Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
What do we need to think about when choosing songs for a Sunday gathering, even in a pandemic? In this episode Bob and David show us how to prioritize the care of our church members when we choose songs.
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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound Plus Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches from local churches. For more information and free resources, you can check out sovereigngracemusic.org. Thanks for joining us.
David Zimmer: Welcome to Sound Plus Doctrine, this is our second podcast.
BK: Yeah, and we changed the background and everything.
DZ: We did, we got rid of some of the books.
BK: Well, all of them actually.
DZ: Yeah. [chuckle]
BK: Every single book. We’re not that smart. Actually, it was just a little confusing, we thought.
DZ: Yeah, it’s a little simpler, yeah.
BK: Yeah, absolutely.
DZ: We’re happy that you’re joining us. This week’s topic and conversation is going to be thoughts on corporate worship in the pandemic, during the pandemic.
DZ: So I have a lot of questions for you, but to start…
DZ: How are you doing?
BK: I’m doing fantastic. Should we tell people who we are, in case they don’t know?
DZ: Yes. I am David Zimmer.
BK: And I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And we are part of Sovereign Grace Music.
DZ: And, yeah, so we both go to Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, and we experienced the pandemic as every other church did.
BK: You couldn’t get around it.
DZ: And I feel like whether we release this episode now or in two months, these are just, hopefully, some reflections on the pandemic, and questions I wanted to ask you, and hopefully, dialogue we can have. But to start, I wanted to ask, how do you pick songs during difficult times? Not only in a pandemic, but just personal trials you’re going through, corporate trials that your members are experiencing, how do you as a worship leader pick songs that are gonna serve your people, and what songs should you pick?
BK: Wow, that’s a big question. I think there are two ways you can answer it. One is there are trials that people go through every week. So every Sunday, there are people in our churches who are struggling. Actually, everybody’s struggling with one of three things: Sin, suffering, self-sufficiency. Everybody’s battling one of those three “Ss”, and we need to be aware of that, each Sunday as we’re preparing, that may be another podcast entirely.
DZ: That’s good, we should have another podcast on that.
BK: But there are certain times when not only your whole, well, there are some times when your whole church is going through something. I think of a time, a few years ago, when we had a brother in our church, they had three kids, they were expecting their fourth, was hit by a car in an intersection and died, and it was on a Thursday. We’d already planned Sunday, but we scrapped everything and planned something different, because you couldn’t walk into Sunday morning thinking, “Well, let’s just… You know just start like always.”
BK: Yeah, that’s right, ’cause everybody in the church was affected by that, so there are those kinds of situations. And then occasionally, there are situations that affect your nation or in this case, the whole world.
DZ: The entire world, yeah.
BK: So the first thought that comes to mind is that if we find choosing songs during a time like a pandemic hard, that says something about the way we’re thinking about every Sunday. Every Sunday, people are going through hard times, are we aware of them? So I think it’s probably a wake-up call for some of us just realizing, “Wow, we don’t have the songs that communicate these feelings of sorrow and grief and confusion that are appropriate for God’s people to communicate.” All through the Psalms, I think 70 or so, of the Psalms are lament psalms, where the psalmist is talking about, “This is a really hard time. This is a really difficult time. God, you are my help and my deliverer.” “Well, what do you need to be delivered from?” “Well, the things I’m going through right now.” So I think to get back to your question, the kinds of songs we should be choosing are the songs that acknowledge the confusion, the songs that acknowledge the sorrow, the songs that even now acknowledge the fear. We sing a song, “O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer”, “My song when trials are abounding,” is that right?
DZ: Yeah, “My hope when tides of sorrow rise,” yeah, yeah.
