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Bob Kauflin

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Bob Kauflin is the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, a family of 80+ churches led by C.J. Mahaney. His responsibilities include equipping pastors and musicians in the theology and practice of congregational worship, and contributing to Sovereign Grace CDs. He was a writer and arranger for the group GLAD from 1976-2006, and is one of the worship leaders at Covenant Life Church, in Gaithersburg, MD, led by Josh Harris. His first book, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God was released by Crossway in April, 2008. He writes a blog at and hosts the bi-annual WorshipGod conference ( He and his wife, Julie, have six children and ever growing number of grandchildren.

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Planning Sunday's Songs-Plan Contextually

Bob Kauflin | January 18, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , ,

The context for choosing your songs includes background details such as the sermons that have been preached, your congregation's demographic mix andlevel of spiritual maturity, plus weekly variables such as special occasions or events. More

Focus on Projecting Lyrics

Bob Kauflin | January 12, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

If your church doesn't use hymnals or songbooks, the person handling the projection of lyrics plays a crucial role in enabling people to engage with truth about God. If they're frequently late in putting up lyrics, show the wrong verse, leave a blank screen, or project misspelled words, that can counteract whatever good leadership you might be exercising. That's why I want that person to be humble, trained, and faithful. It also helps when they More

Music Should Display Variety

Bob Kauflin | January 11, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , ,

What did Paul mean when he encouraged us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19)? No one's completely sure.Most scholars agree he seems to be encouraging diversity in the songs we use to praise God. “Psalms” might be referring to the Psalter, “hymns” to songs that praise Christ, and “spiritual songs” to more spontaneous expressions. If that's the case, Paul is encouraging us to sing all our More

Hearing Familiar Words in a Fresh Way

Bob Kauflin | January 10, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

Musical variety enables us to hear the same words with different effect. “Amazing Grace” has a different emotional impact when it's accompanied by a black gospel choir, a large orchestra, a sustained synthesizer chord, or a lone acoustic guitar. Hymns are especially suited for innovative treatments that help us hearthe words from a new perspective. Moving beyond traditional tunes and arrangements shouldn't bother us too much since most hymns were More

Planning Sunday's Songs-Plan Selectively

Bob Kauflin | January 8, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , , ,

We have more songs available to sing than anyone in church history. That means we don't have to settle for those that “kind of” say what we want, orsongs that are boring, or songs whose music is more memorable than their lyrics. And we certainly don't have to use songs just because they're popular. Great songs come from a variety of sources. We've used hymnals,worship web sites, independent band CDs, nationally known worship artists,quarterly More

Planning Sunday's Songs

Bob Kauflin | January 8, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

Every worship leader knows the feeling, the pain, the anxiety, the utter discouragement. Your song list for next Sunday is due in thirty minutes,and you have no idea what to do. Or maybe next Sunday is tomorrow morning. It's late. You're tired. You're staring at a blank computer screen surrounded by stacks of CDs, three hymnals, your worship songbook, and a list of what you've sung for the past five months. Nothing's helping. You pray. And you start More

Selecting Sunday's Songs-Plan Creatively

Bob Kauflin | January 7, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , , ,

Effective leadership involves more than coming up with a song list. For one, we can vary the way songs are sung. A soloist can sing one verse or a whole song, we can use a choir, or the church can sing responsively with the leader or in groups. Singing congregationally isn't the only way of fulfilling God's command to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). We can also change arrangements, tempos, and song More

Planning Sunday's Songs-Plan Progressively

Bob Kauflin | January 6, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

  First misconception: Playing a song faster will make people worship God more passionately. Not necessarily. Usually it just means they'll have a harder time thinking about the words. Try recording your version of an up-tempo songand comparing it with the recorded version. You'll see what I mean. Speed doesn't equal spiritual impact. If you're not playing to a click track, take your time setting the tempo. Thewrong tempo can hinder a song's effectiveness. More

Planning Sundays Songs-Plan Thematically

Bob Kauflin | January 4, 2011 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , , ,

Our unchanging theme every week is the grand story of deliverance that God accomplished for his people through the life, death, and resurrection of JesusChrist. We want to remember this, rehearse it, celebrate it, and respond to it. More

