Discussion with Bob Kauflin

Jonathan Parnell: My name is Jonathan Parnell. I’m a content strategist at Desiring God. And today we’re bringing the broadcast live from Bethlehem Baptist Church here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And our guest on today’s broadcast is Bob Kauflin. Bob is the author of the book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, published by Crossway Books in 2008. We have a few copies of these books back in the back, so you guys can check those out when you leave. And also, Crossway Books is our ministry partner for this broadcast.

Bob is the worship leader and worship-music-development guy at Sovereign Grace Ministries, where he also trains pastors and worship leaders in the theology and practice of worship. And Bob lives with his wife, Julie, in Maryland, where they have six children, four of whom are married, and eleven grandchildren, and one more on the way, is that right?

So, okay. Well, great, thanks for being with us today, Bob. And we’ll just get right into it, I’d love for you to just open up and just share a little bit about how you came to Christ and settled into the role of worship leader and thinker.

Bob Kauflin: Wow. I was raised Roman Catholic, was going to become a priest, didn’t. Actually went to a junior seminary, freshman in high school. The seminary shut down, so I never pursued that. But I was spiritually minded, always spiritually minded, read the Bible and stuff. When I got to college, a guy from Campus Crusade, the ministry Campus Crusade, pursued me in my dorm room and kept coming around and said, “Hey, will you meet with me in the Student Union building, I wanted have some things to share with you.” He just shared, I think the four spiritual laws. I didn’t know what the four spiritual laws were at that moment.

He used Romans 3, Romans 6. And I remember, as he was sharing, this transformation taking place in my thinking that salvation and the forgiveness of my sins was not something that I could ever lose if Jesus died to purchase it for me. So he said, “ the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). He said, “If I give you a gift, did you earn it?” “No, I didn’t earn it.” “Will I take it back?” “No.” “You have. It’s yours.” And in that moment, I remember walking away from the student union building going, “If I missed that in my Bible, what else have I missed?”

So it wasn’t dramatic, I had an experience a few years later that was more dramatic, but I really believe that’s the moment, that October of 1972, so that’s almost forty years ago, when I saw the gift that God had given me in Jesus Christ. So from there, I graduated from college three years later, went to Temple University, major in piano, was part of group GLAD for eight years, left the road in ‘84, became a pastor for Sovereign Grace Ministries in ‘85, helped plant a church in ‘91.

And then ‘97 I came up to Gaithersburg, Maryland where I currently am working for Sovereign Grace Ministries and had this current role. I guess all the time I’d been a pastor, the 12 years I’ve been a pastor, I’d been involved with the music, leading congregational song at conferences and in the church. And so when I moved in ‘97, it was basically to oversee the development of the music in Sovereign Grace Churches.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last twelve years, began by reading a few books. Sorry, last fourteen years, reading a few books that were crucial to my understanding, Engaging with God by David Peterson, Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best, and Worship: Adoration and Actions, a book edited by D.A. Carson. So this had a profound effect on the way I lead and the way I think.

Jonathan Parnell: All right, thanks for sharing this. About your book, you share about early on as a worship leader, you experienced this difficult stretch of just hopelessness and really fighting hopelessness. And you talk about how God brought you out of that difficult season with a fresh awakening of the gospel. And I wonder if you could just say more about that, and especially for those who may be going through a similar difficult season now as worship leaders.

Bob Kauflin: Wow. In 1994, I had been a pastor for nine years, and we had planted a church, and I basically went through what would be called a nervous breakdown, I think some people refer to as that, panic attacks, physical symptoms, emptiness in the chest, tightness, itching on my arms, hopeless thoughts every day. That went on intensely for about six months, totally for about two and a half years, two and a half, three years.

During that time, I began to wonder, “Should I go on drugs? Should I quit being a pastor?” I just had a lot of questions. And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to see first if the gospel is really true.” And for those of you who might be taking medicine, I think sometimes medicine is helpful for people to just get their mind straight, to be able to think, but I didn’t take that. I just wanted to find out if the fact that God sent Jesus to die for me really made a difference, and that he was supposed to be my rock and my Father and my shield and my refuge, if those things were really true, because I didn’t feel like he was.

So, probably the transforming moment for me — I mean, it was over a long period of time — was when I was talking to a friend, a fellow pastor, and I said, “I feel hopeless all the time.” He said, “I don’t think you feel hopeless enough.” And I said, “What?” He said, “Well, if you were hopeless, you’d stop trusting in what you can do and start trusting fully in what Jesus Christ has already done for you in dying and rising from the dead to reconcile you to God.” So I knew he was saying something true, but I didn’t quite get it, but this is what I did: every time I’d feel hopeless, I would say to myself, “I feel completely hopeless. I am completely hopeless apart from Jesus Christ, but Jesus died to save hopeless people.”

