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Leading Music at the Conference on the Church for God's Glory

I had the privilege this past Monday of leading the music at our church’s Conference on the Church for God’s Glory. It was a great thrill to lead 100+ men in the singing of God’s praises. Here is the hymn list for the one-day conference (we had 3 preaching session in which there was singing):

There is nothing like leading so many pastors in singing! These men sang with enthusiasm and understanding, truly responding with their spirits to truth about God. I enjoyed being able to connect eyes with these men as they sang, some with smiles, others with tears. There was no artificial enthusiasm here; no hype or emotional manipulation; but these men were clearly expressing their affection for God and his truth in a modest, controlled, reverent, enthusiastic manner. It was truly exciting!

In particular, it was a joy to introduce the men to “Give Praise To God,” a wonderfully rich hymn written by James M. Boice and Paul S. Jones and included in a collection of hymns by these men, Hymns for a Modern Reformation. We gave each of the conference attendees a copy of the booklet, and we sang “Give Praise To God” in each service throughout the conference. The men seemed to really appreciate this example of a new, fresh, modern hymn that is still conservative in form. Many said they had not known of these hymns and planned to use them in their churches. Mission accomplished.

After the conference, a pastor friend and I were comparing the musical worship of this conference with that of a much larger evangelical conference that both he and I had attended in April. There were many similarities: a unity around God’s truth, a deliberateness in the hymn choices and progression, enthusiasm and evident understanding in the singing, even many of the hymn choices were the same. That conference was attended by many who typically use a much more contemporary style in their church services, but for this conference settled for simple hymn-singing accompanied only by piano.

So on paper, the music in both conferences would appear to be the same. However, because of some very foundational philosophical differences between us and those leading music at that conference, there were still some stark differences. And this provides an excellent opportunity to highlight these philosophical differences because as I said, on paper, there was no difference. The differences came out in how the hymns were led and how they were sung.

Although every hymn choice for that conference was in and of itself conservative, and although the accompaniment was simple in theory, a completely different underlying philosophy bled through. The leader of the singing, who led from the piano, was a master at emotional manipulation stimulation. How he accompanied the hymns moved and swayed the audience in certain emotional directions. He constantly shouted out unintelligible exclamations that further roused the audience. And the audience did respond. Hands waving in the air, enthusiastic shouting, vigorous singing, and even some jumping around.

Now let me say right away that in theory, none of these things are inherently bad. They may simply be certain individuals’ ways of physically expressing true affection. However, what was evident by how these hymns were led was that this kind of physical response was the target, not just a result.

Let me back up for just a moment. I really appreciate the deliberateness of the worship at that conference. That’s something I strive for, and I believe it is commendable for them. I also appreciate their insistence that affection is at the heart of worship. I agree. Without a response of the heart, worship does not take place. I have no doubt that they have right motives and even a right foundational principle beneath what music they choose and how they choose to lead it.

But, I am convinced that they erroneously confuse the physical, external “feelings” that often accompany true affection with affection itself. And I’m afraid that many fundamentalists are getting swept into that as well, witnessing the enthusiasm at conferences like that and wishing they had that in their churches.

The Bible commands that we have affection for God. That is at the heart of worship, and that is at the heart of biblical religion. With affection often comes feelings. It may be exhilaration, enthusiasm, goose bumps, tears, smiles, etc. Those are good things. I saw some of that at our conference – smiles, tears, even subtle bodily movement. Some people experience them more than others. But there is the key. The external feelings are not essential to the affections. And what I’m afraid of is that people who are naturally enthusiastic kinds of people (like me!) are tempted to insist that others have the same kind of external enthusiasm as they do when we have certain affections.

But that’s wrong thinking. Often when I’m preaching, I’ll look over the audience and think, “Why aren’t they smiling? This is great stuff.” But then sometimes when I’m listening to preaching, and my heart is full, I notice that I’m actually frowning with furrowed brow because I have been thinking so hard. The point is that I can have the right affections without necessarily showing it physically. The error comes (and this was evident in comments made in one of the panel discussions at the other conference) when we insist that in order to truly worship or truly possess certain affections, we have to also possess the external feelings. That just isn’t biblical. The Bible never commands outward physical feelings.

