Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
This is part 4 of 5 in the series, “Shepherding Souls Through Song.” David, Bob, and Bob’s son Devon dig deep into the heart of counseling and caring for God’s people through singing. They talk about the importance of applying the gospel when we sing, giving people both comfort and faith during times of suffering, and learning to lament well.
Resources referenced: “Being moved emotionally is not the same as being changed morally.” Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope by Matthew McCullough
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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound + 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.
BK: Welcome back to the Sound + Doctrine podcast. My name’s Bob Kauflin, and I’m here with David Zimmer, and my son Devon Kauflin, and we are in the middle of a series of podcasts talking about shepherding souls through song.
David Zimmer: Yeah.
BK: And we’ve talked about how when we lead songs, it’s more than anything a pastoral function. We’ve talked about how songs feed the church, how we’re meant to lead the church as we sing songs, and today I wanted to talk about how songs help us care for the flock. Every week, we have this opportunity to care for the souls of the people in our congregation, not only through the preaching of the Word, through the fellowship, through prayer, but through the songs we choose to sing. And it struck me, I’ve been leading now for 45 years, that everyone who comes into our meetings is struggling with at least one of three things, and usually all of them, and that would be sin, suffering, or self-sufficiency.
BK: People come in just weighed down by their fight against sin that they… Sins they can’t overcome, or even the condemnation of sin, the guilt of sin. Sins that they may have confessed, but they’re walking just feeling guilty. Or they’re struggling with suffering. The challenges of life, emotional, financial, relational, situational. They’re going through suffering. Some of it may be temporary, some of it may be long-term, but they walk in every Sunday and they’re in this battle. And then some people come in, and they’re fighting self-sufficiency. They may not even know it. Kinda like, “I’m here because I’m supposed to be here. I don’t really need this, and I’m doing the church a favor by being here.” And we can address each one of those issues through the words we say and the songs we sing. So Devon, do you have anything to add to that just in terms of thinking about shepherding, caring for, or even counseling the people? As you look at your congregation, what are you seeing?
Devon Kauflin: We talked about, in another part of this conversation, just about the importance of presence and being there, and the implication of that is knowing these people and knowing what they’re going through. And as I look out at my congregation as I’m leading in singing, I’m thinking about who these people are and the things that are going on in their lives. And it brings me a lot of joy in leading where it’s I get to encourage them with this truth. As I think about this individual who has experienced this significant loss or is struggling with condemnation over this sin, I get to bring gospel, life-giving truth to their situation, and what a joy and a privilege that is to care for them in that way. And it’s not just, I think, as we’re there in that moment, but it’s also as I’m preparing, and as I’m praying through what God has for us that week, I wanna have my finger on the pulse of the congregation in being aware of what’s going on in our local context. I don’t need to be so much concerned with what’s going on in a global context or even a national context. That might play a part, but that doesn’t necessarily have to. What I want to do is care for my people with where they are right then and there, and singing is a wonderful gift. Singing gospel-rich true biblical songs is a wonderful way to do that.
DZ: Well, and it’s such a different perspective than, and I really love this song.
DZ: And this is the one we’re gonna sing because of…
BK: It’s hot.
DZ: That’s kind of been what we’ve been dialoguing about, is the intentionality of how we’re caring. And just what you said, if you have no idea what your people are going through, and it’s just, you’re just trying to pick great songs, it’s just you’re missing a wonderful gospel opportunity.
DK: And caring for people, it’s this long-term thing where it’s I know… So I mean, as we gather together, I know that the songs that we sing regularly, they’re gonna stick with people and they are gonna be with people long after we’re done singing them, so just throughout that week, but then also months and years ahead. I remember songs that we sang that I wish we probably didn’t sing when I was a little kid that I know very well.
BK: Hey, hey, hey. I was leading those songs.
DK: And you’ve grown a lot. [laughter] And so I’m aware of that, as we’re singing, that the children that are with us as we’re singing, these songs are gonna become a part of the fabric of their thought, and I wanna steward that well.
DZ: Those songs matter.
