Macon Church

Music that is Deep and Wide

Music can move the soul. It can set the feel, mood and atmosphere of a gathering. Music plays a huge part of our worship gathering at New City.  At New City we believe that music should move us to worship deeply. It should move us emotively. But more, we firmly believe that it should move us theologically. Music should point us to the beautiful news of the gospel. It should move us to hope in our great God and Savior. It cannot simply be "good," it must also be theologically good. Music must be both deep and wide.

Mike Cosper and Sojourn Community Church greatly influence New City's music because this is exactly what they strive for, to the glory of God and for the good of His people. Below is a great article from Mike Cosper written for the Gospel Coalition.  Take a couple of minutes to read it, its worth it.

Sojourn Community Church (where I serve as the pastor of worship and arts) is about to release a second full-length record of Isaac Watts hymns. Here are a few thoughts on why Watts should matter to worship leaders and many others today.

In his excellent biography of Isaac Watts, David Fountain describes his early days like this:

It is the year 1674; the place is God's House Tower, Southampton. A woman sits on a horse-block outside the prison, nursing her child. It is a hard seat, but not so hard as the hearts of her husband's persecutors, for he is inside, imprisoned for refusing to conform to the laws of the land relating to the worship of God. He is prepared to pay the price, as he would rather serve God than man, for he believes that Scripture alone should be our guide in worship.

He and his wife had been married but a year, and although he could not see the child's face, the sound of his crying would give him pleasure. How much more pleasure it gave him in later years when that child, who was born so small and sickly, was to influence the worship of the nation more than any other single man.

Watts was born the son of an English nonconformist, a reformer who faced the threat of persecution for much of his life in the name of faithfulness. Out of that furnace of suffering, the pressure of that trial, came Isaac, a brilliant pastor and poet who would profoundly change the culture of worship in England and far beyond.

Watts was raised with a rigorous classical and theological education. After spending some time studying in London, he returned to his father's home in Southampton, staying for about two and a half years. He was 20, and it's believed he spent this time there in prayer, study, and preparation for ministry.

They gathered for worship with an Independent congregation, and part of the practice (as was the common practice in English-speaking churches) was psalm-singing. The translations they used were metered and essentially literal—they sang the texts as they were written—but Watts grew concerned for the sake of the congregation. He appreciated the tranlations' precise language. But they lacked beauty and emotive power. It was a pastoral concern: The Psalms should be moving, powerful, and emotive, but they weren't. People didn't understand what they were singing.

When he expressed his concern to his father, his dad essentially said, “See if you can do any better.” This began one of Watts's most significant contributions to church history. He began rewriting the Psalms with an eye for poetry and theological clarity. He wanted people to sing the Psalms and hear the gospel. A while later, as he considered widening his project and publishing these Psalms, his brother wrote him a letter, urging the project on. “Yours is the old truth,” Enoch Watts said to Isaac, “stripped of its ragged ornaments, and appears, if we may say so, younger by ages, in a new and fashionable dress.” Of the English versions of the Psalms that were widely sung in their day, he said, “There is in them a mighty deficiency of that life and soul, which is necessary to raise our fancies and kindle and fire our passions.”

What Enoch Watts affirmed was Isaac's pastoral vision and passion. Congregations needed to hear the Psalms with fresh ears, vivid poetry, and deep passion. Watts's love for God's Word made him feel an urgency in wanting to help people understand and connect emotionally to what they sang.

Meditating on the Gospel

One of the main thrusts of Watts's work was to theologically interpret the Psalms. As Watts saw it, Christian worship should be a meditation on the gospel. By exclusively singing Psalms, it relegated the church to singing in language that was prophetic and predictive, excluding the accomplished work of Christ that illuminates all that the Psalms foreshadowed.

As Watts put it himself:

Where [the Psalmist] speaks of the pardon of sin through the mercies of God, I have added the merits of a Savior. Where he talks of sacrificing goats or bullocks, I rather choose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. . . .

