Last week, I traveled to South Africa for the first time and had the great joy of participating in Rezolution 2013, a series of conferences that took place in Johannesburg, Durban, and Capetown. I was there with 5 other guys from the States, CJ Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, and Brad Wheeler. The event was led primarily by Tim Cantrell and Al Schuster from Antioch Church in Midrand, although a number of other pastors and churches were involved as well. I participated in a pastors’ conference in Capetown on Monday and Tuesday, another pastors’ conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Rezolution 2013 conference on Friday night and Saturday. The messages were outstanding and can be downloaded here. I also had the privilege of serving two different congregations the first and second Sundays I was there. Through the week, I led 92 songs, which I think is a record for me, trumping my time at New Word Alive.
It was an exhilarating edifying, eye-opening, and exhausting time. Here’s a few thoughts on my time there.
1. South Africa, like every other country, is in great need of the gospel.
South African history is complex, to say the least. Apartheid has left serious scars on millions of people. Twenty years after Nelson Mandela came to power, the country still faces many significant problems – extreme poverty, political corruption, racial tension, and more. But while many wring their hands in despair and fear the worst Christians are offering hope for genuine transformation through the gospel. I was encouraged to hear of efforts being made by Christians to combat racial division, care for orphans, and provide for those in need.
2. Technology amplifies our impact.
One of the more encouraging conversations I had while in South Africa was with Paul Karstens, a professor at the Bible Institute of Capetown. He said I had no idea how much Sovereign Grace Music had impacted the reformed churches there. I told him he was right – I had no idea. He said it was largely due to how accessible our music is. A couple years ago we redesigned our website to make downloads a one-click process, and last year we made all our sheet music free. In addition, you can purchase downloads of Sovereign Grace Music pretty much anywhere in the world through our Bandcamp site. I was thanking God for the how the Internet has made disseminating our music so much easier throughout the world.
3. Physical expression while singing can be hindered and encouraged by culture.
I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking through what we do with our bodies when we sing together, and have shared my thoughts in a seminar called Worshiping God Mind, Soul, and Body. Bottom line, I think we should strive for natural physical expression as we meditate on God’s glory and the amazing news of the gospel. In South Africa the singing was loud and passionate, but most of the people I led in song were fairly conservative in their expressiveness. Actually, they were really conservative. (There were a few exceptions, like the older couple who had a Pentecostal background.) But over the weekend we were led by the Rezolution band, which combined native African songs with English songs. The choir and vocalists were very expressive, and at different times led us in motions related to what we were singing. I watched the responsiveness of the crowd and noted that this was the same group that hadn’t used their hands or bodies much as they sang earlier in the day. Which made me wonder why we so often stifle the response that seems to be so natural in other settings.
4. A lot of people want to know what it means to be a reformed charismatic.
Sovereign Grace churches hold to an essentially reformed theology with a continuationist understanding of the gifts of the Spirit. While we were in South Africa we ran into a number of pastors who wondered how that worked. Both CJ and I had conversations along those lines and were encouraged by the humble and practical questions guys were asking.
5. It’s easier to lead songs for great teaching.
I got to hear some great messages in South Africa from men I deeply respect. While I listened, I planned the songs for the next session. I see my job as emphasizing and building on the truths from God’s Word that have been communicated in the messages. When the messages are gospel saturated, thoroughly biblical, insightful, and moving it just makes my job a lot easier.
6. Rich fellowship makes for rich ministry.
A highlight of the trip was conversations with the speakers that began and ended most days, often led by Mark Dever. We laughed, discussed theology and contemporary issues, evaluated meetings, prayed, and ate together. Okay, “conversation” might be too generous. I listened a lot. In addition, our hosts regularly engaged us in substantive questions and encouragement as we traveled around. Those times of fellowship are memories I’ll carry with me a long time and made my time in South Africa even more enjoyable.
7. Jesus is building his church in the midst of heresy and deterioration.
While statistics imply that South Africa is a largely Christian country, much of what passes for Christianity is the health & wealth gospel or a diluted nominal Christianity. But I met many pastors who are faithfully proclaiming the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ and want to be equipped to do it better. Many were the fruit of John MacArthur’s ministry and the Master’s Seminary. Others were Baptist, Church of England South Africa, or independent. I thank God for all of them.
It was a great privilege to be part of Rezolution 2013 and pray the seeds we sowed will serve those who are faithfully continuing to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel in South Africa.