Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
This is part 2 of our, “Music is great. Jesus is greater.” discussion. In this episode, Bob and David show us that it’s the truth of the gospel that changes our lives and why it’s important to intentionally choose Christ-exalting, emotionally engaging, biblically informed songs for our churches.
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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches, from local churches. For more information and free resources, you can check out sovereigngracemusic.org. Thanks for joining us.
David Zimmer: Welcome back, I am David Zimmer.
BK: I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And this is Sound + Doctrine. We are so happy that you would join us.
BK: We are.
DZ: This is part two of “Music is Great. Jesus is Greater.” So if you didn’t catch our first podcast about this topic, go back and make sure you listen to that.
DZ: But last week, we left off talking about signs that music might be greater than Jesus in people’s eyes.
BK: Yup, yeah, yeah.
DZ: We talked a little bit about personally and congregationally, but I wanna talk more about that.
BK: Yeah, I think that whole area can be developed because you hear that, even the title, “Music is Great. Jesus is Greater.” If you’re a Christian, you love Jesus, He’s saved you. Of course, yeah, yeah. But I don’t think we get all the signs that that might not be true. So I think last time we talked about for people in our church, how do you know if the people in your congregation are valuing music more than they value who Jesus is and what He’s done? I think one of the first things I said was, they tend to respond emotionally more to arrangements and instrumentation than content. So you might do a song and they come up to you afterwards and they say, “Oh man, what the guitar player did after the second verse was so great.” That’s not a good thing. They could be trying to be encouraging but that’s not necessarily the best thing. Another sign is that people think the singing is boring, they don’t get into it. Now, I should say it’s possible for people to lead music in a boring way, so that could be a legit complaint.
BK: But it could also be a sign that the music isn’t creative enough. “You’re not giving me enough feel goods in terms of, like what’s going on, video and dynamic changes.” And so it’s just boring. When what we really wanna lead people into is, is valuing the content, is valuing the Gospel truths that have changed our lives. The greatness of God, His beauty, His majesty, His awesomeness, His holiness, His greatness. Those are the things that should affect us. So when someone says, we’ve just sung all these songs about the greatness of God and Jesus Christ, and they come up to you afterwards and say, “That was boring,” that might say more about their hearts than it does someone’s leadership.
DZ: Yeah. Well, I was also just gonna mention that it’s really freeing to hear that it isn’t contingent upon the arrangement or just the arrangement…
DZ: Or just the musicians or just the worship leader. ‘Cause there’s so many churches that do not have phenomenal musicians or phenomenal.
BK: Right. Well, most churches. Let’s be honest.
DZ: Most churches. That don’t have good singers or a good choir or a good instrumentation. And so that feeling of the burden of it sounding amazing every Sunday, it’s a really freeing thought that it has to be the doctrine, it has to be the theology, the truths of what we’re singing.
BK: It’s the truths that changed our lives.
DZ: That’s the biggest difference.
BK: I’ve been married 43 years to Julie, 44 this year, 2020, and I never get tired of thinking about her. It’s not like, “Oh, you know, you’re the same, oh my gosh, you know. Can’t you… ” Now, we look for creative places to go, creative things to do, but it’s her. It’d be like saying… We go on a date night every Monday night and… Well, COVID has changed things a little bit, but we’re back, we’re back in the schedule again. And it would be like saying to someone, “I love date nights. They’re just amazing. I love going out to eat and going to movies,” which I don’t anymore right now. “And it really doesn’t matter if Julie’s there or not. I just wanna make sure I have an exciting time, and I do.” That kind of misses the whole point. I can go out with Julie and do something pretty mundane. The other night we were out sitting in a restaurant and she said, “What do you wanna do now?” and I said, “Just what we’re doing. Just sit here talking. That’s what I wanna do.”
DZ: Yeah, that a great analogy.
BK: It’s so easy for us to mistake the trappings of congregational worship for the reason we’ve gathered in the first place. So that’d be another way we can possibly see that people value music more than Jesus. Another thing is when the people in our congregation ask to sing songs that are popular but theologically shallow or vague. “I heard this song on the radio, it’s really great. Hey, could we do this?”
DZ: “We should do it, we should do it on Sunday.” Yeah.
BK: Yeah. And then you say, “Hey, thanks for telling me, asking for that,” and you look at it and you go, “Yeah, well, it’s okay, but it’s not great.” But they keep coming to you with requests like that, they’re not thinking about who they’re singing about so much as the fact that, “This makes me feel good.”
DZ: “This sounded good. This makes me feel good. It’s from a great band,” or whatever.
BK: And we have a responsibility then to teach them, to train them, either through a conversation or even congregationally. You can let people know, “We’re gonna do this song, and you know the reason why we choose songs here is because we wanna enable the Word of Christ to dwell in people richly.”
