No, A Synthesizer Isn't The Holy Spirit... And That's OK

No, A Synthesizer Isn't The Holy Spirit... And That's OK

Bob Kauflin recently wrote an article discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of using synth sounds and worship pads to create atmosphere and smooth out transitions between songs.

While I deeply respect his ministry over the decades, believe much of what he teaches, and understand what Bob was trying to say in this article,  I genuinely disagree with the conclusions he drew.  

There's a lot I could comment on, but I'll narrow it to 4 points of Bob's that I want to discuss.


1. About experiencing God's presence through music:

"Music is a means. God is the source. God often uses physical means to do his work. But when we start to view a means of grace as a 'need' for worship it can subtly take on the characteristics of a mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). We think certain musical sounds enable us to experience God’s presence.'

I believe this is all true.  Yet what I don't believe is that, by using worship pads, I am immediately buying into the belief that God's presence has manifested itself in our worship service.

My heart as a worship pastor is to shepherd the people and provide, as John Piper puts it, an atmosphere of "un-distracting excellence" so our church can whole-heartedly worship the Lord.  I believe worship pads play a big role in that "un-distracting excellence".  Pads do not enable us to experience God's presence - they enable our worship ministry to lead more effectively, and thus encouraging the congregation to genuinely worship the Lord.

By killing dead space with pads, I'm helping people focus on the moment at hand.  By filling the worship team's sound with pads, I'm allowing the team members to engage with their artistry instead of "filling space" with their instrument.  I get to steward my musical gifts better because pads are taking care of the "busy-work" of providing an atmosphere of un-distracting excellence.

I do not believe that the presence of worship pads equals the presence of the Holy Spirit.  But I do believe that using worship pads allows us as a worship team and congregation to worship in an atmosphere with less distraction.


2. On music and emotional state:

"A synthesizer points to emotion. The Holy Spirit points to Christ.  Music is an emotional language.... But the emotions it communicates are 'truth-less.' We don’t know their source or their object. Music by itself can’t tell us that God is slow to anger or that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree."

Again, I agree with Bob on this point.  But to draw the conclusion that worship pads (or any other musical sound/instrument, for that matter) aim to communicate spiritual truth (that God is slow to anger, that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, etc.) is a hasty and ill-fated "if-this-then-that" scenario.

I don't believe worship pads communicate spiritual truth - I believe the Holy Spirit communicates spiritual truth through His presence, I believe God's Word communicates spiritual truth through its timeless promises, and I believe I communicate spiritual truth as one who has been anointed & appointed to a platform position (no matter how small or big) to shepherd our body of Christ.

Worship pads don't mean a more "holy" worship service - your trust in the Lord for His part, and your faithfulness in doing your part, will indicate whether or not your worship service held the Lord's holiness in high regard.


3.  On using worship pads vs. silence in a worship service:

"An ever-present synthesizer can subtly communicate God only works with a musical background. The Holy Spirit gets things done with words alone, or even in silence.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing music between songs or when someone’s speaking, and there can be good reasons for doing so. But repetition teaches. If people typically hear a steady stream of atmospheric pads during your church’s corporate worship, they could assume the Holy Spirit is 'less present' when the keyboardist stops playing. They might struggle to engage with God in a more traditional church service, where the songs are 'interrupted' by prayer, Scripture reading, confessions, and creeds. Some might even think the Holy Spirit isn’t as active in those churches, or that those people just don’t 'get' worship... People should know that while music can support what’s being read, God’s Word can stand on its own."

Again and again, I agree with Bob that the Holy Spirit doesn't rely on anything to do what He wants to do.  But...I believe the rest is nothing more than a personal preference of Bob's.  

While it's true that congregants who are used to hearing worship pads might be distracted at a church that doesn't use them, I would argue the church that doesn't use pads would be distracted at a church that does use them.  

Every congregation is different, and every congregation has a unique makeup.  If I am scared to make a musical decision because of the possibility that a couple people might interpret it the wrong way... well... I wouldn't ever make a musical decision, period.

I've done a piano-only worship service, and some people were upset.  I've done a synth-heavy worship service, and some people were upset.  I've done a light acoustic worhsip service, and some people were upset.  I've done a worship service with nothing but vocals, and some people were upset.  

I could make an argument, according to Bob, that each of these decisions were wrong.  But in the end, if my primary goal is to make people happy, then I probably missed a memo from God somewhere along the line (Galatians 1:10).  And there were many congregants who did in fact engage genuinely with the Lord in each of these worship services, and I'm grateful for that.


4. On connecting parts of a worship service with pads:

"One of the common reasons for using synth pads is to improve the flow. i.e., smooth out transitions from one song to another. That can be a good thing. But a Sunday meeting isn’t a seamless performance or production. And we aren’t trying to create a musical mood or atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit feels 'more comfortable.' "

To say that the Holy Spirit feels "more comfortable" in a particular atmosphere or musical setting is erroneous, yes.  I agree with Bob on that.  I don't think many worship leaders would claim to believe that.  Also, I completely understand and agree with Bob that our worship service isn't for show.  

But I would argue that part of being a faithful steward with the talents we've been given (Matthew 25:14-30) means acknowledging that transitions and production elements would fall on a list of things I can do as a worship leader that will be considered "stewarding my talents well". 

Transitions and production elements are not Gospel truth, but I believe it would be silly (and, with how I've been created, poor stewardship) to not care about the most excellent performance I can bring in our worship service.  (And by "performance", I mean contributing what I can in a way that magnifies God and what He's placed in me, not actually "performing").


I could go on and on, but to wrap up, WORSHIP PADS ARE NOT CONDUITS FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT.  I completely agree with Bob on this.  But to throw out the baby with the bathwater seems short-sighted and not acknowledging the bigger perspective of why we're leading people in worship in the first place.

What do you think?  Agree or disagree?  Leave your comments below!

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