BK: “Tides of sorrow rise.” So “My hope when tides of sorrow rise,” I need to sing about that. But I need to sing about my hope, I also need to sing about the fact that “tides of sorrow are rising, my joy when trials are abounding.” So, “Your faithfulness, my refuge in the night.” So those few lines address a lot of different situations. So we need songs that give people the opportunity to say, “You know what? I’m fearful right now. You know what? I’m confused right now. You know what? I lack hope right now. You know what? I’m going through trials right now.” So songs that enable people to express those words, but then songs that bring them to the hope that God has given us in Jesus Christ.
DZ: Yeah, ’cause it could be easy to stay there in those sort of reflective tides of sorrows, rising moments. How long do you…
BK: Stay there?
DZ: Yeah, stay in that space. Because there is confusion and doubt and anguish when you’re approaching a Sunday. And a trial like losing a husband, like you’re explaining, is happening. It’s like…
BK: And that went on for weeks, months, I would say, that we as a church were reeling with the effect of that, and so we wanted to craft songs. I think that first Sunday, we started with, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It wasn’t big, it wasn’t celebratory, it was just, “Great is thy faithfulness, O God, my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee, Thou changes not thy compassions, they fail not, as thou hast been, thou forever will be.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: You’re singing that with the awareness that… She’s a dear friend to our family, to Julie and I. And actually, God’s redeemed that situation as he always does. She got remarried. Yeah, it’s wonderful how God works. But at that time it was, yeah, we’re singing these words in the midst of deep sorrow and tragedy, but they’re true. So we have to lead people to what is true as open this to the Psalms, just to… Well, I opened to Psalm 40, but I was thinking of Psalm 88, which is really one of the few Psalms that just remains in darkness. But even in that Psalm, you have references to God’s steadfast love, and God’s faithfulness, and he’s saying, “Where is your steadfast love? Where is your faithfulness? I know that you are this way but right now, I’m not experiencing them.”
DZ: I’m not experiencing them, yeah.
BK: So, you see that in Psalm 42 and 43. I used to feel this way with… When I was leading the throngs and praise the temple. But then he addresses himself, “Why are you cast down O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise him my salvation and my God.” We have to lead people to that hope, and where we find that most clearly is in the gospel. So, this is what I wanna get to, what kind of songs we should be singing during something like a pandemic or some great national tragedy? We should be singing songs that enable people to identify with what they’re feeling, but then that lead them to the fact that God has shown us who he is most clearly in the gospel. In the fact that God gave his son, Jesus Christ, to come and live the life that we could never live, to receive the condemnation we deserved on the cross for all our sins, to rise from the dead, so that we could know God is going to be with us, God is going to be for us, we can approach God with the boldness that He will always care for us, that there is no good thing that God will withhold from us.
BK: That’s the Paul’s logic in Romans 8:32, where he says, “He who did not spare His own son but gave Him up for us all.” That’s the gospel, “How will He not also with Him, graciously give us all things?” So there’s, “What is it that you need? Do you need security in the midst of your fear?” Well, the God who gave His son for you to rescue you from His wrath, surely He’s going to protect you, He’s not going to allow anything to come near you that would harm you in an eternal way. Now, that doesn’t mean that you might not get sick, it doesn’t mean that you might not get hurt, but nothing will happen to you outside of God’s will that He will not use for your good and His glory. So, what, it’s fear? Is it provision? How do we know? I just lost my job, because of this crisis, this coronavirus, how do I know? Well, we run to the cross and see if God would give us His own Son. How would He not also provide for us? He will. So it’s just making those connections for people, and that’s true every Sunday.
DZ: Yeah. Going back to something you said, I thought was really interesting, and it could probably be an episode for another time, but the fact that you can be tracking with a member of your church that’s going through such a horrific scenario, and it’s actually affecting the weekly gathering.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: So that I think in terms of when, if it’s a big church and you’re sort of married to a program, it’s hard to make those adjustments unless it’s a big worldwide scale pandemic. But I just wanted to note that I thought that was interesting, that you had a program set for Sunday, but then it all shifted, because it was on everybody’s mind in that scenario. But I was also gonna ask, how in a season of trial or painful circumstances, I feel from a songwriter, songs are born out of those scenarios.
