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…

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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!