The History of Sovereign Grace Music

How did Sovereign Grace Music get started? In this episode, Bob Kauflin and David Zimmer introduce us to Sovereign Grace Music and talk about why our passion for Christ grows all the more as we do what we do.

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Bob Kauflin: Hey. You’re listening to Sound+Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches, from local churches. For more information and free resources, you can check out Thanks for joining us.

David Zimmer: Welcome to our very first Sovereign Grace Music podcast. We are so excited. I am so excited because I have wanted to do this for a long time.

BK: And tell people who you are.

DZ: I was just gonna do that. My name is David Zimmer.

BK: I’m Bob Kauflin.

DZ: Yes. I have wanted to do this for a couple of years now, because Bob has had such an impact on my life, as a worship leader in my own context, I’m sure many of you would say the same.

BK: Thousands. Tens of thousands, if not dozens. [chuckle]

DZ: I’m sure many of you would say the same. But I’ve also been impacted by Sovereign Grace Music as a resource, being able to partner with Sovereign Grace Music as an instrumentalist and musician, and so this is just a joy to actually be sitting in these chairs, having this discussion.

BK: It is. It is.

DZ: So I’m hoping that we are going to be able to have a lot of great discussions in these chairs…

BK: Wherever we happen to do it.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: We’re doing it here right now.

DZ: Yes.

BK: And it’s great.

DZ: With my library in the background, I’ve read…

BK: Have you read all those books?

DZ: Almost every one of these books.

BK: That’s fantastic.

DZ: So I thought a great place to start this podcast would be to learn a little bit more about you, Bob.

BK: Sure.

DZ: And Sovereign Grace Music, how Sovereign Grace Music came to be.

BK: Yeah. Yeah.

DZ: So just starting with you, for people who don’t know who you are and what your involvement in Sovereign Grace Music is, tell us…

BK: So how far back do you want me to go?

DZ: How did you come to know Christ as your Savior?

BK: Okay. It was freshman year in college, went to Temple University in Philadelphia, and I was raised a Catholic, was gonna become a priest.

DZ: Wow.

BK: Did not become a priest.

DZ: Very thankful.

BK: Have six kids and 19 grandkids.

DZ: Very happy you didn’t.

BK: But there was this guy from Campus Crusade, now known as Cru, who knocked on my door in the dorms and just, “Hey, can we get together? Can we get together?” So finally I did, and we met in the student union building, this is in the fall of 1972 and I share about this in… I think, in True Worshipers. So he just started asking me about my life and saying, “Do you think you’re going to Heaven?” I said, “I’m pretty sure. I think so, yeah.” That kinda, “Yeah. I think, I hope.” So he showed me Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” He said, “Do you think you’ve sinned?” I said, “For sure, I’ve sinned. Nobody’s perfect.” He said, “Okay. Well, flip over to Romans 6:23. It says here that the wages of sin is death. Do believe that you will die for your sins?” I said, “Well, yeah. But if I go to confession and… ” I had some answer where I said. “Yeah. I can do some things to take care of that.”

DZ: I can get it covered.

BK: Yes. I got it covered. So he said, “But look at the rest of that verse. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And then he did something that I’ve done with numerous people since then. He gave me a pencil and he said, “This is my gift to you.” And I said, “Great, thanks.” He said, “Did you do anything to earn that gift?” Said, “No.” “Did you do anything to deserve it?” “No.” “Am I gonna take it back?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, that’s what eternal life is like. When you believe that Jesus Christ paid for your sins, that He purchased your forgiveness, that He died your death, He was condemned for you, God gives you the gift of eternal life. You’re forgiven, you’re reconciled to Him, and you have this gift of eternal life that you didn’t earn, you didn’t deserve, and He’ll never take back.” And God changed my heart, He changed my life. That was 48 years ago and never been the same.

DZ: Wow.

BK: So that’s how I became a Christian.

DZ: And how did that lead you into Sovereign Grace Music?

BK: Okay. Well, little connection, I was majoring in piano, I got a piano performance degree and I was in a band called GLAD, which was a contemporary Christian band in the late ’70s. No longer. So from ’76 to ’84, I was in that band full-time and…

DZ: You were writing songs…

BK: Writing songs, traveling around the country, producing albums.

DZ: Okay.

BK: And I left the band in ’84 to be a part of the local church, which I was in Sovereign Grace Churches at that time, and it just led naturally into wanting to serve the church with music.

DZ: Was there a moment in the band, GLAD, where you thought, “This is great, I love this, but I feel like God is moving me to something else”? Was there a moment…

BK: Absolutely.

DZ: That you felt that way?

