My Interview With Devon Kauflin of Sovereign Grace/Na Band

by Bobby Gilles

in Interviews,Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Worship Leading

Cover art for "Looked Upon" by the Na Band Cover art for “Looked Upon” by the Na Band

Today’s interview in our My Song In The Night interview series features worship leader/songwriter Devon Kauflin, founder of the Na Band and worship leader/songwriter at Covenant Life Church in Maryland, in the Sovereign Grace network. Many of you will also be familiar with Devon’s father Bob Kauflin, Director of Worship Development at Sovereign Grace and author of the book Worship Matters and blog

Follow along as we talk about worship leading, old hymn texts, the Sovereign Grace Songwriters’ Retreats and more:

Bobby Gilles: What’s the difference between a Na Band project and a Sovereign Grace Music project? What led to the formation of the Na Band (and what does the name mean)?

Devon KauflinSovereign Grace Music is made up of many songwriters and musicians spread across many churches throughout the US. Any project Sovereign Grace Music puts out normally involves a much broader community. We’ll typically use many different musicians and a variety of vocalists. A Na Band project would be more consistent with any other band-driven record. We are a specific group of guys who play together consistently and work on arranging and writing songs that help the word of Christ to dwell in us and our church richly (Colossians 3:16).

Na Band was formed to serve what at the time was called the New Attitude Conference, now Next. As an 18-year old in 2003, I was approached about leading a group of musicians whose function would be to lead at the annual conference, as well as at what was then the single’s ministry of my church, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.

Fast forward a few years and we were putting together our first album. I was told we need to come up with a name. I’m not much of a fan of band names. Since we exist to primarily serve our local church in our local context, I didn’t want to have a name for the group of guys I was playing with because I didn’t want to foster a separate identity for us beyond who we were in serving our church. It’s not about us—the band. When I seek to serve my church by leading our time of corporate singing, it’s meant to be just that: corporate. It is about us—the church—singing praises to God together, not just you doing it with me.

With that as the backdrop, I was still told we needed a name because we were putting out a record. From a practical standpoint, this was understandable. We settled on Na Band to refer back to the context we were serving — New Attitude, and it was pretty generic and unexciting. So, that’s what Na means. I’d like to say that I got my way by going with Na as in “not applicable”, but that would be revisionist history!

Na Band will lead at May's Next Conference ( Na Band will lead at May’s Next Conference (

Bobby Gilles: I’ve written before about “All I Have Is Christ,” but there are many strong songs on your album, Looked Upon. You’ve got a mix of old hymns and new songs written by several different people. What did your song selection process look like?

Devon Kauflin: It would be generous to say that we had much of a song selection process when we put together Looked Upon. We did intend to have a mix of original songs and old hymns. We wanted to emphasize the unchanging nature of the truth we were singing about, as well as the rich tradition of Christian hymnody that we were seeking to build off of. My generation isn’t on to anything new. Generations before us having been singing praise to God for who He is and what He’s done, and until the Lord’s return, generations after us will do the same.

In this recent information age, we are so, so blessed to have access to songs written throughout church history that are filled with language that engages our minds and affections as we meditate on God in his glory and through his Son, Jesus Christ. Applying these words to our local context helps make them more accessible to people in our church and in our generation. Through our song selection we wanted to show an unabashed commitment to and love for rich and right theology. However, the song selection process would definitely look different if we were doing it again, but the Lord was kind to give us some good songs to serve those around us.

Bobby Gilles: Do you participate in the Sovereign Grace songwriting retreats? Do those have any bearing on Na Band material, like “These three songs that came out of the retreat wouldn’t fit right on the next SG album but they’d be great for Na Band,” or vice versa?

Devon Kauflin: I’ve been able to participate in the songwriting retreats on a limited basis. The songs that come out of these times really haven’t had any bearing on what we have done as a band. That said, it’s a great idea that they would!

As Na Band, we would have more creative liberty in doing songs that may be less congregationally accessible than something we would do on a Sovereign Grace Music project. So there are certainly songs that would fall into this category, but that’s not really a direction we’re looking to foster.

