Do I Lead To Impress or To Serve?

by Bob Kauflin

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One of the things I’ve enjoyed about moving to Louisville two years ago and helping to plantSovereign Grace Church is the opportunity to train interns from Southern Seminary and Boyce College. I meet weekly with a group from each school to talk theology, focus on heart issues, and work on music and leadership skills. They also serve on Sundays and help out withSovereign Grace Music.

Young musicians and leaders are often overly self-conscious and nervous. While confidence comes with experience, we don’t want to overcome self by becoming more assured in ourselves. So one of  my goals for the interns is that they get to the place where they can comfortably and joyfully get up in front of people spontaneously and lead us in a song that helps us exalt Christ. To that end, a couple weeks ago when I met with the Boyce interns, we talked about 2 Corinthians 4:5:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he and his co-laborers weren’t in ministry to draw attention to themselves, but to Jesus. And it was a specific Jesus they were drawing attention to – the Jesus who is Lord. The result was that rather than promoting themselves they humbled themselves and became servants to the Corinthians. They did all this “for Jesus’ sake” because they wanted the Corinthians to join them in treasuring and following Christ.

This verse helps clarify the choice we have to make when leading people in song on Sunday mornings. Are we going to proclaim ourselves or Jesus? Are we going to seek to impress or to serve?

Leading to Impress

Seeking to impress, or promoting ourselves, is revealed in a variety of ways. I’ve experienced all of them.

Sometimes we’re afraid we aren’t going to impress people.
Our rehearsals and preparation are tense and demanding.
We struggle with clammy hands and sweat-producing anxiety.
We obsess over whether or not people will like our leading, playing, or singing.
We battle discouragement when we do poorly.
We fight condemnation when no one notices our contribution or when we receive negative feedback, however slight.
We’re offended when a leader doesn’t give us sufficient time to prepare so that we can look our best.
We’re trying to promote ourselves and are afraid we’re not doing a very good job.

Other times, we’re confident we do impress people.
We frequently reference our contribution.
Our monitor mix gives little to no indication that we’re leading with other musicians.
We’re shocked when someone else gets scheduled more than we do.
We view the church as a platform for our ministry.
We don’t have time for pastors that want to get to know us before they let us lead.
We don’t understand why everyone else isn’t as enamored as we are with our voice, playing, leading, or songwriting.
We’re promoting ourselves and want everyone else to join in.

Leading to Serve

In contrast to that attitude, God wants us to view leading worship in song as an opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters for Jesus’ sake. You might notice that in both scenarios above, Jesus doesn’t even make it into the picture.

What does it look like when musicians seek to serve others for Jesus’ sake?
We take time to pray when we prepare because we want to know God’s heart for the people we’re leading.
We receive encouragement or criticism gladly because the first assures us God’s Spirit is working through us and the second helps us grow.
Our joy doesn’t depend on whether or not we did particularly well that morning, but on whether people encountered God and grew in their love for Christ.
We listen to other people in the band.
We practice because we don’t want to do anything that will distract people from focusing on the words we’re singing and the One we’re singing to.
We’re quick to notice and point out ways others have served well.
When God uses someone else’s gifts to exalt Christ, we’re no less happy than when he uses ours.
We participate in the menial tasks of set up and take down.
Our face and body tell people we’re more excited about what Jesus has done than the lick we just played or sang.
We make it a joy for leaders to lead us.

What does it look like when leaders seek to serve others for Jesus’ sake?
We recognize that the goal isn’t to have musical experiences dwell in people richly, but the word of Christ (Col. 3:16).
We’re more confident in God’s words than ours, both in our songs and our speech.
We choose songs that help people understand, apply, and benefit from the gospel.
We think of ways to involve others in leading and playing.
We welcome, even ask for, input from our pastor and others before and after the meeting.
We keep creativity in its most helpful place, using it to draw attention to Jesus rather than to itself or to us.
We’re relaxed as we step up to lead others because we’re aware that we’re jars of clay and Jesus is the all-surpassing treasure (2 Cor. 4:7).
We know that God loves to use the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).
We make it a joy for others to follow us.

Leading others in song is always about God and what he’s done for us in Christ, not about us and what we’ve done. While God wants to use our gifts, preparation, and skills, he doesn’t need them.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Being the servant of others for Jesus’ sake is not only more enjoyable than proclaiming ourselves, it’s the only way the glory of the gospel will be seen through our lives and leading.

Because we weren’t saved to proclaim the excellencies of ourselves, but of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

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