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Back in 2006, Sovereign Grace Music hosted our first WorshipGod conference in Maryland.

Since then, we’ve led conferences in Kentucky, Texas, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and the UK. By my count, this year will be our 20th.

Each time we prepare for another one, I ask myself the same question: Do we really need another worship conference?

Obviously, I think the answer is yes. Which is why we’ll be gathering in Louisville, KY, July 31-Aug. 3 for WorshipGod19 – The Glorious Christ: Music is great. Jesus is greater.

There are a number of worship conferences you can choose from these days. They range from massive productions to local church offerings. All of them are seeking to make their unique contribution to the church.

So why come to WorshipGod19? Here are ten reasons.

1. The theme.

When people think “worship conference” they usually think “music.” And yes, we’ll have a lot of music and great musicians at this year’s WorshipGod conference.

But music is not the same thing as Jesus. Music can only help us express, with “lisping tongues,” how glorious the Savior is. It’s meant to point us to the greater reality, truth, and joy found in Christ alone. That’s why I’m so excited about this year’s theme. While developing our skills, we’re going to learn how to be more impressed with Jesus than our offerings to him, and help others to do the same.

2. The focus.

Sovereign Grace Music isn’t a conference production machine. We’re people in local churches seeking to serve others in local churches. We understand the day-in-day-out challenges you face with lack of resources, changing personnel, and your own issues. We don’t spend tons of money on technological wizardry, lighting effects, or stage designs. You won’t get tips on developing your “worship career.” While there is definitely a place for going to massive conferences to learn from well-known, extraordinarily gifted people, we think there’s a unique place for conferences where the people leading look and sound a lot like you.

3. The speakers.

At a WorshipGod conference, we want you to hear messages that are rooted in God’s authoritative word, gospel-driven, and heart-affecting. This year, Jared Mellinger, a WorshipGod regular, will open the conference with Jesus: God’s Just and Merciful Servant. Matt Mason, from Brook Hills Church, is going to explore the wonders of Jesus: Incarnate God. Mike Bullmore will help us marvel at Jesus: Our Saving Substitute. H.B. Charles, Jr. will point us to the glory of Jesus: Our Risen King. Joselo Mercado will talk about Jesus: Our Compassionate Brother. Mike Reeves will be joining us from the UK to exalt Jesus: Our Great Intercessor. And Rick Gamache will lift our hearts to consider Jesus: Our Returning Bridegroom. And how can we not want to sing after all that!

4. Joe Pace and the Shiloh band.

Joe Pace is a gospel music veteran of over two decades and serves as a campus pastor for Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, FL. This past February we recorded a live album with the Shiloh choir and musicians, and we wanted you to experience a taste of that night. And if you sign up to participate in the pre-conference choir workshop with Joe, you’ll be helping to lead us on Friday morning!

5. The musicians.

In addition to Joe Pace and the Shiloh band, we’re excited to be joined this year by Matt Boswell, Adam Wright, Daniel Renstrom and Brook Hills Music, the Immanuel Church Nashville band, Jordan Kauflin, Sol Fenne from 20Schemes in Scotland, and various Sovereign Grace musicians.

6. The seminars.

The seminars at WorshipGod speak practically to our hearts, theology, and skills. Along with breakouts for musicians, vocalists, tech teams, and songwriters, we’ll be covering topics that include:

  • Christ and the Enemies Within: Dealing with Pride, Discouragement, Depression, and Lust (Bob Kauflin)
  • Living in the Good of Our Union with Christ (Mike Reeves)
  • Pursuing Spiritual Gifts to Exalt Christ (Rick Gamache)
  • A Cross and Cultural Conversation (with H.B. Charles, Jr., Joe Pace, Devon Kauflin, and myself)
  • The Gospel for Real Life (Mike Bullmore)
  • Cultivating a Passion for Christ in the Next Generation (Bob, Devon, & Jordan Kauflin, Matt Boswell, Matt Mason)
  • Worshiping a Big God in a Small Church (Devon Kauflin)

On Thursday afternoon, we’ll also be devoting a main session to demonstrating the relationship between arranging and mixing, and how both can be used more effectively to serve our congregations.

7. Free stuff.

Giveaways have always been a part of WorshipGod conferences. In fact, one of my highlights every conference is hearing the reasons people give for why someone else should receive an electric guitar, iPad, or amp. Giving stuff away reminds us of the riches of grace we’ve freely received in the gospel. And just to be clear, “stuff” means drumsticks, guitar strings, pedals, books, CDs, keyboards, microphones, and more. You’ll also be getting two free lunches. It’s almost like we’re paying you to come.

8. Free nights.

We’re trying a new schedule this year and we think you’ll love it. The days are packed, but we’re ending around dinner time on Thursday and Friday. That will give you a number of options. Take some extended, unhurried time to debrief with your team or those you came with. Get to know some new friends. Check out the amazing Louisville restaurant scene. Come back to the building after dinner and make music together in one of the jam rooms. Or just go to bed early. It’s your choice!

9. The attendees.

The WorshipGod conference isn’t for everyone. But if you love God’s Word, care about your heart and theology as much as your music, desire to encounter God we gather on Sundays, and have a passion for serving your local church, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of people a lot like you.

10. Two live albums.

We’re planning on recording our next live album, The Glorious Christ, on Tuesday night, July 30. If you’re in the area, or can come in a day early, we’d love for you to join us! We also plan on releasing the album we recorded with Shiloh Church, Behold Our God, at the conference.

Through April 30, students and groups (of 5 or more) can register for only $150. Individuals are just $175. Church planters and senior pastors can get in for only $99! You can find out more and register on the WorshipGod website.

So whether you’re a pastor, leader, instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, techie, or just someone who wants to grow in their passion for Jesus, we hope to see you there!

The post Ten Reasons to Come to WorshipGod19 appeared first on Worship Matters.

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Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash

My church is currently 25 sermons into a series on Exodus. It’s been amazing.

