microcosm of a greater work of renovation God had already begun in my life months before–bringing weaknesses, fears, and patterns to the surface that needed to be dealt with. When we visited Lexington, the pastors saw something–a longing, a desire, I’m not sure–and clearly communicated their hope for me whether I ended up there or not. They desired and earnestly prayed for my flourishing. I was humbled. I was refreshed. Perhaps I was seeing things about myself I had never seen before. Parts of my heart were waking up. I was terrified but hopeful.
There is a culture of rest and repentance amongst the pastoral staff that is unique. I wanted to be a part of a team like that. I wanted to learn more about Christ and His church with these men in this place. I wanted to be a part of a church plant and see the love and beauty of Christ move through a city and its arts community. I wanted to grow.
I didn’t expect this. I expected to listen to Robert’s pitch and continue on with life in Roanoke. My wife and I said, “The only way we are leaving Roanoke is if God calls us.” Well, He called us, and He continues to affirm it in the midst of all the doubt and fear that one often feels during a huge transition.
So, we have been called. That’s enough. God is with and for us…we rest in that.
Could you summarize your theology of worship?
Worship is a matter of desire, of ordering our lives to glorify someone or something. Everyone worships. Everyone is ascribing worth. Everyone has a liturgy. Everyone has a rhythm that implies truth, purpose, and value. We need a rhythm that is Christ-centered, that is dependent not on us but on the revelation of God–on who He is and what he has done. We need a rhythm that is covenantal and sacramental, that constantly brings us back to the glory and mystery of the Gospel. We need to worship in spirit and in truth. We need a liturgy that immerses us in the transcendence and immanence of God. We need to adore Him. We need to confess our sin and need and find refreshment in the assurance of His pardon. We need a greater capacity for thanksgiving. We need to pray. We need to hear and respond to His Word. And, this is not a rhythm achieved in isolation but in community. Our rhythm is a corporate one, a reflection of heaven, a groaning together for His Kingdom come.
Psalm 95:6: “Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”
Share a little bit about your passion for music & art
I love music and art because it helps us incorporate beauty into our individual and corporate lives. Life together often includes long discussions about film, tv, and music. We talk endlessly about our favorite shows, songs, and movies. Why? These things serve a greater purpose than entertainment; they teach us about longing, mystery, and the goodness of God. Whether it’s right in front of our face or we have to dig a little, oftentimes, the goodness of God flows through a story, a song, or a photograph.
Every artist is saying something. We just need to listen. Art teaches me how to listen. It teaches me how to see. It widens my periphery to see how grand the Kingdom of God is. It often gives words and pictures to things that I struggle to articulate. It often tells a story that I do not know how to tell.
I read stories about artists who leave the church because they feel that their gifts are ignored–that there really isn’t a place for their work. I’m not okay with that. I want our church to celebrate the arts, to pursue a greater understanding of their place and necessity in the life of our community. I want our church to love unchurched artists well. I want to listen to their story. I want to appreciate the good things in their work. Even more, I want Christ to surprise and redeem them, so that their canvases are colored with a different reality, a deeper longing.
We could not be more excited to have Justin join our team, and we ask that you would be praying for Justin and Betsie as they transition their life to Lexington.
And here is a song he wrote based upon the woman at the well in John 4: