Recently, my wife Tammy and I attended the 2019 Sing! Getty Worship Conference, held in Nashville. This is a conference without parallel, as pastor John MacArthur stated. The Sing! Conference is a part of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s five-year initiative; a learning journey to help pastors, musicians and leaders build a Biblical understanding and creative vision for congregational singing in their churches. This article has some of the take-aways from the conference that we found helpful and enlightening, and thought you would too. Tammy and I also attended the 2018 Sing! Conference. You can read my reflections from that conference here.
This year’s conference had many of the same elements as last year’s conference (teaching, worship, exhibit hall, concert, etc.), but with many more in attendance as well as some new features. The theme of the conference was the life of Christ. The conference was held at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center. The amazing complex contains nearly 3,000 hotel rooms and is beautifully landscaped under a large glass dome. The convention center was large enough to hold more than 10,000 attendees from more than 50 countries, for the main sessions, something that could not be done at the Music City Center, where the 2018 conference was held. A special joy was running into friends at the conference, specifically our church’s worship leader and her mother, and one of our former pastors and a few leaders from his church.
The conference can be overwhelming, as it features main sessions – worship through music (including learning new songs to sing in our churches), plenary messages, panel discussions, concerts, breakout sessions, an exhibit hall with a bookstore and booths from organizations such as Covenant Seminary and Ligonier Ministries, as well as optional sessions such as a Children’s Leadership Conference and Hymn Sing at the Grand Ole Opry. If you attend next year’s conference, I would recommend that you try to not overdo it, but instead pace yourself, and just enjoy what there is to feast on at this conference.
Space doesn’t allow me to share everything we experienced, but here are my reflections from the events I attended at the conference, which truly was a foretaste of Heaven.
Sunday, August 17
Tammy’s highlight of the conference and certainly one of mine, was the first annual “Hymn Sing” held at the Grand Ole Opry, a short walk from the hotel. On this evening when the Opry house was turned into a church, the first half of the event had some of our best modern hymn writers talk about the stories behind their songs and then lead the audience in singing them. Highlights included Stuart Townend with “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”; Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, who released their album His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa just two days earlier, led us in “His Mercy is More”; and Natalie Grant performed an incredible version of “In Christ Alone”, written by Townend and Keith Getty. The second half of the hymn sing was led by the amazing Joni Eareckson Tada, who had made her first trip in a year, as she has battled cancer, to attend the conference. Joni spoke, and led us in acapella singing of some of the great hymns of the faith. She said, “singing your way through suffering is a way to incline your heart to God.” Hearing that 4-part harmony and seeing Joni’s joy in leading the Amen brought such joy to our hearts.
Day 1: Incarnation
Each main session throughout the conference would start with a time of worship through singing, led by the Getty’s and their band, special guests and a thousand-member choir. We particularly enjoyed the violinist David Kim. There were also a number of panel discussions (pastors and worship leaders, etc.), and keynote messages.
Keynote 1: “In the Beginning was the Word” (John 1:1-5) – John Lennox.
- The pinnacle of science and scripture need not have any tension whatsoever.
- God within Himself has relationship. God is a fellowship. Humans weren’t created because God was lonely.
- God is pro-life, especially human life. He created it.
Keynote 2: “The Word Became Flesh” (John 1:14-18) – D.A. Carson
- Do you want to know what God is like? Study Jesus.
- Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
- Good Friday and Easter depend utterly on Christmas.
Irish Christmas. On the hottest day of the year in Nashville, we celebrated the incarnation by enjoying the Getty’s An Irish Christmas concert at the Grand Ole Opry. The concert was filmed by TBN for a television special. Guests included Trip Lee, Matt Boswell and Matt Papa and the incredible Phil Keaggy (below).
Day 2: Easter Story
Keynote 3: “The Shape of the Gospel in Corporate Worship” (John 17) – Mark Dever
- Whenever God speaks to man, it is an act of grace, an act we don’t deserve.
- Make congregational singing the thing your congregation is known for in their worship.
