The Paradox of the Worship Selfie

For those in public ministry, especially musicians in the church, social media can be a convenient way to let others know what we’ve been doing. But when does the desire to communicate ways we’ve been serving become more about us than Jesus? In this episode, Bob and David explore that topic and suggest ways we can use social media wisely and in a God-glorifying way.

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David Zimmer: Hello, and welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine podcast. My name is David Zimmer.

Bob Kauflin: My name is Bob Kauflin

DZ: Great to be together today again.

BK: It is. It’s always great to be together.

DZ: Yep. And what are we talking about today, Bob?

BK: You don’t know? Oh my gosh.

DZ: I do know, but I want you to say the title, ’cause it’s great.

BK: I feel like we’re faking people out when we say that. What are we going to talk about? Like, don’t you know?

DZ: You know what? Some people just get on a podcast and they just.

BK: Just ramble.

DZ: Have a conversation with each other.

BK: We actually prepare for these.

DZ: We do. If we didn’t, it would be disastrous.

BK: It’d be disastrous.

DZ: And a waste of your time.

BK: But I do know some people who write out every word of their podcast. We are not those people.

DZ: Yeah, we don’t read it. So somewhere in the middle.

BK: Somewhere in the middle. Today, all right, the title. If you haven’t seen it already, is the Paradox of the Worship Selfie. Now, you may be asking, where in the world did that come from?

DZ: Yeah.

BK: I’m glad you asked that question, even though you didn’t. Fabrizio Rodulfo, who oversees our video and photography and Spanish everything.

DZ: He makes us all look great.

BK: He is filming this right now.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Fabrizio, can you say hi?

Fabrizio: Hi.

BK: That’s very good.

DZ: There he is.

BK: There he is. He just was looking at some of my old blog posts, and they’d have to be old ’cause I’m not blogging too much. I always say I’m going to start blogging again, but I don’t too much, but maybe I will someday. Anyway, about seven years ago, I did a post called The Paradox of the Worship Selfie.

DZ: And what’s your blog called?

BK: Thank you for asking.

DZ: You’re welcome.

BK: I feel so honored that you asked.

DZ: You told me to.

BK: I know. So it was about someone who had written in, this is back in 2017, and they said this, Social media has been on my mind lately. So this was seven years ago. If it was on his mind then, you can only imagine how much it’d be on the mind now. It seems it’s a great tool and a great danger. That’s well said.

DZ: True.

BK: It can quickly become the street corner in Matthew 6. That’s a great image. I wonder if the constant postings of ourselves with great lighting and stuff may end up being more about us. Some people say, everyone does it, but I’m wrestling with it as I see young guys in our church family doing it a lot. I wanna make sure my motives are pure if I feel led to have an honest discussion with them. I just thought that was a great question. So I wrote a post about it, and I’m going to be referencing that in this podcast. ‘Cause I think it’s even more of an issue than it was seven years ago. This is a generation, if you’re in your 20s, you were raised on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube. I mean, that is your life or that is a large part of your life. And so there is this awareness or there’s this tendency to just say, I need to let everybody know what I’m doing.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: And I need to constantly let them know what I’m doing, what I’m making, what I’m eating, what I’m listening to, where I am, who I’m hanging out with. Especially who I’m hanging out with. And we can overdose on selfies with people. Now, we were not too long ago in the Philippines. And the Philippines, it was just a great trip. We were there with Cross of Christ Salvation Gospel Ministries, Sovereign Grace Church led by Jeffrey Jo. And three of the Sovereign Grace churches there, and we did some conferences.

DZ: It was a great time.

BK: Night of Gathering Around the Gospel. And it was just great. And the Filipino people, at least the ones we know, and I think this may be characteristic of a culture, are joyful, delightful, humble. I mean, definitely the people…

DZ: Generous.

BK: Generous that we interacted with were just amazing. They so displayed the love of Christ. But another thing we noticed, and this is the second time, my second time in the Philippines. First was in Cebu, this was in Manila. I think it’s your first time.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Is the Filipinos take a lot of pictures.

DZ: They do.

BK: They take a lot of pictures. And it is a cultural expression. I mean, what I learned and appreciated more this time, it’s a cultural expression of community and joy. And it’s like we’re marking an event. And there’s a togetherness that goes along with that that is just endearing.

