Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 6

by  in —Leading a Congregation, —Leading a Team, —Worship and God

Today I want to focus on the idol of RESULTS. I’m referring to the mindset that views worshipping God as a means to attain a more desirable end, like increased attendance, evangelism, mutual ministry, or individual experiences. “Results-worship” might underlie comments like these: “We stay away from certain biblical topics because people just don’t like to hear them.” “Livelier meetings keep the guests coming back.” “It didn’t seem like God was with us this morning because all we did was sing, share the Lord’s Supper, and hear God’s Word preached.” “We make it a goal to have everyone receive a “touch from God” on Sunday morning.”

Of course, it’s right to want the church to grow, desire to see people saved, provide opportunities for mutual edification, and expect that people will encounter the living God in evidential ways when we meet. However, we want to do all those things so that more and more people will be able to see the surpassing greatness and glory of Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, it’s a false dichotomy to ask whether meetings are for God or for us. They are for God in their end, they are for us in their effect. However, when we’re talking about ultimate purposes, there’s no question. Everything we do, we do so that the glory of God might be seen, magnified, and cherished. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Cor. 10:31 ESV) And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:17 ESV) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:36 ESV)

John Piper has succinctly stated, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” (Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 11) That applies equally to everything else we do. Personal ministry exists because people don’t honor God for His power and compassion. The church needs to grow so that more people might honor and love God for His mercy, grace, and truth. We want people to encounter the active presence of God’s Spirit so that they might prize Him above every experience, feeling, or sensation. We want every Christian to know that God’s steadfast love expressed in the substitutionary death of our Savior is better than life itself.

So, God’s glory is the end of our worship, and not simply a means to something else. In the midst of a culture that glorifies our pitiful accomplishments in countless ways, we gather each week to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds and glory in his supreme value. He is “holy, holy, holy.” There is no one, and nothing, like the Lord. If you’re a leader in God’s household, remember that no good can ultimately come from fixing your people’s eyes on anything greater than the Savior Himself. The Lamb is the One we will be exalting above all else for all eternity. It’s only right that we exalt Him above all else now.


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

What God Wants Pastors and Worship Leaders to Know

by on October 12, 2015 in —Defining Terms, —Worship and the Pastor

IMG_2467_FotorRecently I posted on What Pastors Wished Their Worship Leaders Knew and What Worship Leaders Wished Their Pastor Knew. Today I’d like to finish by suggesting a few things I think God wants both groups to know. These points certainly aren’t everything that can be said, but they might be helpful to keep in mind as we work together to serve our churches and bring glory to the Savior.

1. The church belongs to Jesus, not us. (Mt. 16:18)
Rivalry and disunity contradicts what Jesus came to do – make us one (Jn. 17:11, 21-22; Phil. 2:1-2).
If we think the other leader is taking away “our” time, the primary problem is the way we view our role.
Even though we’re on the same team, Jesus has appointed pastors to teach and lead in the church. At the end of the day, the worship leader should follow the pastor’s lead.

2. Our musical leadership and preaching are meant to flow from a life of worship. (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 13:15-16)
No amount of public fruit can make up for a lack of private devotion or the ongoing practice of sin.
If your devotional or family life is consistently suffering because of the time you give to public ministry, it’s time to take a break and get help.
God values our lives more than our gifts. He can use us, but he doesn’t need us.

3. We’re on the same team and have the same goal – to see God’s glory in Christ magnified in people’s hearts and lives. (2 Cor. 4:6)
Pastors use words while worship leaders use words and music.
In general, musicians need to remember to aim for the mind while preachers need to remember to aim for the heart.
The goal of our efforts should be to hear people say not, “What great worship!” or “What a great sermon!” but “What a great Savior!”

4. No leader will be effective apart from the the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and the gospel. (1 Thess. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 1:16-17)
Neither our musical chops or our communication skills ultimately determine our effectiveness. God has established the means He works through and only He can bring the fruit.
We can’t add something to Scripture or the gospel and make them better than they already are.
What we win people with is what we tend to with them to. Rather than seeking primarily to make the music/preaching more creative, unusual, or innovative, we want to be faithful to make God’s Word and the gospel clear and relevant.

I pray that whatever role you serve in, pastor or congregational worship leader, you’ll find great joy in knowing that Jesus himself is building his church and the gates of hell – or challenging relationships with those who serve alongside you – will not prevail against it.


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 5

By Bob Kauflin

We can’t help but notice the number of times God addresses idolatry in his Word. He hates it when we pursue, serve, or are emotionally drawn to other gods, which are not really gods at all. Idols enslave us (Ps. 106:36), put us to shame (Is. 45:16), and ultimately conform us to their image (Ps. 115:8).

