Before I post my final review, I’d love to point out a few of my friend’s takes on the event:
Nate Fancher on REDISCOVERING THE PSALMS
Brad Loser’s WORSHIPGOD08 DEBRIEF
and conference host/speaker/dude, Bob Kauflin’s overviews of Craig & Thabiti’s talks, and Mark & David’s.
I think you’ll find we were in significant agreement about the conference.

If the other electives available were even half as helpful/enjoyable/awesome as those I signed up for, then this may have been the greatest conference in history.

My first elective was THE TASK OF THE WORSHIP LEADER led by none other that Bob Kauflin himself.  And our task?  To be diligent in connecting individuals, where they are, to WHO HE IS, not to encourage people’s faith to be placed in a song, an emotion, or even a worship leader, but in Christ, as revealed in His Word.  He encouraged all of us worship leaders to:
1.) value the content of a worship song more than it’s hook,
2.) adjust our arrangements & volumes to serve & showcase the lyrical content of worship songs, &
3.) use instrumental solos wisely, in order to be careful to not turn ‘worship’ into mere performance.
 
Yes – it was challenging AND convicting.  His closing statement challenged us to “never settle for having a good meeting”, because meeting with God should be far more than that.  Amen.

My second elective was WRITING SONGS PEOPLE WILL WANT TO SING by Craig Dunnagan.  Craig is an old friend of our Worship Director, Fred McKinnon, and I can see why – they have historically shared a common vision, and interests.  This was, according to Craig, the first time he’s taught specifically on this issue – I wouldn’t have known.  He shared on the priestly, pastoral, and practical heart of Psalmists, told fascinating stories about other songs & artists we’re all familiar with, and best of all encouraged us in writing corporate worship songs that are both theologically correct AND accessible.  My favorite quote from his session: “a great worship song sounds like ANYBODY COULD have written it, but only one person DID.”  O, Holy Spirit, birth at least one of those songs in me.

Next I sat in on a mass guitar lesson with Drew Shirley of Switchfoot, who is a member at a Sovereign Grace church in Cali.  He was humble, approachable, and hardly – if it weren’t for his clothes – would strike you as a rock-star at all.  Sadly, he had JUST arrived as the session began, and was a bit scattered, actually hooking up equipment WHILE teaching.  He gave some fairly simple tips, likely more helpful to the beginning guitarist than the more experienced.  I, personally, was far more blessed by his presence and his heart than by his actual lessons.  That says a lot, I think.  

Next was the most horrifying session of the whole conference: the SONG EVALUATION led by experienced successful worship songwriter, Mark Altrogge.  I entered the room to see my own song, All in All, front & center, loaded up in iTunes and projected onto the screen in the front of the whole room, which was A PACKED HOUSE! Ack!  Even with Brad & Lowell behind me cheering me on, I felt my stomach in my throat, expected it to be shredded.  Thankfully, it wasn’t – in fact, the critique was overall very positive.  Whew!

Sadly, I only attended the first part of Todd Twining’s excellent VOCAL BLENDING elective.  The content was fabulous, but I couldn’t stay awake – coffee couldn’t do a thing…I simply needed a nap.  That said, I stayed for 3/4s of the session, and took a lot home, but it would be hard to share in a blog – very practical stuff.

Lastly, the only session I found somewhat disappointing was TRAINING UP THE NEXT GENERATION OF WORSHIP LEADERS.  I suspect that was because it really was different than I suspected, and they were following so many days of great material.  One thing that struck me was something they said that echoed one of my own beliefs: “encourage all guitarist TO SING”, that way they not only are able to demonstrate worship on stage, but they are able to engage with God through the content and not simply perform, which is the temptation.

Overall, they were some excellent sessions.  Honestly, I’d love to attend another Sovereign Grace conference someday.  Kudos to them for making this one so impactful.

Now, I’ll admit right off that though I’ve gotten a great deal out of his blog, and have also profited greatly from reading his books, I’ve never found Mark Dever to be a very engaging speaker.  Add to that the fact that he was given the monumental task of showing how the Psalms related to Jesus in “GLORIFYING CHRIST WITH THE PSALMIST“, I’m sad to admit that this was the session I got the least out of.  It was much closer to an “introductory overview” than a sermon, and was almost more content than I could take in during a session.  I did find one reminder encouraging, and that is that the example that the Psalms give of simultaneously acknowleging our sadness in the midst of times of suffering, while showing us how to remember God’s past goodness, and resting in the work he has done in the saints who have come before us.

David Powlison, who spoke on “ENDURING TRIALS WITH THE PSALMIST”, was almost the opposite.  I have read Powlison twice now – first, one of his own books, which I gave away before I was finished, and second in a chapter in “Suffering & the Sovereignty of God“: his is the only chapter I take exception to, in what is otherwise one of my favorite books of all-time.  That’s just to say, I was primed for disappointment.  I was wrong.  Powlison is a compassionate communicator, and easy to follow, and I took so many notes that it would be very hard to cover them all.  His teaching was laced with gems, as he taught through Psalm 28, eventually bringing three very helpful applications for us as worship leaders:
1.)  Remember the Minor Key
2.)  Slower tempos allow time to process
3.)  Allow for silence – a time for rest

The final main session I missed in order to catch my flight on time, sadly.  It was given by Bob Kauflin, and given my experience listening to him on other occasions during this conference, I have no doubt it was powerful.  My wife heard some of it online and said to me, “Who is this guy?!  He’s GREAT!”  I love the fact that Bob would most certainly take issue with that, pointing the glory back to God and saying “HE IS GREAT!