Then, because of this wrong way of thinking, I’m convinced that some of their music, and even the way that they lead more conservative things, is actually intended to target the external feelings. The music director at that conference, as I said, is a master at emotional manipulation. I am not for a moment insinuating that he intends to manipulate. I’m certain that he thinks he is encouraging biblical affection. But as a matter of fact he is actually encouraging external physical feelings, which he wrongly assumes is proof of biblical affection. He is a master at working to a climax, moving the piece along to create a desired effect. If he gets to a point and doesn’t think the progression to climax is moving along, then he repeats the verse or phrase. His yelling and accompaniment style were all intended to encourage the external, physical feelings, which again, he assumes is proof of affection. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the stimulation of the externals can be totally void of true affection, and actually, when the feelings are targeted, they automatically overpower any true thought or affection.

The problem is, then, that these people cannot worship (what they think is worship) unless they have that kind of music. Have those same people sing those same hymns at our conference with piano and organ, and those same people will not have the same experience. Why? Because since they automatically connect the physical feelings with true affection, if they don’t have the feelings, they don’t think they’re worshiping. And since they’re used to having those feelings roused by a certain kind of music, if they don’t have the music, they don’t have the experience. The saddest moment for me at that conference was when a good friend of mine, who grew up in conservative churches, told me that he loves the more contemporary style because he’s never worshiped better. We conservatives often get charged with idolizing certain styles of music, but I would suggest that comments like this reveal the real idolizing – people can’t experience what they believe to be worship without that kind of music.

All of this is a caution to us. Be careful not to insist that people in your congregation with different personalities than you and different ways of expressing true affection have the same kind of “enthusiasm” about truth that you do. Realize that they could actually be having the same affections for truth as you, but they just don’t express it externally like you do.

The fact of the matter is that the only certain evidence of true affection is holy living. The external feelings may or may not accompany affection, and the feelings can be stimulated apart from affection. Feelings are not certain evidence that affection is present. So the only way to know for sure that someone is rightly responding to truth is by their life, not by the external “enthusiasm.”

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

13 Responses to Leading Music at the Conference on the Church for God's Glory

  1. if you truly affirm your last line, you might have some repenting to do – because there was a lot of judgment going on (for someone who doesn't know the individual lives of the men involved).

    i too am a worship leader, but apart from the leading phrases Kauflin was providing (which i agree were for the most part, more distracting than helpful), i was encouraged by what i saw there. for my part, they catered too much to the conservative crowd this time. oh for a happy middle.

    i'm truly curious about this, so please don't read into this…
    but what is the motivation for setting yourself up against them in comparison? it seems like you're more than a little pleased with your own system – and for my part, your post tended a bit toward pride.
    why do you feel the need to make that sort of public distinction between your conference and t4g?

    as for manipulation, i think you're dead wrong.
    i raise my hands because scripture is replete w/exhortations to do so.
    nothing that guy did made me want to do anything physical.
    your post was full of spiritual conjecture.

    as for manipulation…can't really believe you went there.
    i experienced more manipulation in single revival services in fundamentalism than i have in 2 years in evangelicalism.

    i don't know, man…
    just didn't find your post to engender unity.
    your skepticism of the broader body is troubling.

    for what it's worth (if anything)…

  2. Thank you for stopping by and commenting! A few thoughts:

    1. I apologize if my post came across as prideful. I can see how it might, and that wasn't my intention at all. Hopefully my comments here will help to change that perception.

    2. I in no way judged motives in this post, and I say so repeatedly. What I am offering is simple observations about the differences between the music at the conference and the underlying philosophy that I believe fuel the differences. I highly respect those in leadership at this conference and in many ways have learned from them.