But God’s intention is that we be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Like the Psalmist, we should hate them and those who pay regard to them. (Ps. 31:6). Too often, though, we find ourselves to be the idolaters. Today, I want to share another idol that looms large when we worship God corporately. It particularly applies to musicians.

The Idol of Musical Excellence
Offering God our best has biblical precedent. (Ex. 23:19; Num 18:29-30) In today’s culture, that “best” is often defined as music marked by skill, complexity, or even sophistication. So four-part harmonies edge out unison melodies, orchestras trump upright pianos, and full bands with choirs replace solo guitarists. We become more concerned with making corporate worship bigger, better, and more involved. We balk at the thought of someone without extensive musical training and study leading congregational worship. In the process, we lose sight of what makes our offering acceptable in the first place.

Reggie Kidd, in his book With One Voice, pinpoints the problem: “In some churches the quest for ‘excellence’ is an idol, regardless of whether ‘excellence’ is defined by standards of so-called ‘classical’ culture or of ‘pop’ culture. Such ‘excellentism’ needs to be replaced with the quest to pursue the likeness of Christ crucified and him alone. As good as it gets this side of Christ’s return, we’re never going to get it completely right. There will always be a flat tenor, a broken guitar string, an overly loud organ, or a poorly placed hymn. But it’s okay. The cross means it’s covered.” (p. 101-102)

Does that mean we don’t need to be concerned about how we play, whether we’re in tune, or what songs we use? Of course not. God commends musical excellence (Ps. 33:3; 1 Chron. 15:22; 2 Chron. 30:21-22). Years ago, my degree in piano performance taught me (painfully) something about the value of musical skill and excellence. But in congregational worship, excellence has a purpose – to focus people’s attention on God’s wondrous acts and attributes.

In corporate worship then, excellence has more to do with issues of edification and encouragement than simple musical standards. Pursuing excellence wisely means continuing to grow in my skill so that I won’t distract those I’m seeking to serve. It means I might play fewer notes to allow more space for people to hear the words. It means I may have to sacrifice my ideas of musical “excellence” to make the truth more musically accessible to my congregation. It means I might not play at all sometimes so that the congregation can hear their own voices clearly ringing out in praise to God. Musical excellence, defined rightly, is a worthy pursuit. But like all idols, it makes a terrible god.

For more on this topic, download the following free message from the Sovereign Grace site: Understanding the Musician’s Heart by Eric Hughes


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 4

By Bob Kauflin

I’d like to continue addressing a topic I began a couple weeks ago, that is, identifying the idols we may serve in our hearts even as we gather to worship God with His people. In previous posts we looked at music, tradition, creativity, experience, and liturgy. Here’s one more (well really, two).

Biblical Knowledge
I hesitate to include “biblical knowledge” as a potential idol. The reason I do is that we can wrongly pursue a knowledge of doctrine that is distinct from a knowledge of God Himself. We have to acknowledge this possibility or we easily fall into the error of the Pharisees, who took more pride in their “rightness” than in their relationship with God. We too, can be more impressed with the accurate theology in our songs than the fact that God has shown us mercy in Jesus Christ.

Doctrine and theology, humbly studied and applied, always lead us to fear, love, and worship God more, not less. For that reason, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for pursuing a knowledge of Scripture that didn’t lead to Him. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40, ESV) As we grow in our understanding of and love for God’s Word, it should always produce a corresponding humility and godliness in us. How tragic that those who defend certain ways of worshipping God most vocally often disgregard the humility God esteems most highly. (Is. 66:2)

Biblical Ignorance
On the other side of the coin, we can exalt our ignorance of Scripture as we worship God, claiming that “words get in the way of worship.” At some point in the future I plan to share on the primacy of God’s Word in our worship. For now, it’s enough to say that when we don’t intentionally value God’s Word as the controlling influence and primary substance of our worship, other authorities rush in to fill its place. We are not more spiritual, nor closer to God, nor more mature if we think we don’t need words to communicate with God. God has always placed His Word at the center of our communion with Him, whether that be through song, prayer, or preaching. Through God’s Word we best come to know Who He is, who we are, and how we are to relate to Him. (Ex. 20; 1 Kings 8:9; Ex. 34:6-7; Josh 1:7-8; 2 Chron. 31:2-4; 34:29-33; Ps. 119; Ps. 19:7-11; Mt. 15:8; Acts 13:48-49; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:13)


Bob Kauflin currently serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 2

by Bob Kauflin

I tried to come up with a shocking title for these posts to alert us to the difference between a “professed” God and “functional” god. That is, the God we say we believe in, and the god that actually governs our desires and actions.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, idolatry can be active in my heart even as I’m outwardly worshipping God. That’s a sobering thought. Whenever I think I can’t worship God unless “X” is present, I’m making a profound statement. If “X” is anything other than Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory. Idolatry is always evil, but the idols we pursue aren’t necessarily evil things. They are evil for us because we value them over God.