Adjust Your Musical Arrangements and Volume

Bob Kauflin | December 13, 2010 | Categories: Blogs | Tags: , , ,

Most play-by-ear musicians think that being up front means you should alwaysbe playing. Wrong. Varying when we play, how loudly we play, and what we play affects how people hear the words. More

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The Leader

Bob Kauflin | December 31, 2008 | Categories: Blogs, Videos | Tags: ,

Truth and Music

Bob Kauflin | September 9, 2008 | Categories: Videos | Tags: ,

Motivating Congregations to Worship

Bob Kauflin, Sovereign Grace Music | July 1, 2008 | Categories: Videos | Tags:

Right Relationships

Bob Kauflin | June 26, 2008 | Categories: Videos | Tags:

The Leader

Bob Kauflin | June 21, 2008 | Categories: Videos | Tags: ,

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Who Turned the Lights Out?

A while back Brad sent me this question: We seem to be developing a debate at our church in regards to turning down the house lights to “set the mood” for better worship. What is your take on that? Later I received this from Jeremy: I was wondering if you could offer any commentary regarding the use of lights at any of the WorshipGod conferences. I have memories going back to the “Psalms” conference [in 2008]. In each of the conference settings, it has struck me that the lights in the house are left active during the music-worship time of gatherings. Is that intentional? Is that unintentional? Is it because no one is available to run a lights scheme? :-) Glad you asked. Yes, we do have someone available to run a lights scheme and yes, leaving the lights up is intentional. A Very Brief History of Lighting Churches have been meeting with little to no light for centuries. In pre-dawn and night services they depended on candles or torches, or met by moonlight. With the advent of electricity, churches that had once gathered in darkness could now meet to the glow of bulbs and lamps. Some time in the late 90s youth meetings started experimenting with dimly lit rooms. Leaders reasoned that near-darkness made teens feel less noticed and more comfortable. Low lights would give unbelievers an opportunity to hear the gospel. Enter the world of modern lighting. We can control lights in every possible way, including the percentage of light in the room. We can focus lights. We can flash lights. We can color lights. We can cause lights to move. We can widen and narrow lights. For the first time in history we can use all the light we’d ever want or need. But we don’t. More and more churches have chosen to turn down the house lights when the congregation sings. Search for “worship” in Google images and the majority are mostly dark or shadows. For a number of years I’ve wondered why. This is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. To be clear, I’m not going to address lighting in general. On that topic, we should pursue what John Piper terms undistracting excellence – doing what we do so skillfully that people aren’t even aware of it. In this post I want to focus on the level of lighting for a congregation. The Good Stuff I think I understand at least some of the reasons for turning the lights down. it keeps people from being distracted it focuses people on the front people feel more comfortable and less conspicuous screens and videos are easier to see when the room is dark lights can be used to direct people’s focus lights on the stage are less effective when the rest of the room is fully lit These are legitimate reasons for lowering the house lights. But I want to ask whether we should still consider turning the lights up. Or even on. I recognize this issue falls far down the scale when it comes to crucial topics for the church to consider. But perhaps low lights can have unintended consequences. The Not So Good Stuff Brad asked me what my take was on turning “the house lights down to set the mood for better worship.” His questions beg a few more questions. Why does not seeing the congregation make for “better worship?” What is the best “mood” for worship? Should we be trying to set a mood through lighting? When we start quantifying worship by the lighting and mood, we’re already in trouble. We’ve slipped from viewing worship as a Spirit-enabled response to God’s self-revelation in the gospel to seeing it as an emotional experience that can be humanly produced and manipulated. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it. God has given us means to motivate and affect people – the Word, prayer, the gospel, and the sacraments. Aesthetics are important, but secondary. Every time in history […]

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WorshipGod 2015: TRIUNE Registration Now Open!