    3. The reason I chose to publicly compare the hymn singing at these conferences was because in so many ways they were similar. Because the hymn choices and instrumentation were virtually identical, this gives me a prime opportunity to provide a more deep analysis of philosophical differences. When the song choices are shallow or the instrumentation brash, it is easy to point out differences. But because those elements were absent at this conference (and notice that I didn't make the name of the conference public; you did!), pointing out the differences is a much more subtle, fundamental exercise. That was my reasoning for the comparison.

    4. I am not setting up "my system" as a model or anything. That's really the point – I didn't do anything. I just chose good hymns (like they did), introduced them in a way that hopefully helped the men engage their minds and hearts as they sung, and then just stepped back and let the hymns speak for themselves. That's the point: I didn't feel like I had to (or should) do anything to further stimulate the men at our conference to sing with understanding and enthusiasm. I didn't have to wind up the accompaniment, repeat phrases, or shout statements in order to work the singing toward a climax.

    5. I am not against raising one's hands necessarily. That may be a legitimate external expression of internal response. However, my observation is that those kinds of external expressions are the target of and measure of worship in these kinds of venues, and that is dangerous. Furthermore, our culture is one of group manipulation. People are very easily manipulated to copy external enthusiasm without the internal reality. I'm not for a moment saying that manipulation was the intent, but it's just a fact. Get a group of people in a room together with some of them jumping around in excitement and the other people will naturally catch the enthusiasm without knowing why they are enthused. This happens at sports games, concerts, etc. This is why I think it is better to focus on modest expressions of internal response so that the truth is at the focus and not the physical enthusiasm.

    6. I'm right with you regarding revivalism. I repudiate the manipulation that goes on at those meetings as well. I would even say that the manipulation that goes on in many revival meetings is worse because many times it is unfortunately intentional (rooted in an Arminian or Pelagian theology) while I am certain that any manipulation that happened at that conference was not intentional.

    7. I'm all for unity, but unity around the right things. I am insistent that the gospel must be at the center of all Christian unity, and I am also certain that musical style is a secondary issue. However, I do believe that some secondary issues affect first issues, and this is one of them. I am concerned that misunderstandings regarding the nature of music, worship, and emotion fuel an atmosphere that does harm to the gospel in subtle ways. That is the motivation behind what I say here.

  3. I'm left a little perplexed. You don't repudiate any of the specific forms or actions taken at the conference such as smiling, hand raising, etc. You repeatedly maintain that you don't question the integrity or intentions of the other leaders. Yet you continue to accuse the other worship leader of "manipulation". How could that be if his expressions of praise were Biblical and heartfelt? If you truly believe that "I am not against raising one’s hands necessarily [in general]" then it doesn't ring true to attack hand-raising in every particular.

    Unless you're claiming special prophetic insight into the other worship leader's heart, in the end it seems like the only difference between the two worship leaders was that one was you, and the other one wasn't.

  4. scott,

    thanks for responding reasonably.
    i'm thankful that you weren't taken back or upset by what i said.
    i'm glad for any conversation that can be had in grace, and want to be careful not to hate on my brother – no matter how much i may disagree with him. i'm sure (in all your blogging) that you've noticed how often this medium is an occasion for strife and division.
    i want to be clear that this is not my intent. i would sooner not speak at all.

    i acknowledge that you say you did not judge motives, and for that – i can only give you the benefit of the doubt. the only thing i would make mention of is that both aaron and i sensed a similar spirit in your response…for what it's worth.

    i outed the conference because i thought you should have.
    i don't think it's cool to make criticisms of something generically.
    it robs your readers of legitimate interaction. if i hadn't seen you at that conference, i may not have known what you were talking about – which would've hindered me from tracking with you on the same level.
    perhaps you thought you were being gracious in so doing (and i can appreciate that); for my part, it's just not forthcoming…a bit unkind.i could be off in this, but i would think that much of your readership would know what you were referring to. if that's the case, then it would be a disservice to Sovereign Grace Ministries to disguise the criticism.