And so the more I did that, and I was reading books like Temptation and Sin by John Owen, The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, which were helping me to understand the gospel, helping me to understand the pervasiveness and deception of sin, as well as the full and complete answer that God has provided in sending Jesus to live the life I could never live, to die a substitutionary death, dying for my sins in my place, rising from the dead, to understand how significant that was. So I began to see I’m a much worse sinner than I thought I was, and Jesus is a much greater Savior than I thought he was. And those two have affected my life to this day. So that’s in a nutshell how that happened.

Jonathan Parnell: Yes, that’s helpful. Thank you for that. In the book, you talk about, I really appreciate this section, you talk about the life of the worship leader outside the weekly gathering. And that’s where most Christian life happens; it happens outside the Sunday morning service. And so one question I’d like to hear you just work through is how we maximize the meaning of the event of a worship service without distracting from the everyday worship and mission of the church.

Bob Kauflin: How do we tie the two together?

Jonathan Parnell: Yes, the event of worship and then the everyday worship of the church, the tension there.

Bob Kauflin: Okay, yes. One of the things, obviously, and you referenced it in your question, is that I have to think of worship as an all-of-life issue. If I just think of it as what happens in the meeting, I don’t have a biblical view of worship; it’s truncated, it’s cut off, it’s insufficient, it’s inadequate. So I have to think that it’s not just about me being on a platform in front of people that determines whether I’m seeking to honor Jesus with my life, glorify God with my life. It’s what I do with my life; that’s what determines whether or not I’m really seeking to bring honor to the Lord.

I mean, it’s what Paul said in Philippians 1:20–21, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I have to really believe that; I have to really be pursuing that for me to be able to genuinely and effectively make that connection for people. So that’d be the first thing.

The second would be, I think I have to realize the need for the meeting to live daily life. The fact that as we go through our lives day to day through our week, we do get distracted. We might be having great devotions with the Lord, spending time in the word and prayer and seeking to honor the Lord, but life can be distracting. We can find ourselves worried about, “Where is the money going to come from? What’s going to happen to our kids when they get older? What’s happening in our relationship with our spouse or a relationship with who we hope will be our spouse?” Just all kinds of things.

So I need to be redirected, I need to be refocused, I need to see clearly, “Why is it I’m here again? And what’s my purpose? And why is it that God put me on this earth? And what does that have to do with all the other people around who have been saved by Christ?” Well, that’s what the gathering helps us remember. So there’s a need for it.

And then as I’m leading, I’m saying things like, “God, may our passion for you be evident not just in our songs, but in the way we live our lives.” So I’m frequently making direct references to what we do outside this meeting. And then another aspect would be just choosing songs that help us do that.

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.

O Father, use my ransomed life In any way You choose And let my song forever be My only boast is You

So those are some of the ways I connect.

Jonathan Parnell: Yes, that’s great, thank you for that. You also mentioned in the book that when we as worship leaders are leading the church to magnify the greatness of God, that we should be clear and specific when we do that. Can you say more about what you mean by that?

Bob Kauflin: Yes, I think there are some good songs that focus on what I’d call the general attributes of God. God is holy, God is glorious, God is majestic, God is awesome. And we can sing songs with those words in them and be saying true and biblical things, but we can sing them without any understanding of how those attributes of God or those descriptions of God connect to our lives. “God’s awesome.” “Oh yes, isn’t he awesome? Yes, he’s awesome.” “Well, what does that mean for your life?” “Well, I don’t know.”

Or God’s holy, we sing some songs where we’re singing about how God is holy and it’s just, “He’s holy, holy.” And I’m thinking, “Are we getting what this means, what that word means?” So when I talk about singing about the attributes of God more specifically, more clearly, it’s the way Scripture talks about God: he is a strong refuge, he’s a present refuge in time of need. He is our rock. He’s a shield. He’s our Father. He’s the one who created the heavens and the earth from nothing. He’s the one who sustains everything through the power of his word. He’s the one who came in the form of Jesus, incarnate God, to live a life of righteousness that we could never live. This is very specific.

When I’m feeling bad about how I can’t meet God’s standards, “Well, good, you should feel bad. You will never meet his standards. Jesus did. And not only did he meet his standards, you know all your failings, all our failings, Jesus bore them on himself at the cross. He took our sins, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s very clear, it’s very specific. “Oh, and by the way, the Father raised him from the dead. Just in case you were wondering, did that work, was it affected? Oh yes, he’s a living Savior. In fact, right now he’s on the throne, he’s interceding for us.” So a lot of pictures and images and words and phrases that some of the better hymns use, we’ve lost in our current repertoire of songs. So I’m pressing for, “Let’s use the hymns and let’s write more songs that describe in detail who God is and what he’s done.”

Jonathan Parnell: That’s great.

Bob Kauflin: I’m sorry, I get excited.