In July 2014 we held our first WorshipGod conference on the Trinity in Santa Ana, CA. It was such a rich time we decided to repeat that theme for WorshipGod 2015: TRIUNE. The dates are July 29-Aug 1, and we’re excited to be coming back to Highview Baptist East in Louisville, KY. Christians can sometimes think of the Trinity like an appendix. We know it’s there but we’re not quite sure what its purpose is. And if it was removed, it wouldn’t change much. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Trinity is at the heart of our faith and at the heart of our worship. But how much do you know about the Trinity? More importantly, how well do you know God as Father, Son, and Spirit? What difference does it make to your relationship with him? Would it matter if God wasn’t Triune? These questions and more will be the focus of WorshipGod 2015: TRIUNE. We’ll be exploring what difference God being Three-in-One makes to our songs, our prayers, our meetings, and our lives. Who’s Speaking? Here’s the line up of speakers for the main sessions: Wednesday PM: Why the Trinity is so Delightful (And Why it Matters) – Jeff Purswell Thursday AM: The Triune God and the Cross (Why The Gospel Has to be Trinitarian) – Jared Mellinger Thursday PM: Knowing God as Father (The Miracle of Adoption) - CJ Mahaney Friday 9AM: The Unique Role of the Holy Spirit (Getting to Know the Third Person of the Trinity) – Ray Ortlund, Jr. Friday 11AM: We Are One (Why Our Unity is Thoroughly Trinitarian) – H.B. Charles, Jr. Friday PM: Singing and Praying to a Triune God (How to Celebrate Trinity Sunday Every Week) – Bob Kauflin Saturday AM: Living Before the Triune God (Bringing it All Together) – Rick Gamache The Music I’ll be leading a few of the sessions musically along with my son, Devon. My good friend, Matt Boswell, from Providence Church in Frisco will take a session, and I’m grateful that Aaron Johnson and DOXA from Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia will be with us. We’ll also be hearing from songwriters Dustin Kensrue, Michael Bleecker, and Bobby & Kristen Gilles, who will each be sharing some of their songs in the main sessions. Pre-Conference Intensives If you can arrive early, we’re offering five pre-conference intensives from 1:30-5:00pm on Wednesday. The first is The Contemporary Choir, led by Sheri Gould. She’ll be spending time rehearsing and teaching a choir that will also sing at the Friday night session. I’ll be leading a session called Lessons Learned from Thirty Years of Leading for anyone involved in leading or planning corporate worship. David Zimmer will be leading a master class for drummers, Ryan Foglesong will be teaching a master class for bass players, and Patrick Anderson will be leading a class for guitarists. During the conference you can attend a lunch on Thursday for those interested in using solo instruments more effectively, and a lunch on Friday for those serving in tech and media. Loads of Seminars You’ll be able to choose 4 of 28 seminars this year designed to serve pastors, worship leaders, musicians, vocalists, songwriters, and tech personnel. And if you aren’t a musician, no problem! In each seminar slot we offer at least one general seminar designed to increase anyone’s knowledge of and passion for God and the gospel. Here are a few of the seminar choices this year: Christians and Culture – Dustin Kensrue Eagerly Desiring Prophecy – Rick Gamache Growing in Grace as a Leader – Jared Mellinger Overcoming Songwriter’s Block – Steve & Vikki Cook Rehearsing the Right Things for the Right Reasons – Bob and Devon Kauflin Scripture Meditation: Getting More Out of Your Bible – Don Whitney Getting a Grip on God’s Glory – Bruce Ware Gospel-Centered Everything – Jeff Purswell What to Expect WorshipGod events feel like family reunions – even if it’s your first time! For three full days we get to laugh, eat, […]

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Michael Morrow Reflects on WorshipGod UK