    was glad to see that you dont think music is an issue of first importance, though (with respect) it seems that your life and ministry at times speak to the contrary. but i do not know you well enough to say that strongly – so i'm just throwing it out there. music is part of your calling…i get that. mine too. my undergrad was in music ed, and i too have studied choral conducting at the graduate level. i have master's in biblical studies, and am now working on a post-grad degree in theology. i noticed that you're also attending seminary, and i'm glad for that. we have too many guys out there calling themselves (and being called) music pastors/ministers/something w/no good reason. they don't pastor anything; they lead music. the lack the credentials for the privilege (in my estimation), but are glad to reap the rewards. i don't know much about your church, but it is my understanding that you do not only work in music – but also serve in other capacities, which is wonderful and, i would argue, helpful (for you and the assembly).

    as for handraising, i'm sorry of course to hear that you do not think it is necessary (though i know that's not what you meant). i would maintain that Scripture at least strongly suggests to the contrary.
    on some level, i'm troubled that you even included the "necessary," implying of course, that it could be wrong. i'm sure we would both agree that in such an instance, what would make the expression wrong would be an idolatrous heart…because of course (on that logic) it could be just as wrong to stand, sit, sing, or give $.
    if raising hands becomes disorderly, that would be wrong – but then again, you could say the same for whispering in the pews and humor in the pulpit.

    i guess it is hear that i find the overall appeal of your post to be fatally flawed. you seemed to be pleased that they held out for hymns this year, but strangely – that didn't affect the expressive outcome of the conference. it's not the singing of contemporary songs and the uttering of loud phrases that evokes physical expression. it is great theology that makes the heart sing. i think you at least inferred that if kauflin hadn't done the things he had done, i would've been singing those hymns w/my hands at my side or in my pockets…more "modestly" in your words. nothing could be farther from the truth.

    i raise my hands because they hung at my sides thanklessly for many years. of course, there were many times when i worshipped with sincere gratitude in my heart – and i know that is the case for you. so please don't hear me bashing on traditional worship. i love the hymns, and fight to incorporate them wherever i go. we are blessed to have them – but not all of them. of course, most of the ones in the hymnal that i don't prefer should never be assigned the moniker of "hymn" in my opinion (speaking in terms of genre). gospel songs are choruses usually smell of the revivalistic impulses against which we agreed (note that: we agreed on something).

    but if i'm to put up with years and years of traditional guys blasting the contemporary guys for their "antics" as it might seem…
    then i will spend the rest of my life kindly berating traditionalists who stand idly by singing the greatest themes known to the human mind (salvation, redemption, forgiveness, election – err, not so much in most places…to their shame) with little to no physical expression.

    that would never pass in any other relationship.
    can't say i love my wife w/out showing her physically.
    to want or intend to kiss her is not enough.

    we have people who will shout and raise there hands at their kid's soccer game, but insist that it must not be so w/God (in the name of reverence). tell that to the isreaelites as they came out of the sea and watched God destroy their greatest enemies in front of their eyes. tell it to the people who marched and played and sang and shouted around Jericho. tell that to David. tell it to the angels of Revelation who fly and hover in worship. tell it to the elders who continually bow. tell it to the martyrs who cry out from the altar: how long Lord, till you come judge the earth?

    no…i don't buy that. and i don't buy that bowing is okay because we all know that is a sign of respect, but hand-raising is for crazy people. "modest" worship can be just as wrong as active worship (giving you the benefit of the doubt that you wouldn't go with
    "immodest" as the label for what you are militating against).

    okay, i know that last part was a soapbox – sorry (sort of).
    i'll shutup for now…
    aren't you glad.

  5. I need to take a class on clarity in writing or something, because evidently I am not being clear. Maybe it's because I'm on the road and trying to throw things together too quickly. I apologize for that.

    My intent is not to criticize the external physical expressions. I believe that sometimes certain individuals express internal, spiritual realities in external ways. The scriptural examples given above illustrate that.

    But other people can have the same internal responses without the same physical manifestations. And, therefore, the external physical manifestations are not the essence of a spiritual experience. They may be a result of a spiritual experience for some people because they're geared that way, but they are not the essence. I assume we're agreed there.

    Furthermore, these same physical manifestations can be artificially produced through various means apart from any internal spiritual reality. This happens all the time at sports events, concerts, etc. People are "roused" physically without anything really going on internally.

