Not too long ago I had the privilege and joy of leading the singing as 7000 people, mostly pastors, gathered in Louisville, KY for the Together for the Gospel conference. I’ve posted on why we picked the music we did and how I had a few more limitations this year.
One limitation I didn’t expect was finding out four days before the conference that I had had strep throat for two weeks. Didn’t seem to affect my voice too much (not sure anyone would have noticed the difference anyway), but I was definitely operating at less than full capacity.
All the messages were excellent, but I particularly appreciated Mark Dever’s (The Church is the Gospel Made Visible), John Piper’s (Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?), and CJ Mahaney’s (Preparing Your Church for Suffering and Ordinary Pastors). You can download or view all the messages at the T4G site.
Every time I lead, I learn something new or have previous thoughts confirmed. Two years ago I shared what I learned from leading at Together for the Gospel 2008. Here are some of thoughts I came away with this year.
One of the best ways to free your mind to engage with God while you’re leading is to practice more in advance.
For the most part this year I tried to stick with the 4 part harmony of each song, which we had printed in the T4G program. It’s not something I’m used to doing. Before the conference I had planned to play through each hymn a number of times to figure out how I could supplement the written harmonies. As it turned out, I was only able to run through a few songs beforehand. That meant I didn’t feel as comfortable leading as I normally do. For the most part I was still able to think about what we were singing, but I wish I had spent more time practicing.
Leading people to magnify Christ through song isn’t dependent on my creative musical harmonies or arrangements.
God so designed music that it often has a powerful emotional impact on those who are listening. But being affected emotionally is not the same thing as being changed morally. Enjoying a creative chord progression isn’t the same thing as delighting in the glory of Christ. God in his mercy can use music to amplify and complement our delight in Christ, but they aren’t the same thing. I may have felt limited, but God wasn’t.
Hymns are great. God’s Word is even better.
I’m not setting up a false dichotomy here. Just pointing out what I hope is the obvious. For three of the four sessions I led, I read and commented on a passage of Scripture (Titus 3:3-7; Eph. 2:4-7; 1 Pet. 1:3-7) to root our singing in eternal truth. Singing with 7000 people can be a moving experience regardless of what you’re singing, so I tried to focus our attention on the glorious realities of the gospel that we were singing about.
Leading songs is an opportunity to pastor people’s souls.
With guys like John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, and C.J. Mahaney preaching, the music guy really doesn’t really need to say anything. But on the other hand, hearing truth and applying it are two different things. So I took the opportunity in different sessions to address distractions, condemnation, and suffering. Hopefully it helped us sing with greater understanding and faith.
New words can breathe new life into a familiar tune.
At the conference we taught “I Asked the Lord,” by John Newton. In seven verses it describes how God often uses trials and griefs to answer our requests for growth. We sang it to the familiar tune “Appalachia,” aka “The Water is Wide.” A number of people told me how affected they were by the hymn. But it wasn’t just the tune. It was the truth. The slow pace of the melody enabled us to meditate on the words we were singing. I didn’t think it was going to work that well, but Mark Dever assured me it would. He was right.
The Holy Spirit leads our planning even when we aren’t aware of it.
On the evening John Piper spoke I had planned to introduce my son’s song “All I Have is Christ” as the final song before John came up. Little did I know that at dinner he had asked if we could sing that specific song after his message. During his message he referred to the chorus a number of times: “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ. Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.” It was almost as if God had planned the whole thing.
No matter how carefully you plan, you always need to be open to doing things differently.
Not a new thought for me, but I wasn’t expecting any changes at the conference. On the final morning we had planned to sing “It Is Well” twice. Once to open the meeting, and then once after Matt Chandler and CJ Mahaney addressed the topic of suffering (Matt is currently diagnosed with stage 3 brain cancer). CJ asked if we could sing a different song to start, so we moved the song we were going to end with to the beginning. But what hymn to finish with? The obvious choice seemed to be “All I Have is Christ” which is a wonderful truth to take home after a conference centered around the gospel.
Singing is a powerful way to express and deepen our unity in the gospel.
While I’m sure that differences in opinion, perspective, and doctrine existed among the 7000+ attendees at T4G, hearing our voices as one declaring our dependence on and gratefulness for the person and work of Jesus Christ highlighted the fact that we were there to celebrate HIS greatness and faithfulness, not ours.
The gospel of God redeeming us in Christ will always be glorious.
