By S.C. Shaw
In 2009, (wow that’s 10 years ago!) I felt God pulling me into a season of increased knowledge and drawing me closer towards a deeper, more meaningful life in Christ. I began with the scriptures and dove into the word of God with a new passion. I had always heard the Bible had power but never really understood what that meant. I experienced that power in a radical, personal way and witnessed God’s word transform my life from the inside out. From that point in my life I had a new goal and mission. This mission was to become a worship leader who reflected or “re-presented” Christ in a way that I had never known before. Every single person on the planet receives a gift from God, which is to be used to serve each other and glorify Him. For me, that gift has always been music. I have been drawn to music since I was a child and once I understood what it meant to live a life to Christ I was able to use my gift in a way that glorified God.
As I pursued worship in various settings I began to notice a variety of things, but what stood out the most was the ways in which worship music had shifted. Many of the lyrics I would hear focused on the individual rather than God or there was a strange mixture of singing about all of the ways God could and would do things for me and once in a while a shout of praise to God would be thrown in. I felt unsettled in my spirit and also in my Christian walk. I decided to delve into the topic of worship and that is when I discovered a book called “Worship Matters” by Bob Kauflin. The book is written with a strong theological foundation that teaches how to lead corporate worship in an appropriate and biblically faithful way. Bob discusses who Christ is and offers insight as to how we should honor Him in our times of the gathered church in song and worship as a whole. After reading the book I was inspired to know more.
Fast-forward to 2019, one day I received an email from a friend and pastor from my church (South Shores Church). It was about a conference that was hosted by Bob Kauflin! Throughout the years I had heard many people refer to him as a loving person whose desire was to reintroduce true worship into the church. I was so excited for the opportunity to not only meet Bob but also have the opportunity to learn from a man that had inspired me for so many years. I filled out the form to attend and waited with anticipation to see whether or not I would be accepted to the conference. A few months later I received the acceptance email and was thrilled to learn that only myself and 18 other men would be there. It would be a small group of us who would bond and take part in a time of learning, leading and also receiving input on our musical skills, worship styles and what we could improve to further the worship (music) within each of our churches. My church helped me get there because they have always supported their people with continued education.
In June of this year I flew to Kentucky and arrived at Bob’s house nervous and excited all at the same time. The conference called, “Worship Matters Intensive 2019” by Bob Kauflin. I felt excited and honored to be part of this experience and training however, that feeling quickly moved to becoming a little bored after a couple days as I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new. God had an agenda and I couldn’t quite see it yet. The things Bob shared lined up with the way I had approached worship for many years now. Things, like being intentional about my growth as a worship leader and leading others to pursue their gift in music, had always been at the forefront of my focus and Bob was discussing these important truths at the conference. As we forged ahead I noticed that the material Bob was sharing was not “mind-focused” but rather “heart-focused”. God’s plan was about impacting me in ways I didn’t expect. A few days into the conference, some of the men started having emotional responses to what was being taught and shared in song.
We all had a chance to lead a time of singing and then receive feedback from Bob and the rest of the group. This was a wonderful time of growth but also a time of deep emotional interaction. I had no idea how many times my eyes could well up with tears or I could cry in a day until I went to this conference. God used those moments to slowly tear down the stones and hard places in and around my heart. The result was a massive breakdown of my pride and also insight as to how I had gotten into that familiar place of complacency and forgetfulness when it came to remembering and living out the reality of the goodness of God and all that he has done for myself and humanity.
I was shown that all of my hard work to serve God’s people (human striving) had exhausted my capacity because deep down I didn’t feel worthy to receive God’s love. All of my energy, output and good intentions felt like work, something was missing. I remember saying to myself, “I don’t feel worthy to work on my own soul” and began to feel deep sorrow from within. At that moment God said to me, “You are not worthy of this, but my Son is”. In all my life as a Christian I had only heard the voice of God three distinct times. When I heard God say what he said I fell to my seat and wept with my face in my hands. I had encountered and experienced God in such a way that it completely rearranged the reason I worship. How could I have forgotten such an important truth? God’s response was not a condemning one, but a gentle, loving reminder that in Christ I am made worthy to carry out and use the gift of music that is inside of me. God wanted me to remember that I was His and He is mine. He’s got me. God is so patient with me and this radical encounter with him gave me new eyes to see and a softer heart to serve.
Here are a few gems from the conference that God planted deep in my heart that I want to share with you. I included a little context and I pray you will also be blessed!
- “It’s not that you’re doing too much, it’s that you’re doing too much for your own glory and out of your own strength.”