    From how I've heard many men talk, I don't believe that they understand or acknowledge this distinction. To put it simplistically, they don't seem to believe that someone can truly be joyful unless he is actually smiling. So, they do what they consider the best ways to produce the smiling (in this simplistic example) because they think that is the spiritual reality of joy. So they use certain forms of music, or in the case of this conference certain ways of accompanying and leading that inherently target the external response. Their motive is pure — they are trying to help produce what they believe to be the essence of worship.

    I just don't believe they're right based on the writing of men like Jonathan Edwards who made a big distinction between the internal reality and the external response. In his day he was getting a lot of external responses to, but he was very careful to make clear that those external, physical manifestations were not the essence of what was going on spiritually.

    So my intent is not to disparage motives or the external actions themselves. It is to try to demonstrate a necessity to admit that the externals are not necessary to the spiritual response, and to target the externals or expect them or stimulate them is dangerous.

  6. Scott,

    I'm following this conversation with interest and I have my agreements and disagreements with everyone that has spoken so far. I enjoy our growing friendship and so the following remarks and question are not intended to be argumentative. I just wonder if your principle (as I understand it) is consistently applied by you in other areas besides worship music.

    As you know, I was at both conferences and I appreciated the music at both places. I have my quibbles about the music in both places (or rather the underlying leadership philosophy around the music in both places – and actually I have some stronger opinions about Kauflin's poor leadership as I perceived it even though I loved the worship at T4G), but they are irrelevant to my forthcoming question at this point.

    My question is this (preceded with preparatory remarks):

    It seems to me that you are concerned about the "mood" or "feeling" of worship preceding the actual "thought" of worship. I think that all of us are strongly opposed to hypocrisy. In other words, we would never want someone raising his hands if his heart was not in it. However, I think your concern goes beyond hypocrisy. You are saying that the "feeling" or "mood" of worship should not precede the "thought" of worship and that the leader (i.e. Kauflin) who attempts to set the "mood" or the "feeling" of worship for the song to be sung is being manipulative (albeit not in an insincere or unrighteously motivated way).

    If I hear you right that mood setting or "feeling inducement" as set by a leader is wrong coming prior to the actual verbal propositions of truth (whether sung or preached) then here's my question:

    When I walked into your church building the art, the style, the stain glass window all seemed to me to be intentionally designed to "set a mood" or "induce a feeling" of reverence. The leaders who chose the art and design of your beautiful building were clearly set on inducing a mood of respect and reverence (?) as soon as a person walks into the place even before hearing a single word preached or sung. I know so many of you personally and I know your motives are godly, but

    Is that "manipulative"?

  7. Dear Bob,

    Pardon me for jumping in and answering a question asked of Scott. I think, though, that your rephrasing of Scott's position,

    "If I hear you right that mood setting or 'feeling inducement' as set by a leader is wrong coming prior to the actual verbal propositions of truth"

    indicates that you have, in fact, heard him wrong! Scott hasn't said what you have stated in your paraphrase. Since your question is based on this faulty understanding, I'd encourage you to re-read his thoughts for a better understanding.

    Perhaps Scott does believe your paraphrase of his words, but if he does, he hasn't said it in this post.

    Communication is so vital to this discussion, I just hate to see folks misunderstanding what is said!


  8. Hey, Bob. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your friendship. You are a sharpening influence for me!

    Tim's right in that I think you misunderstand my point a little bit.

    It's not "mood" or "atmosphere" that I'm afraid of. I don't think setting up an atmosphere conducive to a certain kind of event is manipulation. It isn't an external stimulus that creates a physical response.

    What I am referring to are musical settings, instrumentation, accompaniment, or leading that adds something extra to the musical and textual material in order to (what I consider artificially) stimulate a response of the feelings (as distinct from the affections) and the body. These aural additions can actually move the feelings in an artificial way that visual arts (such as stained glass, architecture, or banners) cannot because aural art is literally "moving" through time — it is aurally reproducing the feelings that it intends to stimulate. I am not so much concerned about affection preceding thought, I am concerned with physical feelings preceding true affection because it is artificially stimulated.