Each week we’ve been reminded what a mighty deliverer God is for his people. No situation, however dire, comes close to challenging his ability to rescue.

Enslaved by the most powerful ruler in the world? No problem.
Fearing the angel of death? Just put some blood on your doorpost.
Trapped between an approaching army and a shoreline? Watch God work.
Uncertain about what path to take? God’s got a cloud and a pillar of fire.

Every step of the way God’s people saw that God was powerful, caring, and faithful.

That is, until the end of Exodus 15, when the Israelites arrived at a place called Marah, or “bitter.” The only water they found was undrinkable. And they assumed God had met his match.

So rather than trusting in God’s steadfast love and waiting on the Lord to provide for them,

The people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Ex. 15:24)

Are you kidding me? Were they sleeping up to that point? Were they deaf, dumb, and blind to God’s mercy? Hadn’t they seen God take care of their every need?

Apparently not.

Just Like Us

As my pastor C.J. preached this passage, he pointed out how much like the Israelites we can be. Evidence of God’s lavish faithfulness and mercy abounds in our lives, but we fail to notice.

We withhold trust in God pending evidence from God. Instead of realizing that God tests us to show us what we’ve learned (or not), we assume difficulties prove God doesn’t care. Rather than seeing God is testing us, we test him.

As I experienced conviction that morning, it struck me that most of the church probably felt something similar. That’s when I thought about writing a corporate confession for the following week.

I typically build the first half of a Sunday liturgy around what we heard the previous week. Our tendency to complain was a lesson that was too important to hear about one Sunday and then move on.

So the following week, the call to worship was Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

We then sang Our Song From Age to Age,  which speaks of God’s faithfulness, and A Christian’s Daily Prayer, a song that reminds us of our dependence on God.

Acknowledging Sin Together

At that point, one of our pastors, Jeff Purswell, introduced and led us in a time of confession. Here’s what we said together:

Father, we gladly acknowledge
That you are the giver of every good and perfect gift.
When you open your hand,
You satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You are righteous in all Your ways and kind in all Your works.

But too often we fail to acknowledge your abundant goodness,
Lavish generosity, and loving faithfulness.
Instead of being grateful, we grumble.
Instead of thanking you, we test you.
We confess we have sinned in all our complaining and selfishness.

Jesus, thank you that your entire life on earth was one of gratefulness.
Thank you for bearing our sins,
Receiving our punishment on the cross,
And paying the debt we owed to a holy God.
Because of you, we can now walk in forgiveness and freedom.

Holy Spirit, enable us by your power to live lives of thanksgiving.
May we be humbled by all the riches we’ve received in Christ.
And may our lives be increasingly marked
By trust, awe, and gratefulness for the mercy we’ve received.
We pray in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What’s the Purpose

We use a confession like this about twice a year. As I’m writing this, I’m motivated to do it more often.

In Psalm 32, God details numerous ways confession serves our souls.

  • We experience God being our hiding place. (v. 7)
  • God preserves us from further trouble. (v. 7)
  • He surrounds us with shouts of deliverance. (v. 7)
  • He teaches us his ways. (v. 8)
  • He surrounds us with his steadfast love. (v. 19)
  • He gives us joy! (v. 11)

And who wouldn’t want all those benefits?

Writing Your Own Confession

While a number of effective confessions already exist, it can be helpful to use one that’s specific to your church. Here are some thoughts to consider if you write your own:

  • Be honest. Don’t have people confess to sins they haven’t committed. “Lord, I have never thought of others more highly than myself.” “My worship of you has never been sincere.” “I don’t ever think of the poor.”
  • Be specific. Vague confessions produce vague experiences of forgiveness. “We confess we’ve been proud,” isn’t as helpful as, “We confess that at times we compare ourselves to others and demean them in our hearts.”
  • Be biblical. Root your prayer in Scriptural phrases, terms, and truths. We pray with greater faith when we pray God’s words, warnings, and promises back to him.
  • Be gospel-minded. Give people words to say that enable them to see how Jesus fully paid for our sins through his substitutionary death and didn’t leave us with vague feelings of forgiveness. Also, don’t let people think that confession purchases our forgiveness. It only allows us to experience it more fully.
  • Be Trinitarian. A corporate confession is one way we can remind the church that the one God we worship is three persons, each of whom is involved in our justification, sanctification, and glorification.
  • Be faith-filled. Clear confession and a fresh awareness of our forgiveness in Christ should make us want to live holy lives (2 Pet. 1:9). We have hope for change because of the cross and God’s Spirit!

If you’ve experienced the benefits of corporate confession in your church, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The post A Corporate Confession on Grumbling appeared first on Worship Matters.

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In 2008, Sovereign Grace Music ran a print ad that announced we were hoping to release a “Gospel Project” that winter.

Ten years later, we’re finally making good on that promise. Better late than never, I guess.

On Thursday night, February 28, eight Sovereign Grace folks were at Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, FL, led by H.B. Charles, Jr., recording a live project with their 120 voice choir, ably directed by Joe Pace. The album includes 5 previously recorded Sovereign Grace Music songs, 2 songs from Shiloh, and 4 songs written or co-written for this album.

So what is Sovereign Grace doing recording an album with Shiloh Church?

The Need

For the past 30+ years, Sovereign Grace Music has been seeking to produce songs for local churches that are theologically driven, gospel-centered, and musically engaging.

It’s that last phrase that can be elusive. “Musically engaging” for whites may not be that moving for African-Americans. Or Hispanics. Or Chinese. Or people from many other ethnic or racial backgrounds.

Fortunately, in today’s over-connected world, music styles can transcend cultures and blend together. Simple or catchy melodies have a way of making their way across ethnic and national boundary lines.

But I’m regularly asked if I know of any congregational songs that resonate with a black church culture and also contain doctrinally sound, gospel-rich lyrics.

My typical answer is, “Some. But not enough.”

The Story

As I’ve talked to African-American brothers and sisters about the need for such songs, I’ve wondered if we one day we might partner with a church or ministry to produce an album.

