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Songs and Thoughts from Together for the Gospel - Worship Matters
The Together for the Gospel conference, held Apr. 12-14 in Louisville, KY, is an every-other-year feast of insightful Bible teaching, passionate singing, and rich fellowship. It’s the fruit of a friendship between Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and my good friend and senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney. That fruit has blossomed to encourage thousands of pastors faithfully serving their local churches. I had the joy of leading the music again this year. It’s a unique experience. A guy at a piano joined by ten thousand voices singing theologically rich, gospel-centered hymns, old and new. We’ve produced two albums from previous T4G conferences (Together for the Gospel Live and T4G Live II), and hope to produce another one from this year’s event. I’m often surprised when someone tells me how meaningful the albums are. Surprised because I hear it from people in their 20s and even from teenagers. I can assure you it’s not because of the lead vocal. Or the band. Or the production. When you strip away the drums, bass, electric guitars, synthesizers, lights, effects, and fog machines, it strikes you how powerful voices alone (almost) singing biblically rooted gospel truths can be. Piano and voices alone isn’t what I typically do. I lead contemporary songs and hymns with a full band on Sundays at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. Modern musical styles give us more options to proclaim God’s glory in Christ and our responses to him. Instruments, when used humbly and wisely, can support and complement a congregation’s voice and serve faith-filled singing. But I don’t mind restricting myself to hymns and losing the band at T4G to make the point that the congregation’s sound is the most important musical element on Sunday mornings. After the 2010 conference I posted some thoughts on leading at T4G. Here are a few additional thoughts from this year. “Feeling” the Spirit is working and the Spirit actually working are two different things. For a variety of reasons, I felt a little distracted and disconnected the first two days of T4G. We were recording 13 songs and I had never led a number of the songs before. Although I put in some practice leading up to the event, I wasn’t totally at ease (it’s tough to fix live acoustic piano tracks). I wasn’t always clear on a specific thought to share when we were singing, so I stuck primarily to reading a Scripture passage. It wasn’t until the third day I felt at peace, had a good sense of what to say, and thoroughly enjoyed leading. I “sensed” God’s presence. No one I’ve talked to thus far could tell much of a difference, though, and God working in people’s hearts had little to do with how I was feeling. God can work through us even when we feel distracted. Musical presuppositions and preferences can be set aside for the sake of the gospel. The attendees at T4G were young and old, black and white, Asian, Hispanic, and hailed from over 50 nations. But when we lifted our hearts and voices to proclaim the glories of Christ, it was obvious that whatever desires existed for drums, choirs, hip-hop, rock, organs, or orchestras, they became of secondary importance as we were “lost in wonder, love and praise.” Leading worship in song isn’t about me being musically satisfied. Each year, I work with Mark Dever on the songs we’ll be singing at T4G. I love working with Mark. But sometimes we have different perspectives. Mark loves 4 part harmony and has asked that I accompany songs in a way that allows people to sing parts. Fewer churches incorporate 4 part harmony in their meetings these days and T4G provides an opportunity to expose people to it. But I enjoy creative, alternate harmonies. Good chord substitutions can highlight lyrics, create a different mood behind a lyric, and make it more enjoyable for me as a musician. But personal fulfillment isn’t the primary reason I make musical choices. It’s what serves those I’m leading and those I’m submitted to. And that applies to my local church just as much as it does to a conference. Finally, for the many …