    And again, let me reiterate that I believe that this can and does happen just as much with some "conservative" music as well.

    And let me also note that I, too, benefited from the music at T4G. Because the instrumentation was not overt in this respect, I was able to bypass the distraction and really appreciate the hymn choices and the joy of singing with so many fellow believers.

    And finally, I'd be genuinely interested in hearing what your quibbles were with our music as well. I won't be offended; I'm genuinely interested in hearding your perspective!

  9. Friends, this has been a stimulating conversation to follow, but I think that as a contemporary worshipping, charismatic, non-Calvinist and non-seminary trained pastor I'm a bit of a fish out of water here. But before I go I would like to say that I've seen an awful lot of internet debates degenerate into mud-slinging fests, and that hasn't happened here…the tone is really quite respectful and there seems to be genuine give-and-take, and I appreciate that quite a bit. May God bless you all richly.

  10. Thanks for your kind comments, Aaron. Please feel free to stop by and comment often!

  11. If Aaron thinks he's a fish out of water, he should be in my shoes as I'm just someone just wanting to worship God in a setting that allows me to do that. Let me give you an example of a setting that distracts from and hinders my worship. We frequently in the summer attend an evangelical church near our summer cabin. Recently they hired a Minister of Worship and his first Sunday he dressed in Levis with holes in the knees, played lounder and encouraged more physical responses from the congregation. This resulted in large sections jumping to their feet so that I couldn't even read the song's lyrics on the large screen. This seems now to be an usual happening. The sermons are great but I need the calm, peaceful environment that allows me me to concentrate on the Word being preached and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Interesting post and comments.

  12. Scott,

    Your writing is clear, so I appreciate your humility in at least attempting to take the blame for some kind of communication gap. You do a good job at expressing what you are thinking. It is almost impossible to transmit the message to those whose receptors are malfunctioning.

    We are a long ways down the road of so syncretizing worship in this country, that it makes it difficult for most to discern what you are saying. I think it is akin even to the nature of respect. There is a casual approach to authority in general that parallels with this. We have so long approached the sacred with the common or profane that isn't easy for many to judge what is happening any more. We don't even notice the juxtaposition of crass commericalism with tragic, cataclysmic events.

    Part of this is obviously coming from pluralism and multiculturalism, where it is not correct politically or now theologically to devalue certain cultural expressions. We see the elevation of the noble savage. Much more could be said.

    smlogan, with an excellent eecummings impersonation, which is ironic in a discussion related to devaluation of form, somehow is able to see the precise problem in revivalistic fundamentalism, but can't see the exact same techniques used in his evangelical, charismatic-friendly setting. Both must be rejected. For more irony, what is the degree of manipulation between a conservative evangelical setting and Rick Warren, for instance?

    I happen to agree, by the way, with Bill Bixby in his observation about formalistic manipulation/stimulation in comparison to what you saw at that conference. Where do stained glass windows come from? Does colored light bring us closer to God? These are worthy of evaluation, or else it becomes just the difference between high and low art or high and low church (seeming matter of taste). You have recently written about the simplicity of NT worship. I agree with you. This may be where judgment of some independent Baptist tradition could be appropriate.

    As much as I agree with Brother Bixby in this, I also see the other as being more serious, as would he (likely). I think ornate architecture in the line of stained glass might be an expression of worship rather than a stimulant. It sets the building apart as a different kind of building than the hall at the elks lodge.

    Theologically, there is common ground, I believe, between the CJ Mahaney (oops, I said a name) or Southern Baptist (Albert Mohler, Mark Dever) kind of manipulation and the revivalist fundamentalists, that being the second blessing tradition coming out of the 19th century Keswick movement and Finneyism. The TG4 guys might repudiate these, but here they are participating in the fruits of that movement in something as serious as it should get for any of us: worship.

    Thanks again Scott.

    p.s. Scott and I are not identical twins, so if his picture comes up next to my comment, that must be a format issue on the blog.

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