Allan Bynoe, from East Point Church near Atlanta, has been a good friend over the years and was an early adapter of Sovereign Grace songs for his church. Aaron and Tiffany Johnson, leaders of Doxa, the music team from Epiphany Fellowship, also helped flesh out some new sounds for songs from Sovereign Grace and others.

But a few years ago, my son, Devon, happened to meet H.B. Charles, Jr. at a conference they were both participating in. They clicked immediately. And he learned that H.B. was taking songs he heard at conferences and introducing them to Shiloh.

A little later, Devon suggested we ask Shiloh H.B. if his church might want to record a project with us. That seemed like a good partnership for a number of reasons.

H.B. is devoted to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word, preaches the gospel consistently and passionately, and is building a local church around those priorities. He was already wanting to see his church sing more doctrinally-rich songs and he was doing something about it. Furthermore, Joe Pace, who leads the music at Shiloh’s Orange Park campus, is closely connected with H.B. and shares his heart. He’s also been in gospel music for decades. On top of all of that, we’ve had a growing affection for these men and what God is doing through them.

So, we emailed Joe and H.B. to ask if they were interested in a joint project. Their response was an enthusiastic “Yes!” They saw the value in a gospel album that was more congregational than artist driven. We saw the value in putting a little “seasoning salt” on our music.

After working through a variety of details, the dream became a reality this past Thursday.

The Heart

Going into this project we wanted not only to record an album, but to grow in our relationship. We wanted to celebrate the precious truths we hold in common and explore how they might express themselves differently in our diverse musical cultures.

Sovereign Grace Music tends (although not exclusively) to value intentional, theologically driven, cohesive lyrics. Gospel music tends (although not exclusively) to use fewer words with more passionate music that stirs the emotions. How do those two fit together?

To find out, we held a three day retreat in January that was one of the most enjoyable times of songwriting I’ve ever experienced. Jon Althoff, a Sovereign Grace pastor from Nashville (who also writes a lot of our kids songs), ended up contributing 4 new songs, some of which we co-wrote around the conference room table. In the process, we talked about the relative strengths of repetition and dense lyrics, and how singing about who we are and what we’re doing is different from singing about who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ.

These conversations would never have been possible apart from the humility Paul talks about in Philipians 2:3:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

We experienced that humility repeatedly at Shiloh. Here are just a few examples:

  • H.B. graciously allowed us to use their building, choir, and staff to record the album.
  • Joe Pace stretched his choir by asking them to sing songs that had more words than they were used to.
  • They let us edit two songs lyrically and took our suggestions.
  • The musicians, who were superb and a joy to work with, received ways they might serve the congregation more effectively. They even let me play on a couple of songs (although I’m still working out what some of the chords were).
  • The choir had 10 rehearsals over two months in addition to their regular weekly rehearsals.

That’s a lot of Christ-exalting humility on display. I pray they experienced a similar humility from us. Among my many takeaways were the joy of the choir, their enthusiastic engagement with God as they sing, the skill of the musicians, the love and generosity of everyone I met, the commitment to God’s Word and the gospel, and their genuine embracing of some white folks who want to glorify Jesus with them! It was a unique joy to get to know Joe Pace better as a passionate follower of Christ, a brilliant musician, a faithful pastor, and a friend.

The Hope

We don’t know exactly how God is going to use this album but we pray the music and lyrics will cause us to see Jesus as more glorious, more gracious, and more satisfying than we had before. We pray those who listen to it and sing these songs on Sunday will experience the same joy we did in making it.

Most of all, we pray this album reminds us that God’s praise extends far beyond our little corner of the field, and that when God sent his Son to redeem a people for his glory, he didn’t specify what kind of music we should use. Only that we should sing loud, to the Lamb, and together (Ps. 33:3; Ps. 47:1; Rev. 5:9-13). And that’s what we did last Thursday night.

Lord willing, the album, called Behold Our God, will be out sometime in late summer or early fall. We’d appreciate your prayers in the meantime!

The post Sovereign Grace Music and Shiloh Church are Recording a Gospel Album! appeared first on Worship Matters.

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Recently at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY, I had the joy and privilege of accompanying 12k+ attendees as they worshiped God in song.

The sight and sound of praising God together with over 10,000 other believers is pretty overwhelming. But we can experience something similar with a smaller crowd. We’re often deeply affected by the singing at a conference, retreat, or worship event. So much so that gathering with your church on Sunday feels like a major letdown.

Why doesn’t the worship in song we experience at an event translate to Sunday morning?
Should we expect it to?
Can local churches learn from worship events?
Does the best musical worship occur outside of Sunday morning?

In other words, does worship need the church? I was able to discuss these and other questions with a few friends – Keith Getty, HB Charles, Jr., Matt Boswell, and Matt Westerholm – at a T4G breakout. I wanted to explore the relationship between singing together with a bunch of people you don’t know at an event and singing with your church on Sunday morning.

I’ve listed many of the points we covered (and a few we didn’t get to) below. Some of these are directed to leaders, others to those attending.

Benefits of “Worship Events”

1. New songs – Events can introduce us to songs we haven’t heard and let us know what it’s like to sing them with a group.
2. Inspiration – Seeing skilled and well-rehearsed musicians can motivate us to do what we do with the church better.
3. Evaluation – Watching others can serve as a standard to evaluate some of our own practices.
4. Anticipation – We can get a foretaste of worshiping God with people from every tribe and nation in the new heavens and new earth.
5. Evangelism – Some unbelievers who wouldn’t darken the door of a church building might show up at an event.
6. Encounter – Events are one more occasion for God’s Spirit to work in the hearts of his people.
7. Exposure – We can move beyond the narrow mindset that our church or denomination is the only one seeking to glorify God.

But with all there is to commend them, times of musical praise outside the local church can have some drawbacks.