Jonathan Parnell: No, that’s great. One thing you also say which is tied to this is, you talk about the importance of explicitly mentioning Jesus in your songs. And you mentioned a couple of great hymns that we all love “It Is Well,” “Amazing Grace.” And you comment that we love these songs and we connect with these songs, but they’re not actually as specific about Jesus as maybe we would want them to be. So how do you handle songs like that?

Bob Kauflin: Good. Well, just for clarification, It Is Well does reference the atonement. It’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” it talks a lot about it, but it never tells you exactly what happened. How do I handle songs like that? Well, I think they’re great songs. I mean, When I Survey is one of the greatest songs in the English language, greatest hymns, at least a lot of people think it is, and it’s worth singing, but we shouldn’t assume that people know what it means just by singing that song alone, “When I survey the wondrous cross,” well, it begs the question, what makes it so wondrous?

It’s not just wondrous because we see Jesus dying on a tree, on a cross. It’s wondrous because it more than any act in history displays the character and attributes of God, it displays his holiness and his love and his mercy and his justice and his wisdom. And so I need other songs, or at least I need to be able to say to help people understand why that cross is so wondrous, and not assume that they get it, because when we assume that people get the cross and the meaning of the cross, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes symbolic for whatever we want it to mean.

So the cross becomes just a way of saying that, “God loves me,” or that, “God loves me so much that if I were the only person in the world, Jesus would’ve come to die for me.” Well, yes, he would’ve come to die for you, but that’s because your sins alone were enough to require the death of the Son of God all by themselves. So it’s a different way of looking at it. So yes, use those songs. Amazing Grace, we sang it this morning earlier in the seminar, but we had already sung a number of songs about why the cross makes a difference in our lives.

Jonathan Parnell: Exactly. Thank you for that, I appreciate that section in the book. Also, you talk about in corporate worship, the idea of anticipation, how we bring anticipation into corporate worship. How does that play out, what does that look like?

Bob Kauflin: Well, just so people that are listening are clear, anticipation of what’s yet to come, of what’s coming in the new heavens and the new earth. I think with the advent of technology, the dawning of technology and how we can use it in our meetings today, and maybe it preceded that, but it’s especially prevalent because of what’s available to us technologically. I think we can fall into the misconception that we are seeking in our meetings to create some kind of experience that is heavenly, that manifests the glory of God in a way that’s just like heaven.

There’s some truth to that. Hebrews 12 says that when we gather, we’re gathering with the hosts of heaven, the innumerable angels and all those people in Hebrews 12, but that’s not our goal, is to create those kinds of experiences, transcendent experiences which just make us long for more of those experiences here on earth. That should make us long for heaven, the new heavens and the new earth.

We get a picture of it in Revelation, a partial picture, but there we’ll have new minds, we’ll have glorified bodies, we’ll have more strength, we’ll have unlimited time, so it will be different. And we should never think that what we experience here is all there is. It should leave us with a longing to know Christ better, to know God better, to love him more. And so that, rather than getting us to the place where we’re complacent or feeling like, “Well, we’ve pretty much reached it, we’ve arrived at how we do our meetings and this is the best we can do,” we should be left with this sense of anticipation that as good as it gets here, it’s going to be better when Jesus comes back.

So that keeps us always longing for anticipating what’s yet to come, which I think is the way. We are those who long for his appearing, and that’s one of the ways that takes place.

Jonathan Parnell: Well, staying on this subject, how do you think worship is going to be different in the new heavens and new earth?

Bob Kauflin: Well, that’s a great question. My understanding from Scripture, Randy Alcorn has written a lot on this stuff, read his book Heaven, and a number of his other books, as well as just done my study on it. I think that everything we do in the new heavens and the new earth is going to be done with the motive of bringing God glory in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. So it’s what we’re supposed to be doing here in this life. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Well, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, but we’re not yet. I think in the new heavens and the new earth we will. So we’ll be doing a lot of things that we’re doing now. We will be doing work, and we’ll be going places and visiting things and probably still playing instruments and doing all that kind of stuff, but there will be no envy, there will be no hopelessness, there will be no despair, there’ll be no anger, there’ll be no impatience, there’ll be no comparison, and there will be no running out of strength. And we’ll have better minds to understand who God is. And as John shared earlier, we’ll be always growing in our knowledge of the God who created us and redeemed us for his glory.

So that’s what I’m looking forward to. And when we sing in the fourth verse of “Come, Thou Fount”:

Oh, that day when freed from sinning I shall see Thy lovely face

that so moves me, I so want to be there, freed from sinning. So that’s what I think it’s going to be like. And we’ll be singing, but that’s not the only thing we’re going to be doing, I don’t think. We might be singing a song for a week or so, or maybe a couple of weeks, and then we’ll say, “Hey, anybody want to sing something else?” And then someone might suggest something else. And then we’ll, I don’t know, but we’ll have a lot of time to do it.