Where he promises abundance of wealth, honor, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory, and life eternal, which are brought to light by the gospel, and promised in the New Testament. And I am fully satisfied that more honor is done to our blessed Savior by speaking his Name, his graces, and actions in his own language, according to the brighter discoveries he has now made, than by going back again to the Jewish forms of worship, and the language of types and figures.

One of my favorite examples of this is his hymn setting of Psalm 3. The text of the Psalm is:

1 LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me! 

2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”

3 But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high. 

4 I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 

6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

7 Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

And the Watts hymn is:


My God, how many are my fears!
How fast my foes increase! 
Conspiring my eternal death,
They break my present peace.

The lying tempter would persuade
There's no relief in heav'n;
And all my swelling sins appear
Too big to be forgiv'n.

But thou, my glory and my strength,
Shalt on the tempter tread,
Shalt silence all my threatening guilt, 
And raise my drooping head.

What though the hosts of death and hell
All armed against me stood, 
Terrors no more shall shake my soul;
My refuge is my God.

Arise, O Lord, fulfill thy grace,
While I thy glory sing;
My God has broke the serpent's teeth,
And death has lost his sting.

This work was, for its time, scandalous. Driven by pastoral priorities, Watts took liberties with the Psalms that many interpreted as bold and dangerous. But Watts's deepest concern was for the hearts and souls of his congregation. He recognized that for the sake of contextualization, Christians needed help with language, imagery, and metaphor. His goal was to pastorally exposit the Psalms, through song, for the sake of building up the church.

This marked only the beginning for the way that Watts would bring reform to worship. In the ensuing years, he would make the argument not only for his theological interpretations of the Psalms, but for new hymns—new songs written for the church—that brought no small amount of scandal itself. In this way, Watts is considered the father of the English hymn, and rightly deserves a place amongst the greatest names of the Reformation. Watts can be credited as paving the way for not only the rich history of Reformation-era hymns, but also as establishing the ground upon which our understanding of music's role in the church is seen today.

Enduring Legacy

Here are a few things worship leaders can learn from Watts's legacy:

  • Worship leading is pastoral. Watts was first and foremost a pastor. His work in bringing reform to worship practices flowed from concern for the people of God. In an age of celebrity worship leaders and pastors, we can be reminded that Watts, with his profound contribution to the church, was concerned primarily with shepherding and encouraging his flock. People don't need a rock star who can wow them with talent. They need a pastor who can help them sing, discerningly choose songs, and craft a culture of worship that effectively shapes the spirituality of a congregation.
  • Contextualization is about comprehension. I don't think anyone would ever accuse Watts of watering down the gospel. His version of Psalm 22, which reflects on Christ's suffering and victory, contains the lyric “all the kindreds of the earth shall worship or shall die.” Worship or die is not a phrase often heard in compromised congregations. For Watts, contextualizing meant ensuring that the offense of the gospel is made clear to both insiders and outsiders. He is a hero of contextualization, willing to buck tradition and risk persecution for the sake of presenting the gospel in a way that was fresh, clear, and compelling.
  • Worship should be concerned with truth and beauty—but beauty is a servant of truth. This is one of the most interesting facts about Watts; he was the consummate pastoral artist. He found the English Psalms written by his contemporaries to be wanting for their lack of beauty. He wrote many times about the power of poetry to stir emotions, and it serves as a reminder that worship should not only be concerned with truth. It should also be beautiful. The Psalms themselves are magnificent poems. New Testament hymns like Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 are beautiful and poetic, and the work of the pastor should include wrestling with language that illumines the beauty of the gospel and the glory of Jesus. But we can also see that beauty is a servant of truth—it is put to use for the sake of illuminating and illustrating the truth, not for its own sake.
  • Worship should be both wide and deep. Even a brief summary of Watts's hymns reveals a breadth of content that stands in contrast with the songs we sing. He wrote hymns of adoration, lament, thanksgiving, confession; even the imprecatory Psalms found a place (like the aforementioned Psalm 3). Here's a challenge: Spend some time with Watts's hymns, make some notes on their breadth and diversity, and contrast that with you own “hymnal” (your own collection of songs). See where you're strong and where you're weak.