DZ: I love that, yeah, yeah.
BK: Just help people understand, you don’t just pick what’s popular.
BK: What’s popular may be great for your church, but it might not be. And so if someone is coming up to you regularly and saying, “I like this song, I like this song and this song. I’m not sure about everything it says, but I just love to sing it,” that’s a sign they might be valuing music more than Jesus. And then one more is just that the people in our church have a hard time worshipping the Lord in song with people who don’t like the same kind of music. There was this thing happening a couple of decades ago maybe, and I’m sure it’s still happening, the whole seeker sensitive movement, when churches began offering different meetings for people with different musical tastes. In the short run, that seems like such a good idea because I can go to meeting where I like all the music.
DZ: I know.
BK: But in the long run, that contradicts the Gospel.
BK: The Gospel says, “What binds us together is not the music we like but the one who has saved us.” Ephesians 2 talks about how Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Now, it’s talking about Jews and Greeks there, but it just as well could be talking about, “You like country, I like rock. I like Indie. I like traditional. I like folk.”
DZ: Right. “I like the hymns, I like the… ” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: Yes. That’s not what binds us together. So we have sometimes trained people that way, which is not biblical. It’s not honoring what Jesus has done to make us one. So if people are saying, “Yeah, I can’t sing with that group of people because they sing traditional hymns or I can’t sing with them because they sing modern hymns,” or whatever. It’s like, “No, it’s not the music that binds us together. It’s the blood of Christ that was paid for our sins that reconciled us to God and to each other. That’s why we’re one. And that’s why even though we prefer different kinds of music, we can still sing in the same room.”
DZ: Yeah. You think of churches in all difference shapes and sizes, and that’s a huge point of contention between churches, congregations, splitting points, all of that.
BK: Churches have divided over it. And again, I don’t know if it’s… I know churches that still do this, but it just doesn’t seem to have quite the compelling attraction as it used to. I hope it doesn’t. And maybe someone listening to this will take note.
DZ: I was with a group and we played a really big church in Texas. And I remember our rehearsal green room area was a small chapel within the sanctuary, and it had a pulpit and an organ and it had maybe 60 seats. And it was the traditional service that met at this moment in the morning, and then the big room was for the other services. And it was this isolation section for kind of the old people. Or whoever wants to get sort of pushed into that room to do that service. And so just that point of our unity in the Gospel unifies our gatherings, and it trumps preferences.
BK: Yes. Yes. Well, in a way, it can make a new mediator between us and God. In other words, we say, “I can’t encounter the Lord unless it’s through this kind of music.” Actually, you can. And if we start out a statement saying, “I can’t encounter the Lord without… ”
DZ: Fill in the blank, yeah.
BK: Yeah, if that blank isn’t Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then we’re wandering in idolatry territory. We’re saying, “This is the thing that connects me with God.” Music does not connect us with God. Music affects our hearts, it softens our emotions so that our ears can be open and our eyes can be open to see who God is for us in Jesus, so we can hear the Word of God, which is actually changing us. But it can’t be a mediator. It’s not the thing we need to worship God. So those are some signs that people think music is greater than Jesus.
BK: But then it’s also personal. I’d like to spend some time talking about that too.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: Or I’d like for us to talk about it. So I can think, “Yeah, my people,” as a leader, “The people, they’re having such a problem with this.” And I need to watch this in my own heart. And I think that’s where as leaders, those who have responsibility for planning and leading congregational worship, we have to really take our souls to task on this. Because the first sign that we might be valuing music over Jesus is something similar to what I just said: We have a hard time connecting with God apart from music. So we think because we’re a musician, “This is the time I can really connect with God. I’m a piano player, I’m a guitar player, that’s when I really feel like I’m near to God.” No. You might feel that, but 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “There is one God, there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
BK: And I always think about Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, which is one of the go to passages for worship. And he’s telling her, “Those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and truth. The Father is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and truth.” And I’ve read that passage dozens if not hundreds of times, and there is no mention of music. Jesus doesn’t allude to choirs, bands, synths, obviously, cymbals, nothing. Nothing, even drums. Sorry, David. It’s because music it can be a part of worship certainly, but it’s not the heart of worship. And that should be evident as Jesus is telling the Samaritan woman what worship is, and music is an insight. So our relationship with God can’t be dependent on it. So that’s one sign that we might be valuing music over Jesus. Here’s another: We don’t think non-musicians can experience God’s presence like musicians can. So we think because we’re musicians, we’re the…
DZ: We’re facilitating.
BK: The high priest, yeah. We’re gonna get people into God’s presence. So I’m wanna read this quote from Harold Best, it’s a wonderful book written in the ’90s, Music Through the Eyes of Faith. He says, “Christian musicians must be particularly cautious. They can create the impression that God is more present when music is being made than when it is not, that worship is more possible with music than without it, and that God might possibly depend on its presence before appearing.” That is so good.