BK: Yeah. For better or worse, they’ll become a part of the fabric of your thought.
DK: And I think I’ve heard people talk about this before, but when somebody… When you go to the hospital or you go to somebody who’s in hospice, you don’t gather around and you don’t hear people say, “Hey, can you play that sermon from 1996 that I heard? Can you go get the tape player? Yeah, can we play that sermon?”
DK: Nobody’s saying that.
DZ: That’s true.
DK: And you don’t really hear people saying, “Can you read that sermon from whatever, 1826?”
BK: People are singing.
DK: It’s, “Can we sing? Can we sing my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Jesus’ blood and righteousness?”
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: Right. They’re not asking to sing Father Abraham or other similar songs.
DK: They’re not asking to sing Father Abraham either.
BK: You mentioned gospel life-giving truth. And one of the things that I’ve realized through the years, there are many truths that we can seek to use in caring for people’s souls. There is none greater than and more essential than the gospel. Most of our problems, most of our difficulties arise from the fact that we are… That we have a deficient or inaccurate understanding of the gospel or experience of the gospel. And that’s because we don’t really understand it. And so one of the best things we can do when leading God’s people in song is to help them understand first what Jesus coming to live a perfect life and die in our place and rise from the dead, what it means and why it’s important, and then how it applies to our lives, and just help people see that. There’s a danger in becoming or calling yourself like a gospel-centered church. And that is that the gospel become boring or dull. People become dull to hearing about it, and we never wanna let that happen. And one of the ways we can keep that from happening is to just keep applying it in different ways each week. This is why this matters. So there are a lot of areas of our lives, these battles we face, sin, suffering and self-sufficiency, that the gospel specifically addresses, things like condemnation.
BK: When we walk into a room, we’re feeling weighed down by our sins. How great is it to not only say from the Word of God, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1, but to sing words like, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, I just go to the refrigerator and eat some more ice cream.” That’s what we tend to do. But no, we’re saying no, “Upward I look and see him there who made an end of all my sin.” And then that song, Before the Throne of God Above articulates how that happened. “Because the sinless savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God, the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.” And…
DK: Well, I’ve been thinking about CityAlight. So appreciate a lot of what they’re doing.
BK: Yes, amen.
DZ: Like Christ is Mine Forevermore, Mine is hope in my redeemer. Though I fall, his love is sure. For Christ has paid for every failing. I am his forevermore.
BK: It’s so good. And that is truth that can set people free. We don’t wanna assume people are gonna walk into the meeting feeling condemned, sing a bunch of songs, hear a message and then walk out of the meeting feeling condemned. They might, but let it not be because we failed to impress upon them the truth and the reality and the implications of what Jesus has done.
DZ: That’s good.
BK: Another way people can walk into a meeting is just feeling distant from God, feeling separated from him, and we can remind them that God showed his love for us. And that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:10. But also, we can sing words like, “Bold, I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.” There is no more separation because of what Jesus has done. And if you’re feeling distant from God, yeah, it may be because of unconfessed sin, but if you’re confessing it now, there’s no reason for you to feel as though God is somehow withholding himself from you. He has come to you in Christ. We can feel as though God is not aware of us, as though God’s forgotten us, as though everybody else is a child of God, we’re not. No, Romans 8:15 says that we have been… The Spirit makes us aware that we’ve been adopted into God’s family. We can call him Abba Father and we can sing lines like, “And now we’ve been adopted through his blood eternally.” So there’s this whole list of ways that we can address what people are going through. Something that people struggle with is just being secure in God’s love. And Romans 8:37-39 says, “We can never be separated from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Nothing can do that.” And we can sing, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand.”
BK: That’s just not a great song, it’s a great song for a reason. And the reason is because it gives us so many ways to apply… Well first, it tells us what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection. And then it says, “This is how you can apply this. Those, no guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me.” So there are just all these ways if we think about our congregation, if we know our congregation, we know the things that they’re going through in the context of the word that’s being preached from Sunday to Sunday, we can choose songs that actually care for them and counsel them. Another situation is someone fighting for a victory over sin, we can sing, “The prince of darkness grim. We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure. For lo, His doom is sure.” And just to… We gotta help people recognize this is what we’re singing. This is why it matters. Do you have any thoughts?