Great melodies can get tiresome. The thrill of conferences can wear off. We can grow weary of crowds. But the good news that Jesus became like us to redeem us from God’s just wrath, make us one people, and reconcile us to the Father never gets old. Never.
Tomorrow I’ll post the songs we sang at the conference.
Thanks for leading us in worship. I was particularly moved by the text of I Asked The Lord, and singing All I Have Is Christ at the end of John Piper’s message left me hungering deeply for my Lord. There was such a deep satisfaction and deep longing for more all in the same moment. As I am now wading through all the books that were distributed and trying glean everything I can from the resources made available, I am continually reflecting on the unsearchable greatness of God and the great joy that Christ has redeemed us from His wrath. What a reason to sing!
The group from our church thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from the whole conference, including your leading in worship.
It has been a delight to share some T4G songs new to our congregation following our return home. These songs are affecting our people the same way they did so many at the conference.
Thank you for your service to Christ and His church!
I’ve loved the tune The Water Is Wide since I learnt in a guitar exam book and had thought of trying to write some worship lyrics to it. I might not need to now! Could you post or link to the Newton lyrics?
And how slow is slow?
I attended T4G 06, 08 and 10, and was deeply moved by the worship at all three conferences.
Bob, I so admired how you led. You have a God-given ability to lead people not to you, but to Christ Himself. Your manner of leading steps out of the way and points to Him with every note, every gesture, every song.
So thank you. Thank you for once again setting such a God-centered example for all of us at T4G2010.
I walked away not thinking, “Wow, Bob is great,” but “Wow, God is great” … and that’s how it should be!
Thank you once again for your ministry during the conference. I have been listening over and over to your sons song (on the free CD that was given out). I am moved everytime and find myself shouting “Yes, thank you Lord!”. The next song on that CD is also great, is that your son as well? Praying for your family.
Frank, thank you for your encouragement, and mostly for your prayers. Very kind of you. Jack, my two year old grandson, is responding well to the chemo. God is God, we aren’t. And I’m glad.
Bob – I truly appreciate your humilty and love for Christ and thank you for exalting Him. You are an example to others and an encouragement to my soul.
“But being affected emotionally is not the same thing as being changed morally.”
Boy, that’s such an important reminder. It’s so easy to think we’re more sanctified or mature after being graciously affected by a time of worship.
That said, it’s so encouraging to see the Lord reveal himself in the midst of worship, and for that revelation to be used to inspire us to pursue Him and His ways more enthusiastically.
Thanks for you faithful witness Bob!
Bob – as a “music & theology guy”, I was very much looking forward to worship at T4G, and I was not disappointed.
Standing in the midst of 7000+ men and women singing the praises of our God and King was both spiritually and emotionally moving. There were times that I just had to stop and listen…totally in awe of the sound of 7000 voices singing Christ’s praises. The thought of it still gives me chills and makes me long for that Day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.
That being said, I worry that sometimes we shy away from emotions for fear of emotionalism. We must never try to manipulate or to orchestrate a response, but when we truly encounter God Almighty, we are going to be emotionally moved.
Many thanks for your ministry and service.
Doug, totally agree that when we truly encounter God Almighty, it’s going to affect our emotions. Well said.
I put the free cd on my ipod and listened to “All I Have Is Christ” for three days or so. I didn’t listen to anything else. I want that truth to be my truth.
Thank you for leading us! Praise God
“Great melodies can get tiresome. The thrill of conferences can wear off. We can grow weary of crowds. But the good news that Jesus became like us to redeem us from God’s just wrath, make us one people, and reconcile us to the Father never gets old. Never.”
Thank you for that. Everything wears out and becomes common place, Thank God His truth doesn’t – what a good reminder.
I would just like to add my thanks to all that has been said. Thank you for leading us in worship. By the way, thank you also to your son for such a wonderful song – truly all we have is Christ! May your tribe increase for the glory of our Lord. :-)
Bob, I attended T4G 2010 and loved it. I must confess, I grew up HATING hymns. You changed my heart and mind, brother. I fell in love with them during those three days.
Question: will there be a worship CD from the conference available for purchase?
Thank you! You da’ man!!!
Mike, glad that you enjoyed the songs we sang at T4G! We don’t plan on releasing a CD this year, although we may release a few songs as singles. The plan is to make an album that combines songs from 2010 and 2012.