Learning to Live with Limitations at Together for the Gospel

The Rolling Stones, not generally known for wise words of instruction, reminded us of the truth that, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Next week I have the joy and privilege of leading 7000+ Together for the Gospel conference attendees in singing the praises of our great Savior. Typically I lead with a full band, and enjoy the variety that can be achieved by adding various acoustic instruments, synths, percussion, and vocalists to the mix.

But you can’t always get what you want. So at Together for the Gospel this year, it will just be me and a piano. Just like 2006 and 2008. Will I be limited? Yes. Will I praise God any less passionately? No.

But this year there’s a new twist, at least from my perspective. As Mark Dever and I planned the songs he asked that they all be printed in four part harmony. Mark’s church, Capitol Hill Baptist, regularly sings in four parts, and he thinks a large number of the conference participants do as well. That means instead of working from a chart like this:

screen-shot-2010-04-09-at-fri-apr-9-201044532-pm

I’ll be working from one like this:

screen-shot-2010-04-09-at-fri-apr-9-201022923-pm

What’s the difference? I have a lot more harmonic freedom with a guitar chart, because most people are simply singing the melody. You can hear some of the harmonic variations I did last year on the Together for the Gospel Live album. I used chord variations to try to draw attention to the meaning and emotional impact of the truths we were singing.

But this year, I’ll have to figure out a way to play within the limitations of 4 part harmony. And actually, I’m looking forward to the challenge. For one thing, it helps free me from the mindset that my creative harmonies are essential to people engaging with God as we sing. Harmonic variations can be a help – but they aren’t necessary. Also, it just enables me to serve Mark and others who find great joy and fulfillment in singing in 4 part harmony. Finally, it will clearly draw attention to the priority of voices whenever we gather. As much as I value what instruments can add to congregational worship, the Spirit-inspired and faith-filled voices of God’s people are always the sound that’s most important. The Scriptural references to singing far outnumber those that mention instruments. That alone should help me be a more humble musician.

Every leader of corporate worship will be limited at different times. It might be your drummer always rushes the fills. It might be you have to use someone else’s econo-guitar. It could be that the high school auditorium you’re meeting in has been overtaken by the set for “Man of La Mancha.” It could be your pastor wants you to play something out of your comfort zone.

Whatever limitations you face when you lead, see them as opportunities for God to do something better than what you would have done on your own. If nothing else, limitations imposed on us by others are occasions to trust God more intently and “look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4)

So limitations and all, I’m looking forward to singing God’s praise with everyone at the conference, as well as benefiting from the speakers: Thabiti Anywabwile, Mark Dever, Lig Duncan, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and Matt Chandler. We’ll also be hearing from eight “next generation” leaders in breakout sessions.

If you’re going to be at the conference, please come up and say hi. And if you think of it, please pray that every attendee will be equipped to more faithfully and joyfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with their lips and lives.

34 Responses to Learning to Live with Limitations at Together for the Gospel

  1. Trent Broussard April 9, 2010 at 6:09 PM #

    I so appreciate your humble spirit. I have been led in worship by you and a band now I look forward to being led in worship with four part harmony. I am grateful that God doesn’t need our forms and is accessible through Christ and not through our man-made devices.

  2. Greg Rusco April 9, 2010 at 7:19 PM #

    Bob,
    I will be attending the T4G Conference for the first time this year. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be with four other men from my church and the thousands of others from across the US and the world. I appreciate very much your desire to serve others (and ultimately the Lord) by willingly laying aside personal preferences. I will be praying that the Lord will empower you to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ as you lead us in worship. I’ll stop by and say hello that is if I’m able to wade through the 6,999 other guys doing the same. What a turnout! What a foretaste of Heaven! See you in Louisville. SDG, Greg Rusco (Tulsa, OK)

  3. Paul Martin April 9, 2010 at 7:59 PM #

    “It could be that the high school auditorium you’re meeting in has been overtaken by the set for “Man of La Mancha.””

    That is too good to actually not have happened to you! Do tell!

    (See you at T4G!)

    • Bob Kauflin April 9, 2010 at 10:38 PM #

      Paul, it wasn’t Man of La Mancha, but there were numerous times we led worship surrounded by a drama set. Always interesting…

  4. Michael Strand April 9, 2010 at 8:47 PM #

    Bob,
    I have been an avid follower since your book came out and am very excited to finally hear you lead at the conference! Despite the difficult circumstances I am sure God will do great things through you. I am looking forward to seeing you there!

  5. Dan April 9, 2010 at 11:44 PM #

    Bob,
    Very excited about the conference! Is there any way that you could post the songs that you will be leading? If there are any that I don’t know, I would love to learn them before coming.

    • Bob Kauflin April 10, 2010 at 9:42 AM #

      Dan, here’s a quick list of the songs we’ve planned to sing.