Weaknesses of “Worship Events”

1. Liturgy – Pragmatic considerations often drive the “liturgies” of conferences and events more than pastoral or biblical concerns. It’s unwise and sometimes harmful when churches take their cues for Sunday morning from those events.
2. Brevity – An evening or weekend event, while impacting, can never replace the on-going, week-to-week, life-on-life ministry that happens over time in the context of a local church.
3. Personality – People can attend events primarily to see the band or the artist, contributing to a culture that is more fan-based than faithfulness-based.
4. Fame – For those leading, an inherent tension exists between self-promotion or self-benefit and serving others for the glory of Christ. Zealous young musicians can assume playing for a crowd is a better use of their gifts than playing for their church.
5. Unreality – We can experience emotional highs at events for various reasons that lead us to think Sundays should have the same effect.
6. Oversight – Promoters, agents, label executives, and others might have more say about the songs being sung than a pastor.
7. Scripture – 
Events aren’t necessarily driven by or connected to God’s Word, which is the primary means by which God engages with us when we gather (Ex. 20; Ex. 34:6-7; Dt. 27:1-8; 2 Chron. 31:2-4; Ps. 119; Mt. 15:3-9; Act 13:48-49; 1 Tim. 4:13).

So are there unique benefits to singing with the gathered church on Sunday morning? Absolutely.

Advantages to Singing Together with Your Local Church

1. Formation – Congregational worship is formative. Over time you can shape people’s view of God, themselves, and the world through an intentional liturgy. In addition, God builds local churches together so that he might dwell in them by his Spirit (Eph. 2:22)
2. Training – Local churches provide the opportunity to disciple younger musicians both in skills and attitudes.
3. Example – People get to see leaders outside of Sunday morning, and leaders get to model worship as a life, not just a song (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 13:15-16).
4. Engagement – Over time you can lead people from engaging hardly-at-all to meaningful interaction with gospel-driven lyrics and biblical instruction.
5. Pastoring – You can lead people pastorally week to week, month to month, and year to year, because you actually know what’s going on in their lives.
6. Sanctification – Preparing and planning weekly has a sanctifying effect on us. It forces us to pray, think about our lives, and consider our ways.
7. Community – The local church enables us to know others and be known by them. That cultivates a humility that comes from seeing God work through jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).

Not Neglecting to Meet Together

There’s no question that worship in song outside of Sunday mornings is beneficial. God’s people singing together in any context has been a mark of revivals throughout history and can strengthen our faith in various ways.

But worshiping God in song at different events is never meant to replace singing with your congregation Sunday after Sunday. That remains a distinct joy and opportunity. As the T4G breakout went on that became more evident. We saw that passionately worshiping God in song together is preeminently something God intends for us to do not just at events or conferences, but with our local churches.

If you play a part in planning or leading those meetings, I pray God gives you renewed faith for what he’s called you to do and how to do it.

And if you’re part of a church being led by others, don’t forget to thank your leaders for all the sacrifices they make to serve you!

[We’ll be focusing on this topic at our next WorshipGod conference, “Extraordinary: The Weekly Worship of the Gathered Church,” to be held in Frisco, TX, July 25-28. It’s a conference meant to serve those who serve their local churches. We’d love for you to join us!]

The post Does Worship Need the Church? appeared first on Worship Matters.

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Many pastors, music leaders, and production personnel are breathing a deep sigh of relief after this past weekend. After all the planning, strategizing, prayer, preparation, and practice, the Easter weekend service(s) finally happened. Everything (for the most part) came together and people were well served. The music was moving, the preaching powerful, and the effect exhilarating. And throughout the world, thousands of people were baptized and saved for the glory of God.

But you may be starting to wonder what you’re going to do next Sunday. Maybe you’re even asking yourself, “How do I keep this coming Sunday from being a major letdown?” The anxiety is already setting in.

Here are some reasons why we can be tempted to think next Sunday might not be quite as “amazing” as this past Sunday:

  • No doubt your church was like most in that you saw an increased number of unbelieving guests, visitors, and family members who think that Easter and Christmas are the only appropriate times to fulfill their religious obligation.
  • You probably don’t have as much in the budget for this coming Sunday as you did for Easter. That means you and others might not to put as much effort or thought into it.
  • The people in your church probably received daily reminders last week that Easter was coming. This coming Sunday will probably sneak up on them like it does every week. They might not prepare as much nor look forward to it so eagerly.
  • After the hyper-preparation leading up to Easter maybe you’re really looking forward to the opportunity to get back to normal. Some leaders won’t think as carefully nor intentionally about the cross and resurrection and will pick songs that people just enjoy.
  • You might be less focused on planning the service as a whole, and consequently, less focused on how everything fits together.

All those factors and more contribute to the nagging sensation that this coming Sunday might not be your best effort. That is, until you start to consider all the things that will be the same:

  • This coming Sunday Jesus will be just as alive as he was this past Sunday! In fact, one of reasons we gather every Sunday is because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. In that sense every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection.
  • Jesus’ substitutionary death and glorious resurrection will continue to be relevant to our lives and the best news we have to offer people. Nothing we do on any Sunday – Easter, Christmas, or otherwise – will make Jesus look better than he really is. All we can hope to do is point to it more faithfully and clearly. And we can seek to do that every week.
  • God through his Spirit will still be with his people as we gather. What is most eternally impacting on any given Sunday is not the size of our production but the details of what Jesus actually accomplished for those who trust in him. He lived the life of obedience we never could. He took the wrath of God in our place on the cross. God vindicated his atoning work by raising him from the dead. He now lives in us by his Spirit and is changing us into his likeness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:23-26; Rom. 10:9; Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:18).
  • Most likely unbelievers will still be coming to your gathering this coming Sunday.
  • We can sing songs about the resurrection any Sunday! That includes every song we sang at my church this past week – His Name is Jesus, O My Soul, AriseCome Behold the Wondrous Mystery, and All Glory Be Forever. Not to mention songs like In Christ AloneMan of Sorrows, Before the Throne of God AboveBehold our God, and a host of others.

And if that’s not encouraging enough, here are some things that will actually be better this coming Sunday.