The Water and the Blood

About four years ago, I began to notice how many of the hymns we sang at Sojourn were written by Isaac Watts. When I began to look at his body of work, and when I discovered what he'd done for the culture of worship in the English-speaking world, it sent me (and Sojourn music) on a pretty radical journey. In 2009, we released Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts Volume I, a collection of rewritten and re-imagined Watts hymns. Now, two years later, we're releasing Volume II: The Water and The Blood.

If you include tracks from other Sojourn releases, we've now recorded 26 Watts hymns. Some are nearly verbatim, while others are pretty radically re-imagined. It seems in the spirit of his work to adapt his language (while at pains to retain the concepts) for the sake of modern congregations.

The Water and the Blood is available for pre-order now, and will be available at Sojourn's booth at The Gospel Coalition national conference. It was recorded essentially live, to tape, over a few icy days this January, and it shows. The record is warm and intimate. Below you'll find an mp3 of “Death Has Lost It Sting,” our reworking of Watts's “Psalm 3.” It's a good sample of what you'll hear on the record.

Watts has profoundly affected on our congregation, providing a model for gospel-centered singing. We're eager to share this incredible body of texts with the broader church.

Come by our booth and see us, and join us for Sing Them Again: An Evening of Old and New Hymns.

Audio: “Death Has Lost Its Sting” [audio:|titles=11 Death Has Lost Its Sting]

Taking What We Do For Granted...

Not every church preaches the Bible verse by verse and chapter by chapter. Not every church even preaches the Bible!  I have listened to more than one or two sermons where a passage was read from the Bible, some stories shared and a prayer was had with no explanation or connection to what was read from the Bible. 

I received an email from one of our New City folks and below is part of that email. It is a great reminder that what we enjoy here at New City every week doesn't happen everywhere.

I also wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the way you all set up the preaching plan. I was talking with a friend in Oklahoma last week and he mentioned he's had a real difficult time finding a church that preaches through the Bible. I think I'm so used to you all picking a book and working through it that I take it for granted sometimes. So thank you.

Our regular preaching pattern at New City is to preach from an Old Testament book followed by a topical sermon series where we address certain topics like marriage, family, mission,... or a holiday. This is followed by the preaching of a New Testament book and that by another topical or holiday series.  Longer books of the Bible, like the book of Acts, are often divided into sections. One section may be preached and followed with another sermon series either topical or from another book before coming back to the original longer book. Over time we will cover every book of the Bible and address additional needs through short, topical sermon series.

So now you know, there is a method to our madness! We really are seeking to teach the whole counsel of God.

Transforming Lessons From Renovating a Building

One of the most awesome and satisfying feelings you can have comes from taking on a challenging renovation project.  The feelings are those of accomplishment and satisfaction you get when you take something that was ugly and broken and make it beautiful and useful.  I’ve had numerous experiences of changing things in houses and now at New City, this is my third experience in the ministry with renovating an old building and making it useful for kingdom building.  There are numerous life changing lessons that we can learn just from buying and renovating an old building. Let’s not waste this wonderful opportunity that we have at New City to grow as Christians just by praying, participating, and learning about our God and Savior and His love for us just by looking at a building. 

Lesson #1 - "…The righteous shall live by faith." Romans 1:17 – It has been my experience over the years that usually when churches begin a project they design that project based on what they believe they can do.  They typically do what many believers do.  They do what they think they can do as opposed to what God can do through them.  This is the normal way that people who do not know Jesus operate.  Often times those endeavors are accomplished within their power and they fail to see God’s power, God’s hand, and God’s favor visibly and actively working in their lives. Transformed people rarely will attempt to do things within their own power.  A transformed person seeks God’s will through prayer, (careful research mind you), and a step of faith that fully requires God’s hand the whole way.  This has been the direction that was taken in the two previous churches I’ve been a part of and in the purchase of this building by New City.  In all three cases the project was larger than the ability of its members but, “The righteous shall live by faith." 

