Archive | Worship in the Church

Posts regarding the direct practice of worship in the context of the local church.

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Reflections on the 2017 Shepherds’ Conference

Last April a friend of mine at Grace Community Church texted me to say John MacArthur was going to invite me to lead the music for some of the main sessions at the 2017 Shepherds’ Conference. I thought he was kidding. There are a few reasons why this particular invite was unexpected. For one, I’m a pastor with Sovereign Grace Churches. John has at various times made clear in his preaching that we have a few theological differences. Also, the music at Grace Community Church, where John has served as the pastor for more than four decades, is primarily hymns led by highly skilled choirs, orchestras, and an organ. On a typical Sunday morning …

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A New Song – Reformation Hymn

As you’re probably aware, 2017 marks the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of a church building in Wittenberg, Germany. While not seeking to separate from the Roman Catholic church, he called for substantive and specific changes in her practices and theology. Luther was joined by many other Reformers whose teachings were eventually summarized in what we call the Five Solas, “sola” being a Latin word meaning “alone” or “only.” Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone Solus Christus: Christ alone Sola Fide: faith alone Sola Gratia: grace alone Soli Deo Gloria: glory to God alone These phrases carry …

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Upcoming Worship Matters Intensives

This past summer I led the first Sovereign Grace Music Worship Matters Intensive in Louisville. I spent 5 days with 18 guys working through the contents of my book, Worship Matters. Not surprisingly, we got into lively discussion and interaction on a number of levels and topics. In addition every guy got to run lyric projection and experience “Lead and Review,” which is just what the name implies. It was a fantastic time. While the first Intensive focused on Sovereign Grace worship leaders, we’ve received a number of requests to open it up. So that’s what we’re doing. I have two more Intensives coming up, both in Louisville. The dates …

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Dealing with Darkness at Christmas

It seems each Christmas I hear more people talk about how difficult this time can be for those who are suffering, depressed, or struggling with loss. Posts like When Darkness Falls at Christmas, What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas, and The Problem with Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs remind us that in spite of the parties, sentimental commercials, holiday greetings, and family reunions, all is not “calm and bright.” For many of us, Christmas is troubled and dark. My daughter, Brittany Hope, has had a tender heart for those kinds of people for years. A wife whose husband’s life was snuffed out too early. A young couple …

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Why Was It Such a Holy Night?

In 2014, Sovereign Grace Music released our second Christmas album, Prepare Him Room. It included a revised version of O Holy Night, with new lyrics written by my friend, Kevin Hartnett. I wrote a post that explained the background of the song and why Kevin rewrote two of the verses. The fundamental reason Kevin gave was that Timothy Dwight’s translation from the French didn’t capture the good news of the gospel in the way that the original lyrics did. Here’s a literal translation of how the song began: Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour, When God as man descended unto us To erase the stain of original sin And to end the …

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Together for the Gospel Live III Now Available

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 …

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Reflections on My Trip to the UK

Recently I had the privilege of traveling to the UK with my good friends CJ Mahaney and Jeff Purswell to participate in “Two Conferences, One Hope.” The first day was an event for pastors, called “Entrusted with the Gospel.” On Friday we offered a “True Worshipers” conference for anyone involved in planning or leading music in the church. This was the fourth time in two and a half years that Sovereign Grace has partnered with Grace Church Bristol and Sovereign Grace UK., both led by Nathan Smith. When we first came in 2014, people warned us that Brits can sometimes be concerned about the motives of Americans who come across the …

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What’s Happening with Sovereign Grace Music

Things have been hopping around the Louisville office of Sovereign Grace Music. Here’s some of what we’ve been up to. Worship Matters Intensives and Video We recently finished our first Worship Matters intensive and will be recording the 12 part video series at the beginning of August. I’m praying churches will be able to use this in conjunction with my book, Worship Matters, to equip teams, pastors, musicians, and leaders. We’re also working on scheduling more intensives this coming year. If you’d like to be added to a list for future intensives, let me know through the Contact tab above. Future Albums I recently finished listening …

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Our First Worship Matters Intensive

This past week I led my first Worship Matters Intensive in Louisville, KY, and the thought I came away with was, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Twenty guys, primarily from Sovereign Grace churches, came together from Wednesday night through Sunday lunch to be equipped to lead congregational worship more effectively. It was a pretty diverse group, ranging in age from 19 to 54, and coming from Australia, the Bahamas, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, New England, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky. Only two were full time pastors. The rest served as volunteers. We met for twelve 90 minute sessions, …

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Singing Songs from Questionable Sources

I had already been working on this post when I received this email from Ethan: “For the past year, I’ve struggled with the idea of playing ‘good’ songs (obviously room for defining some terms there…) from questionable ministries. In playing their songs, am I advocating for their entire ministry? In playing their songs, am I necessarily pushing my people towards their church (i.e., when the CCLI info pops up at the end of the song)?” I took a stab at this question eight years ago when I wrote “Does it Matter Who Writes the Songs we Sing?” Since then, I’ve been asked the question so frequently I’ve tried to refine my thinking on this topic. What …

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Songs and Thoughts from Together for the Gospel

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 …

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Why a Synthesizer Isn’t the Holy Spirit

In recent decades ambient sounds have become omnipresent in church gatherings. Meetings start with a synth swell and every song after that is connected to the next with musical glue. Synth pads play softly behind prayer, Scripture readings, song intros, communion, and in some cases, the preaching. If you don’t have someone who can produce the necessary sounds, no worries. “Worship pads” in every key are available for purchase to smooth out the transitions. Which raises the question: what’s going on? Music and God’s Presence We often see a connection between music and the Holy Spirit’s activity in Scripture. Long before he was …

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What We Did Last Sunday – Feb. 7, 2016

People have asked me for a while to occasionally post the order of a Sunday service at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, my home church. There’s no perfect liturgy, but it can be helpful to hear how others are seeking to lead meetings that are theologically informed, gospel-rich, and spiritually transforming. So here’s what we did in our gathering this past Sunday. The italicized words are transitional comments. CALL TO WORSHIP We typically play instrumental music for 1-2 minutes to draw people in, and then one of the pastors gives the call to worship.  This past Sunday I read from 1 Chronicles 29:11: “Yours, O Lord, is …

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What’s So Special About Singing on Sundays?

People sing. Everywhere. In their cars. In the shower. In choirs. At football games. At birthdays. At weddings and funerals. At rock concerts. In musicals and operas. When there’s sunshine. When it rains. When it’s stormy. In the morning, afternoon, and night. But when the church gathers on Sunday morning (or Saturday night, etc.), our earthly voices join the choirs of heaven and the singing is like no other. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been moved as I added my voice to the beautiful, engaging, powerful, awe-inspiring, robust singing of a congregation. But sometimes our sound is halting and weak. Out of tune and out of …

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Who Would Have Dreamed?

Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we could hold God in our hands? That question comes from a song I wrote last year with my good friend, Jason Hansen, called “Who Would Have Dreamed?” for our album Prepare Him Room. We were trying to express the amazing miracle of the Incarnation. Theologian J.I. Packer says the Christmas event of Christ’s birth is where the “profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.” Nothing in fiction is so fantastic. That means stories of Santa Claus, elves, Grinches, sugar plum fairies, and …

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