  • We might have fewer distractions in terms of preparing charts, administrating people, and organizing tech details. That means we can give more time to the content we’re proclaiming and singing about.
  • We’ll be back to the “normal” routine of life which will only highlight that the power of the gospel isn’t dependent on big productions. God meets us and changes us in the messiness and sin of our daily lives.
  • We’ll be reminded that the earth-shattering, life-transforming good news of Jesus Christ is worth declaring and living for every week.

So we don’t have to wait until the next big holiday to expect God to do amazing things in our Sunday service. All the elements we really need – the Word of God, the gospel, and the Holy Spirit – are available to us 52 Sundays of every year.

Which should make this coming Sunday something to look forward to.

[This is an edited version of a piece I posted in 2014.]

The post From the Archives: Will the Sunday After Easter be a Letdown? appeared first on Worship Matters.

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In yesterday’s post, I shared some thoughts on planning and leading songs at a conference.

In this post, I describe what that actually looked like at the recent Shepherd’s Conference. I’ve included the Scriptures I used (except for ones I didn’t write down), and why I chose each song and passage. The numbers are from the Hymns of Grace hymnal.

This might seem a little tedious, but planning and leading songs is often about the details. If you end up leading songs at a conference in the future, I pray my thoughts will help you maximize that time for the good of God’s people and the glory of Christ.


Session 1: John MacArthur • The Purity of the Church: Sanctification (Gal. 4:19)
Session 2: H.B. Charles Jr. • The Life of the Church: Regeneration (Jn. 13:1-17)

[I wanted these songs to focus not on HB’s message, which we hadn’t heard yet, but on our personal sanctification, one of the themes of John’s message.]
Ps. 148:1-6 – This is the passage the first song is based on.
Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens Adore Him #3
Has the lines “sin and death shall not prevail,” and “So on earth Thy will be done.”
Not in Me #405
A song acknowledging the sin of self-righteousness, which pastors can tend to battle.
James 1:2-4 – The God who justified us is committed to sanctifying us, so we can count the process of sanctification as joy.
I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow #63
Acknowledgment that God often answers our prayers for sanctification through inward trials.
Grace Greater Than All Our Sin #78
Grace abounds in the process of sanctification, both to justify and to transform.
A Christian’s Daily Prayer
A new song asking God for strength to glorify him. “May every effort of my life display the matchless worth of Christ.”

Session 3: Austin Duncan • The Unity of the Church (Psalm 133)

[HB’s message focused on how God gets all the glory for our regeneration.]
Come Praise and Glorify  #44
A summary of Eph. 1:3-11
And Can It Be? #180
This song recounts the glorious reality and process of our conversion.
His Robes for Mine #181
A beautiful unpacking of substitutionary atonement.

Session 4: Al Mohler • The Conviction and Courage of the Church and the Threats to the Church


Session 5: Phil Johnson • Marks of a True Church (Rev 2:1-7)

[In response to Dr. Mohler’s message, these songs and Scriptures directed us to confidence in God when facing opposition in trials]
Ps. 46:10-11 – This is the passage “A Mighty Fortress” is based on. God will be exalted, and He will be with us.
A Mighty Fortress is Our God #53
“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure. One little Word shall fell him.”
Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor #406
2 Tim. 4:16-18 – Contains the promise that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer
A new song containing various lines that enable us to express our trust in Christ during opposition.
Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken #394
A 6 verse meditation on finding loss to be gain because of the joy of knowing Christ. 
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name #143
I wanted to the last song to reemphasize the triumph of Christ over all opposition.

Session 6: Art Azurdia • The Influence of the Church (John 17:17-18)

[The previous message focused on the importance of not losing our first love]
Ps. 25:17-18 – I chose this Scripture because even though the psalmist has “distresses,” he is more conscious of his need for forgiveness.
I Lay My Sins on Jesus #269
This song helped us acknowledge our failure to love as we ought to love, and the provision God has made for us in Christ’s sacrifice. 
Rev. 5:12-13 – This passage was meant to focus us on the worthiness of Jesus to be loved and his ultimate triumph. 
Reformation Song
This is a new song I wanted to introduce to reinforce that the foundation of our faith is God’s Word alone, by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.
Be Thou My Vision #177
A prayer that God would always be our first love. 

Session 7: Ligon Duncan • The Power of the Church: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:13-26)


Session 8: Tom Pennington • The Mission of the Church: Evangelism & Global Missions (Matthew 28:16-20)

[In the previous message Ligon reminded us the Holy Spirit empowers our sanctification so we can enjoy the Abarahamic blessings and responsibilities.]
Is. 59:21 – In this passage, God promises that the Spirit he has put in us shall not depart from our offspring. 
All Praise to Him
A new song that addresses Father, Son, and Spirit, and contains the line, “All praise to Him whose pow’r imparts the love of God within our hearts.”
Eph. 3:14-19 – Paul’s prayer that by the Spirit we would come to know the unknowable love of Christ.
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery #184
A rehearsal of the gospel.
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God #318
A prayer for God’s Spirit to work in our hearts, attitudes, and actions.
O Great God #35
A song with the line, “Then your Spirit gave me life, opened up Your Word to me,” and is also a prayer that we might live for the glory of God alone. 

Session 9: Mark Dever • The Leadership of the Church (1 Timothy)

[Tom’s message focused us on the Great Commission.]
Ps. 96:1-3 – “Tell of his salvation from day to day.”
Ye Servants of God #358
New words (for me anyway) sung to a familiar tune: “Ye servants of God your Master proclaim, and publish abroad His wonderful name!”
O Church Arise #353
A call for the church to fulfill Christ’s desire in the power of the Spirit to have “an inheritance of nations.”
1 Tim. 1:15-17 – This Scripture reminds us that proclaiming the gospel doesn’t make us better than others. We’re all beggars telling people where the feast is. 
How Sweet and Aweful is the Place #350
“Each one of cries with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest?” and “Pity the nations, O, our God, constrain the earth to come.”
All I Have is Christ #389
“And if you had not loved me first, I would refuse You still.”

