Worship is a gospel issue, speakers say at Southern Seminary’s inaugural ‘Think: Worship’ conference

Communications Staff — July 10, 2013

Worship is fundamentally about the gospel, said speakers at the inaugural “Think: Worship” conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., addresses Think: Worship attendees

“The gospel is a story that is all about worship and because of that, worship in the church should be about the gospel,” said Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky.

The conference, featuring well-known speakers, worship ministers and music scholars, promoted the theology of worship, the gospel in music and encouraged attendees to lead their churches to worship biblically.

Christian recording artist Michael Card, who has recorded more than 30 albums and authored or co-authored several books, spoke about lament and worship.

Card used anecdotes to illustrate the thesis of his message: “Lament is not about getting stuff off your chest, but worshiping God well,” he said.

Worship begins in the wilderness, Card said. “We’re not the people who are together, but we’re the people who know what pain is for,” he said, adding that churches need to make a place for people who are suffering.

“We desperately need people in our congregation who are suffering so we can learn from them — not fix them.”

Cosper, author of a new worship book, Faith Mapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey, challenged attendees to examine their hearts about the self-centeredness prevalent in worship preferences.

Pleasing individuals in the congregation “leads to a church that’s built around spectacle rather than a biblical set of priorities about who the church is and what the people do when they meet together,” he said.

Instead, Cosper said worship should focus on the gospel.

Recording artist and author Michael Card spoke from Psalm 73 about worship beginning in the wilderness

Matt Boswell, pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, preached about “The Center of Christian Worship” from 1 Cor. 15:1-11.

Boswell said the cadence of the Christian life is grace that leads to worship.

“We’re not singers of songs; we’re heralds of good news. We need to be reminded of the centrality of the gospel,” he said.

“Gifting may give a man a platform, but character is what gives him a voice. God’s grace forms worship leaders,” Boswell said.

Donald S. Whitney, senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary, spoke about private and public worship, asserting worship in Scripture is primarily congregational.

“Every glimpse given to us in Scripture of worship in Heaven, with two exceptions, reveals congregational worship,” Whitney said, who is also associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern.

“God is glorified more in congregational worship than in private worship,” he said.

Whitney talked about the importance of personal worship, too. One of his points encouraged attendees to meditate on Scripture.

“Reading alone was never intended to be the primary means of absorbing the Scripture,” he said. “Reading is the starting place, but meditation is the absorption of Scripture.”

At the conference, Harold Best, well-known musician and scholar, received the Carl “Chip” Stam Award for Leadership in the Worshipping Church. Stam taught at Southern Seminary for 11 years before developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma, from which he died in 2011.

“Almost everything we are doing in the division of biblical worship here at Southern is a result of Chip’s influence and passion for Jesus Christ. He mentored literally thousands of worship leaders,” said Joe Crider, head of the Division of Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary.

Best is an emeritus dean and professor of music at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. He is a former president of the National Association of Schools of Music and now serves as ministry associate at Community Presbyterian Church in Post Falls, Idaho.

After receiving the award, Best presented a letter to the attendees about music and art in the church.

“Music and worship have never been anything but traditional. Music and worship had its best moments when the people of God have joined heartily in the worship of God,” he said

Best talked about art in the church, too. “Great art is not out of place in the public worship gathering. To do this would be to ban mystery,” he said.

Adam W. Greenway, new dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry — the parent school of the Division of Biblical Worship — said that the Think: Worship conference emphasized Southern’s commitment to train local church ministers in sound theology.

“Hosting the Think: Worship conference is part of our ongoing strategy to provide training and encouragement for local church leaders to help recapture a passion for biblical worship,” he said. “We want churches to know that we are serious about the entire Great Commission, including training leaders who are capable of leading the people of God not only in worship, but to worship.”

The June 17-19 conference featured 23 speakers and two bands — Southern Seminary’s Norton Hall Band and Sojourn Community Church Music. Breakout session topics ranged from songwriting to technology to worship presentation and planning to vocal help.

Audio and video from Think: Worship are available at the Southern Seminary website.

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