This past weekend I had the privilege of joining 3000 or so folks at the Christian Musician Summit – Improving Skill, Inspiring Talent, held at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington, near Seattle. My good friend Pat Sczebel, joined me from Vancouver, BC, where he serves as a pastor in Crossway Community Church.
I marveled again at how diverse the body of Christ is. Ages ranged from 15 to 75, and I talked to people from every kind of denomination, meeting format, church size, and musical preference. Over two days people could attend 9 of 170 seminars that were offered, three main sessions, and two evening concerts.
It was a massive undertaking, but came off exceptionally well, especially considering the fact that the event was organized by two musicians, Matt Kees and Bruce Adolph. One of them (and from their comments, I’d guess Matt) must have a significant administrative gift. I was able to catch up briefly with a number of friends (Paul Baloche and band, Kathryn Scott, Tom Kraeuter, and Steve Merkel), and also met Brenton Brown (humble, gifted, great songwriter), Carl Cartee (guitarist, worship leader, songwriter), Ed Kerr (formerly of Harvest), Rita Baloche, and Chris Tomlin (who has actually heard of Sovereign Grace Ministries, to my surprise).
It was an encouraging conference. The depth in song lyrics is increasing, and those who taught, played, and sang were characterized by humility. How different from the world! This wasn’t a “worship conference” per se, but I think that a majority of folks who attended have something to do with corporate worship in their church. I was privileged to teach four seminars and the last main session.
Here are a few reflections from the conference.
The music wars are far from over.
Of the seminars I led, The Role of Music in Worship was the largest. When I asked how many people had experienced tension in their church over music almost every hand went up. While many churches have wholeheartedly embraced contemporary music in their services, a large number are still making the transition. But changing to a contemporary style may create more problems if we don’t have a biblical understanding of how music functions in worshiping God. Music is a tool to help us deepen the relationships we enjoy through the Gospel with God and each other. It should enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly, express our unity, and enable varied expressions of praise to God (Col. 3:12-17). We’ll continue to battle over music unless we understand its role, and see it as an important but secondary issue in our worship of God.
Worship artists aren’t the only music leadership model for the local church.
God has undoubtedly gifted certain people to write, sing, and play songs to edify the church. Millions of Christians have benefited from their diligence and faithfulness. We should thank God for them and pray that He continues to use them for his glory. However, most of the churches at the conference will never have a leader as gifted as Matt Redman, a band as talented as Paul Baloche’s, or songwriters as skilled as Brenton Brown. Also, contemporary music is only one piece of the music spectrum. It has strengths and weaknesses like all genres. When the only songs we sing were written or arranged in the last ten years, we have effectively cut off the voice of the church for the past three hundred years or more. We can do more to make sure that smaller churches don’t labor under a false idea of what worship music should sound like, and that larger churches model the diverse musical resources available to us for worshiping our Savior.
While we all know that worship is our lives, we still think of it as our music.
It’s hard to shake the idea that we’re “really” worshiping when we sing, or that certain leaders “bring us into God’s presence.” I would love to see more teaching on how the songs we sing can affect and reflect the lives we live for God’s glory. It would also be good to hear more about how the atoning work of Christ is the only means by which we enter the Father’s presence (Heb. 10:19-22).
That being said, the conference was billed as an event to improve skill and inspire talent, and by that standard, it delivered as promised. It was a privilege to be there. Thanks, Matt and Bruce, for your vision to see Christian musicians equipped for the glory of God. May more local churches be inspired to do the same.