Another aspect to this is that the songwriting retreats are typically geared towards writing for one or two upcoming projects that Sovereign Grace Music is planning. We normally keep these projects pretty focused thematically (i.e. Sons & Daughters or Risen) or structurally (i.e. The Gathering). There would certainly be some great songs that fall outside of these buckets that could fit into an Na Band project in the future.

Bobby Gilles: You’ve got songs on Looked Upon that you wrote solo, songs written with others and old hymns you’ve adapted. Which is easier – writing music and lyrics alone, co-writing, or writing music to pre-existing lyrics? Which kind of song is more rewarding to you?

Devon Kauflin: Great question. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I would start with the fact that none of them are easy for me! What I love about music that explicitly points to Christ is the marriage of truth with emotion. I want the emotional tone and melody of the songs I’m singing to be in-line and be a support to the Word that should be central in these songs. Our emotions are in response to the truths we proclaim. Obviously, the emotional implications of music & melody are largely cultural and subjective, but we still want to be faithful with these tools to keep pointing people to Jesus.

There are definitely certain aspects to all three that are compelling. I think the most critical component to writing any song that seeks to point people to Christ is that the writer is affected and stirred by the truth communicated therein. At that point, each method of writing (solo, co-write, or hymn-based) contains a different challenge.

When I’m writing alone, I have to have enough truth in my heart and truths I’ve been meditating on in order to get something out worth saying. When I’m co-writing or working with existing lyrics, I have to stay engaged enough with the truth being communicated and in-tune with what is stirring my co-writer’s affections in order to serve the unity there should be in a song.

For me, it is definitely easier to work with others or with pre-existing lyrics. It helps me keep moving forward in a song when I have someone or something giving me direction when I’ve hit a wall. The tendency for me when writing alone is to over-think every aspect and go for perfection, and since I am so limited in ability and knowledge I paralyze myself, because it’s never going to be perfect.

Bobby Gilles: What kind of things do you learn, adapting the works of an Isaac Watts or John Kent?

Sovereign Grace worship leader and founder of the Na Band Devon Kauflin Devon Kauflin

Devon Kauflin: Wow… First and foremost, when adapting these works I learn more about Jesus. For me, there’s a lot of meditation on the truth of God’s word when I’m working on writing, and these hymns consistently stir my affections and awaken my heart and mind to the glories of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. After working with these hymns, I’ll find my vocabulary expands. We don’t have enough words on our own to exhaust the worthiness of God.

Another thing that I glean when adapting these works is that these guys wrote a lot. It’s encouraging to see that they didn’t stop writing. Isaac Watts and Horatius Bonar are two of my favorite hymnists and you’ll see throughout their works consistent themes and sometimes phrasings across different hymns. If that came up in something I’m working on, in my pride I would be like, “You can’t do that”, but these guys knew they were singing to and meditating on a God who is so worthy that you just have to keep writing and singing. I also am provoked and inspired by the discipline that was exhibited in this. Bonar, for example, was part of a church that would not even sing the hymns that he was writing. But that didn’t stop him. I love the humility exemplified in his heart and attitude and it’s something that I want to emulate.

Bobby Gilles: You added a bridge to Watts’ “When I Survey” that simply says

“I give my life, I give my all / To follow you, to follow you.”

Then on Phillip Bliss’s “What A Savior” you added a 5-line chorus that is more lyrically and theologically robust. When you’re looking at hymns to adapt or arrange, how do you decide between things like “I want to add just a little space to let worshipers respond to the truth of this hymn in a simple way (like on When I Survey), or “I want to add a full chorus that provides a summation of this hymn’s verses?”

Devon Kauflin: I like the juxtaposition of these two hymns. I love the lyrics and the melody of When I Survey. The bridge that we added actually came out of a single’s meeting that we had at Covenant Life. We were practicing before the gathering and as we worked through When I Survey, this refrain jumped out at me. It seemed like a natural response to seeing the glories of Calvary. So we did it that night. The hymn certainly stands on its own and doesn’t necessarily need any type of refrain, but it was meant to serve those people in that context at that time and we all liked it.

