The following is a report that I had to hand in for my class on worship this semester. It is an evaluation of the excellent Worship in Song conference hosted in March by Grace Fellowship Church of Toronto. I don’t note it in the report, but we received some cool free stuff, including a sample CD from Sovereign Grace Music. I also picked up a couple of SGM CDs including the amazing Valley of Vision. The three lectures are available for download at Sermon Audio.
On March 1, 2008 I attended the Worship in Song Conference at Grace Fellowship Church of Toronto. This was an excellent conference that sought to share theological and practical insights on worship with area churches. About 80 were in attendance. The conference was well organized, with a full staff of volunteers who did everything from registration to parking lot attendance. It was very helpful having them available.
The conference itself consisted of three lectures by Rev. Paul Martin. First called, “Why Do We Sing?” the second “How to Pick Songs” and the third “How Do We Lead Worship in Song?” In between the second and third lecture was a breakout session. Attendees had to choose which session they were going to attend. I chose Julian Freeman’s very useful “Why We Do What We Do – Planning Workshop.” Opening and closing as well as between each lecture was the actual practice of worship in song led by GFCTO’s lead worshippers called “Band of Brothers.” A vibrant and worshipful group, they consist of vocals, guitars, keyboard, bongos and bass. They did a great job in leading in worship; one could tell that they were well practiced and that they had engaged their hearts in worship as well. They did not overdo their playing and managed to keep attention off of them an on God. They were true leaders. Their attitude was contagious and it was a delight to be led by them.
The first lecture, “Why Do We Sing?” set the theological foundations for singing in worship. Pastor Martin noted that singing was something that people rarely consider though we do it often. A biblical answer to this question needs to be given. Martin offered two “artificial” categories to think about regarding the nature of worship: all of life worship and corporate worship. AOLW is something done all the time by the individual Christian, whether in a gathering with other Christians or by themselves. To be a true worshipper one must be a true follower of Christ (Col. 3:17; Rom. 12:1). Corporate worship is specifically when God’s people come together to respond to who God is. CW is part of AOLW.
The time of CW is whenever Christians gather, the location is wherever they gather, the purpose is to respond to God and the means is growth in the knowledge and delight of God. As a result, the true worshipper should experience affection for God. It should be ordered both by structure and spontaneity (1 Cor. 14). Singing is an important part of worship (Eph. 5:19) and is a result of joy in the Lord. Jesus sang (Mk. 14:26); God exalts over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17); the inhabitants of heaven sing (Rev. 5:9); Paul sang (1 Cor. 14:26); and genuine singing should be whole hearted (Eph. 5/Col.3).
In terms of structure, Martin offered a modified regulative principle that was very helpful to think about. All of worship (and life) should be regulated by the bible. But the Puritan form of the RP is both inconsistent and impracticable. Worship should excite the affections (Edwards).
The second lecture, “How to Pick Songs” was very practical and at times quite funny. Songs should be chosen first based upon their biblical, theological content. There should be variety and richness to the choices (Wright) but they should not be frivolous (Calvin). In terms of style of music, the bible does not address this, and though the primary focus is content, music style is also important. The content should be personally relevant and applicable, theologically rich and culturally appropriate.
Not all traditional hymns are worth singing nor are all contemporary songs. A good resource to help choose hymns is http://www.cyberhymnal.com. The person choosing the songs should be walking with Jesus (John 4) and be theologically informed. Good books to read in this respect are Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters; J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
When choosing songs the person should begin by reading it without the melody before evaluating the music. This protects the person from choosing tune over theology. But, the music must also be intelligible; its tune should match the words (negative example: O Happy Day), it should be singable with a melody that is easy to pick up. The style should be common to the people and should fit the instruments. Thematic choices coinciding with the sermon is also highly recommended.
The third lecture, “How Do We Lead Worship In Song?” was again very practical. Rev. Martin emphasised that what the church needs is “lead worshippers” not “worship leaders.” The difference is that lead worshippers worship God first and shepherd and direct second. Their primary objective is to engage with God, they are not just “hired guns.” A helpful definition by Kauflin was given: they are to be led by the Spirit, combine biblical truth with music to magnify the work of God to motivate the church to cherish this truth and live it.
Therefore worship is not performance, nor is it only the singing that is part of worship. Preaching as well as the other parts of the service are worship as well. Lead worshippers must walk with Christ (contra Keller’s model) and must be theologically informed.
The group of lead worshippers has to be careful of their own sin, as the one major hindrance to worship is the self and sin. It is easy to default into idolatry when we worship, this is something we must always be ware of. Our appearance, the quality of our playing/singing, etc. can all play a sinful part.
Julian’s breakout session was very helpful. It was well-presented, clear and informative. It was also practical. Julian’s first emphasis was humility. When planning worship, humility is key. Attention must be shifted to Christ, not the worshippers. The chief end of planning is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Julian showed us some samples of his music database, which is a list he keeps of songs to make sure that good ones are rotated and played equally. He gave websites such as http://www.sovereigngraceministries.com/ and others that offer worship resources. They are good to watch for new songs. Julian also emphasised prayer and openness with the congregation. Being attuned to their preferences is important, so long as it meets the criteria learned about in the lectures (i.e. theology and singability).
The conference was a success in many ways. I was thankful to be able to take all of the principles learned in the worship class at TBS and see them worked out before my very eyes. Having taken copious notes and having the lectures on CD will prove to make the impact of this conference last in my life and ministry. I can’t wait until the next one!