I love a great story. I especially like seeing a great movie or musical.
Even now I can hear the haunting music as the tension rises only to be released in a moment of ecstatic joy. Characters facing overwhelming challenges only to be rescued by a lover or a friend. Villains chasing their prey. Good defeating evil. Dancers twirling with joy. It’s real life being played out before our eyes and ears.
Many of the great musicals have a story of redemption. For example, Beauty and the Beast paints an amazing picture of how our sin and failures turn us into monsters and only true love can set us free. Les Miserables unveils the struggle between forgiveness and vengeance. The Lion King displays man’s temptation to run from his guilt and the role of community to restore leaders. While none of these are perfect parallels to the Gospel, they cause us to pause and reflect on life’s deeper issues.
I’ve often thought that worship leaders should plan services like a musical. We are rehearsing the greatest story every told or lived, and yet we often treat it like a boring short story – “Here is our God. Here is His Son. We are sinners. We need Jesus. Now we worship Jesus.” (I’m not downplaying the magnitude of this message, but instead critiquing the simplicity of our story telling). Many of our worship services read more like a 1st Grader learning to read Dick and Jane.
What if instead our worship services resembled the dramatic rise and fall of a classic musical? What if our songs and liturgies melded into a story worth telling over and over– one that captures the imaginations of the young and old?
As a sidenote, I think a reason many liturgical churches are seeing a resurgence is because people are looking for churches that treasure the rich retelling of the Gospel in their services. Some of the best literary minds in church history helped to write the liturgies still used by these churches. And there’s a reason why the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Ralph Vaughn Williams underscores some of the best hymn lyrics ever written–it’s just that good!
You must understand that I’m a creative writer. I much prefer to write my own liturgies than use one that is one hundred or five hundred years old. But I see merit in leaning on a retelling that has lasted for centuries and millenium. What better script than the one provided by God in scripture?!!
A New Worship Project: The Gathering: Live from WorshipGod11 by Sovereign Grace Ministries
That’s why I love what Bob Kauflin and the creative staff at Sovereign Grace Ministries did on their newest worship album: The Gathering: Live from WorshipGod11. They sought to craft a service that from start to finish retells the Gospel in song and word. I think they succeeded.
Certainly most churches can’t spend 70 minutes in song each Sunday and Sovereign Grace churches don’t either–at least most of the time. This project was crafted for a worship conference (Worship God ’11). But the concept of retelling the gospel in worship is transferable to all churches.
Bob Kauflin credits Bryan Chapel and his book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, for helping shape the structure of this service. Chapel presents a wonderful case for how and why our services need to rehearse the Gospel weekly. In my mind, the primary reason is that we are too much like the Israelites–we are quick to forget God’s mercies and deliverance–think of Israel shortly after the Exodus–and we need daily and weekly reminders of God’s grace expressed through Christ.
Some things I love about The Gathering:
The Gathering is a phenomenal worship experience that beautifully follows the flow of the liturgy from Call to Worship to Adoration, Confession, Assurance of Pardon and Thanksgiving. It carries on through prayer, hearing God’s Word, Consecration, Communion, Commission and the Benediction. Each song (and in some cases multiple songs) helps the believer, with heart, mind and body, engage with the Gospel story at a personal and corporate level.
The diverse use of lead vocals was very refreshing. In fact, one of the things I’ve always appreciated about Sovereign Grace Ministries is that they are so Christ-centered that they don’t allow musicians to make a name for themselves at the expense of the church. There are certainly some musicians whose music has gained global recognition–like Bob Kauflin, Mark Altrogge and Steve & Vikki Cook–but that’s a by-product of a church committed to honoring Christ in their worship.
Recording a live event is challenging, but Steve Cook and Bob Kauflin did a masterful job arranging and engineering this project. I felt like I was there with them.
As I’ve come to expect, these songs consistently provided rich lyrics with strong contemporary arrangements. The songs were fresh, rhythmic and diverse in presentation. And one of the things I always appreciate about Sovereign Grace songs–they are immediately singable by the average congregation. You don’t have to be a superstar tenor or a diva to hit the high notes. In fact, they even had a baritone leading on a song–now that’s speaking my love language!
Particularly impressive is that all the musicians were members of Sovereign Grace churches except the bass and drums (which I would argue are most critical to keeping a contemporary ensemble together).
Some things I missed:
Because I wasn’t able to join the conference, I wish the recording made available the verbal transitions that helped shape the story. If I didn’t know the backstory behind the concert, I might just think this is a series of fantastic songs. If nothing else, I hope they make available a video of the live event.
I love contemporary rock bands, but I found myself in this worship experience longing to hear a broader range of instruments and voices. I understand the logistics for a live recording, but it would seem more reflective of the broader church to use horns, strings and even various ethnic instruments.
Songs to Consider
I found that I could probably use almost all the songs on this album, but some that immediately caught my attention are: Come Praise and Glorify, Shine Into Our Night, Generous King, and All I Have is Christ. You can hear samples of all the songs and purchase the album here.
Here is a sample clip of “Generous King.”
NOTE: While I was provided a review copy of this album, I have not been paid to write this review.
I definitely encourage you to check out this album. Before you search for your next great song, allow the whole project to minister to your soul. It’s 70 minutes you’ll be glad you spent before the Lord.
What do you think of this project?
Hey. Thanks for the review. Very encouraging.
FYI. We’re doing “The Gathering” again out here in Orange County, CA.
That’s awesome. I used to live in San Diego and would’ve come to join you in a heartbeat. Now I’m out in KS, but I’ll check out the details.
Zac Hicks says
Great post. The best worship walks through the story of the gospel! Thanks, too, for your helpful review of The Gathering. I’ve enjoyed listening to it.
Thanks, Zac. Glad you found it helpful. Any songs you find yourself drawn to?
I just heard from Bob Kauflin. He assured me that he will be posting all the transitional comments in a post at worshipmatters.com fairly soon. That will at least help those of us who would like to have enjoyed the whole story.