Example #1 – In Birmingham, at Ensley Bible Church we were in a store front building.  By faith we stepped out to purchase a building from another congregation.  At first we began renting at a price that was not in our budget with an agreement to purchase.  By faith God enable us to pay rent (even though barely).  When it was time for us to purchase the building we didn’t qualify but we kept praying and trusting by faith.  Guess what people?  The owners gave us the building!  Praise God!

Example #2 – At Macon Community Baptist Church we attempted to buy and renovate a building with a total of eleven people in the church, (Please get this!), with no money.  God provided first a new owner of the building who agreed to lease it to us.  Next God provided the $10,000.00 down we needed to move into the building.  Next God provided skilled workers, a project manager, and numerous workers from other churches to do the labor.  Next He provided over $100,000.00 worth of renovations that we did not owe one dime on at its completion.  God provided in such a way that all of his workings are indelibly graved in my heart. 

Example #3 -  At New City by faith through Pastor Keith’s leading, God has provided (1) a building.  (2) He’s provided a contractor, architect, electrician, and other skilled professionals who are donating much of the cost.  Presently we are operating way under normal cost even though the cost may be high.  Praise God! (3) God has provided finances through many of you AND donations from unexpected resources. (4) As we walked through the building this week with the contractor after tearing out so much we realize that we need so much more through which God has already provided.  We just don’t have it yet but by faith we will have it!

So then what do these steps of faith by the church do for us?  They remind us that our God is able to do exceedingly more abundantly than all we can ask or think.  He doesn’t need us to do anything or to be anything because He can do everything.  Our job is to believe in Him and His power for all of life’s challenges.  The challenge or situation you are facing right now is really your opportunity to live by faith.  The more we live by faith, the more we can live by faith and the easier it gets to trust Him.  The more we trust Him, the more transformed we become in all areas of our lives and it gets easier to trust him.  Living by Faith becomes a normal and regular expression of a transformed life.  Pay special attention to the purchase of this building and learn the transforming lessons in the process.  Become as much a part of the process as you can so that you can experience God’s power and see firsthand that our God is exceedingly Awesome and you can trust Him!  The righteous shall live by faith."

Pastor Lawrence

the hardest part, waiting

I am not very good at waiting. I don't really enjoy the journey, I am always pressing for the destination. Waiting seems like such a waste of time, so inefficient. Waiting feels like going nowhere, accomplishing nothing. I see the end and I want to be there... now. Ugh.

I have had the great privilege of meeting a lot of church planters and others who feel like God is calling them to do great things and go to great places. I love hearing their dreams. I often hear in them the same weakness for waiting that is mine. I was recently reminded of a talk I heard several years ago on this subject given by Rick White, the Lead Pastor of City View Church. Rick was talking primarily to a group of men who dreamed of planting churches. Joseph, the biblical character of Genesis was the main character of his talk.

Rick told the story of Joseph, who as a young man had a clear vision, or dream from God. In the dream, this youngest brother saw all of his older brothers bowing to him. Joseph saw that one day he would lead over his older brothers. The dream was real. The vision was from God. Yet when Joseph shared the dream with his family, his brothers became incredibly angry - ultimately selling him into Egyptian slavery and convincing their father that he had been killed.

The story gets worse for Joseph! He went from servant to prison, being accused of crimes he didn't commit. Everything seemed to constantly be against Joseph. He was experiencing nothing even close to the dream that he dreamed. More than 20 years would go by before Joseph was moved from prison and servant to leader and ruler in Egypt. Even more time would go by before everything lined up and Joseph's brothers bowed before him in Egypt. (You should read the story if you aren't familiar with it - wow!)

