Lessons on Worship Leading from 1 Timothy

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by Shane Heilman

When thinking of worship-leading “coaches” from Scripture, we’re more often inclined to think of David than of Paul. After all, David was a skilled musician who wrote history’s most influential worship songs (the Psalms) and arranged the 24/7 tabernacle worship. There is certainly much to learn from David’s life, his songs, and his philosophy of worship – lessons that could probably fill up an entire blog series itself. Yet, it’s quite possible that Paul’s writings have taught me more about corporate worship than David has.

Several years ago, I was reading 1 Timothy when the Holy Spirit expressly spoke to me some truths about worship leading. These truths instantly took the gatherings I led to new levels of intimacy with God.

1 Timothy is known as one of the three “pastoral epistles,” (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), so-called because in them Paul is giving explicit instruction on church order to the titular pastors, some of which involves how to conduct worship services.

Here is one of the verses that stood out to me in 1 Timothy pertaining to worship leading:

First of all, then (emphasis mine), I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” 1 Timothy 2:1

Again, Paul’s purpose in this letter is instructing Timothy in how to lead the church. In Chapter 2, Paul turns to church function, behavior, and order. First of all, Paul says (indicating primacy), pray for “all people,” which in context refers to “all kinds of people.” Paul also mentions different types of prayer: supplications, intercession, and thanksgivings. This is a comprehensive prayer strategy for the church. Paul indicates its importance as primary.

Yet how much of our corporate worship time is devoted to strategic prayer, to praying out loud for those in attendance, to praying for specific people not in attendance, to praying for each other, touching the heart of God? Songs may act as prayers at times, but prayer must also be specific and personal in corporate worship. Prayer is the primary means by which believers connect to God and to each other, yet strategic, intercessory prayer is often neglected in worship gatherings. It is often reserved only for the pastor’s pre-and-post message prayer, or maybe a prayer tossed up by the worship leader before or after the singing. In one megachurch I attended there was no prayer at all until 45 minutes into the service! Some churches do have a specific “quiet prayer time” set aside in the service to pray for specific people and needs, and this is an excellent practice.

Still, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in a worship service that spent enough time in prayer.

After reading 1 Timothy 2 one day, the Spirit spoke to me: when were the most powerful, intimate, and life-altering moments of worship that I’ve experienced? Almost all occurred when prayer was central to what was happening in the corporate worship gathering. An elder prayed over me during the final songs of a worship set, or I prayed for someone else. The worship leader offered a powerful, intentional, effectual prayer over the individuals in the congregation, cutting us to the heart and ministering a timely, living word from God to us (these prayers were likely prayerfully crafted and delivered out of intimacy with God before being delivered corporately). The church joined together in prayer for a sick brother or sister. A brother or sister poured his/her heart out to God before the whole congregation. The examples go on and on. The conclusion was inexorable: intentional corporate prayer time is primary and foundational for an effective and intimate corporate worship gathering.

I began incorporating prayer of different kinds into my worship planning in a variety of ways. Here are just some of the ideas I began to implement:

– Hearing from God during the week and composing a Biblical, timely prayer (like a modified, personalized version of Ephesians 3, for example) that would minister to, reassure, and challenge the congregation and the individuals within it, and reciting or reading that prayer during a strategic point in the worship set. These prayers really “opened things up” in the worship gathering. It created freedom in the room for people to engage God more personally. The personal, individualized nature of the words made the gathering feel more “real,” more organic, more vulnerable.

– Asking congregants to pray for each other. Often people need a little direction, such as what to pray for, but getting people outside their comfort zone to pray and minister to the people right next to them is what the church is all about!

– Setting aside a “quiet prayer time” for the congregation to pray for specific requests submitted to the elders (those that are not confidential, obviously), to pray for issues of local or national importance, and to pray silently or out loud for whatever is specifically on their hearts. I usually had an elder a week lead these prayers, but also left quiet time for people to pray on their own and touch the Lord.

– Calling up elders and prayer leaders at strategic points in the service to offer hands-on prayer ministry for people dealing with specific issues, often during the final few songs or in response to the sermon. Very, very powerful ministry, including healings, happen during these times when people have been broken by the Word!

A common concern amongst worship leaders is that too much “prayer time” or “liturgical time” will bog down the flow and bore the congregation. I couldn’t disagree more! When done with spiritual authority, prayer is an extremely engaging experience, even for the seeker. Furthermore, even if some people are coming to church just to be entertained, an intimate time with the Lord will quickly reveal to them that their desire to be entertained can only be fulfilled by the living God. What people are really longing for is connection, whether they realize it or not. It’s our job as worship leaders to give them the time, space, and opportunity to do that.