      Come thou Fount of Every Blessing
      And Can it Be
      There is a Fountain
      Speak, O Lord
      Before the Throne of God Above
      I Hear the Words of Love
      In Christ Alone
      How Firm a Foundation
      I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow (to the tune of “The Water is Wide”)
      My Song is Love Unknown
      How Deep the Father’s Love
      Praise to the Lord the Almighty
      O Great God
      How Sweet and Aweful
      All I Have is Christ
      It Is Well
      My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

  6. Dave Mackie April 10, 2010 at 9:06 AM #

    Bob,

    I thank God for you and for this post, not to mention all he’s taught me through you. I read this just after having seen the list of musicians I’ve got to choose from for our church weekend away this year. For some reason, musician numbers are very low, and we’ve basically just got me, a few singers and some top-line instruments (mostly flutes).

    Thank you for the reminder that it’s not about me, or my band, or having a decent drummer and bassist. It’s about displaying the greatness of God in Jesus Christ.

    If God brings it to your mind, please do pray for us as we lead our church community in praise of the King!

    • Bob Kauflin April 10, 2010 at 9:40 AM #

      Dave, sounds like you have the right heart through which God can glorify his Son. Thanks for serving faithfully.

  7. Patrick McKinney April 10, 2010 at 10:04 AM #

    Bob, thanks for this post and the Phil 2.4 reference. Each time I play bass at a worship gathering, I am striving to find that sweet spot between adding flavor to the bass line without over playing.

    It can be challenging. But it is helpful to be reminded to consider the interests of both the congregation and other team members when constructing and implementing the bass lines for each song.

  8. Michael Tait April 10, 2010 at 2:50 PM #

    Bob, I’ve been so blessed by the TFTG Live album, I listened to it continuously up to the birth of our son recently and am laying here listening to it with him just now.

  9. Kyle April 11, 2010 at 1:27 AM #

    Can’t make it to the conference this year – trusting it will be a time of refreshment, conviction and new courage for thousands of men and women. Thank you all for the ministry.

    Please remember those of us who can’t attend by recording the singing! I’ve greatly enjoyed the CD from last year, and am immensely curious to hear those thousands of voices in 4-part harmony along with your skillful leadership.

    Grace,

    Kyle

  10. Jim Pemberton April 12, 2010 at 12:25 PM #

    It’s limitations such as these that can generate the greatest creativity. Some harmonic variability is possible throughout the duration of a chord. Often this comes from varying the instrument playing the bass where the vocal bass is not too low, like turning a major chord into a minor 7th or an 11th. More harmonic interest can be generated via passing chords within the larger chord like upper pianistic instruments pass through D and C major chords while voices and sustained instruments hold an Em.

    The other option is to vary the strength or application of certain instruments from one section to another. I’ve done this on occasion from the sound board remixing on the fly when I hear meaningful changes in the music, like pulling up the piano and reducing the guitar for a section and then alternately pulling up the guitar and reducing the piano for another.

  11. dave fournier April 12, 2010 at 4:49 PM #

    Great post! :)

  12. Marvin April 12, 2010 at 9:09 PM #

    Is it permissible to print the 4-part arrangement?

    • Bob Kauflin April 12, 2010 at 9:13 PM #

      Marvin, absolutely! Thanks for asking.

  13. Steve Inman April 14, 2010 at 7:41 AM #

    Hi Bob,

    As a worship leader who uses guitar as my accompaniment instrument, this same challenge you pose in today’s post (attached below) is even more of an enjoyable challenge for me, but for precisely the opposite reason.

    When playing in a band, we guitarists often get lazy, and don’t give enough attention to chord inversions and voicings. In addition, the SATB arrangements often result in “chords with no name” — non-standard combinations of right and left hand notes that probably do have a name but it would take a lot of concentration to figure out the right one! So, I always relish the opportunity to be handed an SATB arrangement, as it gives me the chance to transcribe the actual chords and inversions, instead of just playing through the often simplified chords used in the guitar charts for most of today’s contemporary praise and worship songs.

    Instead of having to limit myself with respect to ad-lib opportunities and creative harmonizations, an SATB arrangement often provides the guitarist with an EXPANDED and more interesting musical opportunity. And of course, it’s icing on the cake when you encounter something like the traditional Bach harmonization of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, filled with wonderful bass run opportunities — even more so when you figure out how to play them!

    So using a finger style approach to an SATB arrangement is not only a great musical learning opportunity for the guitarist, but developing this skill set allows you to create a more musically interesting accompaniment whenever you have the chance to be the sole musician leading the congregation.

    Blessings,

    Steve Inman
    Kokomo, IN

    • Bob Kauflin April 14, 2010 at 12:34 PM #

      Steve, great thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

  14. Keith April 16, 2010 at 2:22 PM #

    Bob:
    Just got home from T4G 2010. What a wonderful experience!! The simple worship was uplifting and God-honoring. What a joy to sing along with the 7000 attendees as we praised the name of our God. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  15. David Beger April 16, 2010 at 6:38 PM #

    I was there…past tense. The thing is over and it was great! Thank you for your service to me. I will be using one of your (the) songs next week as I close my sermon.