I first met Michael Morrow in Australia. I had heard his song We Belong to the Day and was impressed with his desire to write songs that communicated rich theology in contemporary musical settings. Shortly after we met, Michael moved to the UK, where he’s been ever since. I’m grateful that he’s going to be sharing some of his songs at WorshipGod UK, where we’ll be learning from Michael Reeves, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Chester, Jeff Purswell, and others about Gathering Around the Gospel. Michael took some time to answer a few questions about himself and the conference. What is your history of leading in the church, musically or pastorally? I started playing piano and writing songs in my local church in Sydney when I was 15. But I spent years doing it out of pride, because I wanted to look good, or out of pragmatics, because music in church could be embarrassingly bad, and I wanted to fix it. Eventually a good friend, Philip Percival, introduced me to the truths from Colossians 3:16, that when we sing gospel truths God plants his words deep in our hearts, and that transformed the way I played and wrote. I started to pursue training in music ministry: I did an apprenticeship at a church, I went to bible college, and then I got offered a job as music director at Dundonald Church in London. I feel really privileged to be at a church that has faithful, humble bible teaching in its DNA, that also sees music as a ministry of the word. What encourages you about what is happening in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? It encourages me to see lots of young people learning what I was so slow to learn. Among evangelical churches here there seems to be a healthy understanding of what worship is, and how music can support the work of God’s word, and that means I meet lots of people around who aren’t hung up or confused about issues, but are simply eager to serve. What weaknesses do you see about what is happening broadly in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? Apart from a few exceptions the churches with lots of resources seem to be the ones not committed to teaching the bible. The rest of us feel quite small, so it can be tempting to want to follow them and build something that won’t last. How do you think WorshipGod in general and your role there in particular might serve folks as they seek to serve in their local congregations? WorshipGod is a great time for reflecting on big truths, taking stock of where we are at, and remembering the reasons we do what we do. It’s rare to get two-and-a-half days to think about how to serve Christ and his body through music, so I think it will be an incredibly useful time. I’ve been asked to share a couple of songs that I’ve written for churches to sing. I’m passionate about words that engage us; that don’t repeat clichés, but wake us up to the wonders of what God has done in Jesus. I’m hoping some of my words might do that, and I’m praying they might be useful for people to take to their own churches. WorshipGod UK: Gathering Around the Gospel is designed for pastors, music leaders, service leaders, vocalists, instrumentalists, songwriters, tech teams, and anyone who helps plan and lead congregational worship. If you’re thinking about attending, keep in mind that rates go up 1st March. that’s just a few days away. In addition, we’ll be hosting a day for pastors and their wives on Thursday, 7th May. Kevin DeYoung, Jeff Purswell, and Rick Gamache will be speaking, and I’ll be leading the music along with my son, Devon. You can get more details here. I’m grateful to Nathan Smith and Grace Church Bristol for having us in and doing a lot of the leg work […]

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Be Equipped to Gather Around the Gospel at WorshipGodUK

We’re about three months out from WorshipGod UK and can’t wait.  We’re really looking forward to spending three days with people who are serious about serving their local churches with the gospel through the Word and song. The gospel is a word we can use frequently without reflecting on its meaning, power, and relevance. That’s why when we gather on Sunday mornings, there’s nothing more important we can do than remind people that Jesus has come to save us from sin, death, and hell through his substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection, and that that affects every aspect of our lives. I’m thrilled that our speakers this year will include Mike Reeves, Tim Chester, Kevin DeYoung, Dave Gobbett, Nathan Smith, and Jeff Purswell. Here’s a video we recorded to explain the heart behind the conference and share some of the details. In the video I wasn’t able to mention all the UK musicians who will be joining us for the conference, but last year they were a significant means of encouragement to the attendees. The musicians coming this year to lead us or share new songs with us include Matt Richley from Christ Church Newport, Michael Morrow from DunDonald Church, Ben Slee from Christ Church Mayfair, and Rob Spink from The Crowded House. In addition Matt Searles will be back to teach a seminar on how God can use the Psalms to minister to us during seasons of suffering. All this talk about music could lead someone to think WorshipGod UK is meant just for musicians. Far from it. It’s often non-musicians who are responsible for planning the Sunday gatherings and we’ve designed the conference to equip and encourage those with no musical knowledge. Of course, we’ll have plenty for the musicians as well. I also didn’t mention in the video that before WorshipGod begins we’ll be hosting a day conference for pastors and their wives on Thursday 7th May from 10am – 5pm. The theme is “Hope and the Pastor,” and the teaching will be handled by my friends Jeff Purswell, Rick Gamache, and Kevin DeYoung. I’ll have the privilege of leading the music along with my son, Devon. People are already signed up to come to WorshipGod from around the UK, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Russia. We’d love for you to join us! If you can’t decide whether or not you’ll be able to make it, keep in mind that if you book in before 1st March, you’ll save money, and if you can get three or more people to sign up with you, you’ll save even more. Check out the WorshipGod UK website for more information. Even if you can’t come, we’d appreciate prayers that God would use our time together to serve the many people and churches in the UK and Europe who are passionate about proclaiming the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ not only in their meetings, but in their lives.    