Another verse that struck me from 1 Timothy was 4:13: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” We as worship leaders tend to underestimate just how powerful it is to simply pull out the Bible and read it with authority! There is power in the Word of God!! I always put it this way: when God speaks, people are saved, healed, and delivered. When man speaks, no one is saved, healed, or delivered. In the worship services you plan, how much time is set aside just to allow God to speak? Who is primarily doing the speaking in your worship services, man or God? I realize that the pastor will do most of the “speaking,” but let the reader understand: either a person is blabbing under their own power and wisdom, or a Spirit-filled, Bible-saturated saint is pouring forth living bread and living water, the pure milk of the Word, giving adequate time for reflection and for the Spirit of God to move. Which characterizes your worship gatherings?

One of my favorite ways to incorporate more public reading of Scripture was to memorize Psalms and recite them passionately while repeating an appropriate chord progression. SO POWERFUL! As I looked out at the congregation, I could see the spiritual and emotional response. It was like watching heaviness fall off people and watching them be set free! Memorize Psalms. When memorized, you can also “pull them out of your pocket” at any appropriate, Spirit-led time of worship. They work as prayer as well as encouragement, intercession, praise, lament, exhortation, etc.

I hope these lessons from 1 Timothy have been a blessing to you, and I hope you’re excited to see how God works and speaks in your next worship gathering as you give primacy to prayer and the the reading of Scripture. Unchain the word, let God speak, and enjoy Him as He moves and answers the prayers of your congregation!


Shane Heilman is songwriter and producer at The Psalms Project.

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Part 8

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

This is my final post in this series. It’s a little longer than the others, but it’s actually much shorter than it could be…The last idol I want to speak to is the idol of RELEVANCE.

Churches can become irrelevant for any number of reasons. Spiritual pride can keep us from considering that non-Christian guests may not understand our highly developed “Christian-speak.” Administrative incompetence might make it difficult for people to find us, or to enjoy being with us once they do (possibly due to crowded conditions, erratic temperature control, musty smells, etc.). A faulty understanding of what it means to be “in the world but not of the world” may result in a narrow interpretation of what external practices constitute godliness. Churches that don’t use electricity are one example that comes to mind. Each of the churches I’ve described here would bring greater glory to God by becoming more “relevant.”

However, the idol of relevance is rooted in the fear that people may not like us because we seem different from them. We want them to know we eat at the same restaurants, watch the same TV shows, listen to the same bands, laugh at the same jokes, and go to the same movies that they do. Our greatest fear is being perceived as out of touch.

Obviously, there are many times we’ll engage in the same activities as non-Christians. It’s one way that we maintain a conversation with and presence in the world. However, we’re fighting a losing battle when relevance becomes our aim – to convince the world we’re just like them. There are aspects of our culture that we clearly want to set ourselves apart from, simply because they contain so much that is opposed to glorying in Jesus Christ.

Martin Lloyd-Jones addressed the desire of preachers to be “relevant” in his book, Preaching and Preachers. His point is applicable to worship leaders as well.

“Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him. That poor sinful woman of whom we read in Luke 7 did not draw near to the Pharisees and wash their feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hair of her head. No, but she sensed something in our Lord – His purity, His holiness, His love – and so she drew near to Him. It was His essential difference that attracted her. And the world always expects us to be different. This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (p. 140)

Jesus possessed an “essential difference” that people, both religious leaders and prostitutes, were aware of. That difference included a profound humility, an unshakeable joy, and a servant heart. Ultimately, it was a refusal to bow to the god of this world, and an unyielding commitment to love His Father and obey His will. (Jn. 2:24-25, 5:30) Jesus related to sinners because He had come to give His life as a ransom for them. He hung around the “low-lifes” of his day enough to be accused of engaging in their sins (Lk. 7:34), yet we never get the impression he attended parties to prove that he was just like everyone there.

I could provide links to a number of church websites right here that would illustrate pursuing the idol of relevance. (After poking around the Internet, I’m convinced that truth is definitely stranger than fiction.) I decided not to do it, though. Like me, you may find it’s too easy to be tempted to self-righteousness, uncharitable judgment, or false accusation. I think the following description of the church in Acts succinctly communicates the distance that exists between the church and the world, and how God adds to His people in spite of it – or perhaps because of it. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. (Acts 5:13-14 ESV)

What I believe every Christian pastor and leader needs to answer are questions like these: Are people who visit our church more aware of how different we are or how similar we are to them? Are the people in my church growing in their likeness to the values of Jesus Christ or the world? Do the songs we sing and the references we make communicate the supreme treasure of God’s Word or the godless pride of our age?

On a more personal note, as a leader I want to carefully watch my own intake. It’s revealing to measure how much time I actually spend reading, studying, and observing the thoughts of non-Christians for the purpose of being “relevant.” How much is necessary for me to enable meaningful contact with the world around me? That’s a question I need to answer from the Lord’s perspective, not mine or the world’s.