BK: Absolutely. We were in a church in Philadelphia being taught on a series called The Redemptive Community, and it was about how God views the local church and the purpose of the local church, which is to display the gospel to the local community, to have an impact in that way. And I realized that as much as I loved what we were doing, I could not devote myself to that while I was in the band. I remember reading a book called The Radical Christian by a UK author named Arthur Wallis, and he had this line, he said, “If you wanna make your life count, find out what God is doing in your generation and fling yourself into it.”

DZ: Wow. That’s great.

BK: Well, it redirected my life. I could see from God’s word that what God was doing was Jesus building His church. That’s what He was doing. So I told the man in ’81, “I’m gonna leave in three years.” Because we had just signed a three-year record contract, and I thought I wanna honor that, but at three years, ’84, I’m gonna leave. And that’s what I did. And…

DZ: Wow.

BK: And David, I’ve never looked back. I continued to write and arrange for GLAD for the next… I don’t know, 30 years or so, love those guys. But I’ve never regretted giving my life, my devotion, my time, my commitment to the local church, and I’ve seen God do wonderful things. ‘Cause I wanted to be a part of seeing people, not only saved, ’cause we’d see that in GLAD. At concerts, people would come to know Christ. But disciples equipped and deployed for ministry, I wanted to be a part of that process.

DZ: More of a long-term approach to ministry as opposed to, “We’re in this town, we have this ability to reach these people, but then we’re leaving.”

BK: Yes. Yes. Like tomorrow. And I think there was then and there is now there can be the sense that if you wanna do something really exciting in the kingdom, it can’t be the local church. And I wanted to be a part of arguing with that and saying, “No. It’s in the local church, that’s where God’s working.” Certainly He does things outside of the local church, but Jesus came, not to build an industry, not to build an institution, not to build an organization, but His church. And so that’s made up of denominations and churches throughout the world, but it means meaningfully being involved in a local church. And so I’ve done that with Sovereign Grace Churches for the past 30, well, almost 40 years.

DZ: Wow. So, being a part of a Sovereign Grace Church, then Sovereign Grace Music…

BK: Yes. Yes. So…

DZ: Is born out of that church then.

BK: Right. You want that story about Sovereign Grace Music and how that developed?

DZ: Yes. Yeah.

BK: So, in the early ’80s, as Sovereign Grace Churches was just getting started, one of the individuals who has written a lot of our songs, Mark Altrogge, was wanting to write songs that reflected the teaching we were getting. So it was teaching on things like mission, the gospel, the sovereignty of God, the Father heart of God, those kinds of things, the church. And so he would just send out cassette tapes. Do you know what a cassette tape is?

DZ: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Right.

BK: Like this big, it’s little things… He would send those out to the various churches, and we all had about four or five. Well, another couple got involved in doing that, Steve and Vikki Cook. Steve has produced a number of our albums. Vikki wrote the tune for Before the Throne of God Above. And then I started getting involved, I said, “Hey. I want in on this too.” And so primarily the four of us, along with a few other writers, started sending out these things we called, song service tapes. And we would send them out maybe, I think quarterly or I think quarterly.

DZ: When you say song service, are you talking about these are songs that we want the world to sing?

BK: No.

DZ: Or these are songs that we want our local context to sing?

BK: Yes. Yes.

DZ: Those are being born out of like sermons that…

BK: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And if the world would sing them great, but no. At that point, we were just saying, “Hey. We want our churches to sing songs that reflect what we’re being taught.” ‘Cause we couldn’t find, and maybe we weren’t looking hard enough, but we couldn’t find the songs that really said what we thought we needed to be singing. So that’s where it began. In 1991, Integrity asked me to lead one of their Hosanna series, one of their Hosanna albums, 42, Chosen Treasure. So that helped to get our songs out more. And I should mention that back in the ’80s, the idea of worship songs being sung throughout the world, that was not the expectation, especially from modern songs. I remember talking to a label at one point, we were trying to find a label to produce an album for us. And an executive told me, “You know, worship is a regional thing. It’s just for your region. We’re not gonna expect songs to go throughout the world.”

DZ: Wow. How fascinating.

BK: My, how things have changed.

DZ: Yeah. Seriously.

BK: So, anyway, in ’91, our songs started getting out more through that album. And then in the mid-’90s, we did some albums with Word. And then we did this series, we produced our own series of CDs called Come and Worship. I think we did about 10 of those, 10 songs each, so about 100 songs. Again, just songs for our churches, songs for our… We want our churches to be fed with these songs. And then for maybe for the last 20 years, we’ve been doing songs more geared towards themes, and different projects, different focuses that we wanna do. And in the kindness of the Lord, our songs are being sung throughout the world now. And we have songs translated in, I think, 22 languages. So it’s been amazing really. But our focus has never shifted from writing songs for local churches, from local churches. And then I’ve been involved in leading it for about the past 23 years, in some form or another.