In review of the main sessions, of those I attended, be sure to not miss KNOWING GOD…, EXPRESSING EMOTION…, & ENDURING TRIALS.

Next, the electives…

One thing that made Worship God ’08 unique from many worship conferences is the content of the main sessions.  Apart from the fact that the Psalms are the Old Testament hymn-book, none of the sessions were necessarily directly related to worship as it is commonly understood: corporate singing.  Likewise, only one of the sessions was taught by an individual others would consider a “worship leader”, and that was Bob Kauflin, the organizer of the whole event.  Instead, the speakers were  primarily Bible teachers, Pastors, & even Seminary professors, all of whom were solidly evangelical, and who took their time applying serious scholarship to the text before reaching into the various areas of application.  It was like a 4 day seminary for worship pastors, and much akin to drinking from a fire hydrant.  In fact, I will likely be going over my notes for several weeks in order to process it all.

The Wednesday night main session was KNOWING GOD WITH THE PSALMIST by Craig Cabaniss, a pastor in Frisco, TX.  “Where do we get our ideas about God?” Craig asked at the outset, noting that “…our perception of God will shape our response to God.”  Focusing his attention on Psalm 33, he drew attention to the WHY of worship, and challenged us to “…respond to GOD, who He IS and what He has DONE, and not to whether or not we are familiar with or like a song“.  Craig taught with great passion, and began the conference on the right step.

Thursday morning’s session was EXPRESSING EMOTION WITH THE PSALMIST by Thabiti Anyabwile, a jovial yet passionate pastor currently serving in the Grand Camman Islands, and the author of the excellent new book “What is a Healthy Church Member?” in the IX Marks series.  Taking apart Psalm 73, and teaching through it piece by piece, Thabiti pointed out that “…we as humans are terrible at predicting the source of joy…“, later adding that all “man-centered emotions ultimately lead to despair“.  The 73rd Psalm, it turns out, is a helpful reminder that believers may be experiencing a wide range of emotions.  Thabiti challenged us “too often we lead from ‘happy’ to ‘great joy’“, not addressing the fact that much of our congregation are simply not there.  Emotions are real, and important, but we – as pastors and worship leaders – need to address our congregations, and lead worship, in a way that directs our emotions God-ward, and guides and trains people’s hearts to respond to the right things.  Emotions for emotions’ sake will lead to despair, but “when I see Him, I will be satisfied“.  I found Thabiti’s applications particularly helpful, as he encouraged us to:
1.) Avoid shallow ways of triggering emotions
2.) Address the full range of emotions in our corporate worship
3.) Teach about and address suffereing
4.) Help our people see God in  way that draws them from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

In many ways what I drew from these first two main sessions is quite similar: to lead passionately, doing all I can to put together worship sets, and lead in a way, that meets our people where they are, and merely where I think they should be.  I was also challenged to better address our congregation in a way that leads them to see God, and aspects of God, and leading songs that give them an opportunity to respond to revelation genuinely, rather than merely encouraging emotion and excitement for the sake of emotion itself.  Though it may be exciting for me to see a whole room ‘stirred up’, doing so when the emotion isn’t genuine may actually be training our people to lead the ‘train by the caboose’ to use the old Campus Crusade for Christ illustration of FACT (the engine), FAITH (the cars), & FEELING (caboose).  These were helpful reminders, indeed.

Next up, Mark Dever, & David Powlison’s main sessions…

At the very outset of the conference Bob Kauflin noted that there were, usually, two different sorts of conferences, as far as worship goes.  There were those where the worship teams pulled together sets of all the most popular, and familiar new tunes, which everyone would be familiar with, or there was THIS CONFERENCE, where they would predominantly do all brand-new, original music, so we’d have fresh, new, Scripture-drench songs to bring back to our own congregations.  In all honesty, given that the great majority of those in attendance were worship leaders themselves, we grabbed hold of even the entirely unfamiliar songs and sang them with every ounce we had within us.  I must say, it was very refreshing to be in a room full to the brim of folks who’s hearts were just overflowing with passion for God every time the corporate singing began.

Though I’ve not yet grown familiar enough with these songs to know which one’s I will choose to introduce in the various corporate worship environments that I’m blessed to lead in, here are a number of the new songs we sang this weekend that have at least become a part of my personal worship time:


From the brand-new Sovereign Grace Music c.d. “Psalms” (you can listen to these songs at this link) these songs really moved me:
“Praise the Lord”, “God Shall Arise”, & “Blessed be the One”.

From the NA Band release “Looked Upon” I was really touched by:
“God over All”, & “Nail My Glory”.  I must say that I am VERY interested in seeing Devon & Jordan Kauflin continue on as songwriters.

And lastly, from Pat & Joel Sczebel’s independently recorded “You and You Alone“:
“Trust in You”, & “You are Good”.  I’ll admit it, these recordings could be better, but those are two POWERFUL songs, and seeing them lead (with Pat’s other son, Joel’s brother, Josh) brought tears to my eyes, not only because they demonstrated how music can be both simple and excellent, but also thinking of my own two sons, and looking towards the future, and what a blessing it would be to have my boys writing, recording, and leading worship with me one day.

More reporting on the actual sessions still to come…

Though I did indeed miss my lovely wife and family, I am in a bit of conference withdrawal!

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