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 (Together for the Gospel Live and T4G Live II), and hope to produce another one from this year’s event.
I’m often surprised when someone tells me how meaningful the albums are. Surprised because I hear it from people in their 20s and even from teenagers. I can assure you it’s not because of the lead vocal. Or the band. Or the production. When you strip away the drums, bass, electric guitars, synthesizers, lights, effects, and fog machines, it strikes you how powerful voices alone (almost) singing biblically rooted gospel truths can be.
Piano and voices alone isn’t what I typically do. I lead contemporary songs and hymns with a full band on Sundays at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. Modern musical styles give us more options to proclaim God’s glory in Christ and our responses to him. Instruments, when used humbly and wisely, can support and complement a congregation’s voice and serve faith-filled singing. But I don’t mind restricting myself to hymns and losing the band at T4G to make the point that the congregation’s sound is the most important musical element on Sunday mornings.
After the 2010 conference I posted some thoughts on leading at T4G. Here are a few additional thoughts from this year.
“Feeling” the Spirit is working and the Spirit actually working are two different things.
For a variety of reasons, I felt a little distracted and disconnected the first two days of T4G. We were recording 13 songs and I had never led a number of the songs before. Although I put in some practice leading up to the event, I wasn’t totally at ease (it’s tough to fix live acoustic piano tracks). I wasn’t always clear on a specific thought to share when we were singing, so I stuck primarily to reading a Scripture passage. It wasn’t until the third day I felt at peace, had a good sense of what to say, and thoroughly enjoyed leading. I “sensed” God’s presence. No one I’ve talked to thus far could tell much of a difference, though, and God working in people’s hearts had little to do with how I was feeling. God can work through us even when we feel distracted.
Musical presuppositions and preferences can be set aside for the sake of the gospel.
The attendees at T4G were young and old, black and white, Asian, Hispanic, and hailed from over 50 nations. But when we lifted our hearts and voices to proclaim the glories of Christ, it was obvious that whatever desires existed for drums, choirs, hip-hop, rock, organs, or orchestras, they became of secondary importance as we were “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Leading worship in song isn’t about me being musically satisfied.
Each year, I work with Mark Dever on the songs we’ll be singing at T4G. I love working with Mark. But sometimes we have different perspectives. Mark loves 4 part harmony and has asked that I accompany songs in a way that allows people to sing parts. Fewer churches incorporate 4 part harmony in their meetings these days and T4G provides an opportunity to expose people to it. But I enjoy creative, alternate harmonies. Good chord substitutions can highlight lyrics, create a different mood behind a lyric, and make it more enjoyable for me as a musician. But personal fulfillment isn’t the primary reason I make musical choices. It’s what serves those I’m leading and those I’m submitted to. And that applies to my local church just as much as it does to a conference.