Session 10: Steven Lawson • The Head of the Church (Col 1:15-23)

[I chose these final songs in response to the message on leadership to reflect our needs as leaders of the church.]
Come Thou Almighty King #326
A prayer to the Triune God to empower us. “Come and Thy people bless, and give thy Word success.”
O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer
A new song I repeated so people would have the opportunity to learn it and because it reflects the triumph and sufficiency of Christ in every situation.
All Glory be To Christ #133
The most appropriate response to all we had learned at the conference.

In the near future you’ll be able to access all the message here.

The post Pastoring Through Song at the Shepherd’s Conference appeared first on Worship Matters.

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I recently had the privilege of leading the worship in song for a number of sessions at The Shepherd’s Conference. Hosted by John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, this conference has been equipping and serving pastors for decades.

While there are some similarities to choosing and leading songs for my church, I think about conferences differently. Conferences are made up of people from various churches, most of whom don’t know each other. We’re only together for a few days and there are multiple teachings to take in and digest (at least at the conferences I’m at).

I thought it might be helpful to share some of the principles that guide how I think through the songs I lead at a conference and how I lead them.

1. Sing familiar songs.

I can be tempted at conferences to feature the songs I’m most excited about, which are often new songs. That has its benefits (see point #2), but the downside is that people focus more on trying to learn songs and less on engaging with God through familiar lyrics and melodies. Singing well-known songs together is one manifestation of the unity God has brought to us through the gospel. Though we might hail from different denominations, localities, and theological perspectives, we can unite around the glorious gospel, even if it’s only for a few days.

2. Teach new songs.

But conferences aren’t just about doing what’s familiar. They’re an opportunity to sow new songs into churches that will enable the word of Christ to dwell in them richly. That might include songs with unique themes, such as “Not in Me,” a song confessing self-righteousness, or “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” a 5 verse meditation on the joy of knowing Christ in the midst of trials and suffering. Singing a new song together enables people to experience the intended effect of the song more than simply listening to it under headphones. Each time I lead a conference I’m looking for 2 to 4 songs I can introduce.

3. Build on the impact of the preached Word.

One of the benefits of a conference is that attendees have the opportunity to meditate on God’s Word multiple times a day. When I’m planning songs for a conference, I ask for the topic and text of each session. For the opening session, I’ll generally sing through the gospel, following a progression of adoration, confession, assurance of pardon, and response. In the rest of the sessions, I choose songs that help us reflect on some aspect of the message we heard in the previous session. While it’s possible to build songs around the theme of the message that’s going to be preached, I’ve found it helpful to look back to the message we’ve already heard and make specific application from it. Apart from the obvious benefit of hearing God’s Word preached, that’s why I try to listen to every message and take good notes.

4. Use your Bible.

We often separate in our minds the preaching of the Word from the singing of the Word. We assume sermons are meant to affect our minds and singing songs is meant to affect our hearts. But singing is meant to flow from and be filled with the word of God and the word of Christ (Ps. 119:54; Col. 3:16). I find it helpful to open each session with a brief Scripture to remind us that our worship in song is a response to God’s revealing himself to us. I’ll often share another Scripture after one or two songs. As a side note, reading from a physical copy of a Bible rather than an iPhone or iPad visually communicates the weightiness of God’s Word over against the transience and distractedness of our culture.

5. Use songs to pastor souls.

I had the opportunity to teach on this topic at a lunch breakout at the Shepherd’s Conference. It’s an area that’s most relevant to a local church context, but it’s an important category at a conference as well. When I choose songs for a session, I’m asking questions like:

What truth from the last message we heard might God want us to meditate on or respond to?
Did the last message reveal struggles we need to see more in the light of God’s promises and the gospel?
What unique challenges might the people at this conference be facing that God can speak to in the songs we sing?

Seeking to pastor people as we sing is one of the reasons it can be helpful to insert spoken comments between songs, or even during songs. We’re not just singing good songs and enjoying the sound of a large group praising the Lord. We’re teaching and admonishing each other (Col. 3:16), pointing each other to who God is, what God has said, and what he has done for us, particularly in Christ’s atoning work. This has the potential of encouraging the downcast, strengthening the weary, convicting the sinner, comforting the suffering, confronting the self-sufficient, and making us all more aware of the greatness, glory, and goodness of the Savior.

What does that look like? In a future post, I’ll list the songs I led at the Shepherd’s Conference, the Scriptures I used, and the reason behind my choices.

The post Thoughts on Choosing and Leading Songs at Conferences appeared first on Worship Matters.

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In a culture when Sunday “worship” is more produced, polished, and professional than ever, it’s helpful to remember what really matters to God when we meet.

That’s the theme of our 15th WorshipGod conference this year, to be held July 25-28 at Grace Church in Frisco, TX: Extraordinary: The Weekly Worship of the Gathered Church. 

Sunday mornings aren’t rock concerts. They aren’t pep rallies or World Cup finals. But every time the church gathers, all of heaven takes notice.

Each and every Sunday we meet with saints Christ has redeemed and made one through his death on the cross. We join in with the hosts of heaven around the throne (Heb. 12:22-24). God speaks powerfully and personally to us through his living and active preached word (Heb. 4:12). The Triune God reveals himself and builds up the church through various gifts, acts of service, and activities (1 Cor. 12:4-6). What could be more thrilling?

What to Expect

WorshipGod conferences seek to equip and encourage those who lead and plan congregational worship in three areas:

  • Theology, covering areas like the nature and character of God, a biblical theology of worship, the primacy of God’s Word and the gospel, and more.
  • Heart, addressing the attitudes, motives, purity, integrity, family life, and passion of the worshiper.
  • Skill, applying to areas like musicianship, leadership, and communication.

But it’s not just for leaders. We also offer general seminars will benefit anyone who wants to grow in their passion for God’s glory in Christ.