DZ: It’s so good.
BK: I remember the first time I read that, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I think I’m doing this. I think I’m like… I’ll play some chords.” I had a producer tell me one time, “If you play a minor five chord, people’s hands will start to go up.” And I thought, “Oh man, you’re kidding me, this is not good.”
DZ: It’s funny. My mind immediately went there, not to the minor five, but to the idea that it’s so awkward that we’re praying without music or it’s so awkward that we’re speaking and there’s not music playing. But to that point, is the music moving us? Is that why I’m… It’s like a sound track in a movie. Is it like, “Is that why I’m interested in what you have to say?”
BK: Yeah. And the best music will support what’s going on, it won’t compete with it, it’ll complement it. Music definitely affects us, it softens our hearts, can soften our hearts if it’s done well, to hear and understand the words we’re singing and the truths that are being pointed to. So if someone were to play underneath someone praying, it should be non-distracting and the person who’s playing should be listening to the person speaking and just doing what’s gonna complement that. But that is very different from bringing us into God’s presence or bringing God’s presence to us.
DZ: Yes. Yes. Yes.
BK: I remember I was at a conference years ago, and I was playing something on a synthesizer and the leader came back to me and said, “Keep playing that, there’s healing in that.” I thought to myself, “There’s not healing in that, I’m just playing the synthesizer.” We can’t make those calls. Music is an emotional language, it affects our emotions. But unless it’s combined with the truth, we don’t know exactly what way that’s gonna go.
DZ: That’s so good.
BK: David in the Old Testament playing for Saul, people use this illustration all the time. Saul, when he’s distraught, in turmoil, David comes and plays the harp for him, plays the lyre, and Saul calms down. But you know what? Twice Saul ended up throwing his spear at David, so it’s not exactly a foolproof thing, where music…
DZ: And every leader has wanted to throw some object at a guitar player for noodling.
BK: This is true, don’t do it. So here’s the verse that has relevance to this point, which is thinking that music can bring us into God’s presence, it can’t. Jesus brings us into God’s presence. Hebrews 10:19-22, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Holy Places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is through His flesh. And since we have a great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
DZ: I love that passage.
BK: Oh my, oh, it’s changed my life, ’cause I would definitely be susceptible to… Have been susceptible to the fact that or to the idea that music could bring me into God’s presence. Okay, here’s another. Is it okay if I just go through these like this?
DZ: Yeah, it’s great. It’s so helpful.
BK: Well, as a leader… ‘Cause there’s two more, there’s one I wanna get to that is most on my heart. But as a leader you find that the time you spend with your band, with your musicians, is mostly spent giving musical direction and minimizing or completely ignoring spiritual direction.
DZ: Yes. The pressure, the Sunday pressure to have the arrangement nailed, the transitions nailed, are musicians prepared or whatever, but could potentially miss the point.
BK: That’s right. So it’s like, you put your ladder up and you climb the top of it and you find you’re at the wrong wall.
BK: We don’t wanna do that. We wanna make sure… Now skill, there’s a place for skill, artistry, excellence, but all that has a purpose. I remember a few years ago, we were practicing on a Sunday morning and the sound system crashed, and so were there just sitting around, just kind of hanging around.
DZ: “What do we do now?”
BK: Yeah, “What do we do now?” So I thought, “You know what… ” I plan the liturgy every Sunday, and there’s always a purpose to that, there’s an intentionality. And so I gathered the whole band and I said, “Hey, let’s get together and talk through what we’re doing this morning.” You know what? I have done that every Sunday since, because I re… And then we prayed afterwards. I realized that what that does was kinda set the tone for everything else that was gonna happen.
BK: We come in, we get our monitors set and make sure everybody can hear it, and then we all come to the middle and we talk about what we’re gonna walk through, “This is why we’re using this call to worship. This was based on something that was said last week. This is why we’re doing these songs that flow from here to here. This is why we’re reading this Scripture. This is how that Scripture leads into this song.” And it gives people the sense that, “Okay, there’s a purpose to all this, there’s a meaning to it, there’s content to it.” So I was at a church one time visiting, and the leader before the service spent the last few minutes just giving musical cues. I appreciated that, but it’s not the musical cues that are gonna change people’s hearts. It may make it less of a distraction, but really what I want everybody playing and singing to be thinking about is how the Son of God left his throne above to live a perfect life for us, to become like us, to become one of us, live in our place, die in our place, rise from the dead for us so that we could know the mercy of God, so that we could know the love of God, and doesn’t that make you wanna sing? That’s what I want them thinking about.
DZ: Yeah. Well, and from an instrumentalist’s standpoint, it’s so easy to prioritize the arrangement.