Jonathan Parnell: That’s great, that’s great. Thank you. Well, help us think through how we should look at the clear, horizontal elements of worship in the New Testament along with really going vertical and pursuing God in worship.

Bob Kauflin: As John said in the seminar earlier, the corporate worship is bi-directional. It’s got this vertical element, it’s got this horizontal element. I think Scripture tells us how we’re to think about the horizontal element. It’s what we do with one another that we do for the glory of God, what we do to build up those around us that we do so that Christ will be glorified in their eyes, and so that we ourselves will be glorifying Christ.

David Peterson in his book Engaging with God says that the vertical and horizontal aspects of corporate worship are two sides of the same coin, meaning you can’t separate them, you don’t want to pit them against each other. So what it means is, for one, that I’m going to be singing a lot of times with my eyes open. I’m not there to, as Don Whitney puts it, enter my hermetically-sealed compartment and have my individual communion with Jesus. That’s not what a corporate worship event is about. There’s a reason we gather together.

So opened my eyes, I’m aware of my body language, I’m aware of my countenance and what it’s saying. So am I encouraging others through my body language and countenance, or am I saying nothing, or am I saying something bad about Jesus through my countenance? It would be through the spiritual gifts. And I’m not just speaking of prophecy, tongues, and healing, although I do believe those gifts exist today, but just all the spiritual gifts helps administration, greeting, serving.

I want to find a way to use those when I’m gathering with the people of God and recognize that that is a way of bringing glory to God. And I don’t think we need to be paranoid about interrupting the flow of worship. I’m not even sure where that’s in the Bible, the musical flow of what we’re doing. Very often a word of instruction, a word of exhortation, a word of explanation can help people engage with their hearts more fully. Some people would say, “Well, now you’re breaking off the vertical.” Well, I think I’m helping the vertical aspect of what we’re doing, and in so doing, I’m seeking to build others up in order that we may together see the glory of God in Jesus Christ more clearly and love it more passionately.

Jonathan Parnell: Let’s back up just a little bit, ask you a bigger question about why do humans sing anyway? Every culture you see it, what’s behind that and what happens when we sing?

Bob Kauflin: Wow. John Piper has influenced me in my thinking about this, so has Jonathan Edwards. I read a book called This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin, fascinating book. When we sing, we actually use primarily a different part of our mind, so it affects us differently. You might be familiar with Mel Tillis, who’s a country singer who stuttered when he spoke, but sang without stuttering. I think we sing because there are emotions and truths.

Let me put it this way, there are truths that require more than just speaking to respond to. And the truths don’t have to be profound. Like when you’re at a college football game, and everybody sings the fight song. I was at a University of Tennessee football game, which is quite a spectacle, and they sang “Rocky Top.”

Good ol’ Rocky Top Rocky Top, Tennessee

It was not a profound moment, but it was a unifying moment. And because everybody was singing the same words at the same time with passion, which brought this solidarity to what the group was there to do, what they were there to do was see their team trounce the other team, which they didn’t in that particular game, but singing brought that sense of, “We’re in this together.” And actually, there’s a chemical released in our brains when we sing together that makes us more aware of our unity, I just thought that was fascinating.

So we sing because it expresses things that words alone cannot express. And of course, for the way it affects us and affects others, music is an emotional language, it moves us. So when we sing, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,” it affects us differently than if I just said, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” It’s not necessarily better, it’s different. And there are lots of other reasons we sing.

We sing so we can remember, god gave us singing to remember. In Deuteronomy 31, Israel is about to enter of the Promised Land, they’re going to give themselves over to idols. So God says to Moses, “Teach them this song, because when they enter this land, it will serve as a witness against them, for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their descendants.”

So music helps us remember things, music helps us express more passionately what we feel. So we could all get together and recite creed after creed after greed or lyrics to songs, but isn’t it more moving and more enjoyable and more engaging to sing them? So it expresses our unity in the gospel, the Trinity sings, the Father, the Son, the Spirit all sing. In Zephaniah 3:17, Hebrews 2:12, Ephesians 5:18–19. So those are some of the reasons we sing, I think.

Jonathan Parnell: On the same subject there, when we think about the corporate gathering, should we show favor to our voices over musical instruments, or how do we think about song and music?

Bob Kauflin: It’s a great question. Biblically, when the church gathers, the primary sound is to be the congregation; that’s the focus. The instruments are there to serve what’s being spoken. Even when David set up the Levites around the tabernacle, eventually the temple, they played instruments to accompany prophesying, to accompany speaking. So it’s never just about being moved by musical sounds. Harold Best, good friend, wrote Music Through the Eyes of Faith, says that there is a difference between being emotionally moved by music and morally changed by the spirit of God.