I’m in the middle of reading Os Guiness’ book Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance. It’s an excellent read. I think this quote says what I’d like to say better than I ever could:

“By our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance. Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant.” (p. 15)

“Father, by your grace make us faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – in our words, our deeds, and our thoughts. And like the early church, we trust that more than ever believers will be added to the Lord.”


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

Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Part 7

I’m in the middle of a discussion on idols that can tempt us when we gather to worship God on Sunday mornings.

Today, I’d like to talk about the idol of REPUTATION, especially as it’s revealed in the lives of leaders. God commends a good reputation in Proverbs: A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. Prov. 22:1 That means God wants our lives characterized by virtues such as godliness, integrity, and faithfulness. However, I’m never to seek my good name at the expense of God’s name. I must never be more concerned about my reputation than God’s.

The idol of reputation is subtle. It’s masquerades behind holy acts, but reveals itself in unholy responses or thoughts. It’s sad, sobering, and scary that I can use the act of worshipping God to try to make myself look better in people’s eyes. I’ve done it countless times. Here are a few ways I’ve seen this idol express itself through the years… “I wonder if anyone will notice that outstanding piano fill…” “My voice is SO much better than hers.” “That was a GREAT song selection I made this morning!” “What do you mean you want the singing time to be cut short by five minutes?!” “Why don’t they ask me to sing more?” “I don’t need to rehearse like everyone else.” “I could NEVER sing in the choir. I’m a soloist.”

These are the more obvious self-exalting kind of thoughts. I’ve been guilty of all of them. However, the same root can manifest itself in anxiety and self-deprecation as well. “I wonder if people will like the worship today.” “My stomach is tied up in knots before every meeting.” “Worship was just terrible this morning.” “Don’t ask me to sing or play a solo.”

These responses are often rooted in the fear that we won’t get the credit and acclaim we crave. Because we’re afraid we won’t be honored, we make excuses, we aim low, we nurture unbelief, and give in to anxiety. In short, we fail to honor God. In both cases, our goal is the same – to improve what others think of us, rather than what they think of our Savior.

While musicians and pastors are no more sinful than anyone else, we do have particular temptations that we need to be aware of. Since much of what leaders do takes place in front of people, we can be tempted to steal glory from God. That is what I mean by serving the idol of our reputation. Of course, non-leaders can serve the same idol. As we sing praises to God, we can wonder if we’re singing in tune, if we look passionate (or contemplative) enough, or if the people around us are REALLY worshipping God.

Years ago, I was in England at a large Christian conference. During one seminar, we were led in corporate worship by a guitarist whom I thought was average in every respect. As he finished what I would describe as a sorry time of worship in song, the elderly gentleman to my side turned my way. With a glowing smile, he asked, “That was simply lovely, wasn’t it?” I wanted to say no, but the Holy Spirit caught my tongue before the answer slipped out. What I realized was that only one of us had been worshipping God during that time. And it wasn’t me. I was busy worshipping myself, exulting in my knowledge of worship, my experiences, my training, my background. Needless to say, God wasn’t impressed. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Is. 66:2b ESV) May God grant us grace to truly seek His reputation above our own each time we meet to worship Him.

For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Glad to Be a Doorkeeper by Pat Sczebel
Heart Attitudes for the Worship Team by Bob Kauflin


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

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.

What Pastors Wish Their Worship Leaders Knew

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shutterstock_92514370_FotorThis past week I had the privilege of participating in the Cutting it Straight conference in Jacksonville, led by H.B. Charles, Jr. and hosted by Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

H.B. started this conference, now in its second year, specifically to influence African American pastors to preach expositionally. I was invited to be part of the worship track. H.B., along with his music pastor, Joe Pace, hopes to see more black churches singing songs that are theologically rich and gospel-centered. Not gospel like “black gospel,” but gospel like “Jesus bore our sins on the cross to purchase our forgiveness” gospel. While our cultural backgrounds are different, we share a passion to see the Word of God proclaimed in song in the power of the Spirit, and to see churches singing songs that enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly.

For two of the seminars I was assigned the topic of “What Pastors/Worship Leaders Wish Their Worship Leader/Pastor Knew.” It was a little challenging because pastors and musicians vary widely in terms of their theology and practice. But here’s my attempt to pinpoint “What Pastors Wish Their Worship Leaders Knew.” Although this post highlights areas that might be problematic, pastors should regularly communicate support and evidences of grace in their worship leader before pointing out things that could be better. For the sake of this post, I’m using the term “worship leader” to describe a non-elder who leads the music during the gatherings of the church.