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New Song from Keith & Kristyn Getty (& Graham Kendrick)

Not too long ago I was in Nashville with Julie and we stopped by to see our friends, Keith and Kristyn Getty. While we were there Keith asked me if I wanted to hear a song they had been working on with Graham Kendrick. Of course, I said. He played “My Worth is Not in What I Own.” I immediately thought, I want to sing this song and I want other people to sing this song. Now we can. But you can hear it for yourself. Col. 3:16 says that songs are meant to teach and admonish us while enabling the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. This song definitely accomplishes both goals. Here are the words: My worth is not in what I own; Not in the strength of flesh and bone. But in the costly wounds of love at the cross. My worth is not in skill or name; In win or lose, in pride or shame. But in the blood of Christ that flowed at the cross. I rejoice in my Redeemer, Greatest treasure Wellspring of my soul I will trust in Him, no other; My soul is satisfied in Him alone. As summer flowers we fade and die: Fame, youth and beauty hurry by. But life eternal calls to us at the cross. I will not boast in wealth or might, Or human wisdom’s fleeting light. But I will boast in knowing Christ at the cross. Two wonders here that I confess; My worth and my unworthiness. My value fixed–my ransom paid at the cross. (c) 2014 Getty Music Publishing (BMI) and Makeway Music (Adm. by We’re reminded of where our true value lies – not in our accomplishments, efforts, skills, reputation, wealth, might, or wisdom–but in the finished atoning work of the Savior. We are valued not because we are valuable, but because God has set his affection on us. Our worth is in the “costly wounds of love at the cross.” Nothing in this world will satisfy us like Jesus Christ. These are truths we need to preach to ourselves constantly. And this song helps us do just that in a way that is memorable and beautiful. Keith and Kristyn kindly gave me permission to give away the choir chart and hymn chart for the song for a week. Enjoy.

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Reflections on Turning 60

I’ve had more than one conversation with a 20 or 30 something worship leader who was concerned about growing old. Will I have a job? Will people still want me to lead? Will I be out of touch? Last month I turned 60. I guess that puts me in the “old” category, although in my mind I still think I’m 28. I thought it might encourage a younger leader if I shared some of the things I’ve learned in 30 years of ministry that have shaped me, changed me, and given me faith for the future. Consider this a follow-up to the post I wrote five years ago on being a 55 year old worship leader. Five lessons learned 1. Direct your desires. God tells us in Prov. 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The course of my life is determined largely by the state of my heart; i.e., my affections, desires, and thoughts. That means what I want is massively significant. My heart is revealed in what I do with my free time, what I think about when no one is around, what I wish I could be doing, and how I respond when I don’t get something. Failing to cultivate Christ-exalting desires is one reason people in ministry end up jumping ship, forsaking the faith, leaving their families, and burning out. They love music, pleasure, reputation, financial security, or something else more than Jesus. King David said, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). God commands us to delight in him because there is nothing better we can delight in. Pursuing ultimate joy and satisfaction in something other than the Lord will eventually lead to disappointment and possibly destruction. And by the way, people listen to your teaching and singing, but they follow your passions. 2. Keep ministry and relationship together. I’ll never forget sitting in in CJ Mahaney’s office in December 1983, seeking counsel about a potential move to Philadelphia. I thought we should move. Julie didn’t. I told CJ about my desire to work among inner city youth, teach marriage seminars, do counseling, and be a worship pastor. After listening carefully, he told me he saw a genuine gift of mercy, but noticed I hadn’t mentioned wanting to serve with any specific people. He said ministry flowed most naturally out of relationship, and referenced the nourishment that comes through the joints and ligaments of the church body (Eph. 4:16, Col. 2:19). That counsel changed the trajectory of my life. I realized I was valuing my gifts over the people God had joined me to and was pursuing ministry based on who would help me fulfill “my calling.” I’ve learned that if I do life with those I respect, who root me in God’s Word and the gospel, and who make me more like the Savior, ministry will be the natural result. 3. See everything as an opportunity to serve, learn, and be faithful. When I first became a pastor I thought I had “arrived.” I saw my job as helping others attain the degree of godliness and wisdom I had achieved. It didn’t take me long – well, actually, it took a few years – to realize how wrong-headed I was. We never grow beyond serving. Jesus said the greatest in the kingdom is the one who is the servant of all (Mk. 9:35). Even my leading should spring from a desire to serve others. We never stop learning. In fact, the more we know, the more we understand how little we know. It’s one of the paradoxes of the kingdom. So keep reading. Keep asking questions. Keep expressing your opinions humbly. We can never be more than faithful. God hasn’t called me to be famous, popular, cool, edgy, hip, or endlessly creative. He’s called me to be faithful. Faithful to his Word. Faithful to the gospel. Faithful to my wife and children. Faithful to my church. Faithful to those who don’t know Christ. Do what God has called you to do without regard for the world’s opinions and assessment. Be faithful. 4. Glory in the gospel every day. Glorying in the gospel is recognizing that who Jesus is and what […]