Pages could be written on each of the potential idols I’m about to cover. Most, if not all of them, touch on areas that can and should be used with discernment to serve God’s people as we gather to sing His praise. Some of them are more important them others. But all of them are meant to exalt God, not replace Him.

Music
Musical styles for congregational worship have caused quite a stir in recent years. Actually, they’ve been causing a stir for centuries, and for good reason. Music is a powerful medium that can affect us positively or negatively. However, the root of the division is often (though not always) people insisting they know what kind of music God likes. It hasn’t helped that “new music proponents” are often arrogant, insensitive, selfish, and impatient. However, we can make an idol out of what’s old and familiar as easily as we can make one out of what’s new and creative. Music must be wisely chosen for its ability to serve both the lyrics and the congregation in order to truly honor God. But thinking that we need a certain type of music to truly engage with God is, at its root, idolatry.

Tradition
Every church, even those that claim to be non-traditional, has traditions. A tradition is simply something you’ve done more than once. Can traditions serve God’s purposes in the church? Absolutely! Paul encourages the Thessalonians, ““So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2Th. 2:15, ESV) But are our traditions today equal to Scripture in authority? Absolutely not! Every generation is responsible to examine whether or not the traditions they’ve inherited (or are seeking to establish) are biblical and truly help people exult in God’s worthiness and works. The complementary idols of familiarity and comfort are often revealed in the words, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Creativity
Lest this list seem one-sided, NEWNESS can also be an idol. We’re convinced that some fresh, different, never-been-done-before idea will make our congregational worship more effective. Or powerful. Or appealing. Maybe it’s lighting…or a new stage set up…or a video clip…or candles…or banners…or “interactive artistic activity.” Creativity is never our goal in worshipping God. It’s simply a means to the end of displaying and seeing the glory of Christ more clearly. New forms or mediums of communication can give us a different perspective, causing the truth to have a greater impact on us. But if we walk away from a time of corporate worship more affected by our creativity than our Savior, or think that the Word of Christ is old news, God help us.

I’m aware what I’m writing may offend some. I pray that’s not the case, although what we perceive as an “offense” might be the Spirit’s conviction. It could just as well be my poor communication. But this I know: God is committed to receiving all the glory, honor, and praise each time we gather as His people, redeemed through His Son’s atoning sacrifice. He will have no rivals. “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Is. 42:8, ESV) Each time we meet to worship the triune God, HE should be the all-consuming center of our attention and affections. His greatness and splendor should become bigger in our minds, hearts, and wills. His desires and commands should become more precious to us. Jesus Christ and His atoning work should be more glorious and amazing to us.

Tomorrow, I’ll share more idols I’ve found myself worshipping on Sunday mornings. In the mean time, I pray you’re encouraged by the Father’s costly love for us.


For more on this topic, download the following free message from the Sovereign Grace site: Worship Music or Music Worship by Bob Kauflin

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 1

by
So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. (2 Kings 17:41a ESV)

What is our greatest hindrance in worshipping God? We could come up with a number of potential answers.

“Our worship leader isn’t very experienced.”
“The services are too planned/spontaneous.”
“The songs are too complex/simple.”
“The band/orchestra/organist/guitarist sounds bad.”
“There are too many new/old songs.”
“Our church is too big/small.”

Ignoring for a moment that all these statements refer to a meeting context, they reveal a profound misconception about the hindrances to true worship. Contrary to what we might think, our greatest problem doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.

The passage above from 2 Kings describes a situation that existed when Samaria was resettled by the king of Assyria. It’s a situation which can potentially exist in our church services today. We can fear the Lord externally, engaging in what we perceive to be all the proper elements of worship – singing, giving, praying, kneeling, listening to God’s Word, etc. – and be actively serving false gods in our hearts. God makes it clear in Exodus 20 that he will not tolerate any competition for the allegiance and affections of our hearts. “You shall have no other gods before me.” That succinctly describes idolatry.

When someone mentions idolatry, we can picture some tribesman in New Guinea bowing down to statues of wood or metal, and think, “Thank God I don’t struggle with THAT.” Idols, however, are far more pervasive, insidious, and deceptive. Idolatry is attributing ultimate value, authority, or supremacy to any object other than God.

