For over four decades I’ve been leading congregational worship with bands. My generation saw drums infiltrate church sanctuaries despite the protests of many older saints. It was a hard fought battle with many casualties along the way.
In my mind, we didn’t do it because it was hip, or a way of attracting crowds, or an attempt to impress people. And we didn’t want to water down our theology. Our lives had been turned upside down by the good news of the gospel and we wanted to celebrate that reality using musical styles and accompaniment that made emotional sense. Drums, bass guitars, acoustics, electric guitars, and synthesizers gave us opportunity to express God’s praise in a way that was understandable, varied, and dynamic.
But 40 years in I’ve seen that no matter how many instruments we add, the heart of congregational song will always be – forgive the redundancy – the congregation singing. The most important sound on Sunday mornings is faith-filled voices lifted up in praise and prayer to a God who has drawn near to us through his Son and now dwells in us through his Spirit. Instruments can support, complement, and strengthen that singing. But they are never meant to overshadow, overwhelm, or replace it.
A Piano and 10,000 Voices
That’s why I appreciate what I get to do at the Together for the Gospel conference held in Louisville, KY every other year. No band. One piano. And 10,000 voices passionately belting out hymns, old and new.
It’s difficult to capture the sound of that many voices on a recording, but that’s what we tried to do. We included my voice primarily for the sake of clarity, but I doubt anyone will come away from this album thinking about my voice.
As we listened to mixes I was frequently moved as I listened to thousands of voices singing lyrics like:
Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain
And with tender body bear thorns and nails and piercing spear?
(from See the Destined Day Arise)
Many hands were raised to wound Him, none would interpose to save
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that Justice gave (from Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted)
No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands, no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life, my debt was paid by Jesus’ death
(from Not in Me)
To you who boast tomorrows gain, tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn, all glory be to Christ
(from All Glory be to Christ)
More than an album to listen to, this is an album designed to sing along to. Here’s a sample:
You can buy a download at Amazon, iTunes, or Bandcamp, and purchase physical CDs from Integrity Music. And if you feel so inclined, leave a review to let us know how the album impacted you.
For my reflections on leading at the conference this year and a full list of the songs we sang, check out this post.
I bought seven hard copies the day it came out and gave them to folks at church. I’ve had two ladies already express how soul-encouraging they have found the recording. One mentioned that she enjoyed the comments made by the leader! The other said that she is going to buy the other two T4G cds as a Christmas present to herself. This is a lady with absolutely no support at home from husband or grown children and with multiple physical issues as well. Thank you for producing this lovely, stirring, God-exalting album.
Great point about congregational singing being about the congregation singing. It’s easy to think that your worship band could play better, or sing better, or be “more anointed”, but if the congregation is singing praise to God, the band just doesn’t matter. The band is to lead, not entertain.
I remember a worship conference in the late 70s with John Michael Talbot. Like “a piano with 10,000 voices”, he led worship with a guitar and a recorder. When God is inhabiting the praises of His people, it’s the hearts that shine forth.
Just a quick note to offer my sincere thanks for the work y’all do at Sovereign Grace Music! God has absolutely used the many excellent albums that have been released to turn my heart to Him and to His Gospel, as well as to encourage me and to remind me where my heart and mind should be in trying times.
This latest offering is a new favorite at our house, along with Prepare Him Room and The Ology, which our four-year-old just loves singing along to in the car. Anyway, many thanks again!
Sarah, thanks for your encouraging words!