Finally, for the many who asked, here’s a list of the songs we sang at Together for the Gospel. The numbers are from Hymns of Grace, the new hymnal we used at T4G this year. If you’re looking for a hymnal that combines the best of old and new hymns, this is a great choice.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – 2
Come Thou Fount – 104
Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery – 184
Speak, O Lord – 368
Ligon Duncan: Why the Reformation is Not Over
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – 53
CJ Mahaney: Sustained in Suffering by the Saga of Job (Job 3:1-4:8)
He Will Hold Me Fast – 388
How Firm a Foundation – 364
The Sands of Time are Sinking – 427
Great is Thy Faithfulness – 86
PM Main Session
Holy, Holy, Holy – 48
O the Deep, Deep Love (Sovereign Grace) – 154
Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul – 52
I Hear the Words of Love – 195
Al Mohler: We Have Only One Priest: The Reformation as a Revolution in Ministry
Before the Throne of God Above – 187
Arise, My Soul, Arise – 291
O Fount of Love – 294
I Will Glory in My Redeemer – 196
AM Main Sessions
It Is Well with My Soul – 407
Give to Our God Immortal Praise – 14
See the Destined Day Arise – 298
All Glory Be to Christ – 133
Mark Dever: Endurance Needed: Strength for a slow Reformation and the Dangerous Allure of Speed
It is Well with My Soul – 407
Kevin DeYoung: Can We Be Glorified without Being Sanctified? Good Works, Good News, and Christian Assurance
O Great God – 35
Not in Me – 405
Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God – 318
PM Main Session
Our Great God – 42
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted – 303
He Will Hold Me Fast – 388
My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness – 374
John Piper: The Bondage of the Will, the Sovereignty of Grace, and the Glory of God
All I Have Is Christ – 389
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – 143
Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed? – 282
How Rich a Treasure We Possess – 292
AM Main Sessions
Come Praise and Glorify – 44
Not in Me – 405
Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery – 184
The Power of the Cross – 272
John MacArthur: Christ’s Call to Reformation (Rev. 1-3)
In Christ Alone – 177
Matt Chandler: God’s Glory as the Fuel of our Courage (Rom. 11:33-36)
Behold Our God – 126
Crown Him with Many Crowns – 129
Be Thou My Vision – 176
Afternoon Main Session
There Is a Fountain – 301
His Forever – 156
Thabiti Anyabwile: The Reformation Began with Paul: Justification the Same, Yesterday, Today, and Forevermore (Rom. 3:21-26)
Jesus Paid It All – 281
David Platt: Martyrdom and Mission: Why Reformers Died in Their Day, How We Must Live in Ours (Psalm 51)
Facing a Task Unfinished – 348
All I Have Is Christ – 389
That was probably the most enriching conference I’ve been to as far as congregational singing. The absence of a band allowed you to let the phrases of the hymns breathe, and I was able to reflect on the lyrics. I’m usually at least somewhat distracted listening to the band, though that’s probably just the arranger in me. Your piano playing gave a solid underpinning to 10,000 voices.
Thanks, Bob, for all that you did there.
David, thanks for your meaningful and encouraging words. Great seeing you at the conference!
Yes, thanks so much for your leadership, Bob!
Thank you for these thoughts and the song list, too. The list and the hymnal we received will benefit our church in the years to come.
Your wonderful humility was completely evident! The simplicity of you reading scripture and briefly commentating was really tactful! It was also great getting to chat after Kieth Getty’s breakout! You’re a wonderful role model for all the worship leaders out there!!
Thanks for your kind words, Joel. I have a lot to be humble about!
This is such a great post Bob! I think every worship leader can relate to the fact that there are days when “i’m not feeling it” while leading worship. But like you said that doesn’t mean God isn’t still at work. He’s still working through us. And I appreciate so much how you encourage people in that worship and songs are not about our preferences, AT ALL! its is about what best serves the congregation on any given week. What it means to truly pastor or shepherd people thru music is that is requires us to lay down our own preferences for the sake of what serves our people well. Thanks for always posting such rich truth in your blog. It is so helpful to me and I’m grateful for the work and the stuff you put out there to teach worship leaders all around the world. Thanks!
David, I couldn’t agree more! I am so thankful that this page was created. I tried to keep up with all the hymns and mark them, but I often found myself focusing on the words of some new songs that I had never heard before, and before I knew it, I had forgotten the title of the song and what the hymn number was on the title screen.
Bob, can’t thank you enough for leading us. The Lord has so sharpened your abilities and gifted you as a music minister. I was truly blessed by your ministry at the conference.
By the way, I have to ask, were you a part of GLAD Acapella Projects? I often return to those albums when I want to listen to hymns sung in such rich harmony and different melodies. Sovereign Grace music has been such a blessing to me. The rich theology is so welcome. I wish they were songs that were played on “Christian” stations.
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and your calling, to the glory of God!
Jonathan, thanks for your very encouraging words! Yes, I arranged and wrote much of the GLAD a cappella music through the years.