BK: Oh yeah, yeah.
DZ: It’s so easy to prioritize the parts.
BK: And arrangements aren’t bad.
DZ: Right, exactly. But when we’re being drawn into the text, even this first song, “This is why we picked this first song, and it’s this one line I want you to focus on,” it’s hard to get around that. That is why I wanna play this song. ‘Cause I think it’s so helpful for your instrumentalists, to not only talk about arrangement, but drawing specificity out of each song. And I’ve seen you do that in your ministry, and it’s so helpful for instrumentalists to not just be thinking parts.
BK: Well, I remember the first few times I saw you at the Resolved Conferences back in California a number of years ago, and thinking… You were singing to every song and I thought, “That’s how a drummer should be playing.” When there was passion, it was like you were just belting out the words. It was like these truths are moving him more than pounding his drums. And you’re an amazing drummer, but it came across as, “There’s something I value more than music, and it’s the Savior who has redeemed me.” So thanks for your example. Okay, last thing. And of course, we talk about many more…
DZ: I’m hoping we will talk many more, there should be a part three to this.
BK: There’s gonna be a part three, yeah, there has to be.
DZ: Good, wonderful.
BK: How do you know that you might be valuing music more than Jesus? When you’re writing and leading songs, but aren’t living in the good of those songs.
DZ: Yeah. Yeah, right.
BK: So I met an individual one time who is a well-known producer, songwriter. I was able to get coffee with him and I learned that he was doing very badly in his marriage and struggling with drinking and lived with an inner rage in his heart towards God. And I just sat there across from him, and we had a good conversation, but I just sat there thinking, “Do you not believe the things that you’re leading and writing and producing?” And we get the sense that, “Well, it’s true for somebody else, it’s not true for me.”
BK: There was a leader in our city who a number of years ago divorced his wife, left his kids and married someone else and it’s just like, “Do you not believe what you’re singing?” I’ve known more than one leader who has tried to deal with depression or not getting the attention they want with alcohol, with pornography, and I just think, “Do you not believe that Jesus really is a savior? And that means we can come to Him in whatever condition we are, and know that His blood, His death paid for every sin, and that by His Spirit and because of God’s favor towards us, we can live a different life.”
DZ: Do you think it’s just so easy to make it a job?
BK: Yes, yes. There are lots of reasons.
DZ: Yeah, that’s not the only reason, but that…
BK: No, but that’s a good one. Yeah, you just come in, you clock in, do your thing. It’s not just a job.
DZ: Yeah, yeah. And what you said, “This could be for someone else, it’s not for me. I don’t believe it anymore even.” You could get to that point.
BK: Yeah, we look for songs that get people going. We sing, “No power of hell, no scheme of man could ever pluck me from His hand,” but we live in constant fear and crippling anxiety about the future. Like, “Will I get my job? Will this happen? Will we be able to have kids?” Whatever. We sing, “Because the sinless, the Savior died. My sinful soul is counted free,” but during the week we feel condemned, we feel guilty, we feel defeated. And we love singing, “It is well, it is well with my soul,” but you walk off that platform and you’re thinking, “It’s not well with my soul. My soul is doing terrible.” And it’s like we don’t really think of ourselves as telling people who Jesus is really for us and for the world. It’s like we’re trying to give Him good PR.
BK: Someone who’s a PR person will say something good about a product, whether they believe it or not, you just gotta give ’em good PR. And so we get to this place where we don’t really believe Jesus can deliver on His promises. We don’t really… Well, we become comfortable leading songs with promises that we just don’t believe anymore, and we call Jesus a savior, but we don’t think He really saves. And I wanna spend the rest of my life, one of the things I wanna do is communicating to those who lead congregational worship. That Jesus really does save. It’s not a gig, it’s not a job, it’s not a profession, it’s not a career move. God, help us. God, forgive us. And He can forgive us, he does forgive us for making it that. But that’s what we read about in the Old Testament, when the relationship with God became a formal thing and they didn’t live in the good of God’s covenant with Him and His mercy and His goodness and His kindness. So those are signs that we’re making music greater than Jesus, and it’s not, it’s not.
DZ: Yeah. It’s such a profound topic. And it’s so applicable now. Constantly, like you said, we know people that are constantly walking away because they don’t live in the good of it.
BK: Amen. Amen. Amen.
DZ: And they have ministries or churches or followings or a platform or whatever. And so I just think it’s so timely to be talking about this and to continue talking about this.
BK: Yes. So next time, ’cause I think we probably need to end, we wanna talk about why Jesus is greater than music, ’cause I think we can forget, and then hopefully get to ways that we can cultivate our love for Christ.
BK: I can’t wait.
DZ: Wonderful, thanks for joining us. Thank you, Bob.
BK: My joy.
DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at sovereigngracemusic.org.