Well, that moral change comes through an expression, understanding of, acceptance of faith in the truth, the gospel specifically, the word of God. Music by itself can’t do that; words can. So when we gather, whatever you’re setting, whatever your instrumentation, our focus should be encouraging mind-engaged, heart-engaged, faith-filled congregational singing; that’s what we’re after. And that really leaves a wide variety of possibilities when it comes to instruments. Could be an orchestra, could be a single guitar, could be a piano and organ, could be a rock band. All those can be used to support that kind of singing. But if we’re not intentionally focusing on that singing, then we might miss it entirely, if that makes sense.

Jonathan Parnell: Yes. Now you mentioned that when we sing things, it has a different effect on us if we were just to say it, not better or whatever, just a different effect, yes. Well, I wonder, we’ve heard before, I know you’ve heard, the idea of preaching the gospel to ourselves. What about singing the gospel to ourselves?

Bob Kauflin: Oh, is that a good idea?

Jonathan Parnell: Would you recommend that? How will that be different?

Bob Kauflin: I think it is different. Let me give you just a very specific example. Frequently over the years — well, let me tell you why I think it’s different. I think it’s different because music has this tendency to move our affections, it has a tendency to affect our emotion, it has a tendency to hear the words we’re singing in a different way, and perhaps soften our hearts so that they go a little deeper.

So a number of times over the years I’ve woken up, and in the morning just sung the song “Before the Throne of God Above,” because here’s what that song does, it preaches the gospel:

Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea A great High Priest whose name is love Who ever lives and pleads for me

Be mindful that all of this is taking place outside of me. I could be in the worst state mentally, I could be in a great state mentally, it doesn’t matter, I’m just singing about what Jesus has done.

My name is graven on His hands My name is written on His heart I know that while in heav’n He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart

So I’m being assured that, “Okay, Jesus is in heaven interceding for me, from Isaiah. And my name is graven on his palms. Okay, this is good.” But it gets even better, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within.” Okay, that happens all the time, “Upward I look and see him there who made an end of all my sin.” “Wow, he did? Wow, how’d that happen? Why?”

Because the sinless Savior died My sinful soul is counted free For God the Just is satisfied To look on Him and pardon me

Oh, I like that. I mean, I’m getting excited now because it’s true, it’s amazing, it’s what I live my life for, it’s why I live, but then it gets even better. Can I go on?

Jonathan Parnell: Keep going.

Bob Kauflin: “Behold Him there, the risen Lamb.” Again, I haven’t done anything. All I’ve said is I have a sinful soul and I feel guilty. That’s my part, that’s what I bring, “I feel terrible, I’m sinful, I’m always discouraged about my sin. Okay!”

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb My perfect, spotless Righteousness The great unchangeable I Am The King of glory and of grace One with Himself, I cannot die My soul is purchased by His blood My life is hid with Christ on high With Christ my Savior and my God

What a great way to go into the day. And it’s just singing a song. And I do that before I read my Bible, because the gospel’s true whether I’ve read my Bible or not. Some of us think that we have to read our Bibles for the gospel to really take effect.

Oh no, the gospel’s true whether or not you’ve read your Bible, and if that’s what we struggle with, we really need to hear that. Jesus died for all our failures, everyone, motive, thought, word, action, “One with himself, I cannot die.” It’s great news. And so when we sing it, it spells it out clearly. “And Can It Be” would be another great song to sing, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend, another great song. So there’s certain songs that I’ll just sing, and I’ll preach the gospel by myself. And yes, we should do it individually, and yes, we should do it corporately because we need it every day.

Jonathan Parnell: Amen. Thank you for that.

Bob Kauflin: You’re welcome.

Jonathan Parnell: Well, in the church today, I wonder, as you look around, what is the greatest area of encouragement to you when it comes to leading worship and songs and music?

Bob Kauflin: I think there is a modern, let’s call this a hymn revolution underway. I think that more and more churches, more and more ministries, denominations are recognizing that God’s glory and his word cannot be adequately or sufficiently expressed in a three-minute pop song, that it requires hymns. That is very exciting to me because hymns, which tend to be deeper in theology and more lyric-centric than music-centric, although music’s very important, you don’t want to sing great theology to bad music, you want to sing great theology to great music.

But I’ve heard from a number of different people how we’re singing more hymns. We want to write more hymns. A lot of modern contemporary writers are writing more hymns. Why is that significant? Well, because the gospel’s significant and it needs to be explained, it needs to be repeated, it needs to be expounded upon, it needs to be exalted, and because our Bibles are important, the word of God is important, and we need songs that help us teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. If we don’t have songs like that, if we sing shallow songs, we become shallow Christians. So I think that’s probably the most encouraging thing I’ve seen of late.

Jonathan Parnell: That’s great. Well, on the other side of that, what adjustments do you think need to be made, what is discouraging, or you want to maybe change a little bit?

