Questions & Answers with Rev. Mark Fineout

Rev. Mark Fineout is a New Yorker now living in the American mid-west. He is well known in our denomination for his musical abilities and is frequently called upon at our presbytery weeks of prayer to lead our ministers and elders in singing. He is the minister of Lee’s Summit Free Presbyterian Church, Missouri. He pastors the church, preaching at all the services each week, and works full-time to provide for his family. His ready answers to our questions, especially on the issues of church music, are insightful and will prove to be helpful to ministers, musicians, and all worshipers in our congregations.

Tell us about your home community where you grew up in New York State.

From the time I was born until I went off to college, I lived in a little village called Fair Haven on the shore of Lake Ontario. Our village was so small that it didn’t even have a drug store or a stop light. My father also grew up in Fair Haven and much of his family lived there. So, I had aunts, uncles, and cousins throughout town. Everybody knew everybody, and everybody knew whose child you were, so anybody that was up to mischief could be easily identified. The area was filled with dairy farms, orchards and boats innumerable by the water. The countryside around the town was thoroughly rural, and I usually tried to spend my free time in the forests or by the shore of Fair Haven Bay. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a more wonderful place for a boy to grow up.

What kind of sports did you pursue in your youth?

Living next to a bay which froze over in the winter, ice hockey was my favorite sport. Along with many other boys in town, I would rush home from school almost every day in the winter, meet the gang on the ice (where we spent the first hour shoveling off the snow), and play until dark. Eventually, after we got our driver’s licenses, some of us went to a nearby city to play hockey in the city leagues in the evenings. During the summer, I enjoyed baseball, softball, and tennis.

When the Lord saved you as a boy, how did He change the focus of your life?

This question would be easier to answer if I could pinpoint the exact moment of my conversion experience. My parents took me to a fundamental Baptist church from infancy where the gospel was plainly preached. I can remember as a boy of four or five praying that the Lord would come into my heart and save me. That prayer was repeated often. I must have concluded that you weren’t saved until you felt saved. Knowing just when the Lord regenerated my heart is hard to say. Regarding the faith of children, Mr. Spurgeon said, “Little faith is real faith.” I know that the Lord does not turn away from the cry of little people, and He did not turn away from me. This I know because I trust Him now, and that can only be a result of His saving grace that has been worked out in my heart to trust Him. From my youth, I sensed that the Lord was preparing me for His service, though I have to admit it, I ran from the thought even through my early years at college.

How did you develop a love for music and when did you decide to pursue a music major at Bob Jones University?

I don’t know if I developed a love for music generally as a boy, or whether I just acquired a love for the sound of trumpets. On Sunday evenings, a few of the men would bring their trumpets and play with the congregational singing. Most of us who can remember those nights chuckle because, what was observed, few would call music! It was more like a competition: “Who can be the loudest?” Accuracy and intonation were of no real concern. I was convinced that I had to learn the trumpet too. When I was in high school, I also sang in the school chorus and was chosen by the director as a participant in an all-county chorus competition and later for a state-wide chorus. Other opportunities arose at school to sing and I began to think about what I could do for the Lord through music. But there was a problem. I believed the Lord had begun to show me that I was to preach and not necessarily devote myself to music. So, hoping that the Lord might be content to let me be a “music minister”, I went off to BJU to major in sacred music and history, but the Lord dealt with me through the course of my senior year. I knew I had to come to grips with the calling of the Lord even though I was heavily involved in music at BJU. I eventually submitted to the Lord and acknowledged that music was not my calling. The next fall, I went to graduate school to prepare for the ministry.

Tell us about your family. How did you meet your wife, Robin, and when were you married?

