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Bob Kauflin - Worship Matters: Worship Music, or Music Worship?

  • 2000 29 Jul
Bob Kauflin - Worship Matters: Worship Music, or Music Worship?
Worship Matters
By Bob Kauflin, PDI Ministries & the {{PDI Worship Band}}

Worship Music, or Music Worship?

When you say the word "worship," what comes to your mind? Whatever it is, it's likely to be very different from what comes to the minds of millions of other Christians across the globe. That's why, when trying to identify the non-negotiables of worship, it's important to begin by clarifying what true worship is not. This should help us begin to sort out truth from trends, and our preferences from what really matters. So let's get started!

Worship is not a musical style

I spent some time recently with a well-respected leader in the body of Christ who believes that contemporary music is incompatible with worship, and that to use such music in worship is to commit sin. How did we meet? He was a principal speaker at a conference I was attending. To be more precise, I was leading worship at the conference, along with a worship team that included singers, keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. Needless to say, in expressing our praise to God, we were primarily using contemporary musical styles.

That might have been an uncomfortable few days, but we actually had some wonderful, sincere, fruitful conversations.

This man gave me at least two reasons why he believes contemporary music is unacceptable in worship. First, its associations with secular culture render it unusable. Second, its use violates Psalm 33:3 ("play skillfully, and shout for joy") since, in his view, it takes no skill to play contemporary music. Here are my responses.

His first argument raises the whole issue of musical style in worship. We know that worship is commanded by God. It is to be about God and for God. So, if some musical styles are bad for worship, which ones are best? Which musical styles does God like the most?


Black Gospel?

Folk Music?



In addition, we can ask - Which time period in the history of music has God preferred? For example, is God stuck on 16th century European styles? Were all the styles leading up to that time incomplete? Does he regret all musical advances since then? Is musical diversity and branching out a mistake?

In the alternative, will we learn one day that, all along, God really wanted us to worship to a Javanese Gamelan orchestra, or a troupe of Central African drummers, or some other non-western music that doesn't use a 12-tone scale? What a shock it would be to get to heaven and find out that God is, in fact, a huge fan of Country Western worship music!

I trust that you understand my point. Worship of the true and living God cannot be confined to a certain musical style or time period. In fact, most (if not all) arguments about which music is best for the worship of God are products of a particular culture or preference, not biblical discernment.

This leads to his second point. Does skill matter? Of course it does. But every instrument and every style of music can be played well or played badly. It takes less skill to play Middle C on a piano than on a French horn. The rudiments of folk guitar come more easily than the rudiments of classical guitar. But this does not mean that folk music cannot be played skillfully, or that French horn always takes more ability to play than piano. Every instrument and every piece of music can be played with a high degree of skill, a low degree of skill, or no skill at all.

The same is true for specific compositions. There's good and bad film music, reggae, and pop, but it's unwise to compare music across genres. There are no biblical grounds for saying that classical is always better (or more appropriate for worship) than pop. Nor is it accurate to say that contemporary worship music is always better (or always worse) than hymns. You might as well, as they say, compare apples to oranges. Musical categories are too vast, and genres are too different in their use of musical elements, to make such sweeping comparisons.

Having said that, it's certainly true that some styles are not well-suited to certain times of worship. I cannot imagine, for example, using a fast, rock-oriented, aggressive-sounding song in a context calling for deep repentance and humility before God. So, although musical style can help or hinder worship at any particular point during a worship service, worship itself is never synonymous with a specific musical style. As Donald Hustad writes so wisely in True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder & Majesty (Carol Stream, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998, p. 185): "We must be sure that the music we use for worship doesn't become the music we worship."

I hope you are recognizing why it is so important to grasp what worship is not. We'll continue this vital discussion.

Rejoicing in grace,


P.S. To help illustrate my point about musical preferences, here are links to three versions of a worship song by Mark Altrogge called The Highest Glory. These three versions are very different from one another, yet they are the same song - the same words, the same melodic flow, the same chords (well, some of the same chords), and the same intent. With one or two exceptions, I happen to know every person appearing on these recordings. Each one participated in these projects out of a desire to bring glory and honor to God. For them, the process of arranging and recording these songs was truly an act of worship. Now, I can't imagine anyone liking all three versions exactly the same, or finding each version equally appealing for a worship context. But I'm not about to declare that one version is more like "real worship" than another. And I certainly don't know which one God likes best.

"The Highest Glory" by Mark Altrogge, copyright 1996 PDI Praise (BMI) as recorded on PDI Music's "The Highest Glory" Song Service, PDI Music, 1996

"The Highest Glory" by Mark Altrogge, copyright 1996 PDI Praise (BMI) as recorded by {{GLAD}} on "A Capella Worship: The Highest Glory", Diadem, 1998

"The Highest Glory" by Mark Altrogge, copyright 1996 PDI Praise (BMI) as recorded by {{New Attitude Band}} on "New Attitude Band EP", PDI Music, 2000

To read Bob Kauflin's previous Worship Matters column, CLICK HERE.

Bob Kauflin has led worship for more than 20 years, and in just about every context you can imagine, including from the main stage at several of the Creation East festivals, the largest outdoor Christian festival in the United States. He now serves as the worship leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, and oversees worship development for PDI Ministries. Bob was a founding member of the contemporary Christian group GLAD, and continues to write and arrange for them today. He holds a degree in piano performance from Temple University and has appeared on more than 25 recordings, including as worship leader on live recordings from Integrity Music's Hosanna! series, Word Music's Heart Cry label, and PDI Music's Come and Worship series by the {{PDI Worship Band}}. You can reach Bob at or visit the PDI site at