Reflections on New Word Alive 2011

img_0626If you follow Worship Matters with any kind of regularity you may have noticed a dearth of posts over the past few weeks. Most of April was taken up by the New Word Alive conference (Apr. 10-15) in Pwllheli, North Wales, followed by 13 days with my best friend, Julie, celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary four months early. We spent a week in Italy and 5 days in England, flying out the day before the royal wedding. For some reason we weren’t invited.

I wanted to take this post to share a few thoughts on New Word Alive.

Over 5000 (families and college students) gathered for a week of biblical teaching, worship in song, seminars, and fellowship. The evening teachings focused on Heroes of the Faith from Hebrews 11. Since this was my first time at NWA I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I had never led the singing for this or any large event in the UK. Here are a few things I learned or was reminded of.

1. Music is regional. The gospel is universal.
While it helped to know what songs people at the conference were familiar with, throughout the week I tried to draw attention to the finished work of Christ and its implications for our lives. As we focused on his substitutionary sacrifice and victorious resurrection, the music became secondary.

2. Good planning leads to peaceful meetings.
Everyone who was involved in one of the two meetings each night (I led at both), met for 45 minutes at noon to go over the details of the evening. I’ve never done that at a conference before and was grateful for the clarity and grace it brought to the process. There was a lot going on, but everyone knew where they were supposed to be and when.

3. Humble people make serving together easier.
At the second planning meeting, someone asked me if I had any thoughts on how the meetings were structured. Since this was my first NWA, I was surprised not only by the question, but by their eagerness to apply changes I suggested. Leading together is meant to be teamwork, not a competition. On the music end, it was a tough schedule. Two meetings every night and leading close to 100 songs. Even though I had only played with one of the band members (Dave Williams from Christ Church), the other musicians (Ben, Mike, Jenny, Andy, and Alison) were responsive, joyful, and hard working. Not to mention punctual.

4. Good leading requires trust and knowledge.
Early on I wasn’t quite sure how the attendees were perceiving my leadership (me being an American, and all). That uncertainty was confirmed when people started making “suggestions” for how I might serve them more effectively. Through their comments I learned more about the diverse group I was serving that included about 1300 college students (mostly at the second meeting) and hymns-only saints who had been in conservative churches for over 50 years. That knowledge helped me choose songs that better served our time together.

5. A week is enough time to challenge traditions and presuppositions.
I noticed on the first night that while people sang loudly, all physical and vocal expression ceased as soon as a song ended. I knew that this reflected many people’s experience in their home church, but also knew that some were holding back.  So in the student meeting on Wednesday night, I compared it to shouting while your team was about to score the winning goal and then shutting down as soon as they actually scored. There is a place for spontaneous celebration after a song given the glorious realities we’re proclaiming. So I gave them “permission” to allow their passion for Christ to overflow in shouts of acclamation or applause, even when the song ended. Not only did they respond, but on Friday morning even more conservative attendees joined in a spontaneous eruption of expressive praise after the last song of the conference.

6. Lead in a way that imparts faith to struggling people.
I can be tempted to think that everyone in a meeting is doing fine, and that singing is just the Christian thing to do. But I talked to individuals facing major trials who were greatly encouraged by the songs we sang. I learned later that a girl had seriously contemplated suicide at the conference. We never know how God might use the songs we’re singing to reveal the glories of Christ to hopeless, despairing people.

7. Not being able to please everyone isn’t the same as not caring.
Because the group was so diverse, I knew that some people at the conference would never appreciate my leadership or the songs I chose. One guy even confessed that he had said unkind things about me to his wife. That’s okay. Knowing I can’t make everyone happy doesn’t mean I can’t continue to strive to show them the glory of Jesus. I ended up doing different songs in the two meetings which was more work for the band, but served the attendees more effectively.

8. Songs don’t have to be familiar to be effective.
I taught a new song after an interview with Ben Kwashi, a Nigerian pastor who has experienced significant persecution for his faith. The song (Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken) is a 6 verse hymn set to new music by Bill Moore. I don’t typically recommend teaching a new song after a message, but the song was easy to learn and enabled us to express our willingness to suffer for the gospel. We ended up singing it two more times.

Grateful to God for the folks who put New Word Alive on each year and the opportunity to serve with them this year.

I’ve listed the songs we sang at the conference in another post.

18 Responses to Reflections on New Word Alive 2011

  1. David N May 6, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

    Bob – my wife and I were greatly blessed by your ministry in the meetings and in the Worship Matters seminars.
    I’m the one who spoke to you at the end – the single musician in our church who plays a 1960’s Hammond (and not in a modern jazz style – very much the old ‘home organ’ genre!)
    Our congregation seems to like it & prefer it to when we use a piano – but I’d love to involve others.
    You’ve set me on a voyage of discovery. Until this year at New Word Alive, I’d never felt the ‘worship leader’ actually led the worship!