Robin and I have been married twenty years now and have two daughters, Katie (14) and Grace (12) whom we are home schooling. How and when my wife and I met is a long story: long in time and long in distance. We met in Greenville while I was a student in the seminary in 1987. Robin had just completed her studies at BJU and had started attending Faith Free Presbyterian Church. Although we noticed each other, nothing romantic transpired. In 1991, I moved to Atlanta and Robin moved back to Kansas. Most people would conclude “that was that.” But five years later, January 1996, Robin sent a gift for the church in Georgia. I wrote to thank her and asked her how things were going in far away Kansas. That started the “long distance dating” which meant letters, phone calls, and airplane rides. We were married the following February, ten years after we met.

After graduating from Geneva Reformed Seminary, how did you determine that you should plant a Free Presbyterian Church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, near Kansas City?

The seminary in the “old days” was called the Theological Hall, from which five of us graduated in 1987. After graduating, I spent the next three years traveling and doing pulpit supply for extended periods in some of our works. During this time, I was seeking the Lord about where He would have me labor. Eventually, I went to Atlanta to commence a work with a small group, but when the Lord chose to relocate a family which was the backbone of the work, I knew I needed to move on. From Atlanta I went to Columbus, GA for a couple of years to minister to another group to see if the Lord would bring a church into existence. That also ended and I moved back to Atlanta to wait on the Lord.

Robin and I were married during these days. On a visit to Robin’s parents in Kansas City, Robin’s dad said to me that if I came there to start a church, he would come. I thanked him for saying so, but could not imagine such a thing. On another visit, we had prayer with Robin’s parents in the café of a grocery store, where we asked the Lord for direction as they couldn’t find a place to worship. On that same trip, a number of Robin’s relatives gathered one evening at Robin’s sister’s home and we had a time of worship. After I had preached briefly, Robin’s grandmother approached me and, while thumping me on the arm, said that I had to come to Kansas City because there was a need of “real preachers” in that city. Once again, I could not imagine such a possibility, but the Lord kept bringing my father-in-law’s words to my mind.

In September 1998, I was reading in 2 Samuel 5. The words of verse 24 impressed my heart, “And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” I acknowledged in my heart that I needed and hoped to hear an unmistakable leading like this, but I was not persuaded that this was a word from the Lord. Ten days later, I felt the need to pray over that verse. That day I also read a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon on the same verse. The verse began to grip me tightly; however, I said nothing to Robin. The next Sunday evening after a service in Woodstock, GA, Rev. Bill Neese asked how the Lord was leading us. I informed him that I was praying over something that the Lord had shown me. Not knowing that I had been praying over 2 Samuel 5:24, he looked at me and said, “Well, when you hear the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, it’s time to move.” A week or so later, I was in Calgary at the Week of Prayer and I was asked about our plans in a Presbytery meeting. I told the Presbytery that I was praying over a “door that may be opening.” Dr. Frank McClelland spoke up and said, “Sometimes you need to push the door to see if it will open.” I was struck by the thought and discussed the remark with a fellow-minister who confidently concluded that here was a “sound in the trees.” I went home to tell Robin we were moving. The Lord gave us a place to hold services the very day we drove into Lee’s Summit.

As someone who has graduated from Bob Jones University with a degree in Sacred Music and received a Master of Divinity degree, you must have strong convictions concerning the widening acceptance of contemporary Christian music and the accompanying tools used to provide “leadership” in worship. What are those convictions and why do you have them? Can you offer a guideline for developing congregational singing?

These are enormous questions! They are enormous because the answers can hardly be accommodated in the space allowed. Beyond that, they are enormous because the subject impacts the whole vision of what it means to be a church (who we are and what we offer), of what is the only true attraction to the place of worship, and most of all, of what we are holding up before the face of God as true worship.

