Several months ago, we made a call for entries for "Songs for the Book of Luke," a project that coincides with The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference's focus on Luke's Gospel. The goal of the project is to connect with songwriters, artists, and worship leaders, and to highlight their work here at TGC.
We were overwhelmed by the response. Nearly 200 submissions came in from musicians from across the country (and a few overseas), ranging from retuned hymns to Taize songs, modern hymns, and contemporary worship songs. We have seen a snapshot of the diversity in the culture of worship at local churches.
With a small selection committee, a list of songs has been assembled that will be made into "Songs for the Book of Luke," a full-length studio album to be released this year (in time for the National Conference in Orlando).
Vision and Mission
The album itself reflects TGC's vision and mission in three ways.
First, it embraces TGC's vision for empowered corporate worship.
TGC's theological vision for ministry says this about corporate worship:
The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel-centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God's people receive a special life-transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ-centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God.
In making this album, we want to highlight efforts to write songs that draw richly from God's Word, show Christ at the center of worship, and speak in a comprehensible way. I believe the songs that you'll discover with us do all of these things well, albeit in different ways. Some of these songs are written for churches whose congregations are largely "post church"---new to the Bible and the language of Christianity. These songs explain things simply and avoid language that might be more dense. Others reflect congregations whose context is more biblically literate, or more highly educated.
Similarly, some songs are written for simple, bare-bones instrumentation, and others are written for contemporary music ministries with large bands and modern sounds. But all of them share a theological center; they are Word-driven, Christ-centered, congregational songs.
Second, it flows from TGC's love for the local church.
The Gospel Coalition's confessional statement says:
We believe that God's new covenant people have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem; they are already seated with Christ in the heavenlies. This universal church is manifest in local churches of which Christ is the only Head; thus each "local church" is, in fact, the church, the household of God, the assembly of the living God, and the pillar and foundation of the truth. The church is the body of Christ, the apple of his eye, graven on his hands, and he has pledged himself to her forever. The church is distinguished by her gospel message, her sacred ordinances, her discipline, her great mission, and, above all, by her love for God, and by her members' love for one another and for the world. . . . The church serves as a sign of God's future new world when its members live for the service of one another and their neighbors, rather than for self-focus. The church is the corporate dwelling place of God's Spirit, and the continuing witness to God in the world.
Everything about this record celebrates the local church. All of the musicians who will play and sing on the record regularly serve the congregations where they gather and worship each week. It's also a celebration of the unity that happens when churches share a confessional commitment to the gospel. It's surprisingly easy to get together and make music when there's a common commitment to keep Christ at the center.
Too often, it's assumed that the best music available for churches comes from Nashville and the Christian music industry. This album is an effort to point out some grassroots alternatives, all of which flow from local church contexts.
Third, it flows from TGC's vision for the integration of faith and work.
TGC's theological vision for ministry says this about the integration of faith and work:
The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen 1:2; Psalm 104:30). Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship---all for God's glory and the furtherance of the public good. Too many Christians have learned to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as the foundation of a worldview---a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do. But we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Such a church will not only support Christians' engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God's creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)
This vision for faith and work certainly stretches far beyond the doors of the gathered church, but it also includes the way that we work and serve within those doors. Church musicians and pastors of worship are called to work in such a way that they glorify God and bless their neighbors. They're called to work with integrity and excellence. Music as an art form and as a means of serving, blessing, and encouraging the body of Christ should be pursued and executed with an appropriate kind of excellence---one that includes the congregation, invites participation, and appropriately and emotively accompanies the texts we sing. We are called to make a joyful noise, and to do so with excellence, humility, and grace.
Our goal with this project is to make a record that expresses gospel-fueled and church-serving creativity. We don't want to simply make a utilitarian record---we want to make something that is creative, beautiful, and engaging. We want to make a record that illustrates in some way what it looks like when the hearts of artists are stirred by the gospel and respond with passion, skill, and excellence.
Over the next few weeks, we'll begin to introduce you to the songwriters and artists whose work will be represented on the record. As production wraps up, we'll offer some previews, as well as charts, lead sheets, and simplified demos of the songs (demonstrating simple ways of singing the songs with your church or small group).
We hope this project is a blessing to the broader church. Most of all, we hope it's catalytic and empowering to creatives at churches across the country who would seek to use the gifts God has given them to serve their congregations.
Mike Cosper is pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014), Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel (Crossway, 2013), and co-author (with Daniel Montgomery) of Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey (Crossway, 2012). You can follow him on Twitter.