DZ: Yeah. So you mentioned the songs being sung for local churches from local churches. I would say that that’s one area that defines what Sovereign Grace Music is. If you could… A bird’s-eye view of what Sovereign Grace Music exists to do today, what would you say that is and what is your role in that?

BK: Well, our mission statement is we wanna produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches from local churches. I oversee all that.

DZ: Songs and training.

BK: Songs and training. So the songs part is writing songs that enable the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly. That’s what the Colossians 3:16 says we’re to do. God’s word says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And then he follows that with, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” So verse 16 focuses on what’s supposed to be happening when we’re singing? Well, the Word of Christ is supposed to be dwelling in us richly. That’s not just words about Christ, it’s the Word of Christ. It’s the gospel. It’s the good news that… It’s the best news.

BK: It’s that Jesus the Son of God left His throne, subsumed Himself into a human with a human nature, so we have a divine nature, human nature, one person, Jesus. He was born as an infant, took on our flesh so that He could live a perfect life of obedience that we could never live. He died a substitutionary death that we deserved to die for, our rebellion, our sin, our pride, and rose from the dead so that whoever trusts in Him could be forgiven, could be reconciled to God, could be united with Christ so that we could become co-heirs with Christ and be treated as though we had done everything Jesus has done, which is just amazing. And we look forward to an eternity of joy at His right hand. That’s the gospel. There’s no better news in the world. So our songs are supposed to help people, our songs are supposed to help that news dwell in people richly, and they’re supposed to teach and admonish each other. So there’s an element of the Word of God in what we do, and so I like to say our songs are not just theologically aware like, yeah, there are things that the Bible says, but theologically driven. So they’re driven by the theological connections in scripture, they’re driven by the grand narrative of the Bible, which is the redemption of a people for God’s glory in Christ. They’re driven by doctrinal truths that are precious.

BK: They’re not necessarily just heavy and weighty, but they apply those things, and they’re what lies behind the words we sing. So we’re very conscious of that and I think that’s one of the things that people say about Sovereign Grace Music is we know that the words we sing are going to be drawn from the Word of God. So our songs are theologically driven, they teach and admonish and they enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. So we produce those kind of songs, and then the training aspect is of course, Worship Matters, I lead Worship God conferences, I lead a Worship Matters intensive, we do different things that help people understand not just how to sing… Well, how to sing these songs, how to lead these songs. What part music plays in the church, so it’s more… And that’s led us into more the context of the whole meeting, how does music serve, what we’re trying to do in this meeting. So that’s the training aspect. So I lead that, certainly don’t do it alone. I’m accompanied by a host of people who help do all the stuff, lead the songwriters, yeah. It’s a pure joy, I love doing what I’m doing.

DZ: Well, it is so awesome to be talking about this and hearing the history of how this all came to be. I think 30 years later of you starting Sovereign Grace Music with theologically driven songs that are inspiring churches and to still be doing that is so exciting.

BK: Oh, well, my passion for it is greater than ever because I say music is great, Jesus is greater, and it’s His glory that drives what we do, there will never be enough songs. We’re thankful for all the people who are writing songs of that kind that enable the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly, that are theologically driven. Thank God for all the ministries and churches and individuals that God is raising up to do that, we’re just one of them, but Jesus is so glorious, that we will… If we get tired of doing this, we’re looking at the wrong thing. We’re not looking at Him because that’s what we’re gonna be doing, when this is all done, when we’re with God in the new heavens and the new earth, we’re gonna be singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wisdom and wealth and honor and glory and blessing.” And no one is gonna be looking around going, “Is there anything else? Can we do something else? This is… ” I mean, we’ll be doing other things, but it will be for His glory, so yeah, my passion, if anything, is just greater than it ever was, to see Jesus magnified not only in the songs of His people but in our lives. So that’s the kind of stuff hopefully we’re gonna be getting into on this podcast.

DZ: I love that. Obviously, the passion to see Christ magnified through the songs we sing is so clearly evident in you and Sovereign Grace Music. So I’m so excited to dive more into even what that means.

BK: Amen.

DZ: What does that mean in our daily life? How do songs affect our daily life, even today in June 2020? How do the songs we sing affect what’s happening right now around us?

BK: Yes. Yes. And in our hearts.

DZ: And in our hearts.

BK: Yeah.

DZ: Yeah. So I am so excited to do this, and thank you for joining us. Thanks for tuning in, we’ll see you next time.

BK: Amen.

DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound+Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at