My wife Tammy, our good friend Don (Choir/Worship Leader at our church), and I attended the second annual Getty Music Worship Sing! Conference at the beautiful Music City Center in Nashville, September 10-12. The conference exists to help pastors, musicians and leaders build a Biblical understanding and creative vision for congregational singing in their churches. Bringing together speakers and artists from many traditions and walks of life, their desire is to encourage churches towards a deeper, more dynamic view of theology, artistry and mission in congregational singing.
The five urgent goals of Sing! are:
- Teach everyone why and how we sing.
- Build deep believers through what we sing.
- Strengthen and encourage families to sing together.
- Build churches by singing together and to each other.
- Witness to our wider communities by our singing.
The conference builds on Keith Getty’s book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church (see my review here). In the conference “Welcome”, Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote: “This year our focus is on the Psalms. As we look to this songbook of the Bible as our singing blueprint it unleashes boundless creativity, it reaches to the breadth of human experience, it gives us a breathtaking vision of the vastness of God and His song of salvation to us.”
Sing! was part teaching/theology conference, with the main teaching sessions by speakers such as Alistair Begg, John Piper, John MacArthur, Ravi Zacharias and David Platt, and more than fifty breakout sessions. It was part concert, with Keith and Kristyn Getty, their band and a host of special guests including Matt Redman, Phil Keaggy, Laura Story, Stuart Townend, Matt Boswell, Shane and Shane, Sandra McCracken and Andrew Peterson, including a special Tuesday night concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974, and part worship service. The singing of 7,500 voices, including a 300-person choir was a foretaste of Heaven. Keith Getty and his incredible songwriting partners had written many new songs on the Psalms for the conference, some of which are on the new Getty’s EP North Coast Sessions. My favorite of the new songs, which we sang three times was “Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love”, written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Matt Papa, Aaron Keyes, and Luke Brown. You can listen to the song here.
Among the many musical highlights at the conference were hearing Matt Redman lead us in his “10,000 Reasons” (Bless the Lord)” and Andrew Peterson singing my favorite song of the year, “Is He Worthy?” with the 300 voice Sing! choir, and Matt Boswell leading us in his “His Mercy is More”. There were also times when scripture was read, accompanied by light instrumentation, as when Kristyn Getty read Psalm 91, accompanied by the guitar playing of the great Phil Keaggy. It was truly like drinking from a firehose. I came home overwhelmed, exhausted and satisfied.
I took many notes at each session I attended. Here are some of my takeaways from those sessions:
- Ligon Duncan opened the conference by giving us an overview of the Psalms, which Luther called “a little Bible”. I appreciated these six themes he shared from the Psalms:
- The Lord’s goodness
- Our God hears us
- Our God is amazing
- You can and should call on God from everywhere
- It’s always time to worship
- Alistair Begg taught on Psalm 8 and the majesty of God. He said that man is created for God, and creation is for man. I appreciated his comment that doxology provides the basis for dominion.
- Ravi Zacharias taught on Psalm 19, with his main points being creation, legislation, redemption and consecration. He stated that the Psalms are the most preached book of the Bible.
- John Piper stated that there are many commands addressed to our emotions in the Psalms. He told us that to not delight in God is to dishonor him; to experience God so that all of the other gods of the world are as nothing glorifies God. We are to fight for joy. Jesus is our all-satisfying treasure. The rest of life is war.
- John MacArthur spoke on Psalm 103, which he stated was a great place to go to for us to fight for joy. He joked that with he and John Piper speaking it was “AARP Day at Sing!”. The psalm begins and ends with a call to worship. He said that old age was the best time to praise because you have the longest record of mercy. He challenged us to remember God’s benefits, God doesn’t remember your sins, and stated that nothing shows our remaining sin than the extent to which we have forgotten His benefits. He stated that the heart can only go as high in worship as it can go deep in theology.
- My first breakout session was with John Piper teaching about Christian preaching as worship. All conference attendees had received a very generous free copy of his latest book Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. He stated that preaching is, and awakens, worship. We need to have satisfaction in Christ more than any other treasure in life. He stated that preaching is too casual today, indicating that there isn’t one joke in the Bible.
- My second breakout session was with Andrew Peterson on creativity. He indicated that he has written a book on the creative process, which will be published in 2019. He shared six helpful principles for a creative life:
- Serving the work
- Serve the audience
- The first of two breakout sessions with Trip Lee was on suffering and the Psalms. He taught on Psalm 142 and said that in our times of suffering:
- God is our friend
- God is our protection
- God is our treasure
- God is our deliverer
- The second of my breakout sessions with Trip Lee was on why beauty matters. He stated that God is creative and that people love beauty. He stated that we should not be content to make things that are just “OK”. Instead, we should strive for excellence.
- David Platt taught on Psalm 67. His main point was that God blesses his people for the sake of his praise among all peoples.
- My final breakout session was A Plea for Psalms in Christian Worship, taught by Ligon Duncan. His plea was simply for us to sing the Psalms in our worship services more often than we do today. He challenged us to sing one Psalm every time we gather in public worship. He told us that singing is a response to God’s revelation and a tool for discipleship, and that the most frequent command in the Bible (39 times) is to sing.
- Tim Keller, who inspired the Getty’s to focus on the Psalms in this year’s conference, appeared in a video interview with Keith Getty. Keller stated If you immerse yourself in the Psalms you learn how to speak to God. It’s God’s own pre-ordained way to teach us how to talk to God.
- Keith Getty led a panel discussion of worship leaders and pastors. John MacArthur had some excellent insights here. He stated that worship can only go as high as your theology is deep. He added that a congregation will not sing above the preaching of the pastor. Matt Boswell added that churches need to have a theological view of singing.
- D. Greear closed the conference with a message on Job 42. He stated that Job wanted an explanation, but God gave him a revelation. He stated that a God that does not make your head hurt will never make your heart sing.
This year’s conference on the Psalms was the second in a five-year initiative. Approximately 7,500 people attended the conference, which sold out. The majority of the attendees were at the Music City Center, while the nearby First Baptist Church was the site for the overflow. Attendees were encouraged to download the helpful conference app, which included the schedule, map, conference social media, updates throughout the conference, etc.
Although I’m not a worship pastor, as a leader in my church I was incredibly fed and encouraged by Sing! and highly recommend you attend the conference next year if possible. Next year’s conference focus will be on the life of Christ. The conference will be held in Nashville at the Gaylord/Grand Old Opry, August 19-21. Speakers will include John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, Joni Eareckson Tada, Os Guinness, H.B. Charles, Trip Lee, Paul Tripp, Fernando Ortega and many more. You can register for the conference here.
I hope these reflections give you some idea of what I experienced at the Sing! Conference. I was fed and refreshed and enjoyed fellowship and worship at this conference. If you attended, please share some of your reflections as well. Let me encourage you to sing one of the Psalms each Sunday. Here’s a link to some psalters to get you started: https://www.crownandcovenant.com/Psalters_s/31.htm