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Tim Chester Reflects on WorshipGod UK

I first met Tim Chester a few years ago at the Word Alive conference in Wales. Since then he’s become a good friend, and I’ve even written a song with him. Tim is one of the humblest, kindest, most prolific authors I know. He was with us for WorshipGodUK last year and I’m thrilled he’ll be joining us in Bath for WorshipGod UK, 7-9 May, 2015, to speak in a breakout session on “Cultivating a Fruitful Life in the Word.” He took some time to answer a few questions about his life and his involvement in the conference. 1. What is your history of leading in the church, musically or pastorally? I’m one of the pastors of The Crowded House with particular responsibility for word ministry. In the early days, when we were just a handful of people, I played the guitar or piano to accompany our sung worship. It was something of relief (all round) as  over time I could hand on responsibility for music to others. But I’m still involved in selecting and writing songs. 2. What encourages you about what is happening in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? I think in the past we’ve divided into those for whom worship meant singing, those for whom it meant the word, and those for whom it meant life and mission. I see these streams coming together more and more with an emphasis on capturing the affections of the heart for Christ through our corporate worship so that our lives might be lived for his glory. 3. What weaknesses do you see about what is happening broadly in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? The main weakness I observe is a performance mentality. In churches with the resources to pull this off, the congregation is left mumbling along as the band performs at the front. And the attempt to replicate this in other churches can be painful! 4. How do you think WorshipGod in general and your role there in particular might serve folks as they seek to serve in their local congregations? I love the fusion of congregational music and grace-filled theology that Sovereign Grace and WorshipGod represents. I loved last year’s mix of Bible exposition, practical seminars and inspirational worship. I’m looking forward to the same combination of encouragement and equipping this year! In my seminar on engaging with God’s word I want to explore how we can enjoy communion with God through his word. I want to encourage people to see the Bible not simply as an encyclopaedia of information, but as a living word that brings us into a living relationship with the living God. WorshipGod UK is intended for pastors, musicians, service leaders, tech personnel, songwriters, and anyone involved in planning or leading congregational worship. We’ll also be offering a pastors day on Thursday 7th May, from 10am-5pm. For details email