  2. Colin May 6, 2011 at 11:11 AM #


    We enjoyed having you in “our” country (I can say that because despite being an American, I do have British citizenship). It was delightful (and beneficial) to worship with you at Grace Church.

    Was too busy talking economic history and forgot to ask for observations/suggestions for our team, but I’d love any you have on that subject. Would also love to hear your thoughts on Sarah and my belated entry to the King of Grace contest. Feel free to shoot an email my way if you have any thoughts on any of these things.


  3. Phill Sacre May 6, 2011 at 11:11 AM #

    Hi Bob, I just wanted to say I was at New Word Alive and came mostly to the earlier of the two evening meetings.

    I very much appreciated the music and felt much encouraged when returning to my own church. All the work you outline here definitely paid off!

    I’ve picked up ‘Jesus, I My Cross have Taken’ to use in our own church (I lead co-worship although I’m not very good at it, it’s mainly because there’s no-one else). As well as a few of the other songs you used. In fact a list of the ones you did use would be very helpful.

    God bless,

  4. Phill Sacre May 6, 2011 at 11:13 AM #

    Just re-read my previous comment and obviously meant to say ‘co-lead worship’! Clearly proofreading is not one of my strong points! :)

  5. Jim Pemberton May 6, 2011 at 12:17 PM #

    It’s good to get out of the worship patterns that you are familiar with once in a while. When I’m traveling internationally working in other churches, I’m usually there to teach. Occasionally, I’m able to offer some special music, but I’m not there to lead worship through music.

    My church often erupts in spontaneous praise after a song that we have sung. Once, during an anthem, the congregation began to stand in positive response to what we were singing. Because of the design of the stage our worship leader must stand with his back to most of the congregation and can’t their immediate response. Toward the end of the anthem, his wife twirled an index finger in the air to indicate that he needed to see what the congregation was doing. he took a peek behind him, indicated the orchestra to repeat back to a certain measure, picked up his music, turned around and put it on the podium, and led the congregation in singing the last half of the anthem with the choir.

    But I know that many churches are not like this, and churches in other cultures often simply function differently. So, it’s helpful to know what to look for when joining in the worship of an unfamiliar church even if you are only joining them as a fellow worshiper.

  6. Chris Eisenbach May 6, 2011 at 12:28 PM #

    Glad to hear things went well! I’ve definitely missed the blog updates… so I picked up a copy of your book Worship Matters in the meantime. Honestly, I should have done that a long time ago! It’s been an excellent read. God has really opened my eyes to all kinds of stuff that I previously overlooked, especially when planning services and choosing Christ-centered songs. I’m looking forward to having our entire worship team read it together next month. Thanks for all
    you do!

  7. Laura Haddow May 9, 2011 at 8:58 AM #

    Hi Bob
    Thanks so much for all the hardwork you put into NWA2011, it was a great week, and I just wanted to let you know how useful we found the seminars and again to say a big thank you!
    We were actually there with our band, and it was fantastic to be able to have that time together where we could chat through the points raised in the seminars and discuss some of the struggles and successes we’d been having as a band over the last year.
    We were leading worship last night and introduced ‘Jesus I my cross have taken’ to the congregation, they loved it and it was a very special time(such amazing words!)…thanks you for introducing it to us…
    Many thanks

  8. Rob Still May 11, 2011 at 4:22 PM #

    Hey Bob, this is a great post and thanks for sharing the insights. I’ll be leading in the UK in August.

    Hope to see more of your blog posts coming up.

  9. Andrew MacLeod May 12, 2011 at 9:08 AM #

    I was also at NWA – my wife and I, our church youth group and several other church members. We all enjoyed the worship. I hadn’t heard you lead worship before. However, my wife and I have been listening to and singing some of the new songs we learned ever since!

    It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts about how the worship went. We probably seem very reserved in our praise… well, we are! But that doesn’t mean to say that we are unaffected by the songs – it just means we are reflecting upon it…

    God bless!

  10. Craig Hancock May 12, 2011 at 2:05 PM #

    Hi Bob, thank you for your humble service to all who went on NWA. I was personally inspired and encouraged by your passion for worshiping God through music. Would be so great to see you again in the UK soon! Am currently in the process of sorting out music and words to sing some of the Sovereign Grace tunes in my church.
    Thanks again

  11. henrybish May 16, 2011 at 8:24 PM #

    I hope it is ok to make a contrary comment about NWA here, but I am bewildered at NWA’s flirting with egalitarianism. I find it very troubling, it is big breach in the wall that needs to be repaired. We end up passing on a Bible that becomes viewed as increasingly non-authoritative to the generations that come after us. I know it is not popular to say such things, but how dare we, as servants of Christ, so clearly compromise the instructions that He has given us:

    “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, she must remain quiet”. 1Tim2:12.

