LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Worship is fundamentally about the Gospel, speakers said at the inaugural "Think: Worship" conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"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., and author of Faith Mapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey.

The conference, featuring Cosper and other speakers, worship ministers and music scholars, examined the theology of worship and the Gospel in music, encouraging attendees to lead their churches to worship biblically.

Christian recording artist Michael Card, who has recorded more than 30 albums and authored or coauthored 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 worshipping 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, calling for churches 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," Card said.

Cosper 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," Cosper said.

Matt Boswell, pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, speaking on "The Center of Christian Worship" from 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 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," Boswell said.

"Gifting may give a man a platform," he noted, "but character is what gives him a voice. God's grace forms worship leaders."

Donald S. Whitney, senior associate dean of Southern Seminary's school of theology, spoke about private and public worship, noting that worship in Scripture is primarily congregational.

"Every glimpse given to us in Scripture of worship in heaven, with two exceptions, reveals congregational worship," said Whitney, who also is associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern. "God is glorified more in congregational worship than in private worship," he said.

Whitney also spoke of personal worship, encouraging attendees to meditate on Scripture.

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

At the conference, musician and scholar Harold Best 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," said Joe Crider, head of the seminary's division of biblical worship. "He mentored literally thousands of worship leaders."

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

After receiving the award, Best read from a letter he had penned about music and art in the church. Music and worship have their best moments, he wrote, "when the people of God have joined heartily in the worship of God."

Great art, meanwhile, "is not out of place in the public worship gathering," Best said. "To do this would be to ban mystery."

Adam Greenway, new dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry -- the parent school of the division of biblical worship -- said 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," Greenway 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 is available at sbts.edu/resources.

RuthAnne Irvin writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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