I was hosted by Dave and Emma Taylor and their three charming kids, Josh, Amy, and Lydia. Dave pastors Sovereign Grace Church Sydney, now about one year old. It’s a church that evidences love for the Savior, for God’s Word, for each other, and for reaching their community with the gospel. Pure joy to hang out with them.
I shared my itinerary in a previous post. Briefly, I spent time at Dave’s church, TWIST (The Word in Song Together) conferences in Brisbane and Sydney, a TWIST pastor’s conference, Moore college, an EMU Music songwriters dinner, Church by the Bridge in Kiribilli, and a RICERegenerate rally. Oh yeah. And I had a faceoff with a kangaroo.
Here are a few thoughts on my time down under.
Our co-laborers for the gospel don’t always look/talk/think exactly like we do. That’s okay.
Being in another country causes me to think more carefully about what I have in common with other Christians. Differences abound. Accents, cultural sensibilities, common phrases and words, ideas about acceptable standards of godliness. But our bonds of unity in Christ far outweigh our differences. We’re sinners who have been forgiven and reconciled to God through the substitutionary sacrifice and merits of Jesus Christ. We’re seeking to know God through his sufficient and authoritative Word, and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to live for God’s glory. I want that understanding to affect how I relate to Christians in my own country.
Emotionally engaging and physically expressive singing is meant to go together with theologically rich, gospel-centered teaching.
I spoke with numerous people around Sydney who said Christians there often attend two churches. They go to a church with solid Bible teaching but subdued singing in the morning and a church with passionate, physically expressive singing but weak teaching at night. Christians shouldn’t have to make that choice. And I said so in two of the messages I gave. Those who know God most deeply through his Word and want to honor him most sincerely with their lives should present the most compelling example of praising God with their whole being, in and outside our gatherings.
Reacting to what other churches are doing wrong is not the same as pursuing what is biblically right.
It’s one thing to say we don’t want to be as wild emotionally or as dead liturgically as the church down the street. It’s another thing to say we want to promote biblically informed, natural, whole-hearted responses to God’s glory in Christ. Reactions don’t necessarily lead us in the right direction.
Pastors and music leaders need to teach more on the place of music, affections, and expressiveness in our gatherings.
I’ve spent the past 14 years in my present role trying to understand more biblically how music functions in the gatherings of God’s people. I discovered early on that my views were primarily rooted in my own experiences and what I’d seen in others. Of course I used scattered Scriptures to support what I did and believed. It wasn’t until I read books like Engaging with God by David Peterson and Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best that I saw my own short-sightedness and pragmatism. God has said quite a bit about how he wants to be glorified in His people when they gather and what role music plays. It’s our joy to listen and seek to apply what He’s said. Music is too powerful a medium, our culture too musically addicted, and people too concerned about what others think, for pastors and leaders not to speak directly to these issues.
God delights to work through small, faithful churches.
Most people connect Sydney with Hillsong Church, whose weekend attendance runs around 30,000. But I spent time in Sydney with many other pastors, including Dave Taylor of Sovereign Grace Church and Paul Dale of Church by the Bridge, who faithfully preach the Word of God, love and pastor their people, and reach out to their communities with the grace and truth of the gospel. You might not have heard of them, but Christ is being exalted and lives are being changed through their faithful labors.
There’s an increasing desire in Sydney to bring together doctrine and devotion, academia and affections.
I was encouraged by the number of people who thought more leaders and churches were seeking to learn from one another rather than simply critique and fight each other. Let’s face it. No church has it all right (although I think it’s safe to say that some have it more right than others). So people leave theologically rich churches because natural expressiveness is absent or even discouraged. Others leave expressive and emotionally engaging churches because the Scriptures are minimized, distorted, or ignored. There are signs God is raising up churches that believe both sound theology and whole-hearted engagement should be valued.
I’m grateful for people I had never met who share a vision for producing gospel-rich, Word-saturated music to serve the church.
While in Sydney I got to spend time with folks like Trevor Hodge, Garage Hymnal, Rob Smith, Philip Percival of EMU Music, and a number of folks who lead music in their local churches. All of them want to produce music for the church that enables the word of Christ to dwell richly in people’s minds and hearts (Col. 3:16). They strive for a healthy tension of biblically faithful lyrics and emotionally impacting music. It was a joy to meet them and know that long after I was gone, they would be continuing to faithfully serve God’s people through song.
In coming posts, I’ll share some of the audio and outlines for messages I gave in Sydney.