Rick's big point to those men, chomping at the bit to lead the church that they had dreamed of was wait. Wait. Wait on God. Maybe he has given you the dream and desire for today, but maybe he has given you a glimpse of what will be in 30 years - I say that with angst in my own soul.

So what can we learn from Joseph's story?

  • The destination requires a journey.
    Joseph couldn't lead when he had the dream. The events that followed telling his family about the dream were all necessary for Joseph - they made him who he was. As hard as it sometimes is, this is true for us. The journey is God's way of shaping us into the people that we need to be.
  • God is Sovereign in your journey.
    Nothing happened to Joseph by accident; it was all a part of God's great plan for Joseph, for Egypt and for Israel. When we are faced with setbacks, delays, and news we didn't want to hear, God is not surprised! It is all a part of His plan. So in those times, pause, rethink, pray, process - but rest in His control, His wisdom, and the truth that He has your best interest in mind.
  • Grow. 
    Joseph struggled with events, no doubt. But in the midst of them he humbly grew. He grew in experience. He grew in wisdom. He grew in his ability to lead. That is why he became a leader. With others, I have had to tell guys with great dreams that they weren't ready - weren't ready to lead, weren't ready to plant churches. It is never easy to say and rarer still, easy to receive. It is, however an opportunity to grow and learn.
  • Be faithful where you are.
    There were lots of stops and detours for Joseph. Jail was not the destination of his dreams. Yet even there, Joseph was faithful. He followed God. He trusted God. He served well. That is what He calls each of us to do in our journey as well. Don't become so consumed with where you are going that you lose sight of where you are.  Be faithful where you are. Serve faithfully. Continue a life that is characterized by faithfulness, joy and trust.
  • God is faithful to finish what He starts.
    This is a journey of faith with a destination that requires faith - believing that God can do and will do what He has promised. If it is a dream from Him, a vision that He has given - He will see it through. You can count on that because He is faithful, true, and able.

Waiting isn't really passive when it comes to faithfully following God. It shapes who we are. And from that, sometimes great things are birthed - Joseph became a great leader, Egypt was saved from famine, Joseph's family was saved from starvation. The nation of Israel would be birthed out of these very events.  Sometimes waiting is the hardest. But when we actively wait, faithfully following God - it is always best.

I am praying right now for all of my fellow dreamers!
Dream big. Trust big.

If you are dreaming big or want to be a part of a church that dreams big, I'd love to hear from you. Email me

You Are Here, Be Where You Are!

New City has always attracted a transient group of people - college students, grad students, young families from other places. Many times transient people know they are transient, they have no intention of seeing Macon or Milledgeville become their home. Macon and Milledgeville are just stops on the way... on the way to a new life, a new career, a new place.

In a way, it reminds me of Israel's captivity to Babylon - not in the sense that transient people can't leave, but in the sense that Macon is simply not the final destination. The captive Hebrew people wanted to return to Jerusalem. They had no desire to be in Babylon. This caused them to withdraw from Babylon, to separate from life in Babylon and worse, to remove themselves from God's intention for them.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon... Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:1-7

Jeremiah wrote to the people in Babylon on behalf of God to call them back to God's intention and call them out of their absence and withdrawal. God, through the prophet is telling his people to invest in the city, to thrive in the city, to LIVE in Babylon. He is calling His people to "Be Where You Are!" 

I want to shout this loudly to all of our transients - BE WHERE YOU ARE - Here. God has brought you here for a season. Maybe it is a short season, maybe it is a long season, I have no idea. But while you are here, be here. Find a church home, become a member, serve in the church, serve through the church. Become a part of the community of the church - the family. Be a blessing to the church and to the city and its people. Remember that as a Christ follower, you are always on his mission - "as you go" - being His hands and feet, proclaiming His glories, serving as His ambassador and as a part of His family.

And remember... being here, I mean really being here - participating, investing, LIVING - is not only for the good of the city, it is for your good.
You are Here.  Be All In. Be Where You Are!

For more info on connecting to New City:
In Macon, connect with Patrick
In Milledgeville, connect with Andy