I was given a copy of Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters and was really impressed with his material. Kauflin wrote the book specifically for worship leaders that they might be more effective and more skillfully lead worship at their church (p. 17) and I really think he succeeds in this goal. While I don’t agree with everything (especially in regard to his view of miraculous gifts in everyday life), it is a really good resource for those who are looking to dial in their understanding both practically and doctrinally of the place of singing in our worship of the Lord.
Kauflin’s discussion on skill begins a little shaky, but as the book progresses it really firms up and he has a lot of good input. He beings citing some Old Testament passages in regard to skill without explaining some of the problems of making direct application to “playing skillfully on the strings” to our day, on the other side of the cross (p. 34). He later amends this oversight (p. 52) making it clear that we should not just copy Old Testament temple worship. But in this section on skill he makes it very clear that “skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable before God” (p. 35), which I think is a key statement, especially in the media and entertainment driven society that we live in today. It is not about always sounding perfect or having the best guitarist on your team, in fact placing too much emphasis on skill can have some ugly fruit (p. 36), but we must balance skill as a tool to help others worship the Lord in song (it can be distracting if everyone is out of key!). The principle here is “serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10). “Nothing against skill, practice, complexity, nuance, musicianship, or sincerity, but only the finished work of Christ makes our offerings of worship acceptable in God’s eyes. What a relief!” (p. 75).
Another point that impacted me was preparing what you say in between songs beforehand (p. 40). When I have led in the past, I did think of verses to read before, but very rarely did I prepare any sort of comments or transitions before. It was convicting because being unprepared in the pulpit is one of my pet peeves, and yet I had failed to really think about it in relation to leading worship. For the benefit of others, preparation is key!
A philosophy of choosing songs also comes out in Kauflin’s book, and he has some really good insights. Making sure that the songs we sing are not vague, but are specific and meaningful because “vague ideas of God don’t serve us or the people we lead. If most of our songs could be sung by Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus, it’s time to change our repertoire” (p. 62). Obviously songs are poetry and not systematic theologies (p. 62), but true worship of God comes hand with truth of who God is.
But one weak point in Kauflin’s philosophy of song choosing comes in his discussion about “gospel radar” (p. 77-78). He insinuates that because “Amazing Grace” does not articulate Christ’s atoning death that we should make sure and have another song that is “more specific about the cross” in a worship set (p. 78). So while he acknowledges that songs are not systematic theologies, in this case I think he has gone too far in saying that the complete Gospel must be presented in every worship set. The problem with this is if you read a few psalms in a row, you are not going to get a full explanation of who God is, it is just a glimpse. And so to expect a fully rounded theology on a Sunday morning from your songs might be a little too narrow.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit is an aspect that is largely neglected, not only in leading worship, but also in our daily lives, and Kauflin does a great job at pointing out this weakness and giving practical helps to move us in the right direction (p. 82). We are desperately dependent (p. 83), and how much we pray tells us if we believe it or not. Kauflin asks a stimulating question: “Next Sunday, if the Spirit stopped empowering your worship, would anyone notice?” (p. 87). I think the sad reality is that many times we wouldn’t even notice.
Style is always a major issue in churches, and Kauflin makes a good point that “it was his [David’s] words, not his music, that God chose to preserve in Scripture” (p. 90). So rather than battle about style, he takes the high road and battles for Word-centered worship. A practical piece of advice is to read a song’s lyrics before listening to it so that the music does not influence your decision to use it in corporate worship (p. 93). That was convicting to me, for often I listen to a cd for cool music and then I check the words – but words should gain the priority. A good example of how music can impact us is this story he tells: “I once heard of a Christian woman who spent time serving God in South Africa. While visiting a local health clinic, she was deeply moved by the sound of the local Zulu women singing. Their harmonies were hauntingly beautiful. With tears in her eyes, she asked a friend if she knew the translation of the words. ‘Sure,’ her friend replied. ‘If you boil the water, you won’t get dysentery’” (p. 97).
Another great practical piece of advice was to focus the Sunday’s songs on last week’s sermon (p. 112). Normally I had always heard try to focus on the current week’s, but with schedules, it was always hard to make that happen (especially in youth group!). But by focusing on last week’s sermon, you not only are able to do so consistently, but you also teach the importance of remembering what has been taught and mediating on the messages given to us by God’s servants.
Chapter sixteen is where much of Kauflin’s “continuationism” comes through, but he is very cautious and treads lightly on his own beliefs here (p. 137ff). But he is clear that God’s Word is the rule, and that such “spontaneous songs” are not equal to Divine revelation (p. 140). But besides a few other sections in the book, he keeps this aspect of his belief on the down-low.
There was much more that could be said, but that is a little picture of the book. I recommend that you get a copy for yourself and work through it. Good books are hard to find these days, and this is a good encouraging read.