DK: Amen to that.
BK: Okay. And I didn’t know if you had more thoughts.
DK: No, I just was gonna sing A Mighty Fortress.
BK: Okay. We could do that. Let’s sing the 46. And I think another way… So all those ways we can apply the gospel and then specifically to battles against sin, I think we can help people understand that it’s not being emotionally changed, emotionally moved, that changes us. It’s not just singing a worship song that changes us.
BK: It’s actually remembering God’s word and trusting in the finished work of the Savior. That’s what changes us. I remember Harold Best, who’s just written some wonderful books, Music Through the Eyes of Faith and Unceasing Worship among them, said that being moved emotionally is not the same as being changed morally. And what changes us morally is the truth that we’re singing. So that makes a difference in how I lead. It makes a difference in the songs I choose, and it makes a difference in looking for songs that specifically reference it is the power of Christ in his spirit that works in us that enables us to live lives of victory.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: So I think in the third verse of All I Have is Christ. Now Lord, I would be yours alone and live so all might see the strength to follow your commands could never come from me. That’s so encouraging. If I’m battling against lust, or anger, or impatience or whatever it is, that power to fight that against that sin, that comes through Jesus and what he’s he has done.
BK: And we want songs that help us remember that.
DZ: When you’re pointing out specific issues that we would be struggling with week to week.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: And finding songs that are specifically talking about those things.
DZ: That’s what’s so impactful to me, is that it isn’t just songs that are gonna lift you and make you feel better. And if you feel better, you’ll get pulled out of the whatever thing you’re in.
BK: Yeah, just forget about that for a few minutes and let’s just enjoy singing.
DZ: Exactly. And so instead of like just a sedative for the suffering or the sin you’re struggling with…
DK: That’s a good way to put it.
DZ: It’s like, I don’t know. We’re gonna anchor ourselves in these specific truths for that specific… I mean, just what a pastor would do when you’re…
DK: Yeah, and they cares for people as they then go out into the world, and into their neighborhoods, and workplaces and schools, and it’s this truth that we then… We carry with us as we go out, rather than just giving people this brief trip into the heavens.
DK: Where we can leave all our earthly cares behind. It’s giving them truth that reorient their perspective on all the weight that burdens them and frees them from that. The weight that burdens them and frees them from that, but it’s not just for that moment, which is all an experienced promises, but it’s for walking through the valleys that we can be reminded of these truths and by giving people, feeding people, by leading people, we care for people as they then go out and walk through those valleys.
BK: Which often makes them more aware of God’s presence.
BK: Those don’t have to be pitted against each other.
BK: We wanna be… We are a people of his presence, but we don’t pursue God’s presence without supporting facts and truths and realities. It’s not just some force that we’re trying to feel. It’s an awareness that he is with us through his word, through our union with Christ, through the finished work of Christ on the cross. He is actually with us by his spirit, but that is grounded in truth, and it makes it less of something that we feel we have to try and find or find the right combination for. It is based on truths, it’s rooted in truths. And I think we’ve talked about being in the valley, what we wanna do is not only provide comfort for people when they’re suffering, which is good, and natural, and biblical, but hope and strength for people.
BK: There’s sometimes when people talk about lament, which is we’ll do I’m sure some…
DK: Good and right.
BK: It is good and right, and I’m sure we’ll do some podcast on that, but it’s not just groveling in our suffering. It’s not just saying, “Yeah, everything’s broken. Oh man.” It’s bringing people to a place of hope and strength, acknowledging the situation…
DK: We lament with hope.
BK: Yes, absolutely.
DZ: Well, and I love what Dev said, re-orienting our perspective.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: It’s so helpful for me.
