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.