Worship leader urges balance in contemporary praise and worship

Communications Staff — April 3, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Worship leader Bob Kauflin thinks Christians have reacted too extremely to the contemporary praise and worship movement.

Instead of either wholeheartedly embracing praise and worship music or completely rejecting it, Kauflin encourages a middle approach: Appreciate the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, but recognize that some concerns accompany those benefits.

Kauflin says such an approach may ultimately allow worshipers to learn a new vocabulary for declaring God’s glory.

Kauflin serves as director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, an organization that seeks to establish and nurture local churches. He recently spoke at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His lecture was part of the seminary’s Institute for Christian Worship speaker series.

Urging churches to consider the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, Kauflin said, “Worship is not about what’s comfortable for me. Worship is about learning new ways to express God’s glory.”

While not advocating exclusive use of contemporary praise and worship music, Kauflin cited several positives emerging from the contemporary praise and worship movement. Among them:

* Praise and worship music has renewed a God-focused emphasis in the Christian music industry.”Certainly entertainment is still a big part of CCM [Contemporary Christian Music], but you hear more talk about people wanting to listen to music to connect with God, to experience intimacy with God, to encounter God.” One example of this trend, he said, is the overwhelming sales of recent worship albums such as Third Day’s “Offerings,” and Michael W. Smith’s “Worship,” he said.

* Praise and worship music is helping to revitalize worship services. In many churches, Kauflin said, praise and worship music has helped people to gain “a new awareness of God’s presence, a new appreciation for the words they are singing, and a new experience of intimacy with God as a result of just singing songs that allowed them to say these things.”

* More styles of music are being used to praise God, reaching a new generation. “Every generation will in some way reflect its own voice in the worship of God. Now it shouldn’t do that alone. It shouldn’t do that exclusively, but we should welcome new expressions,” he said.

Yet despite these benefits, the contemporary praise and worship movement has brought some negative features to the arena of Christian music, Kauflin admits. Negatives include:

* Contemporary praise and worship may cause us to think that worship is equivalent to music.God certainly values our musical expressions of worship, but true worship is much broader than music, he said. ”God loves music. He wants us to praise His name with music…but worship has to do with what rules our hearts and desires, what takes up our time, what we think about when we don’t have to think about anything. That’s where we see worship,” Kauflin said. “It’s reflected not just in what we sing, but in the way we speak think and act.” Because so many contemporary uses of the word ‘worship’ refer to music exclusively—such as worship CDs, the worship station and worship bands—we may gain a warped perspective of the term’s true meaning, he said.

* With the contemporary praise and worship movement, there may be a temptation to think that worship is somehow new or has finally become genuine. According to Kauflin, every generation of Christians tends to think that its music has reached an unsurpassed level of genuineness. But such a thought is simply inaccurate, he said. “What a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have worshiped God probably more sincerely than you ever did, before you were ever born. There’s that tendency to think that because the style of music is new that the worship must be better, and we just want to be careful here.”

* Given the fact that worship songs are highly memorable, musicians can become our primary theologians. Many contemporary worship songs stick in our minds because of their catchy tunes, said Kauflin. But some of these songs may not accurately transmit the message of Scripture.

“Just because a song has a catchy chorus and is easy to learn doesn’t mean it’s good theology,” he said.

Ultimately, Kauflin concluded that Christians should utilize contemporary worship music but take care to ensure the biblical faithfulness of their worship.

“Look for songs that contain solid biblical truths, that inspire a passionate response,” he said.

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