    • Bob Kauflin May 17, 2011 at 11:05 AM #

      Henry, thanks for leaving a comment. Because NWA is a conference and not the church, there can be some flexibility as to how meetings are hosted. We aren’t “clearly compromising” Scripture when a man and woman oversee the flow of a meeting. We can still discuss whether or not that kind of decision is wise or helpful, but that’s very different from saying it’s wrong.

  12. henrybish May 17, 2011 at 1:02 PM #

    Thankyou for your reply Bob,

    I would like to ask you, since Paul roots his commands in creation, on what basis do you limit the authority/submission principle to a smaller sphere?

    And even if you do limit it, if there is a clear context of 1Tim2 it is a public Christian gathering – and of all Christian gatherings surely a huge event like NWA should count more than any other! Nowhere in 1Tim2 does it limit the principles to Sunday morning worship.

    It seems you are left saying it is not ok for a woman to exercise authority/leadership over men in a small church of 20 people but she can do so over thousands of men gathered to worship the Lord because it is not a local church? Do you really think that is faithful to the spirit of the text? Or is it nullifying the Word of God?

    It seems to turn 1Tim2 into an arbitrary rule, missing the underlying principles of authority/submission behind it. The 1st chapter of RBMW, by John Piper, realises the underlying principle and is consistent in this regard.

    I fear the younger generation coming up (of which I am one) are left with no grasp of the underlying principles that undergird biblical gender roles, but rather just come to accept a list of arbitrary rules like ‘a woman can’t be an elder’. They cannot learn the principles because there are no principles for them to see, only arbitrary rules that are followed in some circumstances and not in others. Masculine authority goes on being emasculated and young women grow up thinking it is fine to exercise personal/directive authority over men, even in the Church in some settings.

    Brother, how can you make the text say this?

  13. henrybish May 17, 2011 at 1:15 PM #

    I think a helpful way to see the why this thinking is unpersuasive is to take the command for women to be modest also issued in 1Tim2.

    Would you limit this to public Christian gatherings just because that is the context? Of course not!

    And modesty is not even rooted in creation in 1Tim2, but the authority/submission principle is.

    • Bob Kauflin May 17, 2011 at 4:12 PM #

      Thanks, Henry. Best to take this discussion offline at this point. I don’t disagree with your concerns, only the strength and certainty with which you bring them. Leading the flow of meetings at a conference is distinct from teaching doctrine and exercising authority in the local church. At NWA, women interviewed, prayed, and interacted with the attendees from the stage. None were teaching or exercising authority. I share your concerns in the area of gender confusion, and wouldn’t follow the host couple model for the WorshipGod conference I lead. But we can’t go beyond Scripture in our application. Thanks for raising the concern.

  14. Sophie Killingley May 24, 2011 at 5:10 PM #

    I was at NWA this year with my husband and two small kiddies, and wanted also attended the ‘Worship Matters’ seminars.
    I wanted to sincerely thank you for the way in which you modelled leading worship. The music was of an excellent quality, but most importantly, you pointed directly and clearly to Christ and his finished work, so that indeed the music did become (in your words) secondary, and I was left more fully contemplating Christ and rejoicing in my heart.
    You helped me to see how a worship team should work and what the goal is, to point people clearly and effectively to consider Jesus and his work! AMEN!
    Thanks and PLEASE come back again!


  15. Danno June 5, 2011 at 3:09 PM #

    I’ve come to the party late! Time away so a chance to look back over the last few months and relax and think. I loved working with you at New Word Alive, not primarily for your competence (which you were, abundantly) but for your character. A servant. Class!

  16. Shannon June 9, 2011 at 6:38 PM #

    Dear Bob,

    I was at NWA 2011 this year, and it was as wonderful as it’s been every year I’ve attended – each year gets more and more amazing because I’ve grown in Christ from year to year. I spoke to you briefly at the end of one of the evening student sessions – the American girl studying fashion who was glad not to feel like the only American at the conference!

    I know the worship leader at my church in London attended your track at NWA, and we’ve incorporated some of the songs you taught us into the book of praise songs/hymns that we work from.

    Thanks so much for being willing to come all the way across the Atlantic to serve a bunch of strangers; you were such a blessing to us at NWA!

    God bless,

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