    Thank you,
    David…the ordinary pastor.

  16. Kendall Ellis April 17, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

    Thanks, Bob, for your encouraging post. God has been humbling me in a big way lately by putting a finger on my own limitations (weaknesses) as a leader and by asking me to work and minister faithfully in the midst of the limitations of my circumstances–few and inexperienced musicians, terrible meeting space, inconsistent rehearsal opportunities. I need to be reminded that these things are for my development as a servant and my growth in prayerful dependence.

    Wish I could have been at T4G.

  17. Mark Lioret April 18, 2010 at 11:32 PM #

    As always, Bob, good post! I am a volunteer Worship Leader and we face every week the 4-part challenge but added to the mix is we do everything acappella. We use SATB, but also have a bass who does a kind of running bass/perc line. Normally we have 2 voices for each part, and I sing lead. The fun comes like it has the last few weeks when several team members are out, and we end up trying to figure out how to make that song sound right with only 3 parts covered – ha..

    anyway, with that many voices singing in parts as you had at your recent conference, i hope you found some room to drop the instruments and just let the vocals carry – 7000 voices in harmony is heavenly!

    off subject – when i first started this ministry, our team studied for almost a year on worship – and i used MUCH of your material from your blogs – thank you for helping shape us! I saw that you will be at Crowder’s conference in Texas – i’ll be there and one of the highlights will be seeing you in person!

  18. Linford Berry April 19, 2010 at 9:37 AM #

    Thanks for letting God use you in this way Bob. I attended T4G 2006, 2008 and now 2010. The worship this year was by far the best. I attribute that at least in part to your willingness to be limited and to emphasize the voices rather than the instrument. I really did appreciate the four part arrangements and I found it much easier to harmonize than in past years.

    Blessings

  19. Sarah Bosse April 19, 2010 at 10:30 AM #

    Creativity without limitations is simply chaos. The greatest displays of creativity are those which, when boxed in by limitations, push up against the box’s walls and make them bulge, turning boxes into triangles, circles, and different shapes altogether, without entirely breaking the box open and losing the wonder of the hidden contents thereof. Most secrets, when “spilled,” are lackluster. But how secretly rich is a creativity that defies chaos by morphing itself and then morphing its boundaries without destroying either part.

  20. Brandon West April 19, 2010 at 7:23 PM #

    Bob,

    I loved T4G, thanks for your service!

    After seeing Marvin’s post earlier, I was encouraged to ask if you would be able to make the other arrangements available that you arranged for T4G?

    That would be really helpful, thanks for considering it.

    Brandon

  21. Rhonda April 21, 2010 at 9:34 PM #

    Bob,

    I am a newcomer to reading your blog, but have been extremely blessed by reading it. Thank you for your insights. I am currently working through your recent book as well, “Worship Matters”. All of that to say that I too would greatly appreciate the 4 part arrangements of the songs you listed for my church! Coming from a very traditional church (Church of the Brethren) and how we are just recently on the journey to learning about true worship and what it looks like… it would be very beneficial to help our church if they had the 4 part harmony and could see the “actual” music in front of them. Thanks!

    Rhonda

    • Bob Kauflin April 21, 2010 at 11:45 PM #

      Rhonda,

      Thanks for stopping by. I will be posting most of the 4 part arrangements that we sang at Together for the Gospel.

  22. Dan Odom April 29, 2010 at 5:06 PM #

    Bob, I thank God for how you led us in worship during the conference! I was expecting to be moved by the messages, but the unexpected movement in my spirit by The Spirit was a wonderful surprise. I also thank the Lord for the “challenge” or “limitation” you faced because it sent me home with some brand new songs for our church to sing. Thank you for your servants heart and your love for our God! You are a blessing. (I’m currently reading your book on Worship and give it a resounding Amen!)

  23. jimmyd May 1, 2010 at 9:23 AM #

    I have been to T4G 2008 and 2010. I love the conference this year but the worship felt different. After reading this, maybe that’s why. I love my T4G 08 live CD!

  24. Jonathan Epps May 27, 2010 at 12:42 AM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for your ministry to us at t4g2010 I was quite blessed by the music. A particular favorite was “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow”. I came away excited to share the songs in my family devotions and in our church. Because you accepted the “limitation” of 4 part harmony I was able to do just that. Thanks for a great example of Biblically centered God-exalting music ministry.

  25. John M. Kirton II March 1, 2011 at 7:51 AM #

    Maybe I’m getting too old (46), but, while I LOVE the new worship music at The Village, I sometimes physically struggle to reach some of the vocal notes! A part of me wishes that I had sheet music which contained the bass notes so that I could sing without too much pain. Thanks for your posting!

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