You’ll also enjoy some amazing giveaways in each session, free lunches, lots of laughter, and a serious pursuit of engaging with God. People who come to WorshipGod conferences value having biblical foundations for what they do. They see worship in life as important as worship in song and really love the local church. While I’m thankful for bigger conferences (and will be speaking at some of them), we aim for a family, non-hype feel at WorshipGod. We pursue excellence in all we do, but Sunday mornings should be characterized primarily by the participation of God’s people, not production or performance.

Who’s Going to Be There

I’m grateful for the lineup of speakers and musicians we have this year. They’ll help us grow in understanding and appreciating what God wants to do when we meet together on Sundays:

The Church’s Glory – Matt Mason
The Church’s Foundation – Craig Cabaniss
The Church’s Unity – CJ Mahaney
The Church’s Message – Brian Davis
The Church’s Passion – Jon Payne
The Church’s Future – Rick Gamache

We’ll be served musically this year by a range of folks including Sovereign Grace bands (including one from Mexico!), Devon Kauflin, Michael Bleecker, Matt Boswell, and Jimmy Needham. In addition to times of corporate singing, Jimmy Needham, Caroline Cobb, and Adam Wright will be sharing songs with us that aren’t necessarily congregational, but I think you’ll love!

Why Should I Come?

If you help plan, lead, or support a Sunday meeting, WorshipGod18 will speak to all the places you live. You’ll be able to take extended time with your pastor and other members of your team to evaluate what you’re doing that’s working and what needs to change. Before the conference starts, you’ll be able to get more specific training in one of eight pre-conference intensives taught by people who have been involved in music ministry for decades.

During the conference, you can go to 4 of the 28 seminars. In addition to practical training for instrumentalists, songwriters, vocalists, and tech teams, we’ll be talking about a leader’s heart and family, what “experiences” with God should look like, how congregational worship shapes our identity, rooting out pride, and more. Josh Scott of JHS pedals (along with Patrick Anderson), will be sharing from his years of experience both on the heart and art of playing your guitar. And Donald Whitney will be joining us again to address how to pray the Bible and trust God in the midst of suffering.

How Do I Register?

You can register and find all the information you need at the WorshipGod18 website. On Feb. 1 only, all tickets are only $90. After that, until Mar. 1 it’s $90/student, $120/group of 5+, and $150/individual.

Feel free to invite your team, your pastor, your musicians, your family, and friends to WorshipGod18. It’s an event we trust will equip you to serve your local church every week with greater joy, skill, and fruitfulness – all for the glory of our matchless Savior.

The post Registration for WorshipGod18 Now Open appeared first on Worship Matters.

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This past Sunday I turned 63.

I’ve reached that age when the question I get most frequently is some form of, “So, what have you learned after all these years?”

Eight years ago, when I was an ancient 55, I shared nine things God had been showing me. Five years later, when I was even older, I posted  more “lessons learned.”

I haven’t stopped learning. But this year, I thought I’d share some of the encouraging and not so encouraging trends I’m seeing in the church when it comes to music. By “trends” I mean what many churches today either think or practice.

These observations obviously don’t apply to every church. My hope is that they’ll contribute to leading worship in song in a way that is driven more by faithfulness than fads.

Better and More Creative Words, Not As Much of the Word

I probably review a new worship album every couple weeks. Lyrics are getting better. They’re more thoughtful. More creative. More insightful. It doesn’t seem, though, that lyrics overall are more consciously driven, shaped, and informed by the Word of God. Nor do I always get the impression when people are leading that they’re dependent on the power and authority of God’s Word rather than the musical atmosphere they create (Ps. 19:7-9; 1 Thess. 2:13). Last year, I was encouraged to come across a YouTube video of an entire psalm being read passionately and thoughtfully before a song. But that tends to be the exception, not the rule. It’s still a good idea for leaders to have their Bibles with them when they lead and to actually read from them. It provides doctrinal fuel for our emotional fire and makes it clear where our authority comes from.

More Songs about God’s Love, Not As As Many About God’s Holiness

We’ve seen an outpouring of songs that remind us of God’s fatherly love, his passion for us, and that his love will never fail. We can never hear it enough. My pastor, CJ Mahaney, pointed out in a recent sermon that the most repeated phrase in the Bible is, “Your steadfast love endures forever.” But what makes God’s love so amazing is understanding how it was demonstrated and why we don’t deserve it. Actually, God’s love isn’t just underserved. It’s ill-deserved – the exact opposite of what we’d expect, given his blazing perfection and our sinfulness. But Jesus took our sins upon himself at the cross and took our punishment for every sin we would ever commit (2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:13-15). That’s why we can now know and experience God’s love. The church needs more songs that help us acknowledge how often we still go astray and how God’s love not only accepts us in Christ; it transforms us.

Lights Are Coming On and the Lights Are Still Out

It’s been refreshing to see musical leaders acknowledge their weaknesses, mistakes, even sins. Despite the temptations of self-promotion on social media, we’re becoming more aware there are no great worship leaders; just a great Savior who is worthy of all our affection and adoration. But common practices like turning down the lights in the congregation and over-producing can fight against that realization. The distance between the famous and the average continues to widen every time we value performance over participation, spectating over singing, celebrities over servants, and great concerts over gospel community. And those still seem to be prevalent problems.

Technology Serves us More Than Ever and Rules Us More Than Ever

Instant song access. Transposable charts. Instrumental tracks that fill out the sound of the band. Thousands of lyrics and Bible verses available at a moment’s notice. Ableton Live. Digital sound and lighting boards. Seamless communication systems. Wireless monitors, and more. Advances in technology serve us in innumerable ways. But with increased use comes increased dependence. We invest dozens of hours on technical details rather than theological precision or simply serving in other concrete ways. We tend to think our effectiveness is due more to our creativity and production skills than the faithful and compelling proclamation of the gospel. More than one leader has confessed they don’t use certain songs because instrumental tracks aren’t available. When technology overrules our theology or our pastoral inclinations, it stops being a servant and becomes an idol.