Regardless of vocation, we can quickly feel: worn out, beat down and unappreciated. As we continue to live in the truth of who we truly work for and by whose power sustains us, it will be from that place that our identity and capacity are sustained. We will live daily in victory, joy and in peace that we only find in Christ by His work on the cross.
- “Feelings are a proof of faith, not the root of it.”
The topic of feelings can be addressed in many contexts, however, this was addressed in a corporate worship setting. When we corporately sing, pray and hear God’s word proclaimed our responses include a variety of things. The most important response is an outward expression of adoration to Christ. Theologian John Piper uses the words, “seeing and savoring Jesus”. Hearing God’s word proclaimed in any form or worship (preaching, music, scripture) should never simply fill our heads with knowledge; it should also overwhelm our hearts with adoration to God. The fruit of this adoration to God always leads to action in His name and by His power. What God does in you he will do through you!
- “Don’t choose to do something because that’s what “Christians” are supposed to do”.
I feel like this can be the biggest trap for Christians, especially those who work in the church or have a ministry. We can easily fall into the traps of legalism and performance. Our Christian life becomes more about tasks and striving and creating the best “program”, which often leads to competition and comparison. We get caught in the maze of the things a Christian must do because that’s what a Christian is supposed to do. This is how we experience exhaustion, frustration, and burnout. If we all function in our God-given gift and have deep encounters with God on a regular basis, the outpouring of love from God to us will be the fuel that leads to action without the elements of striving, comparison and exhaustion. Notice I always refer back to being sustained by the power and love of God; we do not possess the power on our own to carry out God’s plan. There must be more emphasis on this powerful truth in our daily living and in the worship, we engage in. We sing songs, pray, serve and preach but how often are we truly encountering God in ways that are transforming our world? Yes, there is work to do, but it is by God’s power and his power alone that we can carry out the mission. Relying on our frail, human power will quickly turn into a weak religious system that is ineffective, even with the best of intentions.
- “Stop loving good things that are keeping you from the best things.”
Ouch, this little gem hit me hard. It is so easy to be doing “good” things in the name of God while missing those encounters with God. Or we can be doing seemingly good or fun things but we know it’s not the best thing. For instance: having an addiction to social media, or binge-watching Netflix, binge-spending, binge-sleeping, binge-happy-hour, partaking in those “good” (none of those are good too often) activities can distract us from God. These things and many other “good” things can steal our time, energy and wreak havoc on our emotions because we know we are missing the best things.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul tells us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Paul is talking about sexual purity but this scripture also applies to how we are living our lives. Our bodies include our mind, will, and emotions, take a few minutes and pray, ask God what activities are not the best for you and allow God to lead you to what is best, Himself!
- “We want to have doctrinal fuel for our emotional fire.”
Again, lots of ways to unpack this but I’m keeping it in the context of worship. Church congregations can easily get swept up in an emotional experience when it comes to worship. Worship songs should be passionate, our affections should be great and our emotional responses are valid. However, it is not because of the music or the people on the stage. Our responses in worship must be based on whom we are singing about. I have witnessed many worship teams who: strive to create the biggest show, use the best theatrical lighting, build the loudest sound system, write or tweak songs to make them more “user-friendly”, find the best musicians and create an atmosphere that can manipulate people’s emotions. Sometimes this is all done with the best intentions but lacking biblical wisdom. If it’s just smoke and mirrors we will not encounter God in Spirit and in Truth. There is so much more to say about God than just how great, powerful and wonderful His name is.
- “His greatness exceeds our ability to explain it.”
I feel like a lot of contemporary worship music has forgotten this truth. It seems like we have either run out of things to say about God or maybe it’s the scriptures have become a bore to us. Today’s worship has lyrics that highlight the name of God or our feelings towards him or the desire for Him. These are all “good” things but are they the best? When did we shift to singing about God to merely mentioning his name? And why are many contemporary songs about what God can do for us instead of singing about his character, greatness, and presence in order to learn more about him? If God’s greatness exceeds our ability to explain it, do we give up because God’s truths are inexhaustible? By no means! The key here is as we encounter God in worship (rather than encountering ourselves in worship) we will learn more about him. Although his greatness exceeds our ability to explain it, God is more than willing to allow us to see more and more of his character and nature. I believe as “worship leaders” (which is a flawed title) we need to be aware of the responsibility we have been given and have accepted because we have embraced our gift. When we sing about God (not just his name) it will stir people’s hearts more than anything else. The purpose of worship is not to make us feel better about ourselves but is to proclaim the truths of the Bible and also to proclaim the character and nature of God and/or Jesus through song. Does this song, or time of worship help the Word of God dwell richly within me? Not just the warm and fuzzy feelings. As we encounter God, we will be transformed so that we can be used by God to effectively bring the good news of Christ to the world. If you find that the songs you listen to or songs your church sings have more words about you than God, that might be an indicator that the focus has shifted to something that is human-centered instead of God-centered. Worship is “food” for the soul, pay attention to what you are eating. It matters! And just because a song is referencing “you”, the worshiper, doesn’t mean its man focused. “In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song”. That first verse in the hymn “In Christ Alone” has a lot of “my” in it, but is completely Christ-focused.
