The greatest hindrance to worshiping God while gathering for corporate worship at church on Sundays can come in the form of idolatry, including that of music and preaching, warns worship leader Bob Kauflin in a blog post.
Elements such as faithful planning, musical skill and wise leadership are important for corporate worship, but they must not become our idols, writes Kauflin, director of Sovereign Grace music, on the website of John Piper's Desiring God ministry.
"Idolatry can be active in my heart even when I'm gathered with the church," he tells the reader. "Whenever I think I can't meet with God unless 'X' is present, I'm making a profound statement. If 'X' is anything other than Jesus Christ, and his Holy Spirit, I've moved into idolatrous territory."
Kauflin, who equips pastors and musicians in the theology and practice of congregational worship and is part of a church plant in Louisville, Ky., identifies six "Sunday morning idols," and among them are music and preaching.
Sloppy playing, unsophisticated songs, an out of tune guitar, a vocalist who sings sharp, a drummer who drops a beat, or a mix that's out of balance, all these can easily distract us, he admits, and adds that skilled musicianship is commended in the Bible.
"But rather than just internally criticize what's going on, I can thank God he uses the weak things of this world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:20–31). I can remind myself that Jesus perfects all our offerings of worship through his once and for all sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5), and that even the most polished performance is insufficient on its own to merit God's favor."
Musical preference can also be a hindrance, Kauflin says.
"Our leaders don't always pick the songs on our playlist. And they shouldn't. The best music for congregations serves both the lyrics and the unity of the congregation, not our personal likes and dislikes."
Since we gather to edify one another, we can rejoicing that others in the church are benefiting from a song, "even if it's not my preference."
Similarly, the worship leader adds, not every preacher is as gifted, trained and skilled as some of the more well-known preachers. "But as long as they're preaching the gospel and seeking to communicate God's word faithfully, they're obeying God … As Charles Spurgeon's grandfather reminds us, someone might be able to preach the gospel better, but they can't preach a better gospel."
Kauflin also addresses creativity, experiences and liturgy as possible hindrances in corporate worship.
"If we're concerned that our times of corporate worship aren't cool, cutting edge, or surprising enough, we need to remember that the gospel of Christ is always news - and the best news we'll ever hear," he writes, of creativity.
About experiences, he warns that if we pursue "goose bumps or mere heightened emotion" during a meeting, "God becomes simply one of numerous options I can choose to seek them from."
And liturgies should serve us, not rule us, Kauflin says. "Since God has seen fit to allow freedom in form, so should we."