BK: Well, trials can reveal self-sufficiency and idolatry. You might be suffering because you’ve put your hope in idols and they’re not delivering. That happens all the time, and yet, we feel like a victim because we’re in pain. Not every pain is something that you should say, “Oh, I’m sorry you’re in pain.” You can start there, but it may be, but the reason you’re in pain is because you’ve been worshipping idols in your heart and God wants to clarify that. He wants to free you from that.
DK: He wants to refine you.
BK: Yes, and so you can trust in his word and in his promises. And I think it reminds me of this time, one Sunday years ago, when I had chosen the songs around this theme of suffering. And we sang, It is not death to die, which was a remake of an old hymn, God moves in a mysterious way, and which it’s an old William Cooper hymn, which again we re-did, and then a song called New Again, which talks about Jesus’ triumph over death. And that song… That weekend specifically was in response to a man in our congregation who had died that Thursday in an automobile wreck, and I wanted to comfort but give hope. And I think we may have even started with Great is Thy Faithfulness, Oh God, my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee. And to counsel people, to walk them through that deep, real suffering. And I wanted to find songs that would enable… Give us the words to walk through that with hope. So that’s how we shaped it. We had something totally different planned, but when he died on Thursday, we I said, “Okay, we’re throwing all that out and we’re going back to the drawing board.”
BK: And I think God helped us sing songs that kinda walked us through the process of God’s gonna be… God’s faithful regardless of what we’re going through. Death is evil, but it’s a doorway. For those who have trusted in Christ, it’s a doorway to seeing him and being with him forever. God moves in a mysterious way. We don’t always know why he’s doing what he’s doing, but we can trust him. And then New again, which we we’ve just referred to, how God sees us in our tears, he sees us in our sorrow, but Jesus has triumphed over death. And it’s a more victorious song, it’s a more triumphant song. But by that time, we had been able to walk through the thoughts and the grief and at least process to some degree, yeah, this is evil, this is bad, but God’s with us. He’s given us hope, and man, Jesus has really triumphed over death.
DK: And I think it’s so important to note that you didn’t come in that Sunday morning and introduce all these songs to the congregation. These were not new songs for…
DZ: Oh, that’s good.
DK: Yeah. Your congregation to sing, but you’ve been preparing people for this as you’ve… These songs became a part of the hymnal of your church. And so they were already in people’s hearts, and so then it was just helping them respond in those moments. I love how there’s a book that came out, I think last year by Matthew McCullough called Remember Death. And he talks about just the adversity and the suffering in the death that is characteristic of all humanity. It’s a universal experience. And how we wanna distance ourselves from death because death threatens to take away and it will take away everything in this world that we can hope in. But then he says, at one point he says, “But Jesus came to give us what death can’t touch.” And so each week, as we sing songs as a people, that’s what we get to point people to, this hope that is hopeful and joyful in the midst of death, in the face of death, because death can’t touch the eternal life that we have through Jesus Christ.
BK: Yes. I remember, I think I heard Kevin Twit say this. But I think he might have been quoting someone else, I’m not sure, “We aren’t just planning songs for Sunday, we are preparing people to live and die.” That’s what we’re doing when we’re leading, which really changes the playing field. And it’s not just, and we’ve said this a number of times, it’s not just about picking songs that resonate with people. It is about asking, “What truths can we sing? What Scriptures can we read? What words can we say that are gonna prepare people to walk out of this room and live their life in such a way that they do everything for the glory of God in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And what songs can we sing that are gonna prepare them to die. If they die this week, if they find that they have a terminal illness. So like Devon said, it’s these kinds of songs are to be a regular part of our diet, because while our whole church went through that death a number of years ago, you can bet that every Sunday, there are people… Well, like I said earlier, every people who are battling sin, suffering and self-sufficiency.
DK: All of those things are universal, they touch us all every week. And whether or not we recognize it or not, and so that’s why I think you had mentioned this idea of re-orientation. But one thing I’ll talk about a lot of times as we gather, it’s we’re gathered to be re-oriented to reality. And so we are need to be reminded of ultimate reality, and it’s found in God as he has revealed himself to be, and it’s found in the hope that he gives us in the midst of a world that suffers under the consequences of the fall. And we have hope in the face of that.