DZ: And so was there anything during the corona pandemic that was kind of birthed hope into a new song?
BK: Yeah, it was wonderful to see a lot of songs being birthed, and I imagine that more will be birthed, as well as to realize some of the songs you’ve been singing, they have more meaning, more effect.
DZ: Oh, yeah.
BK: “No power of hell, no scheme of men could ever block me from His hand.”
DZ: Yeah, right.
BK: But during this season, Tim Chester, good friend from the UK, I had written a couple of songs with him, few songs with him, “Come Praise and Glorify” and others, sent me some lyrics based on Psalm 91 and said, “This is… ” I think he called it Songs for a Season of Virus, or there’s something about a virus in it, and I thought, “Man, that we got it.” We can’t use that for the title, whatever it is. But I looked at the words, I thought, “This would be great.” So I started working on it, setting a tune to it. And it just didn’t get to a place where I thought, “This is really something I’d want people to sing.” So lyrically, I’d sent it to Nate Stiff, who lives out in California, and he’s one of the Sovereign Grace writers.
DZ: Great guy.
BK: A good friend. Yep, dear friend. And he was kind of tweaking some of the lyrics, and then as the Lord would have it, I was living with a number of people, you and your family, I think McKenzie, my daughter, I don’t know if she’d started to live with us yet, but then Lacy Hudson was living with us.
DZ: Another songwriter for Sovereign Grace.
BK: Another songwriter for Sovereign Grace. And so we started working together.
DZ: It became collaborative, yeah.
BK: Yeah, it did, it did. And it eventually became a song, and we put it on Facebook and a lot of churches started doing it, “Christ Will Be My hideaway” which seemed to resonate, especially during that season. “There was sickness thoughts in darkness, though a plague destroyed by day. I will stand upon your promises, Christ will be my hideaway.”
DZ: And, it brings you back to the anchor, you’re saying, “We’re anchored in truth.”
DZ: It’s bringing you back to that anchor point because when you are only sitting in the circumstances, it’s hard to see the truth.
BK: Oh, absolutely.
DZ: Or we’re so used to people bringing us the truth immediately.
DZ: “How can you just not know this?” You know, so it’s finding…
BK: That’s a little gent worth in that, I mean it most often is.
DZ: It’s finding that balance of, we’re all agreeing that we need to hope in the Lord.
DZ: But we’re also reminding ourselves, like David, or reminding ourselves again, why we hope in the Lord.
BK: And that’s why the Psalms talk and other parts of Scripture talks so much about remembering, that’s one of the things that singing helps us do. You know, classroom 316 says, We’re teaching and admonishing one another. Why? Because we forget so much, the circumstances of our lives, our emotions, our default is to think, I can handle this, I deserve credit for this. I’m gonna make this happen. And again and again, God says, You need to remember who I am, what I’ve done.
BK: And that’s what gathering weekly, one of the things it’s meant to do is to remember God’s character, to remember his promises and to remember most of all the gospel, which is the God’s word to us on who he is and what he’s done.
DZ: Yeah. You mentioned gathering, a lot of churches now are re-gathering with face masks, and I could imagine that that’s gonna continue on.
BK: Yeah, I heard in, someone wrote from Australia said, This may go on for years, I hope it doesn’t, but that’s what they said.
DZ: Yeah, so as a worship leader, how do you think through face masks and the corporate, you know, experience of us all gathering together, not putting the health aside for just a second, do the face masks, inhibit anything in terms of expressiveness or how do you process that as a worship leader?
BK: Well, that’s a great question. As a leader. So we’re doing this, I think we’ve met a few times with face masks, and it’s really different because one of the, Psalm 34:5 says, those who look to him are radiant, their faces will never be ashamed, and you know, when you’re looking out at people, you see that, you see their radiance, but now you just, you’re seeing masks, and it’s like, this is just really different. I mean, our church still sings. I’ll talk about that in a second, like there’s one who wears a mask, what to think then? But yeah, it’s really different. God intends for our faces to be seen. Let me say that, you know, I don’t think this is an issue of persecution, it’s a health issue.