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Interview with Matt Searles

I met Matt Searles via email a few years ago after hearing his album, Now and Not Yet, acoustic renditions of various Psalms. It was biblical, singable, and moving. Since then he’s also recorded From the River to the Ends of the Earth, another collection of Psalms, only this time with a full band. I was delighted to meet Matt in person at WorshipGod UK last year, and since then have hosted him in my home in Louisville, KY. He’ll be joining us again for WorshipGod UK, 7th-9th May, in Bath. Matt will be teaching a seminar at the conference entitled Shaped by the Psalms. He graciously took time to answer a few questions for us. 1. What is your history of leading in the church, musically or pastorally? Until fairly recently I was an Assistant Pastor at Dundonald Church in London, involved in preaching, leading services, evangelism, discipleship, and other pastoral ministry roles. In recent years I have also been songwriting, seeking to serve the church by putting the Psalms to music in an accessible and contemporary way – though music has never been a formal part of my role in church. Currently I lead a ministry training course in Oxford, seeking to equip people in basic Bible handling and ministry skills, through a 2 year course of one day a week study. 2. What encourages you about what is happening in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? Its hard to speak generally as there is so much variety in different contexts. I am encouraged that in churches I have been in, church is seen as a family, rather than a ‘show’. The loudest musical instrument is generally the collective voices of the congregation, and there is a right sense of the corporate nature of what we are doing – mutual edification rather than individualism. A commitment to expository preaching and being Christ centred in what we do means that even a small, under-resourced church with very few musicians can still be a place of profound encounter with God where the Spirit is deeply at work. I think most churches also work hard at being accessible for those who aren’t Christians, with evangelism high on the priorities list. There is training for church musicians taking place now in the UK that would not have been happening a few years ago – Music Ministry being the one I have personally benefited from, though I know there are others. Let’s also not forget that Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Stuart Townend, the Fellinghams and the Gettys are all British… 3. What weaknesses do you see about what is happening broadly in gathered worship in the UK and Europe? Again, its hard to generalise. In some circles, music has often been seen as somewhat incidental or even unimportant, such that it is either ignored, or only given energy and resources for pragmatic reasons of drawing a crowd. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, music is divorced from theology – and the Bible holds them very closely together! I am also somewhat concerned about how accessible church is for those who are feeling broken – is there acknowledgment in our services of brokenness, sin, failure and doubt? If by what we do in church, we convey the message that church is only for those who are ‘sorted’ and feeling joyful, then  we can either encourage a pretence where people wear a mask of ‘holy happiness’ to church, or people simply stop coming if their life is falling apart. In so doing we in fact undermine the very gospel of Christ, who came for those whose lives are a mess! For this reason I’m delighted to have been asked to lead a seminar at the conference looking at the Psalms and their extraordinary wide range of emotion and feeling, and seeking to see how these can shape us personally, as well as shape the songs we write for our churches. 4. How do you […]

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My Favorite Books of 2014

At the end of each year I look forward to hearing what books people enjoyed over the past 12 months. My good friend Jeff Purswell posted a great list for pastors at the Sovereign Grace website, although anyone could benefit from them. I also appreciated these lists from Kevin DeYoung and Tony Reinke. I read fewer books than I had hoped to in 2014 but these three stood out. 1. Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Christopher Ash In recent years I’ve intentionally read through Job 5 or 6 times each year, making notes as I go. I’ve learned a great deal about suffering, about God’s sovereignty, and how not to counsel those who are going through difficult times. But this commentary, recommended to me by C.J. Mahaney, shed light on passages I didn’t even know were dark! Three things I most appreciated about this book. First, Ash walks through every verse in a thoughtful, contextually sensitive manner. He’s done the hard work of making connections you’d easily miss while staying on firm exegetical ground. He also helps us see where Job got it right and where he got it wrong. I especially appreciated his explanation of Leviathan as the worst Satan can throw at us. Second, he writes pastorally, exposing the misguided comfort of Job’s counselors and pointing us to true, God-honoring wisdom. Third, and most importantly, Ash consistently helps us see how Job prefigures Christ, the truly innocent sufferer. I don’t think I saw before how important the book of Job is to the story of redemption. A few favorite quotes: We need to be on the lookout not only for the wrong teaching Bible teachers give but also for vital Biblical ingredients they habitually omit. p. 94 If there is no undeserved suffering, there can be no redemptive suffering, no sacrificial substitutionary suffering. And if there is no substitutionary suffering, there can be no grace. p. 138 When we listen to Job’s speeches, we need to bear in mind the distinction between Job’s perception and Job’s heart…We will hear Job say some things that are plain wrong, and yet we hear him say them from a heart that is deeply right. p. 139 It is utterly stupid, and deeply hurtful, to suppose that we can deduce from someone’s situation in this age the true state of his or her heart. A bad person may enjoy a good life, and a good person may suffer the pain of a bad life. Only the end will reveal the heart. p. 234 Three is not one inch of strange wildness that lies outside the counsel of God. p. 396 2. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God – Timothy Keller I actually finished this book in 2015, but wanted to include it. Reading books on prayer is like reading cookbooks. You might be fascinated by what you read, but you don’t know how good the book is until you actually follow the directions. Reading Keller’s book both motivated and equipped me to press into prayer more thoughtfully and biblically. It’s changing the way I pray. Here’s what I wrote on my Amazon review: I’ve read numerous books on prayer through the years, seeking to inspire a greater passion, consistency, and depth in my own prayer life. This is without question one of the best I’ve read. It is at once insightful, motivating, and practical. One of the things that makes Keller so helpful is his breadth of reading which gives clarity, depth, and variety to his own thoughts. Most of all, he constantly roots practical application in the gospel and Scripture, avoiding the twin errors of experiential mysticism and dry orthodoxy. A few of my favorite quotes, with Kindle locations: The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion. loc 240 We are so used to being empty that […]

