Authentically Legalistic Worship

It was not long ago I attended a local pastor’s conference at a nearby Baptist college. In the general session we were led in worship by the college’s worship band consisting of students. They were a pretty trendy group that differed dramatically from the men in the session. In a moment of authenticity the young man leading worship revealed that he was studying for the ministry (great!) and decided to share a few words before we started singing. He then revealed that he had not been reading his Bible or praying much (not so great!) because he was really busy and we probably understood that because we were busy too. But then he said something even worse. He said that he felt ready to sing and worship God and lead in worship because that morning he had taken the time to get up early and read his Bible and pray.

For some reason I wasn’t inspired by this. Here is why:

“Authenticity” Doesn’t Mean “Share Everything”: Try to forget for a moment what “authentic” might mean to a generation of men and women who have spent countless hours on Facebook, Twitter, etc. sharing moments, thoughts, and pictures that would have shocked a previous generation. And once you have been able to put that out of your mind, consider that this is not necessarily an unbiblical idea. The Bible speaks of being genuine and sincere in our faith and love as we interact with others. But I wonder if we haven’t taken things too far. Using illustrations of ourselves in a negative light isn’t necessarily what I am referring to here. I think there is a healthy place for that in our culture. But the need to tell people everything about ourselves out of a desire to be authentic often seems little more than a thinly veiled self-preoccupation. Part of the problem is probably due to a lack of wisdom due to the fact that we are so used to sacrificing any real privacy for the sake of virtual authenticity. But when we are leading worship, a Bible study, a Sunday School class, or simply leading a group in prayer we need to be clear about where authenticity ends and “Too Much Information” begins. The line between the two is going to shift from group to group but when there is any confusion I think it is better to withhold information than to have your own little “tell all.”

Private Worship is the fountain of Public Ministry. During my college years I spent a summer in inner-city Philadelphia with Ian McConnel. He guided me not only through the streets of the “City of Brotherly Love” (or shove) but also in my walk with God. I remember hearing him say “private worship feeds public ministry.” He was telling me that the source of power for public ministry is private worship. But he was also saying that public ministry without private worship was a sham. Now I realize that there are days and weeks and months that the pastor’s walk with God feels more like drudgery than delight. There are seasons of refreshing but there are also seasons of darkness and drought. But we who open up the word and lead our people into seeing the glory of God cannot stop immersing ourselves in the word of God and prayer simply because our affections are not stirred at the moment. Doing that would make us pretenders and not pastors. So when this young worship leader at the conference began to tell us that he had not had any private worship with God for a while what were we to think.

Now Having said all that I must say that we worship and lead others not because of our own works or capabilities but because of Jesus and his finished work on the cross. As the young man finished explaining that he felt ready now to lead us in worship simply because he had worshipped God privately that morning I was dumbstruck. This was legalistic worship. In essence he reduced God’s acceptance of our worship and the effectiveness of our leadership of others to our good works. His private act of reading and praying that morning bought God off and simultaneously made him “feel ready” so that he could lead us in worship. My guess is that all of us feel that God accepts us or doesn’t on the basis of what we have or haven’t done at one time or another. But we need to remember a couple of key truths. All our righteous works are like dirty, filthy rags before the Father. The only clothing that means anything and everything are the perfect white garments of righteousness given to us by Jesus Christ our High Priest who cleanses us from all sin on the basis of his death and resurrection.

So worship Jesus authentically by worshipping him from the heart and share those things that are going to magnify God and his works. Worship privately to empower your public worship and ministry. Let the truth that God has been bringing home to your heart in private be the reservoir from which you may give water to the thirsty. Anything less is hypocritical and you know it. And worship on the foundation of the gospel knowing that we are accepted in the beloved on the basis of Christ alone.

Here is just an irrelevant but funny video:



  1. I’ve seen that video before and it’s still just as funny as the first time. It’s funny because it’s true.

    I can see what that worship leader was trying to do by being authentic, even though it didn’t work out so well. It is necessary to show humility from up front, as well as discernment.

    It’s true, our public passion should never exceed our private devotion. I love that. I’ve also found that private worship is what fuels my life.

    Great thoughts and truth here, Kendall. Thanks!

  2. Ryan,
    You are right of course. Our culture does value authenticity over mere formalism (and make no mistake I think that is good). And I can appreciate what he was trying to do in being “open” and thus encourage the men there. But he just erred in what he did share though this was due more to a lack of wisdom and experience rather than anything else. I am sure that I have made similar mistakes.

    Praise God for churches and fellow believers who put up with the immaturity of the young guys!

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