By Eddy G. Oliver
When I was growing up my church used the old Broadman hymnal and one of the greatest things I learned to do was sing with the congregation. Although I have enjoyed singing in many different choirs since then, I have always loved hearing a congregation sing hymns of our faith.
I was privileged to attend and help volunteer during the first-ever 2017 Sing! Getty Music Worship Conference in Nashville, TN, last week. Josh Sutton, who is vice president of marketing and development for Getty Music and former worship pastor at Mountain Park First Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, invited me to help out about six months ago and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity. It is hard to put into words, the incredible experience during this unique event.
While volunteering in the Getty offices the week before the conference I was able to assist with press releases, edit some content for emails, and even helped stuff about 3,500 packets! On one of the days it was great to hear Keith and Kristyn Getty rehearsing a new song in his office at the Steinway grand piano. By the way, I did play an arrangement of “In Christ Alone,” probably their best known song, on the piano (but not while they were there!).
I have always loved the Gettys and their theologically rich songs and commitment to writing new hymns for the church. One of the many highlights of the conference was attending a hymn sing at the Grand Ole Opry House. Imagine hearing nearly 4,000 people sing in that great venue, lifting their voices to God! It truly was a taste of heaven.
The conference had a rich diversity of people. Every age group was represented with the oldest being 85 and several newborn babies seen throughout Brentwood Baptist Church, where the event took place. Over 40 states were represented and more than 20 countries, the furthest being from Australia. I’m told by Josh that Georgia was the number two state represented. And it wasn’t just ministers of music and worship pastors. Over half of the attendees were pastors.
During the conference I served on the social media team with a number of people who sent out Facebook messages and tweets of the plenary and breakout sessions. It was great re-connecting with my friend Joy Sullivan and meeting the Casas family, all of whom are members at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs. The event was also livestreamed with the help of LifeWay Christian Resources.
The speakers were inspiring and all related to congregational singing. David Platt, president of the International Mission Board and a friend from my days of attending Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, was one of the keynote speakers. Platt drew a direct connection between congregational singing and missions. “Worship is the why of missions,” he said. “If we are going to be serious about the mission of God, we must be serious about the glory of God.”
Platt described congregational singing as both a delight and a duty. In worship, he said, we enjoy God’s presence – which puts mundane pleasures like wealth and power to shame. He urged pastors, music leaders, and musicians to see singing and worship as a group activity – not a spectator sport. When Christians take part in worship, they join with the church throughout history in praising God.
All of the speakers were inspiring, along with the great breakout sessions, which included master classes for instrumentalists as well as panels discussions. Jon Duncan, leader of the Worship and Music Ministry and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, was asked to participate in several of these discussions because of his expertise in worship and hymns.
The event was a three-day celebration of congregational singing and it truly was a joyful expression of what Scripture tells us to do in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
The 2018 conference will take place at the Music City Center in Nashville on Sept. 10-12. The theme is “Psalms: Ancient and Modern” and will include speakers such as Ravi Zacharius, John McAllister, Alister Begg, and John Piper. To register, visit www.gettymusic.com.
Eddy Oliver is a Georgia Baptist Mission Board state missionary in the department of Worship and Music Ministries.