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:
I’ll be working from one like this:
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.