BK: So it’s wise and right to obey local ordinances or state ordinances, whatever to do this, but it does change the tenor of the meeting somewhat, at least for me, as I’m looking out on people. People are still expressive, I think they’re a little cautious, at first they were, but they’re becoming more expressive, you know as someone, if I’m being led, and I have to sing through a mask, I just think of Jesus when he said, if you don’t praise me, the rocks and the stones are gonna cry out. I’d be thinking, I don’t want the rocks and the stones to cry, they are like inanimate objects.
DZ: All I have to do is wear a mask.
BK: Yes, Yes, it’s okay, because Jesus, you’re worthy, you’re worthy, my love was behind this fabric…
BK: I want the people around me to know, I want myself to know, I want you to know, you are worthy of these songs, these words, I need to be reminded of these things, and I want to express them to you.
DZ: That’s really good because, I have friends that have even mentioned, and I don’t even know if I wanna gather because it’s so different.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: Do you know what I mean? So they take the perspective of, it’s just not the atmosphere, I am looking for… But going back to what you were saying, going back to really the core issue is we’re gathering to encounter, we are gathering to remind ourselves.
BK: Yes, Yeah, there are a lot of reasons we gather, but one of them would be to simply acknowledge that God is worthy, that Jesus is worthy, and you think of good friends in China who are here, they’re from China, who talk about some of the things they endure as their meeting is the church, I think, in America, we’re just wimps, like I just don’t wanna right away, I mean, I’m gonna acknowledge, I felt that, I was always ones who were thinking. I’m not gonna do this until, like, it’s all clear, and we can just all meet together. You know, I had just been a baby. It’s a privilege to gather with God’s people, and if you can meet outside that’s one thing that people have done. That’s great. My son Devon, his church, they met outside. That’s great if you can do that, but if you can’t, it’s worth gathering in whatever way you can, ’cause as CJ our pastor would always say, you know we’re one day closer, we’re one day closer, to be able to gather together as we used to.
DZ: Yeah. I know that we could continue talking about this kinda current state we’re in and how to process this as worship leaders and worship members in a congregation, but our time is limited. I just wanna ask you one just kind of a final question, what do you feel like the biggest takeaway has been for you in terms of the pandemic and leading song, singing songs through this pandemic?
BK: You know I’ve always thought, well, I’ve always been someone who values the gathering of the local church, God in His word, highlights through the old and new testaments the importance, the significance of him calling his people to gather in His presence for the purpose of calling to mind, His greatness, His deeds, for the benefit of each other, for building up the body. I value it more now. It used to be when sometimes we go on a vacation, we’d miss two Sundays in a row, and I would just feel it, I’d feel like, Oh, I want that. I need that encouragement, that edification that comes from the saints gathering spiritual gifts operating, exalting God together, encountering God together. But I want it more now, I mean, we live stream for I think 10/11 weeks. And it was fine, I mean the Lord used it, I think, and some churches may still be doing that, but there is nothing like the church gathering, God does so many things, we’re not gnostics, you know people who kind of shpupu the existence of physical things, it’s all spiritual no. God made us with bodies and when we interact with each other, there are so many ways God is at work to build up his people and to bring glory to His son, so I love that I long for it and we never wanna take it for granted.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, Amen. Wonderful. Well, this concludes another podcast.
BK: This is the end?
DZ: It is the end, unfortunately.
BK: Alright, well thanks for joining us and…
DZ: Well, we look forward to more. And thank you so much for joining us.
BK: Yeah, see you next time.
DZ: Thank you for listening to sound Plus doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources. You can visit us at SovereignGraceMusic.org.