My conviction revolves around this simple truth: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). This verse defines worship in the most absolute and unchanging terms. It rules out the notion that changing times require changing standards. We, as God’s people, are commanded by this to exercise the utmost care that what we offer to God as worship is true in all its ways and motives. Further, we must ensure that our worship is “in spirit,” meaning that it is both in keeping with the purity of the Spirit of God and led by Him. Consider the words of Paul: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit … So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5, 8). Here is the plain truth: that which pleases the flesh does not please God. And that which pleases God, the flesh is not going to appreciate, nor will the flesh gravitate toward it. The flesh and the Spirit are opposites and go in opposite directions. If we are introducing music or implementing methods into our worship that pleases the flesh, even in the smallest way, we are not worshipping our God in the manner He demands. We are moving away from God. We must also understand that true worship is not meant to please or satisfy ourselves. We worship to please God only. Here then is the plain application: for us to be enthralled with the “sound” of our music or to be enamored by the feelings and the emotions that it stirs within us, is not worship in truth. Why not? The answer is simple. In such worship the whole heart and soul is not given to loving the Lord our God (Deuteronomy 6:5), but part of our heart seeks something for Self.

The questions then arise: “How do we treat music written recently?” “Must we sing only hymns that are generations old?” The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of modern Christian music has based its appeal solely on its sound, and the mood that it creates. Christian songs that sound more like love ballads from movie soundtracks than songs of worship are the norm. Why? It is because they stir the emotions. They capture our feelings. This is not true worship. It is possible that a song of worship could be written today, but honesty would compel us to admit that such bland and unmoving music is very unlikely to “sell.” The motives for the use of modern Christian music, worship leaders, and theater-like auditoriums appear to be very different than what aligns with true and proper worship.

What pitfalls do you see that Free Presbyterians may fall into as we seek to maintain a sound position on congregational singing with psalms and hymns?

I see the danger in two parts mainly. First, as more and more of our people in the FPC listen to the kind of music that “stirs” the emotions, we will develop a taste for it that is hard to suppress. I think an appropriate question to ask is, “Are we already seeing this happen?” The second danger is embracing the notion that, unless we give the casual and curious observers something that they like, they will never be interested in attending our services and joining our churches. “If disinterest in the FPC happens long enough,” we might suppose, “then the FPC will dry up and blow away.” The simple answer to that notion is this: “If all we have to offer the man on the street is what appeals to his flesh, it’s time for us to blow away.” This denomination exists and was built by one thing only – the power of the Gospel preached. If we start looking for other things to “preserve” us, we are already gone because we have forgotten who and whose we are.

What advice would you give to fledgling congregations with pioneer ministers on the development of congregational singing for all age groups?

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is no need to buy into the idea that traditional congregational music cannot universally appeal to all age groups. By that I mean that there is no need to accept the idea that what appeals to youth will probably not appeal to older folks and vice versa. This begs the question, “Should what appeals to man be the test for what we use in our services?” Many churches attempt to deal with the supposed “appeal” gap by having some songs for the young people coupled with songs for the older ones. This will soon become lop-sided with the music becoming solely that which appeals to the youth. Choruses will replace hymns and the singing of psalms will be completely forsaken. Another good question to ask is, “Why must we imagine that there is a need to have different styles of music for different age groups? (I exempt from consideration songs used for little ones in a Sabbath School setting). The need is to preach and teach Christ to all age groups. If the people in the congregation fall in love with the Lord Jesus, they will want to sing what truly worships Him – no matter if the tune is “old-fashioned.” In fact, I have heard testimonies by some coming out of a lifetime of contemporary Christian music that the hymns with their solid doctrine and solemn tunes have actually proven to be a great blessing. The second thing that a pioneer minister needs to understand is that discontentment over music is never a primary problem. Discontentment over music simply reveals issues of a deeper sort.

Though you work full-time as well as pastoring the flock in Lee’s Summit, if you should get a day off what might you be found doing?

I must confess that the answer depends on what time I finally wake up. I love gardening and working in the yard is something that I am consistently doing. I also enjoy fishing and hunting. But the appeal of just sitting and reading is also very strong; however, my first preference would always be to go out somewhere with my wife and spend the day with her.

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By Ian Goligher

Rev. Ian Goligher is the pastor of Cloverdale FPC, Vancouver, BC. He was Editor of Current from 2014 to 2019.