Bob Kauflin: Couple off the top of my head, I don’t think we as the body of Christ as a whole still has enough models of churches that combine a heart and head. I’m sorry. Yes, heart and head, devotion and doctrine, theology and affection, they tend to split, and that’s not the way God intended it to work, it’s both. So that’d be one concern, but there’s an awareness of that, and I think a movement towards that.

The most passionate people sometimes tend to be the people who aren’t as clear about theology. And the ones who are clearest on theology don’t tend to be as passionate. So those need to be brought together. I think an overemphasis and dependence on technology would be a problem for the church, at least the American or the Western Church. It’s not a problem in India, it’s not a problem in Africa in a lot of places, in China.

But for where technology is easily accessible, this sense that God really needs this to minister to people, the Holy Spirit has its hands tied if the ProPresenter projection isn’t working, no? And here’s how I like to think of it, God can use our tools, but he doesn’t need them. He can use them, but he doesn’t need them. And whenever we’re thinking about ways to incorporate technology in the service, whether that be lights or effects, musical effects, video, whatever it might be, we just have to be careful that we’re not teaching people that the creative elements that we use are equal to or even more important than the truths that we are wanting to proclaim together.

So if people walk away saying, “Wow, I really love that creative thing,” or, “Wow, did you hear the effect on that guitar?” Or, “Wow, that video was incredible,” rather than, “I know Jesus better now, I understand this part of his word better.” If that’s what’s happening, that’s not good, because what we tend to win people with is what we tend to win them to, and I don’t think there’s enough clarity yet, broadly speaking, about how to use creativity. I’m all for creativity, God’s all for creativity, he’s the creator, he knows all about creativity. It’s just it’s creativity with a purpose, just as the heavens are declaring the glory of God, so our creativity should declare the glory of God and Jesus Christ, and not be means of drawing attention to itself. So those are a couple.

Jonathan Parnell: Yes, that’s right. A couple practical questions here. Here’s a scenario: there’s a small church, and they have a worship team that’s been set, have been playing together for a while, band and some singers, and do a really great job, but there’s new members in the church and they have musical gifts. And so the question is, how do you train in or how do you develop musicians and singers in your church when you have a set team already?

Bob Kauflin: That’s great. Well, first we need to realize that in all these things, there aren’t clear scriptural guidelines laid down, unless we want to go to the Levites at the tabernacle, the temple, we’re not getting a lot of clear instruction, even there it’s vague, but I’d say first prepare your team for that.

So these are a couple of things, when I first came to my church fourteen years ago, we had a few meetings, and one of the things I said was, “No one has a lifetime membership card to the team when you come in, it’s not like you’re automatically on for life. Be aware that as the church grows, people who are as talented as you are or maybe more talented and have the character that you do are going to come into the church, you want to be the first one to say, “Hey, have you heard this person sing? Hey, have you heard this person play?”

So we want to be a group of individuals who are looking more to encourage the gifts and others than we are looking to promote our own. We also want to say, “Don’t assume that you have to be like the most gifted individuals on the team.” So we’ll have A players, A singers, and we’ll have B players and B singers, and everybody needs to be comfortable with that. Someone who’s been gifted to be a B singer, no matter how much they practice, will never be an A singer, because it’s a matter of gifting, it’s a matter of what God has given that person. Now they’ve really developed it and really worked hard at it, and so it’s better than it might’ve been otherwise, but I’ve had to tell some people, “You’ll just never be a soloist, because you don’t have that voice, you don’t have that gift,” and they should be okay with that.

Football team has 44 people, I think. Well, only 22 of them play. What are the other 22, do they say, “Well, I’m not playing, I’m quitting.” No, they’re there because they’re practicing and they’re there for when they’ll be needed. So those are some things we do to prepare. And then as people come in, we have auditions, interviews, we announce to the church, “Hey, we’re interested in adding some people. If you have a musical gift, why don’t you come out this Saturday, and we’re just going to play for each other and find out what kind of gifts God has given us and see where that goes.”

Be slow to promise people that they have a place on the team. It’s much, much easier to wait to add someone than it is to tell them they have to step down, so much easier. So don’t be anxious, don’t be eager to add people to your team, no matter how small your church is.

We would always tell people when I was on church plant, someone would come in and say, “Well, I’m a vocalist,” or, “I’m a guitar player, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Hint, hint, I should be doing it here.” And I’d say, “So glad that you’ve been serving for so long, that’s great. Love to see you serving here, but we’d really like to get to know you first. If you can just hang around and become a part of a small group so we can get to know you, you can get to know us. We want you here because of you, not just because of your gifts.”

Well, some people left after I said that, and other people stayed, and months later they would say, “Thank you so much for saying that to me, because that just showed me you were really concerned about the most important things. And I know that I can serve here securely and not wonder if there’s integrity in the people upfront.” So those would be some thoughts, I think.

