Cheryl and I have just come out of a busy weekend of serving during our home church’s Stand for the Gospel conference. This was the 4th year we helped out (this time around I organised the music ministry and helped plan the general sessions, taught a seminar on hymns, and also helped to get the website and registrations system up and running, Cheryl helped to bake some food for morning tea and looked after E all weekend). It was a privilege to serve over 300 people from across NZ (and Australia) and boy, did the LORD meet with us through the preaching, singing and praying of His Word.
I’ll share a bit about how the hymns seminar went in my next post. But for now, here’s some of my reflections on planning and leading the gathered worship through 20+ songs during STAND 2013:
- The singing was LOUD. For example on Friday night by the time we hit the last chorus of our first song (Behold Our God), I was struggling to hear the instruments either side of me because of the volume of the church. That’s a good problem to have! As a worship leader it’s wonderful to hear the church singing praise to God, almost to the point where we could have just stopped leading from the front and let the truths being sung just wash over us. So thankful that we experienced this time and time again throughout the conference.
- Throughout the weekend the conference attendees were very gracious and game to be stretched a little with a couple of new songs and tunes (e.g. Thou Lovely Source, Psalm 130 – From the Depths of Woe, The Apostles’ Creed). Actually I was pleasantly surprised how easily they picked them up, with most people singing full volume by the end of each of those songs (You can see a full list of songs we sang together here). It seemed like new songs were easier to pick up when led sensitively (e.g. simplified as a tune, demonstrated by the vocalists, doubled on a melody instrument), and when the church was convinced/prepared to sing them (e.g. the story behind a song shared, or an explanation about the particular gospel truth a song helped us to consider).
- God’s providence was on display. Several times the LORD kindly connected songs we sang to things that were happening during and around the conference. Thabiti referenced “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” in his sermon, and we ended up singing the same song. Peter prayed passionately to God the day before same-sex “marriage” comes into effect, and we had a song like “We Belong to the Day” to respond with. There were many people struggling with fresh trials, and topics discussed like sexual abuse and youth suicide… and we were able to sing gospel hope with lines like “Our Shepherd Good and True is He who will at last His Israel free from all their sin and sorrow…” and songs like “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” and “I Asked the Lord“. It’s funny, we can be so busy putting together set lists, music parts and making plans, but I was reminded again that it’s the LORD who truly directed steps and made things connect richly.
- I appreciated Thabiti’s challenge during the Q&A session about ensuring that what musicians lead from the front enables and enhances the congregational singing, which should be the primary sound of a church singing. The consistent feedback from STAND 2012 was that we didn’t do well on this, so I’m so thankful that God continues to impress this principle on us and help us grow in this. Some ways we tried to encourage the congregational singing this year was to do things like inserting “voices only” sections when leading as a full contemporary band, leading a session with just male voices and organ, and thinking through the musical arrangements of our songs and shaping it with dynamic contrasts.
- Also, Thabiti’s suggestion of practising Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 by including times of singing to each other – actually turning from left to right to sing God’s marvellous truths to each other – was brilliant. I’m already thinking of how we could encourage HBC to grow in this area. Don’t be too freaked out the next time I’m standing next to you and singing to your face! 🙂
It’s easy and tempting to turn conference singing into times of showing off what we as worship leaders and musicians are capable of, or to frustrate people by forcing lots of new songs on them, or to be a lightning rod for musical style arguments. But I think what we tried to do — sing the gospel and its implications to the Lord and to each other, in a variety of musical styles — helped us to savour Christ crucified for our sins more, supported the message of 1 John (that we might be more sure of our salvation in Christ), and supported the preaching of God’s Word. And I pray that God used our sacrifice of praise, perfected only by Jesus Christ, to magnify His Name this weekend.