What a Savior, similarly, contains such incredible truth; however, I was never particularly excited about the traditional melody associated with it. In our context it didn’t seem to fit the declaration: “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” I really wanted to be able to respond to the truth in the verses, and the line combined with the melody just seemed like a total downer to me.

So over a few years I kept coming back to the hymn text and working on different ideas. I finally came up with a melodic idea that I liked for the verses and really wanted to get to a point of exclaiming our thanks to our Savior in a chorus. We decided to do it at the upcoming New Attitude conference.

And at this point it still didn’t have a chorus, but in good faith, we threw it into one of the session schedules. As I was taking a shower the morning of the session that we were going to teach the song the proverbial light bulb came on for me. I met up with my dad and we made a couple tweaks and we taught it that morning.

I don’t think either of these hymns needs a refrain. But given the corporate nature and contextual aspects of what we do when we sing, it seemed to fit and add something that wasn’t there before. It’s similar to playing a familiar song to a different feel or tempo. It casts a fresh light on the lyric and allows me to see truth I may have grown familiar with. We sing to a Savior who by grace has brought us from death to life and reconciled us to Himself. I want to do all I can, both in my heart and in those around me, to not take this truth for granted.

Bobby Gilles: I love the story progression in “God Over All”: the first verse talks of Christ’s sacrifice, the second makes it personal (“You have bought me with Your Blood”) and the third looks to the Second Coming. When you’re writing, do you actively think in terms of story, or plot advancement?

Devon Kauflin: In writing God Over All, the story progression was something my dad really encouraged me to work on as the song developed. It was very helpful then and is still helpful now. Yes, I do tend to think in terms of plot advancement, and the story I want to tell is the gospel.

More recently in writing I’ve been working on being more focused on a specific part of the gospel story, rather than seeking to tell the whole thing. Through the influence of my dad, Bryan Chapell’s “Christ-Centered Worship”, and ya’ll – Sojourn Music, I have clearer “chapters” to the story that we’re proclaiming. So I’m working on writing songs that fit those chapters.

There are many chapters to the story of the gospel, but right now my focus is Adoration, Confession, Assurance, and Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’re going to tell the whole story in one song, but more often than not it’s relayed over the entirety of the church’s gathering.

Bobby Gilles: I also love how constant the meter flows from verse to verse. That’s something a lot of songwriter’s have trouble with: for example, the third line of the first verse is way shorter than the third line of the second verse, so they have to cram all those extra syllables into the same measures of music. Do you prune your lines a lot, or does it come naturally?

Devon Kauflin: I would say it’s something that comes more naturally, but along with that I definitely will spend the time to prune. Inconsistent meter flow can bother me enough that I don’t normally let a line become a line until it is consistent.

Bobby Gilles: On “Nail My Glory,” you revised the Isaac Watts hymn with your dad Bob Kauflin. What’s it like to co-write with your dad? Have you done a lot of it, or just a little? Did you grow up wanting to write like him, or with him, or to show him things you’d written?

Devon Kauflin: There is not a man I know that I respect more than my dad. Being able to work on writing with him is a tremendous honor, but serving the Lord alongside him is even greater.

In my early teenage years I hated my dad. I wanted nothing to do with him and certainly did not want to write like him or with him. But our God is a great redeemer! First, he rescued me from my sin and made me alive together with Him. But then God took what was a broken and seemingly hopeless relationship and transformed it into something I could have never imagined. Apart from my wife, my dad is my best friend.

Now, yes, I want to write like him. But much more than writing like him, I want to love God like him.

Bobby Gilles: What’s next for the Na Band?

Devon Kauflin: Simply, serve the Lord by serving our church and serving Sovereign Grace Music however we can. We have the opportunity to lead at this year’s Next Conference in Orlando which is focused on loving the Church. We are really looking forward to that time. Beyond that we’ll see what doors God opens and we will seek to keep humbly pointing people to Christ.

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