Recently I had the privilege of traveling to the UK with my good friends CJ Mahaney and Jeff Purswell to participate in “Two Conferences, One Hope.” The first day was an event for pastors, called “Entrusted with the Gospel.” On Friday we offered a “True Worshipers” conference for anyone involved in planning or leading music in the church.
This was the fourth time in two and a half years that Sovereign Grace has partnered with Grace Church Bristol and Sovereign Grace UK., both led by Nathan Smith. When we first came in 2014, people warned us that Brits can sometimes be concerned about the motives of Americans who come across the pond to minister. But we wanted to form and strengthen partnerships with those serving the local church through gospel-centered, theologically driven songs and preaching. So we committed to sowing for however long it took for those partnerships to take root and grow. At our most recent event, we tasted some of the fruit.
Here are a few reflections on our trip.
1. Jesus came to build a church, not a conference production company.
Conferences can be gifts from God. You get to interact with people you’d normally never hang out with, hear a variety teachers and musicians in one place in a short period of time, and learn ideas, methods, and strategies that can help you be more effective. Traveling with co-laborers provides opportunities for fellowship that can be difficult to find at home.
But to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 12:12, “Of the making of many conferences there is no end.” Conferences can offer a temporary high that comes crashing down when we stand in front of our congregation and realize the people we serve with aren’t quite as skilled or experienced as those at the conference we just attended.
That’s why our goal in hosting conferences isn’t to make people long for the next conference, but to give them a greater passion and joy to serve their local church when they return home. So this year we moved the conference to a local Bristol church building, Headley Park Church, pastored by Neil Todman, a dear friend of Nathan Smith. Conference attendees were able not only benefit from the material presented, but experienced firsthand the servant hearts of the members of Headley Park. We’re not just putting on a conference. We’re inviting others to experience the overflow of the life we share in Christ.
2. Simple songs, spontaneous or written beforehand, can help us reflect on deep truth.
I prefer leading theologically-rich songs that help us feast on the riches of the gospel and our relationship with God. But at one point during the conference, I led us in singing the simple chorus, “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases,” written in 1975. It followed a responsive reading of Psalm 130, which ends, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:7–8) It gave us an opportunity to meditate on what we had just heard. At two other times during the conference, I led the attendees in a spontaneous refrain that we repeated. It’s something I haven’t done as much in recent years but plan to incorporate more often when I lead.
3. Ministering with longtime friends is a unique joy.
This point ties along with Point #1. Conferences can be known for offering the latest and greatest Christian thing/speaker/music happening. But there’s something to be said for long term partnership and faithfulness. I’ve known and/or served with CJ, Jeff, and Nathan for decades and thank God we can share from a wealth of experiences what God is teaching us about Christ-exalting music and pastoring. In addition, those who served at or helped sponsor the conference (Ben Slee, Matt Searles, Mez McConnell and 20Schemes, 10ofThose, Union Theology) were asked to join us not only because we believe in what they’re doing, but because they’re friends.
4. Messages on worship don’t have to be about music.
In the True Worshipers conference on Friday, the messages focused on living a life before the King of Glory (Ps. 24), God’s presence, and knowing God as Father (Gal. 4:1-7). Only one session, “Pastoring Through Song,” was a more typical “worship conference” topic. I don’t think people went away disappointed. That’s because the more effective we want to be in leading people in congregational worship, the better we need to know the One we’re worshiping. Don’t allow your musicians or your people to think that music is the main thing when it comes to worshiping God. Music is a part of worship, but it was never meant to be the heart of it.
5. Moms with young children work harder than anyone.
Here’s a picture of Sarah, a member of Grace Church, who sang for most of the sessions. Obviously, she was doing more than singing. She is one of the tens of thousands of moms (or mums) who faithfully serve the church with their musical gifts while caring for and raising the next generation for the glory of Christ. As a leader, I want to make sure young mothers feel the freedom to take a break from public serving to invest in their families. But it struck me as Sarah carted her baby boy around how grateful I am when they are committed to honoring the Savior not only with their singing, but with their lives.
Finally, since a number of people have asked, these are the songs we sang at the conference:
Entrusted with the Gospel
Thursday AM #1
Call to worship: Rev. 4:11
All Creatures of Our God and King (Sovereign Grace)
Our Songs from Age to Age (Sovereign Grace)
My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
All I Have is Christ (Sovereign Grace)
Be Thou My Vision
Ordinary Pastors (2 Tim. 4:1-5) – CJ Mahaney
He Will Hold Me Fast (Merker)
Thursday AM #2
The Leader and the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:12-17) – Jeff Purswell
Grace and Peace
Call to Worship: Eph. 1:3-10
Come Praise and Glorify (Sovereign Grace)
Grace Alone (Modern Post)
Ps. 130 (responsive reading)
The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases
And Can It Be? (Wesley)
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (Bleecker, Boswell, Papa)
Creating a Culture of Joy in Your Church (1 Pet. 5:1-4) – CJ Mahaney
The Glories of Calvary
Call to Worship: Ps. 68:3
This is Amazing Grace (Riddle, Farro, Wickham)
Grace Unmeasured (Sovereign Grace)
1 Cor. 1:26-31
Cling to Christ (Sovereign Grace)
My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness (Getty/Townend)
When a Leader Loses Heart (2 Cor. 4:1-18) – CJ Mahaney
It is Well With My Soul
Friday AM #1
Call to Worship: Ps. 40:1-3
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Come Praise and Glorify
Not in Me (Ward/Schumaker)
There is a Fountain
Living Before the King of Glory (Ps. 24) – Bob Kauflin
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Friday AM #2
Encountering the Presence of God – Jeff Purswell
I Come by the Blood ( Sovereign Grace)
Holy, Holy, Holy
1 Jn. 1:5-9
Man of Sorrows (Crocker/Ligertwood)
Before the Throne of God Above (Sovereign Grace)
Where O Grave is Your Victory (Slee)
Come Thou Fount (last verse)
Pastoring Through Song – Bob Kauflin
O Great God (Sovereign Grace)
Call to Worship: Ps. 147:1-5
How Great Thou Art
He Who is Mighty (Sovereign Grace)
1 Pet. 2:22-25
Man of Sorrows
Knowing God as Father – CJ Mahaney
Come Praise and Glorify
Jesus, Thank You (Sovereign Grace)
Here is Love