More Songs Than Any Time in History But It Can Be Hard to Tell

A majority of churches have moved on from curated hymnals and now can access thousands of songs on the world wide web – immediately. That kind of availability was science fiction just 25 years ago. That means we have no reason to lead our churches in songs that fail to feed them doctrinally and move them emotionally. But from what I’ve observed, many of us still tend to sing songs because they’re popular, easy to pick up, or at the top of the CCLI charts. We choose songs we like and songs that make us feel good. But a great song that has immediate appeal isn’t always a song that says exactly what my church needs to express on any given Sunday. Our engagement with God in song necessitates a broader vocabulary than the most popular songs can provide. Are we taking the time to find and use them?

Why I’m Encouraged

In the midst of these blessings and concerns, two things deeply encourage me.

First, an ever-expanding number of leaders throughout the world are continuing to press in to God’s Word to discover and apply what God says about the use of music in the church. People like Keith & Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, EMU Music, and others are contributing to that process, and thousands of unknown leaders faithfully model it every week.

Second, God is absolutely committed to glorifying his name in and through his people. He will be glorified in his bride. He uses our weakness, misguidedness, and excesses to point our hearts to his merciful, awe-inspiring, holy glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The knowledge of his glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2;14).

In 2018, may we give ourselves more consistently and passionately to that end.

The post As I See It – Reflections at 63 appeared first on Worship Matters.

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In the past few years, a number of voices have emerged encouraging church musicians to lose their music stands. 

I don’t think anyone is saying it’s a matter “of first importance” to put the music stands away. But people have said if you really want to serve your church, you won’t use them.

Reasons to Strike the Stands

Here are some of the most common reasons people give for losing the stands.

  • In many churches, a separation already exists due to a stage. Removing the stands removes the visible barrier.
  • Musicians and vocalists tend to stare at their stands. When you remove them, musicians look up, look out, and are more engaged.
  • Singing and playing without stands forces you to memorize music and communicates a higher standard of preparation and excellence. It’s unprofessional and uncaring to use them.
  • If you’re nervous about forgetting lyrics, you can use a confidence monitor, i.e., project the lyrics on the back wall.
A Few Thoughts

While I appreciate and even applaud the impulses that lie behind church musicians going without music, it seems unwise to make it the rule or even the most-preferred practice.

We’re working with volunteers. Asking musicians to memorize the music each week assumes they’re full-time, specifically dedicated to that role in the church, or have enough time during the week to commit songs to memory. Those aren’t the kind of people I normally serve with at my church! While I appreciate musicians who know their music well, I’d rather have them free from anxiety when they’re leading.

We’re freer to make Sunday morning changes. Due to the limited amount of time our band rehearses, we come up with arrangements on Sunday mornings when we practice. That allows us to make last-minute changes, adjust arrangements to the musicians that are actually there, and make music rather than simply play it.

We want to sing the right songs. Memorizing all the songs tends to push us toward using shorter, more repetitive songs, or songs we’ve been singing for years. It doesn’t have to have that effect but often does. I shouldn’t determine the songs I lead on Sundays by how easy they are to memorize (think Psalm 119). God tells us the word of Christ is to dwell in us richly as we sing (Col. 3:16), and that implies at times I’ll lead songs that go beyond popular fare.

We want to identify the real causes. Singing with stands doesn’t communicate a lack of care, love, or engagement any more than a pastor using notes for his message does. It becomes a negative factor only when he reads mechanically, rarely looking up at the congregation. But I’d rather have him be sure of what he’s going to say than try to commit his message to memory and stumble along the way. And I’ve been ministered to in profound ways by both singers and preachers who have notes in front of them.

We sing in community. Finally, it’s participation, not performance, that should characterize our meetings. We’re singing with the congregation, not to or at them. Rather than being a barrier between us and the congregation, music stands can actually be a unifying element. They communicate we’re not musical professionals, that we can forget lyrics, and that we too can get distracted. Our congregations look at a screen (or a hymnal), but we’d never say they’re insincere or “unprepared” to worship God. Needy, imperfect, and dependent, we look to Jesus to perfect all our offerings of worship (1 Pet. 2:5). (HT to Allen Dicharry for this last insight)

Some Questions We Can Ask

If this is an issue at your church, these questions might help you reach some conclusions, whether that’s to go with stands or without them.

Are we allowing the use of music stands to be more of a focus than the God we’re worshiping and the people we’re singing with?
If so, get your head out of the stands. Go over the music in advance and use it simply as a reference. Develop the skill of looking at the line you’re about to sing, then looking up and singing it with the congregation. Try flattening out and lowering the stand, or moving it to the side, to reduce the physical barrier. Using music stands only separates you from the congregation when they’re a visual obstacle or you’re overly dependent on them.

Are we seeking to serve our congregation well?
Maximize whatever limited time you have to prepare. During rehearsals, sing and play as though there was a congregation in front of you. Sing to the empty seats. In a few days or in a few minutes, they’ll be filled with God’s people. If you do choose to go without stands and can afford it, consider adding a “confidence monitor,” lyrics projected either on the back wall or a television monitor. Besides helping the vocalists with the lyrics, a monitor also helps the leader know when the projectionist is putting the lyrics up.

What’s determining the kinds of songs we feed our church?
Take stock of what factors figure in to your song choices. We can consider ease of memorization, repetition, and simplicity, but they shouldn’t rule what we sing. God is too great and awesome, and our responses too deep and varied, to limit our songs of praise to what we’re able to memorize.

Which is more important to us: visibly engaging with a congregation or leading them to a deeper knowledge of God in Jesus Christ?
Those two ends aren’t necessarily opposed. When we lead a congregation to lift up their hearts and voices to praise God, it should be an emotionally engaging event. But emotions aren’t our focus – God’s glory in the face of Christ is (2 Cor. 4:6). God wants the real events of the gospel to move people, not the fact that they don’t have to look at us over music stands.

Like most secondary matters in congregational worship, using or not using music stands isn’t an either/or issue. We just want to make sure we’re asking the right questions.

The post To Use or Lose the Music Stands: Is That the Question? appeared first on Worship Matters.

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