1. Pastors, not worship leaders, will give an account to God for the people in their church. (Heb. 13:17)
Pastors are ultimately responsible for the teaching and song diet of the church.
Pastors should know in advance what songs will be sung, and should play a part in choosing them.
If you want a pastor’s trust, you’ll have to earn it.

2. God’s Word to us matters more than our words to God. (Is. 66:2; Ps. 19:7-11)
Music ministry is Word ministry.
Don’t underestimate the value of proclaiming God’s Word passionately.
Seek to know your Bible better than your instrument.
Lead us to sing the Word, hear the Word, see the Word, and pray the Word.

3. We are what we sing. Therefore, choose our songs and lyrics wisely. (Col. 3:16)
You are discipling the congregation through your song choices and words.
For better or worse, our churches will remember more words from our songs they sing than from the sermons they hear.
Build a repertoire of songs that enable us to express the many varied aspects of God’s glory and the many appropriate responses, and make sure we’re singing them.

4. While song introductions can be helpful, the worship leader is not the preacher.
Your primary role is to enable the word of Christ to dwell in us as we sing, not to preach.
When speaking, typically less is more.
Choose good songs, and let the songs do the teaching.

5. Prayers are corporate conversations with God, not filler.
Don’t pray simply because you feel awkward or don’t know what else to do.
Use your prayers to speak for the congregation, not just yourself.
Model what theologically informed, engaged, Christ-exalting prayer looks like.
Don’t mix up the members of the Trinity, and don’t pray as though God has forgotten his name.

6. Your job is to support congregational singing, not overwhelm or replace it.  (Eph. 5:18-19; Rev. 5:9-10)
Make sure your sound man knows the value of the congregation’s voice.
If you constantly sing harmony, some of us will have a hard time knowing what the melody is.
Don’t assume your instrumentalists have to play constantly.
Pull back from your vocal mics sometimes, stop playing your instruments, and let us sing a cappella.

7. Truth matters more than tunes, but that doesn’t mean we should sing great theology to bad melodies or accompaniment.
Choose songs the congregation enjoys singing and can sing.
Occasionally try changing the arrangement, tempo, or feel of a song so the congregation can hear the lyrics in a fresh way.

8. Keys that serve the congregation take priority over keys that make you sound good. (Phil. 2:3-4)
We don’t come primarily to listen to you sing, but to lift up our own voices.
If you have to sing higher, try occasionally adding fills that heighten the impact and meaning of the lyrics we’re singing.
Congregations get weary if they have to sing a lot of high Ds and Es. If we’re singing F#s they’ll probably drop an octave or faint.

9. Don’t teach us so many new songs that we never learn them and so few new songs that we fail to benefit from them.
Learning about two songs every three months is doable. Learning 4 songs a month isn’t.
We have access to more songs more immediately than any time in history. Teach us the ones that we will feed our souls for more than a few weeks.
If your aim is to serve us, you won’t have to try to impress us.

10. Blaming sin on being an artist/musician doesn’t make it any less sinful.
Moodiness, over-sensitivity, procrastination, pride, irresponsibility, and laziness aren’t due to having a certain temperament but to indwelling sin.
Getting to know non-musicians in the church can provide perspective and encouragement.
If there’s anything in your life that might hinder or disqualify you from serving in your role, please let me know. I want to help you.

11. Your goal in leading isn’t performing, but pastoring and participation.
If the people in the church generally aren’t singing, you’re performing, not leading congregational worship.
Your job isn’t done just because you practiced. People have to actually sing.
Leading with your eyes open most of the time will communicate your care and help you gauge how people are responding.

12. You’re not the Holy Spirit, but you can depend on Him.
Music can’t open the eyes of our hearts, illumine our minds, our change our lives. But God’s Spirit can.
You don’t have to tell us to “sing louder” or “sing it like you mean it” or exhort us with “C’mon!” Give us doctrinal fuel and for our emotional fire and trust the Spirit will do the rest.
When you spend time in prayer asking God to empower what you do, you’ll lead more often with a humble confidence that is easy to follow.

13. Ultimately, Christ is our worship leader, not me or you. (Heb. 2:11-12, 8:1-2)
You don’t have to bring us into the throne room. Christ has already done that. (Heb. 10:19-22)
You don’t have to feel pressure or be anxious about leading us. Christ perfects all our offerings (1 Pet. 2:5)!
The more you point us to what Christ has done and is doing for us, the less we’ll see you and the more we’ll benefit from the ways God has gifted you.

If you’re a pastor and identify with some or many of these points, don’t keep it to yourself. More importantly, take your musical leader out for a meal and express your appreciation in specific ways. Then talk about what could be better. Who knows what God might do?

What would you add?

(Image courtesy of shutterstock.com)

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.