The Hymn singing was great! I was expecting something different, but I was joyfully surprised! Thanks and to God be the glory!
Bob, thank you for serving us at T4G this year! You certainly contributed to making a fun and edifying experience.
I’m intrigued by your idea of using chord substitutions to highlight a lyric. Could I trouble you for a specific example?
Astrapto, thanks for your encouraging words! It was a joy to participate in leading this year. AS to chord substitutions, I’ll probably write a post about this at some point. As an example, the third verse of Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery Begins, “Come behold the wondrous mystery, Christ the Lord upon the tree; In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.” We do this in E. Instead of using the progression E – A – E – B at the start of vs. 3, we typically use C#m – A – C#m – G#m. The change to minor heightens the sense of the words we’re singing. You can also build a sense of anticipation by pedaling the first two lines of a verse. There are more example, but I’ll save them for a post!
I love changing the major root chord for its minor on occasion to create this effect. (Key of G: Em for G, Key of E: C#m for E, etc.)
I’m going through your book, Worship Matters, by the way. I’m loving it so far.
Thanks for your encouragement, Chris!
Thanks, Bob! That makes a lot of sense.
How wonderful to have this rich selection of classic and contemporary HYMNS, not just songs. I pray that many will re-discover the value of great hymnody. (Larry Roff, editor, “Trinity Hymnal”)
Larry, I was just thinking about your book the other day. It was very helpful to me in the late 90s as I was thinking about the importance of singing in the church. I thank God for your faithfulness!
Great conference. Music may have been my favorite part. Blessed to have worshipped so richly in Word and music. Now… On to the books
Thank you for posting this list. Wonderful, wonderful conference!
Looking forward to hearing another T4G album! As a 22-year old leading a small congregation from the keyboard (with the only addition being a flute), the T4G albums have given me some great ideas of how to adapt various songs and hymns and have really encouraged me to see how significant voices are in worship!
I have a question – you say that “Modern musical styles [as supposed to older/more traditional styles?] give us more options to proclaim God’s glory in Christ and our responses to him.” What makes you say this?
Alice, thanks for the comment and question. Traditional hymn styles by nature limit harmonic variation, rhythmic variation, accompaniment, and to some degree, structural variation. All of those can be used wisely to expand the ways we reflect and respond to God’s glory. For instance, there are many ways you can sing and accompany Crown Him with Many Crowns or Great is Thy Faithfulness. Is that helpful?
Ah yes, that makes sense. Thank you!
The hymnbook was great.
There are many styles of music for various purpose but I think sometimes using only high energy songs might interfere with meditation and thoughtfulness. The songs in the conference were well chosen.
You served us well again, Bob. And I felt the new songs were an excellent addition, quite edifying.
Thanks, Eric. Happy that He Will Hold me Fast will be on the recording!
Another album would be great. I have listed to the other two all week…It’s playing now!
The worship was wonderful! I was blessed by all of the songs and messages from the conference. 2 hymns have continued to enrich my family and my life. Two songs written almost 100 a part. “He will hold me fast” and ” All I need is Christ” have been a part of our family worship since. It was interesting to find out that your son Jordan, wrote the latter. Please pass on my appreciation for for the deep theology and love of our God exhibited in the words of “All I have is Christ.” What a blessing! I also loved how you led us and faded into the background. Thank you for your willingness to serve God with your talent.
Nick, thanks for your encouraging words! It’s good to know that the songs God gives his people aren’t limited to one era!
It fit really well right after Piper’s sermon on Total Depravity!
Bob, you once again did a masterful job in leading the worship time in song. I appreciate the hymns you selected. Most of which I have never heard.
Will you be releasing the songs on a album for this year? The albums are very helpful in learning the new songs.
Dwayne, thanks for your encouragement! It was a joy just to be at the conference. We’re planning on releasing an album this fall, Lord willing. Please pray for us!
Any chance we could get one of these for T4G 2018?
Hoping to get this written soon!