DZ: Well, and the person who’s who is picking the songs and thinking through the this shepherding needs to believe.
DK: Absolutely. [chuckle]
DZ: You can’t just be picking songs for grieving people, you’re believing the truths.
DK: Right. Well this… And this sin and the suffering, it touches you, too. It’s not just for those people out there, it’s for you too. And I’m very aware that in whatever suffering takes place or whatever condemnation that people might be experiencing, that could be me, any given day, and I need this truth.
BK: Well, so often, when I’m preparing… I prepare our Sunday service, and so often when I’m preparing it, I get so encouraged just as I’m thinking…
DK: Yeah. I wanna sing.
BK: Yeah, I just I’m thinking through these scriptures, these words, and then when I share it with the team on Sunday morning, I get encouraged all over again. And it should be that way, because it’s not a performance, it’s not just a template where you just do, you just plug it in, plug and play. These are life-changing realities that we need, that we have to remind ourselves of because we forget them so easily. And the thing we don’t wanna do is, one of the things we don’t wanna do is become professionals. I’ve been doing this for 45 years or somewhere around there. I still, every Sunday, feel like, “Wow, what’s the Lord gonna do this Sunday?” I don’t know. I don’t know.
BK: I have enough experience to know he’s gonna do something, but I don’t know what it is. A few weeks ago, we were singing Before the Throne of God Above, and through masks, and it was… The 100 or so people who were there, just there was this surge of volume and affection, and I thought, “Yeah, God’s meeting us right now. Thank you, Lord.” That these realities, maybe in the midst of everything we’re going through, it’s just… We need to remember these truths, that we have an intercessor, that we are one with Christ, that we cannot be separated from him. And it’s meant to affect us for all the right reasons. So that’s…
BK: When we talk about this, shepherding people’s souls through song. When I’ve taught this over the years, I’ve had people come back to me years later and say, “I heard that message.” Or it might have been choosing songs wisely or something like that, “And I went home and reviewed all our songs and we threw out a third of ’em them.” And I’d say, “You know what? That might be a good thing.” I mean, it is a good thing if you’re being intentional about the songs you’re singing and wanting to have songs in your repertoire that aren’t just, “Everybody likes to sing that.” But they’re going to enable the word of Christ to dwell in people richly in the midst of all the battles they are facing.
DK: But I think an implication of this is that we do have a defined canon of songs in one sense, songs that we sing regularly, that people take with them, and that we sing for a long time. And I think that’s one of the things, I think in our late modern contexts where people are… We’re infatuated with the new and the novel.
DZ: Instant gratification, kind of, yeah.
DK: But it’s just, I wanna sing the most recent songs. And so maybe the diet of my church’s songs, if a song’s older than five years ago, it’s like, “We’re not singing it anymore.” Or every year. And there’s there have been times where we’ve thought through, we’ve talked about like, “Oh, how often should we teach new songs? Maybe, should we teach them ’em every month?” And you do the math, and it’s like it doesn’t work for you to have…
BK: We used to teach them ’em two times, two new songs a month, which was just crazy.
DK: And the math doesn’t work as far as what people can actually absorb. And so we live in an unprecedented age of access to songs, good and bad. And we wanna steward that well. And so for my congregation, I wanna sing great songs and we… There are enough great songs out there that we can sing great songs, and that can be a part of the fabric of our church and life together as we seek to look to the hope that’s in Jesus Christ in the midst of suffering and sin and self-sufficiency.
BK: Yes, yes. Yes. Amen. What a privilege.
BK: I mean, what a privilege it is to be able… You don’t have to be a pastor to do this. You should be delegated by a pastor, but to care for people, to be a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit, to shepherd people’s souls, it’s thrilling.
BK: I love doing it.
BK: I think we’re gonna need another session on this. We have one more session to talk about [chuckle] some things to talk through, which is great. [chuckle] I’m happy to do that.
DZ: It is great.
DK: I’ll stick around.
BK: Oh thanks, Dev. Alright.
DZ: Thanks for tuning in.
DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at SovereignGraceMusic.org.