Jonathan Parnell: Great. I wonder about, as far advice would go to, some parents who their children has just outgrown nursery, and so now for the first time they’re bringing their kids into the worship service, having a hard time connecting, what advice would you give them on how to train their kids to enjoy the service and things like that?

Bob Kauflin: One of the things my wife did, my dear wife, Julie, when our kids were growing up, would be to take a song and go through it during the week and go through the words. And it was amazing how unclear the songs were to the kids, and how when you just started going through it line by line and explaining it, how the next time we sang that song, “Oh, that’s that song.” And she didn’t do it constantly, but just a few times, and that so helped them engage.

Of course, having some kind of family devotions at home. I mean, I know some families do this every day. We never did that, and respected families who do, but just sometimes where you’re gathering as a family and saying, “This isn’t something we do just on Sunday, we do this at home too. We sit with God’s word, and we open it up, and we sing a song, and make it enjoyable.” So that when they come to gather with the church, there’s an element of enjoyment to it. It’s not just, “Do this because you’re supposed to. Sit still, don’t do anything.” We try and engage them in whatever ways we could.

So that might even mean during the meeting, if something happens, just leaning over and say, “Hey, this is what just happened,” but just being very natural about it, and helping them to see that as a Christian, you love gathering with God’s people. And actually a lot of it will be more caught than taught. We’ve never had too much of a problem getting our kids to love being a part of the meeting because we love being a part of the meeting, we love being with the church. So you’re paying attention, you’re engaged, you’re passionate, you’re responding, they see that, they’ll pick that up. They may not know why you’re passionate about whatever, but you can explain that over time, and I think that’d be helpful.

Jonathan Parnell: That’s great.

Bob Kauflin: Wait, you’re not asking me any follow-up questions, so I’m assuming that I’m answering your questions.

Jonathan Parnell: That’s right.

Bob Kauflin: Okay, good. Just checking.

Jonathan Parnell: Thank you.

Bob Kauflin: Feel free to ask me follow-up questions.

Jonathan Parnell: Okay, great. Well, here’s also connected to that, is that when you’re leading worship, how do you think about the cultural and social barriers that always exist in every song that you lead, maybe even for a church planner, how they would think about what type of music you sing, and the demographics and the audience, and who do you target, who do you not, how do you think about that?

Bob Kauflin: That’s a big question. It’s got to flow from who you are. So rather than thinking about who I’m targeting, I’m thinking about how God has made me, what affects me, what moves me stylistically. Because you can’t be someone you’re not. If you’re playing a church and you’re trying to reach out to a group of people that you are nothing like, and so you become something that you aren’t, well, that’s only going to last for so long. I’m not thinking of missionary, foreign cultures completely right here. I’m thinking of just, say in the States, or in another country where you’re working with people who are like you in many ways, but there’s something different about the culture. You’ve got to be who you are, because it’s out of that that you can begin to expand and diversify as an act of preference for others.

I think one of the main things I do is to make sure that I’m not trying to make music and cultural things do what only the word of God and the gospel and the Holy Spirit can do. I mean, I think that’s crucial. Only the gospel can bring someone to life. Only the word of God can open a person’s eyes. Only the spirit of God can open a person’s eyes to the truth of God’s word. Only the word of God can convict through the power of the Holy Spirit. So all those questions of cultural issues, I mean, those will get worked out if I’m aware of them. I think one of the ways we become aware of them is by loving the people who are coming. So rather than thinking of it as a demographic issue, think of the real people who are in your meeting, what do they love? What moves them? What affects them? And that’ll be one part of the equation.

The other part is how do I need to speak to them and address them in the way that it’s going to stretch them? Because I mean, when we were part of a church plant, I’d have people coming in saying, “Why do you guys do so many wordy songs? I can’t worship to wordy songs.” Well, that’s an attitude that I want to challenge, not right at that moment, but I want to explain, “Well, we’re not against simple songs, but we do wordy songs because God has given us words as a way of expressing his glory and communicating his truth. So that’s why we need songs that do that. And I think if you stick around, you’ll see that, you’ll begin to appreciate some of the words that we use in the songs we do.”

So yes, make sure that you’re focusing on the right things, love the people, and then you’ll find the sweet spot, where you’re supposed to be. Don’t make it the main emphasis, “We got to do the right kind of music or people are going to come.” No, because then people would just be coming for your music, and you don’t want that. You want people coming because they see the life of God produced by the Spirit in a group of people who have been transformed by the reality of Jesus Christ living in them. That’s what you want them to see.

Jonathan Parnell: Here’s a follow-up to that.

Bob Kauflin: Great.

Jonathan Parnell: You mentioned just some criticism that you would experience as a worship leader, and I can imagine it’s hard.

Bob Kauflin: That I’d be criticized?

Jonathan Parnell: No, as a worship leader, you can’t make everyone happy, and everyone has expectations. What advice would you give a worship leader as far as how to handle that, as far as you can’t cater to everyone, how to take criticism?