We foolishly think idols can provide for us what only God can give. They tempt us every day, all day. It’s not surprising, then, that even my ten year old daughter, Mckenzie, deals with idols. One of her primary idols is “not taking showers.” Otherwise known as the idols of control and pleasure. She confessed to Julie and me today that for the past three days she’s only beenpretending to take a shower. (For some reason, most ten-year-olds find taking showers as appealing as scratching a chalk board for ten minutes.) After working through a tearful confession with my wife, and learning of her discipline (no playing with friends for three days), we talked about her heart. I explained to her that not taking a shower was an idol for her. She thought that remaining dirty would bring her happiness. Instead it led to deceiving those she loves the most and dishonoring the God Who created her for His glory. And it definitely didn’t deliver on the happiness promise. Ultimately, idols never do.


Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing thoughts on some of the more prevalent idols we deal with as we gather to worship our Savior each Sunday morning.


For more on this topic, download the following free message from the Sovereign Grace site: The Idol Factory by C.J. Mahaney

Entering the Presence of God

by Bob Kauflin

Holy-of-Holies_Fotor

My friend, West, left a question on another post. He was asking about comments I’ve made to the effect that it isn’t a worship leader’s responsibility to lead people into God’s presence. Only Jesus can do that. West wrote:

Heb. 9 through Heb. 10:1-22 call us to enter the Most Holy Place confidently. John Frame says “The Most Holy Place was opened to us at the death of Christ, when the veil of the temple was torn in two” (In Spirit and Truth, 27). If God is enthroned on and abides in the praises of his people, and if he is wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, then it seems that there is an actual, spiritual experience of “entering into” the holy of holies when we gather and praise him.  That being said, it seems that we as leaders in corporate worship have a kind of priestly duty to bring God’s people into his presence, his Most Holy Place, like the Israelite musicians of old. I don’t know.  Am I just way off on this?”

I don’t think anyone is “way off” to ask a question like this. Part of the reason there’s so much confusion about worship and the presence of God is that we so often experience a new awareness of God’s presence when we sing his praises. We often feel like we have “entered God’s presence.” What’s going on?

First, in the Old Testament, the high priest entered the holy of holies once a year on behalf of Israel (Heb. 9:6-7). Jesus has now “entered once for all into the holy places.” We shouldn’t think of ourselves as “entering” them again because Jesus has entered them for us. Hebrews exhorts us to draw near to God with full assurance because we have entered the holy of holies through our union with Christ. In Christ, we are always in the heavenly places and are exhorted to “draw near.” Of course, we can do that at any time, although there is a particular significance when we gather as the church to express our faith in the Gospel.

Second, the issue is how we enter God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to put their faith in Christ’s finished work, not to try to duplicate it. David Peterson, inEngaging with God, says, “Fundamentally, then, drawing near to God means believing the gospel and making ‘personal appropriation of salvation.’” (240). In one sense we have the “priestly duty” of reminding people of what God has said and done (Neh. 8:8). But we are not leading them into the Most Holy Place. Jesus has done that for us. Through faith in his finished work we now have the privilege of confidently drawing near to God.

D.A. Carson shares some very helpful thoughts in this topic. He’s commenting on the thought that “worship leads us into the presence of God.”

“Objectively, what brings us into the presence of God is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If we ascribe to worship (meaning, in this context, our corporate praise and adoration) something of this power, it will not be long before we think of such worship as being meritorious, or efficacious, or the like. The small corner of truth that such expressions hide (though this truth is poorly worded) is that when we come together and engage in the activities of corporate worship (including not only prayer and praise but the Lord’s Supper and attentive listening to the Word…), we encourage one another, we edify one another, and so we often feel encouraged and edified. As a result, we are renewed in our awareness of God’s love and God’s truth, and we are encouraged to respond with adoration and action” (Worship by the Book, 50-51).

So as I’m standing in front of the church, leading them in songs, Scripture reading, and prayer, my goal is not to “lead them into God’s presence,” but to help them remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished for them through his righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection. As they place their faith and trust in the perfect high priest, they will most likely experience a fresh awareness of God’s nearness. Their position in Christ hasn’t changed. Their appreciation of it has. The church will be built up and God will be glorified.

Understanding this area really brings freedom to me as a worship leader. I don’t have to try to pull off an impossible task. I don’t have to be anxious about whether or not people will “make it.” I simply have to present what Christ has done in a clear and compelling way to encourage people’s faith. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest.


Bob Kauflin serves as the Director of Sovereign Grace Music for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky.