In Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin draws on a long career of leading various congregations in musical worship and worship development, and offers a poignant and often painful journey through a worship leader’s spiritual makeup. In a sense, what Kauflin has done is practically shown how a true worship leader (a fairly modern notion, but not without biblical foundation) is constructed, from the ground up, so to speak. Kauflin brings an emotionally stretching and yet spiritually uplifting offering to the church, and a couple of his insights are worth unpacking further.
First of all, Kauflin’s insistence that the cross of Christ is central to the overall dynamic of worship in the church is one concept that is often given less credence than it is due. Citing Ephesians 3:12, Kauflin makes it abundantly clear that before Christ came, only one person, the High Priest, represented humanity for the atonement of sin, and he had to be absolutely “clean” to do so, for to come otherwise into the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the temple, meant certain death. Through his propitiatory work on the cross, Christ removed this restriction, but as Kauflin delineates:
As our High Priest and perfect sacrifice, Jesus is our “password” into God’s presence. Without his substitutionary sacrifice we could never draw near to God. And, of course, we’re not simply reciting a mantra or secret code but are exercising faith in what he has done. His access is sufficient and unique. Apart from Jesus Christ, we cannot approach God...This makes a huge difference as we lead others to worship God.
What Kauflin is saying, correctly, is that it is not in fact the worship leader, or any other leader who draws congregations into God’s presence, but Christ himself through his cross. So in essence as the worship leader does his or her part in the worship service, singing and playing instruments and probably leading a team of musicians in modern services, it is not an acceptable gift to the Lord in itself, but because it is a gift given by God to sinful man, whose sinfulness taints it and renders it unclean and unacceptable, only to have it redeemed and washed clean by Christ’s blood, presented to God our Father by Jesus whose sacrifice makes it holy. No amount of human effort can accomplish this, and so it is in humility and supplication that we strive for excellence in our practices, doing honour to the excellence of Jesus who paid for all of us to be able to enter the throne room of God and sing for his glory. What an awesome Saviour we serve!
One other concept with which Kauflin wrestles is that of remembering the roots of Christian worship, or at least remembering the long, long line of worshipers and leaders who came before, singing and worshiping God in liturgy and ritual and charismatic adoration and poetry and hymns. Although he cautions the reader not to focus too heavily on older hymns and liturgy, as they too can become an idol or a stumbling block, and lead to a “dead orthodoxy,” he encourages the worship leader of today to study and investigate the worship styles which have been engaged in the past, because the God who was adored then is the same one we praise today. The idea is that of richness. God has written his word upon our hearts, just as he wrote it upon the hearts of worshipers in the past. His glory came through then as it does now. Kauflin explains:
We share a common heritage with saints who’ve gone before us. Actually, it’s stronger than that. We join with the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:23), made up of those whom Christ has redeemed from every age. Reusing hymns and liturgical forms that go back hundreds of years is one way of affirming that we follow in a long line of worshipers who have sought to bring glory to God.
As we come into fellowship with Christ, then, we also rejoice not only with our congregation nor even with the church worldwide today (the church militant), but also with the church triumphant, the “great cloud of witnesses” from the past who praise God from their place of eternal reward in heaven, and as we learn of our heritage as followers of Christ and see how worship has progressed through history, his glory is revealed ever more richly to us.