- Spend so much time in prayer in your morning service that you will bore those nominal Christians who only pretend to believe in God.
Keynote 4: The Sufferings and Death of Christ (John 19) – John MacArthur
- Jesus, by His one offering, accomplished what all the priests and sacrifices could not accomplish. He brought sinners into His presence.
- Hell is the presence of evil and the absence of God.
- When the curtain was torn, the sacrificial system was over. God was satisfied.
Breakout Session 1:
Behind the Resurrection Letters – Andrew Peterson
In this session, Peterson sang four songs, and also read the chapter about the history of the Behold the Lamb of God Christmas album and tour from his forthcoming book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making. Having seen the tour twice, I found this particularly interesting. Peterson and friends have re-recorded the Behold the Lamb of God album and it will be out October 25.
Breakout Session 2: Singing and the Art of Godliness – Tim Challies
In this session, Challies walked us through Colossians 3:16
The best news you can ever receive is that Jesus paid the debt you owe.
- Before we can sing, we need to have the Gospel dwell richly in us.
- The Gospel leads us to gratitude.
Breakout Session 3: Have No Fear – John Lennox
- Approach witnessing with gentleness and respect. Witnessing is not preaching. Speak truth in love.
- The foundation of Christian witnessing is one to one. You must be prepared to answer questions one to one.
- Ask those you are witnessing whether they have hope.
Note: My wife attended a Breakout Session with a well-known vocal coach. Her practical advice was to drink LOTS of water and be sure to hold the microphone 1” from your mouth. Drink hot tea if you’re having trouble with your voice, and as a last resort a bit of apple cider vinegar.
Day 2 finished with a celebration at Bridgestone Arena on Broadway in Nashville. The event featured music from the Gettys, Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, Andrew Peterson, Fernando Ortega, Shane and Shane, a reading by Jackie Hill Perry, Joni Eareckson Tada leading us in hymns and a short message from John Piper.
Keynote 5: John Piper
- Jesus made the connection between the resurrection hope and singing and suffering, and loving the undeserving.
- Grumbling is not the power of the resurrection.
- Singing to the Lord in suffering and loving the least deserving is Christianity.
Day 3: The Great Commission
Breakout Session 4: Ask Pastor John podcast recorded live with Tony Reinke and John Piper
This was my favorite session of the conference. For the first time, Reinke and Piper recorded their popular podcast Ask Pastor John live. Piper addressed questions about recent church leaders who have abandoned the faith, parents with non-believing children and how he invests in his marriage. We were encouraged to submit our questions in advance, and the question I submitted was the second one asked. My question was:
“Pastor John, as the LGBT movement strives to become more mainstream, I’ve seen more and more believers giving in to the culture, attending pride parades, hanging rainbow flags outside their homes, posting on social media, etc. all in the name of “choosing love”. How should we respond to such actions from believers that we know?”
Piper responded (my paraphrase):
- Go to the Bible to see what it says about this issue. Decide whether you are going to believe the Bible.
- People who are caving are ashamed about what the Bible says about social issues.
- In regards to relationships, have courage in approaching this issue with spouses, children and friends.
- Churches need to have in place documents affirming what membership means in regards to these issues. Excommunication is not unloving.
Keynote 6: The Great Commission (John 21) – Os Guinness
- We have to be absolutely clear, there’s a scandal in the American church. Christians are the largest group but are much less influential than other much smaller groups.
- We need to face up to the lethal distortions of faith in our culture.
- We need to be encouraged by silver linings in times of crisis and transitions.
- Our faith is fragmented, not integrated or salty.
The 2020 Sing! Conference will be held August 31-September 2 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville. The conference will look at how the songs of the Bible shape the way we think about worship in churches and families as we look through the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Inspired by Martin Luther’s emphasis on singing, praying, reading, and preaching the Word, the conference will also examine how the Bible affects every part of our Sunday worship gathering, and the urgency of building deep believers in the 21st century through singing the Scriptures. For more information, go to Sing! 2020.