[Editor's note: the article below was adapted from a blog post by Bob Kauflin that first appeared at www.worshipmatters.com.]
Not too long ago a group of friends and I finished reading together The Cross And Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson. It's a book every Christian leader could benefit from. One group member, Matt Richley, wrote down a few thoughts about two quotes he found in chapter 2. I thought you'd enjoy them. Here are the quotes, followed by Matt's response.
"It is idiotic - that is not too strong a word - to extol the world's perspective and secretly lust after its limited vision. This is what the Corinthians were apperently doing; that is what we are in danger of doing every time we adopt our world's shibboleths, dote on its heros, admire its transient stars, seek its admiration, and play to its applause."
"We must come back to the cross, and to God's plan of redemption that centers on the cross, and make that the point of our self-identification."
I was challenged by this when I considered how I lead people in corporate worship. I was aware that often, I would be riddled with nervousness, feeling the continual battle with pride and the fear of man. I was concerned with my musical ‘performance' and how well I would articulate verbal transitions between songs. I was aware of my weakness, which is good because it helps me recognize my need for and dependence on God. But instead of giving Him glory, in those moments I was craving the praise of man and wanted people to think well of my leadership and musical skill (not that my gifting is particularly significant). What I find so funny and ironic is that the gifting I do have, by the very nature of a gift, was given to me by someone else, namely God! And yet I try and claim some achievement or prideful ownership over those gifts. I was convicted by Paul's words in 1 Corinthians:
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7)
In the midst of discussion about these things, the other guys helped me see what I was initially blind to. Here's what I gleaned about preparing to lead the church in corporate worship in a way that redirects the focus from ourselves to the risen Savior:
Don't Expect Your Own Perfection - Lead in Light of His Perfection
Romans 3:23-24 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
If I'm aiming to lead (speaking and/or musically) flawlessly then I am dooming myself to discouragement because I will never do it perfectly! Yes, I could do it better, (and evaluation is a useful tool to cultivate humility) but I do it from the foundation that I am already accepted in Christ and that my worship is pleasing to God through Jesus' perfect sacrifice.
Christ has done the work that no other could do, and the work is finished - His worship was perfect. Our worship then, through redemption is in Christ. It is cleansed through his blood and is a pleasing aroma of Christ to God.
Because our righteousness is in Christ - ‘prepare', ‘practice' and ‘lead' in the good of that
Prepare for, practice and lead in light of the fact that ‘our righteousness is in Christ'. We don't have to prove our worth or value as a member of the church or hold up an identity of ‘The Worship Leader'! We just need to show/remind people of the greatness, mercy, kindness, love of God, the pinnacle of all these being at the cross.
That doesn't negate preparation and practice, but our identity isn't in our role or position or in how well we do, but as a redeemed child of God.
A good signpost doesn't say, "look at me, what a great sign I am, aren't I so clear, bold and striking!" No, a good signpost doesn't distract or call for attention to itself, but points you to something greater. Humble leaders point people to Jesus.
The Spirit of God Does The Work…so don't you try to!
Bryan Chapell says this,
"The Holy Spirit uses our words, but his work, not ours, affects the hidden recesses of the human will."
We may bring words, but God does the work, and He does so through and in spite of our sin tainted hearts and weakness. As we take comfort in this, we don't have to try and manipulate a response in people's hearts from smooth progressions and eloquent speech (not to deny their value). God loves his church and He and He alone does the work through His Spirit and can do so with or without me or you.
One Last Quote From Carson…
"Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry."
It's so easy for leaders to be more focused on musical techniques and smooth transitions (though they are helpful and we don't want to be distracting). But our aim is to be leaders that are focused on Christ and Him crucified so that we can help others magnify Him who in His unsearchable greatness has saved sinners like us.
~ Matt Richley
Bob Kauflin travelled with the Christian group GLAD for eight years as a songwriter and arranger before becoming a pastor with Sovereign Grace Ministries in 1985. He is now the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, overseeing its music projects and teaching on congregational worship. He blogs at Worshipmatters.com and hosts the biennial WorshipGod Conference. He and his wife, Julie, have six children and an ever-growing number of grandchildren.