This phrase was said by one of the participants at the conference. I thought it was a great and easy way to remember the “what” and the “why”. We “do” because the work is “done”.We don’t do things for God because God needs us to. God is complete as he is and in reality, he doesn’t need anything from us. However, God wants the best for us so we do things for God as a response to the great, wonderful and powerful things God has already accomplished. His work is sufficient and complete and we as his people get to partake in the joy of working by His power and His creation to carry out His plan and work on this planet until Christ returns. We “do” because the work is “done”.
- “The Psalms only say “I love you God” two times. The Psalms speak of God’s steadfast love 123 times.”
The conference with Bob confirmed my belief that the church needs songs with more biblical truth and accuracy rather than lyrics based on human feelings alone. Many times people come to a church service broken, confused, lost and struggling. Telling them how they should feel about God coupled with vague truths about God’s name or far out and unexplained ideas will not help that person heal so they can grow in the truth of God’s love. Those kinds of songs are dangerous because they can communicate that God saves someone because of their greatness as a human being, which can leave a person with a greater sense of themselves rather than what the Bible actually says about why God had to save us in the first place. We are saved because of God’s steadfast love not because we are amazing people. We are special in Christ alone, and the focus is still on God’s steadfast love and our place as sinners saved by His grace. This kingdom reality is what keeps false pride from rearing its ugly head and also shatters the power of idolatry. Bob Kauflin made a great point which was, “Everyone is suffering from at least one of these each week: sin, suffering and/or self sufficiency.” God’s grace and His steadfast love is what keeps everything in check because we waiver and He is the one who steadies the boat!
- “When we meet together, we are called by God to meet together. To revel in the gospel, in Jesus and to encourage each other. “
God commands His people in Ephesians 5 and Hebrews 10, to meet together to encourage one another and remind each other of the glories in Christ. This is why I believe there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” Christian. We are designed to be in community and we cannot survive this life if we are isolated from other believer’s. “You and God” on your own is not a biblical concept. We are transformed in community and relationships help to grow our capacity for life. Not only that, but one of the biggest gifts we have from God is the correction of a loving friend in Christ.
- “Lead our people with everything, humbly, theologically, pastorally, patiently.”
This was a great reminder to leaders in the church. Those given a place of authority in the church have the greatest responsibility to shepherd God’s people faithfully. That doesn’t mean we are in an elevated position or that we are more important, special or in need of constant accolades. In fact, it is the opposite. Those given the call to be in leadership have a greater responsibility because they will be the one’s to give an account for those they had the honor to shepherd. This responsibility begins with the head pastor of a church but many who are called to serve within the church must take the responsibility of shepherding seriously. To lead humbly means no pride, to lead theologically means we have a solid foundation and understanding of the scriptures in which we lead from, leading pastorally means we shepherd and take care of the sheep and leading patiently means we operate in grace, love and once again, Godly humility. All for the purpose of knowing God, making Him known, making disciples for His glory and our good!
- “Skill enables us to think about the right things.”
I found this to be such a simple idea that makes a world of difference. Work on your skill (gift from God) so that when the time comes to minister or use your skill, it won’t feel like a lot of work or seem unnatural or not genuine. Example, when I’m leading a worship song that I am really comfortable with and don’t have to look at my iPad, I am much more able to engage with the people I am leading in song. This results in drawing the congregation into a deeper time of worship because I’m not distracted with not knowing my music. Of course, this is not about perfection, the Holy Spirit is not hindered by our lack of skill nor is He able to work better because of our amazing talent. However, God has given each one of us the desire to serve Him and it is biblical to do it skillfully. When God called His people to build the tabernacle, to play music or to go to battle, he used skillful and/or trained people to carry out the task. We too, have the awesome honor and opportunity to do the best we can as we rely on God for His power used in us.
