Archive | —Leading a Congregation

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Human and Holy: Healthy Tensions of our Gathered Worship

In just under two months (July 27-29) we’ll be gathering in Louisville, KY for our second regional WorshipGod conference! The first was held in Pennsylvania this past March. We’re calling the Louisville conference: Human and Holy: Healthy Tensions of our Gathered Worship. If you’ve ever planned the music or meetings at your church, you’re probably familiar with the category of “healthy tensions.” Or at least, tension. Conversations about worship can be polarizing. We choose sides and attack each other rather than seeking out biblical solutions and priorities. Should our meetings be reverent or celebratory? Do we want our musicians …

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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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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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Seven Myths of Contextualization

A wise missionary knows that preaching the gospel to a different culture requires contextualizing your message. The words we use don’t automatically translate to a new culture that lacks the associations and experiences we’re familiar with. We need to find new ways of communicating the old, old story, ways that can be understood, ways that “speak the language” of those we’re ministering to. But even on a local scale, we have to deal with contextualization. That’s because music and liturgy are a language. They can mean different things to different people. In the past few years, much has been written, advocated, and modeled to help us understand …

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One Good Turn Doesn’t Always Deserve Another

A few years ago I attended the Sunday gathering of a church that primarily sang traditional hymns. The voices carried the songs and there were few, if any, instrumental breaks between verses. The congregation sang robustly and the sound was beautiful. But at the end of the meeting I was exhausted. Not only were the hymns in higher keys than I was used to, my voice never got to rest. I knew my experience was partly due to the inherent differences between singing hymns and contemporary songs.  But because there were no musical interludes, I also had less time to reflect on the truths we were singing. I was reminded that instrumental turns …

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What Worship Leaders Wished Their Pastor Knew

Last Monday I wrote a post on What Pastors Wished Their Worship Leaders Knew. Today I want to suggest some things that worship leaders wished their pastor knew, or were at least aware of. A few introductory thoughts. If you’re a congregational worship leader (music minister, song leader, music guy, etc.) you should do whatever you can to express support, encouragement, and gratefulness for your pastor. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul, and “sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Prov. 16:21). Also, posts like these won’t apply to every church situation. This is meant to be a conversation starter, not everything that …

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