Bob Kauflin: Oh, that’s a great question. First thing is just preaching the gospel to yourself all the time. Gospel reminds us that we’re sinners, Jesus is the redeemer, and we’re never going to get it all right, as hard as we try. He’s the only perfect one. And so we rest in that. If someone, and I don’t always do this, in fact, gentlemen came up to me last night, I wonder if he’s here, and shared a very helpful thought. And my first impulse was one to defend myself.

As I look back, I go, “Oh man, you still haven’t learned.” The first thing you want to do is thank the person for bringing the observation, the correction, no matter how they bring it. They might do a terrible job, “I just couldn’t believe that you sang that song, that’s a horrible song.” Everything in you wants to just go, “What do you know?”

But don’t do that, they’re caring enough about you and about the church to come up and share something with you. That’s the lord’s mercy. Then I’d listen, I’d try and understand what exactly it is they’re saying because I quickly jumped to conclusions about what they’re saying, “You talk too much.” “Oh, I do not. You should see how much I used to talk, and I know some other people who talk a whole lot more than I do, and you probably don’t even want to hear anybody talk.” Those are the things that my mind goes to, and those are all judgments. So ask questions. Thank them, ask questions to try and understand better, “Okay, what is exactly?” And then respond. I mean, it might be you just say, “Boy, thanks for sharing that.” Or it might be, “Well, okay, thank you for sharing that. Here’s how I think about that.”

So for instance, someone might come up and say, “Why don’t you do this song? Everybody’s doing this song. Why don’t we do this song? All we ever do are songs that people don’t know, that no one else is doing. Why don’t we do songs that people know?” I’d say, “Well, thanks for sharing that. I’m glad to know how you think about that. And what do you mean, people don’t know Amazing Grace?” “No, no, everybody knows the hymns. I’m talking about the contemporary songs, the modern songs. You don’t do this guy and this guy.” “Well, okay, it’s not because intending not to do them. I mean, there are choices that guide why we do the songs we do. So let me go through those and see if that helps you understand why we might not do some songs.”

And then I might ask, “So give me a particular song that you’d think we should do.” And he might throw me a softball and just say, “Well, ‘Above All’ by Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc. Everybody’s done that song.” And I’d say, “Well, okay, that’s a great song, a lot of great aspects to it.’Crucified, laid behind the stone.’”

The only problem is, at the very end of it, and Paul Baloche is a friend of mine, and we’ve talked about this, so that’s why I’m sharing this publicly. In fact, it’s even in my book, which Paul wrote the forward for. So I feel very comfortable sharing this, at the end,

You took the fall and thought of me Above all

Well, I have a big problem with that, actually. I don’t think the guys meant this when they wrote it, but it’s saying that Jesus thought of me above everything else. That’s what it’s saying, it seems to be saying anyway, I guess you could understand it some other way, but that’s the only way I’ve seemed to understand it. And I don’t think he did think of me above all; he thought of his Father above all.

And because he did that, then we were included in that, I think he did think of me. I think he died for those who would trust in him, and he knew who those would be, but I don’t think he did that above all. So it’s, “So that’s why we don’t do that song here, but it’s not that there aren’t good things in the song. We don’t look down on people who do it, but we want to be very careful about the lyrics that we use because we think everything’s teaching something.” So I just try to engage them in conversation and not immediately flare up in self-defense. That’s what I try to do.

Jonathan Parnell: Well, one last question, just wondering, do you have a favorite song? Is there a hymn or contemporary song? We did Before the Throne, which was great. Is there one that speaks to you in a special way?

Bob Kauflin: “Before the Throne” is one of my top three. Certainly. I mean, the two that come to mind are “In Christ Alone,” which I just never get tired of singing, it tells the story of the gospel. And a song my son wrote, actually, “All I Have is Christ,” which he wrote a few years ago, it’s my older son. Everybody thinks my younger son wrote it because my younger son rebelled for a while, and a number of people knew that.

So they thought it was this great story, “As I ran my hellbound race,” but it wasn’t him. It was my older son; he’s the elder brother, he’s always done everything right, and has been great, but never gotten any publicity for it. But he wrote this song, and every line is just packed with meaning. And that’s what makes a great song for me; every line is packed with meaning. And usually, they cause my heart to exalt in Jesus Christ, and they make me remember how glorious he is, what he did, he did it for me, he did it for his Father’s glory, and they stir up those affections that are totally appropriate and right for Jesus Christ.

Second Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” And for me, the best songs are the songs that help me see that, to help me see the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So there are probably more, but those are three that come to mind.

Jonathan Parnell: Yes, that’s great. Well, that will conclude our broadcast today. And I wonder, Bob, if you just would close this in prayer.

Bob Kauflin: I’d be happy to.

Jonathan Parnell: Thank you so much.