- “We need people to walk out of each meeting knowing there is no one worthy of glory except Jesus Christ.”
When people gather and are constantly being reminded of this truth they will leave the service with a bigger view of God, instead of a grandiose view of their individual selves. Isn’t this the main point of gathering as the Body of Christ? It is to glorify God and to remind us that we are utterly dependent on Him.
- “The Gospel should always be clear, consistent and compelling.”
Many churches struggle with this. Proclaiming the Gospel needs to be clear, consistent and compelling but similar to worship many churches tailor the sermon to be “user-friendly”. The topic of sin can easily offend people so the sermons amount to a weekly “pep-talk” or a psychological feel good message about how God is going to bless us for our faith and this is why we see a lack of powerful churches that are changing the world. The truth of Christ needs to be taught simply and yet truthfully, without being sugarcoated. We must always recognize our need for a Savior and the only one worthy to save is Jesus. May we all remain in prayer that God would help us to return to the clear, consistent compelling message of the Gospel.
- “Root and ground people in the unchanging reality of the Gospel and who Christ is.”
Today, we see a world where people are seeking their identity and looking for truth anywhere they want to find it. So much so, that many are allowing themselves and others to make up whatever identity they want and follow whatever “truth” they choose. Thank the good Lord that the Gospel is unchanging and God remains the same, even as the world is in constant flux. Our faith remains intact no matter what the swirling haze of change is around us because God, the church and the Bible have all stood the test of time for centuries. God’s people need to rejoice in that reality every time we come together as the Body of Christ. There is power in numbers and when we gather and share the same faith, this is part of the glue that keeps the church together, our faith! Our worldly circumstances will change continually and not always for the good. We must continue to encourage one another and redirect everything in our lives towards Christ as we live in God’s solid, unchanging and unchangeable truth, amen!
- “No one loves you more than Jesus, and no one deserves love more than Jesus. His love doesn’t mean we are the “object” of His affection. His love reveals to us that He is so loving, that He could love sinners like us.”
It is a common theme these days to be empowered and encouraged as a Christian, strictly for who we are as Christians. I have heard comments and seen memes on social media that say things like, “God loved me so much He thought I was to die for.” I guess this could be something that brings encouragement or perhaps it’s a cute way of making a person feel special. However, it leaves truth lost in translation. The truth is Jesus didn’t die for you because you are special. He died for you because He is so loving, patient, perfect and gracious. As Romans 5:8 and Ephesians 1:4 remind us; we were still sinners and He came to die for those who were called since before the foundations of the world were laid. This means Christ planned to save His children before they ever had a chance to be “good, bad or ugly.” You see, the only thing special about you or me is that we are His. There is nothing special about being a sinner; the Bible makes that clear in numerous places. It is the Holy Spirit who is alive within His children because of the work of Christ on the cross.
And finally here is the last gem:
- “Does this help the Word of Christ dwell richly in me, or those hearing”?
This was the most important take away from the conference for me. This question should be asked whether one is preaching, choosing the songs for the worship set, or simply living life. It is similar to asking the question, “Is what I’m doing honoring God?” or “Can I glorify God through what I’m about to do?”In the context of worship, we talked about the songs we choose and how we lead worship. Too often we choose songs we sing well, haven’t played in awhile, or songs that we are excited to introduce to our people. Sometimes leading worship can be like putting on a show, this is where we must take notice and ask the questions above. If for one moment we know that what we are doing is based on human ascent or human glorification then we need to change course. It’s challenging because the popular way of worship is all about performance and worship is performing in front of hundreds perhaps even thousands of people. There is a fine line here and for me, the only way I can stay on course is to continue to position my heart towards Christ as I eagerly await to hear Him speak to me again and again. As I hone in on my skill (gift) and start to feel prideful, I will take that to God. If I am feeling competitive, I will take that to God. If I am feeling exhaustion from striving and under the weight of perfection and performance, I will take that to God. The only way I will know how to navigate, as a worship leader is to be tracking with God at all times. Knowing the scriptures and relying on the Holy Spirit to give me those “red flags” when something is off or presented in error is my only chance of knowing what direction to go. And again, the correction of my godly friends and pastors is invaluable as I/we try to lead our church more faithfully in song, to glorify the One who deserves all praise, honor and glory!
I do hope you enjoyed reading this blog; these were my takeaways from an intense week of deep transformation. I pray this blessed you as it has blessed me. Please never hesitate to contact me with questions, as I love to talk about God!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Contributing editor credit: Lisa M Johnston, Th.M. and Pastor/sozofreedom.com