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Worship leader urges balance in use of contemporary praise & celebration music

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Worship leader Bob Kauflin thinks Christians have reacted too extremely to the contemporary praise and celebration movement.

Instead of either wholeheartedly embracing praise and celebration music or completely rejecting it, Kauflin encourages a middle approach: Appreciate the benefits of contemporary praise and celebration, but recognize that some concerns accompany those benefits.

Such an approach, he said, may ultimately allow worshipers to learn a new vocabulary for declaring God’s glory.

Kauflin, who spoke as part of the Institute for Christian Worship’s speaker series in mid-March at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, an organization that seeks to establish and nurture local churches.

While not advocating exclusive use of contemporary praise and celebration music, Kauflin cited several positives emerging from the contemporary praise and worship movement. Among them:

— Praise and celebration music has renewed a God-focused emphasis in the Christian music industry. “Certainly entertainment is still a big part of CCM [contemporary Christian music], but you hear more talk about people wanting to listen to music to connect with God, to experience intimacy with God, to encounter God.” One example of this trend, he said, is the overwhelming sales of recent albums such as Third Day’s “Offerings” and Michael W. Smith’s “Worship,” he said.

— Praise and celebration music is helping to revitalize worship services. In many churches, Kauflin said, praise and celebration music has helped people to gain “a new awareness of God’s presence, a new appreciation for the words they are singing and a new experience of intimacy with God as a result of just singing songs that allowed them to say these things.”

— More styles of music are being used to praise God, reaching a new generation. “Every generation will in some way reflect its own voice in the worship of God. Now it shouldn’t do that alone. It shouldn’t do that exclusively, but we should welcome new expressions,” he said.

Despite these benefits, the contemporary praise and celebration movement has brought some negative features to the arena of Christian music, Kauflin acknowledged. Negatives include:

— Contemporary praise and celebration may cause people to think that worship is equivalent to music. God certainly values musical expressions of worship, but true worship is much broader than music, Kauflin said. “God loves music. He wants us to praise His name with music … but worship has to do with what rules our hearts and desires, what takes up our time, what we think about when we don’t have to think about anything. That’s where we see worship,” Kauflin said. “It’s reflected not just in what we sing, but in the way we speak, think and act.” Because so many contemporary uses of the word “worship” refer to music exclusively — such as worship CDs, the worship station and worship bands — people may gain a warped perspective of the term’s true meaning, he said.

— With the contemporary praise and celebration movement, there may be a temptation to think that worship is somehow new or has finally become genuine. Every generation of Christians tends to think that its music has reached an unsurpassed level of genuineness, Kauflin said, describing such a thought as simply inaccurate. “What a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have worshiped God probably more sincerely than you ever did, before you were ever born. There’s that tendency to think that because the style of music is new that the worship must be better, and we just want to be careful here.”

— Given the fact that some songs are highly memorable, musicians may tend to be regarded as primary theologians. Many contemporary Christian songs stick in people’s minds because of their catchy tunes, Kauflin said. But some of these songs may not accurately transmit the message of Scripture.

“Just because a song has a catchy chorus and is easy to learn doesn’t mean it’s good theology,” he said.

Ultimately, Kauflin said, Christians should consider use of contemporary Christian music but take care to ensure the biblical faithfulness of their worship. “Look for songs that contain solid biblical truths, that inspire a passionate response,” he said.