For over four decades I’ve been leading congregational worship with bands. My generation saw drums infiltrate church sanctuaries despite the protests of many older saints. It was a hard fought battle with many casualties along the way.
In my mind, we didn’t do it because it was hip, or a way of attracting crowds, or an attempt to impress people. And we didn’t want to water down our theology. Our lives had been turned upside down by the good news of the gospel and we wanted to celebrate that reality using musical styles and accompaniment that made emotional sense. Drums, bass guitars, acoustics, electric guitars, and synthesizers gave us opportunity to express God’s praise in a way that was understandable, varied, and dynamic.
But 40 years in I’ve seen that no matter how many instruments we add, the heart of congregational song will always be – forgive the redundancy – the congregation singing. The most important sound on Sunday mornings is faith-filled voices lifted up in praise and prayer to a God who has drawn near to us through his Son and now dwells in us through his Spirit. Instruments can support, complement, and strengthen that singing. But they are never meant to overshadow, overwhelm, or replace it.
A Piano and 10,000 Voices
That’s why I appreciate what I get to do at the Together for the Gospel conference held in Louisville, KY every other year. No band. One piano. And 10,000 voices passionately belting out hymns, old and new.
It’s difficult to capture the sound of that many voices on a recording, but that’s what we tried to do. We included my voice primarily for the sake of clarity, but I doubt anyone will come away from this album thinking about my voice.
As we listened to mixes I was frequently moved as I listened to thousands of voices singing lyrics like:
Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain
And with tender body bear thorns and nails and piercing spear?
(from See the Destined Day Arise)
Many hands were raised to wound Him, none would interpose to save
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that Justice gave (from Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted)
No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life, my debt was paid by Jesus’ death
(from Not in Me)
To you who boast tomorrows gain, tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn, all glory be to Christ
(from All Glory be to Christ)
More than an album to listen to, this is an album designed to sing along to. Here’s a sample:
For my reflections on leading at the conference this year and a full list of the songs we sang, check out this post.