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From the Archives: Sentimentalizing, Sanitizing, and Spiritualizing Christmas

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation. Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us. Sometimes we sentimentalize Christmas. Sentimentalism is focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that give us good feelings. Dazzling decorations, fresh baked sugar cookies, poinsettias, family get-togethers, gift shopping, twinkling lights, Christmas carols, cards from friends, tree-cutting expeditions, wrapping presents. Of course, all these Christmas traditions are an expression of common grace, for which we can joyfully thank God. My family has developed a few of our own over 30+ years and I look forward to them every year. But man-made traditions aren’t the whole story, or even the main story of Christmas, and they fail to solve our deepest problems or fulfill our deepest needs. Sometimes we sanitize Christmas. We sanitize Christmas when we only present a picture-perfect, storybook rendition of what took place in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Kind of like the picture above. The straw in the manger is fresh and clean. There’s no umbilical cord to cut and no blood. It’s a “silent night.” The surroundings are strangely free from the pungent odor of manure. Joseph and Mary are calm, cool, and collected. Everyone gets a good night’s sleep. There’s no controversy or gossip surrounding the birth. It’s a pleasant, appealing way to think about Christmas, but obscures the foulness, uncertainty, and sin that Jesus was born into. We forget that rather than coming for the put-together, well-to-do, and self-sufficient, Jesus identified with the rejected, the slandered, the helpless, and the poor. Sometimes we spiritualize Christmas. Spiritualizing Christmas is ignoring Christmas as earth-shattering history and using it simply to promote general virtues like brotherhood, peace, joy, generosity, and love. And tolerance, of course. Again, it’s evidence of God’s common grace and a reason to give thanks that our culture sets aside a time of year, however commercialized it might be, to celebrate and commend loving your neighbor. But the fruit of Christmas is impossible to achieve or sustain apart from the root. We understand what love is by looking not to ourselves and our good deeds, but by considering Jesus, who came into the world to lay down his life for us (1 John 3:16). Preaching or singing about peace without recognizing our need for the Prince of Peace is a shallow peace indeed. By this time, most of us have already made our choices about what Christmas means to us and how we’re going to present it to others. But Christmas comes every year. And it’s not too early to start thinking about next year. More importantly, the glory of God becoming man was never meant to be marginalized to a few weeks. It means something cataclysmic every day. Jesus, the eternal Son of God who before time was worshiped by countless angels, set aside his glory and entered the world through the birth canal of a young woman he had created. He came not into a 21st century environment with trained doctors, sterilized instruments and fetal monitors, but into a 1st century cave filled with flies, animal excrement, and filth. The fullness of deity took of residence in the body of a baby gasping for its first breath. The one who spoke the universe into existence lay silent, unable to utter a word. He came by choice and with the sole intention of redeeming a […]

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