DZ: It is, yeah. And so often when they’re taking a selfie, the selfie grows and grows and grows and grows. More and more people are involved.

BK: One more one more one more c’mon yeah.

BK: And what I realized was that it’s often an expression of appreciation that we came to their country. ’cause right now it’s very difficult for a Filipino to get visa to come to the States. And so they’re just saying, thank you. So it was wonderful to be part of that. We’re not talking about that. The person who wrote a few years ago was asking, for those in public ministry, how do you navigate that tension between wanting to make much of the Lord, make much of Jesus, and make much of yourself?

DZ: Yes.

BK: And as we were talking about this, you mentioned those for whom this is their livelihood.

DZ: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, my first thought when we had this discussion before we even started filming or rolling was… Yeah, how do you process this with people who this is their job? It’s their, like you said, their livelihood, but it’s their brand. I mean, people know their face. They know the product that they’re selling. And I feel like it’s a different category than what we’re talking about.

BK: Yes it is.

DZ: And it’s a good category to be able to understand, because we don’t wanna initially just judge these people’s motives who are trying to yeah. Use their gifts…

BK: Get their music out or get their songs updated.

DZ: For sure.

BK: Yeah. It is not about that. This is really more focused. It’s not a diatribe about social media in general. That’ll be another podcast. It’s just asking the question for those who are involved in worship ministry in their church.

DZ: Yes.

BK: How do we think about our role as a musician or as a leader and the way we use social media? Is there a connection? When does, another question, when does my desire to show others how God is using me become more about me than about God?

DZ: Oh for sure.

BK: You know, it’s like a selfie with Jesus only, you know, it’s not, look who I’m with it. Look who Jesus is with. I mean, that’s kind of the image, that we’re speaking to. How can I promote my church, my ministry on social media without it becoming about me?

DZ: Yes.

BK: That, that’s the, that’s what we’re trying to address. And of course, it affects, it can affect other people as well. I mean, you know, guard your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the wellsprings of life. Proverbs 4:23. It’s always gonna be something about our hearts that God’s doing. But we’re specifically trying to focus in on, you know, how do I navigate the expectations of our culture for information and the value God places on humility. I mean, we talk about this as a, Sovereign Grace Music. You know, just how…

DZ: Always.

BK: Yeah. We just don’t wanna promote, hype. We wanna make people aware. And how do we do that so…

DZ: Well and can I add one more thing? As you’re just asking a few questions, I think also important to note is what I’m ultimately communicating. Does that say more about myself or who I am than it does about who Jesus is?

BK: Yes. Yes.

DZ: And what he has to say. And what he actually has to give to those who don’t know him, to those who are hopeless is far beyond what I could ever provide for you.

BK: Yes. Who I am.

DZ: Yeah. Who I am doesn’t give you hope. My decisions don’t give you life. You know, only the Lord does.

BK: And as we’re talking about this, I’m thinking this can apply to artists you know, just in terms of how they think about what they do. Because even as a Christian artist, a Christian musician, you know, who’s making a livelihood out of this, it’s still not about us. You know, if we’re trying to connect people to the truth of the gospel, to the reality of Christ living in us, the reality of God’s word, the truth, the authority, the sufficiency of God’s Word, it’s gonna look different than it would, it should look different than it would for, yeah, someone who doesn’t know the Lord.

DZ: A random artist. Yeah.

BK: Yeah. So a good place to start is just what are we aiming at? If we’re involved in congregational worship, like what’s…

DZ: Yes.

BK: What’s our role? What are we seeking to do? Well, we’re seeking to display the glory of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: That’s our aim. So, you know, David says Psalm 34, “oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together.” Let us exalt his name together. Yes. Let us magnify him. You know, Psalm 71:8, “My mouth is filled with your praise and with your glory all the day.” Psalm 145:6, “They shall speak of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.” You know, it’s, there’s a focus outside myself that I should be aware of as I am seeking to make others aware of what I’m doing. And if that’s not there, if that aim isn’t clear in my heart, is likely that that line is gonna get blurred.

BK: That line between magnifying the Lord and magnifying us between speaking of God’s awesome deeds and our awesome deeds. And you just wanna make sure we are distinguishing those two things. And understand how they’re meant to be different. So even if you’re not a part of your, church’s leadership, if you don’t have an official position, you always, we’re always directing our people, other people’s attention to something. Not only when we stand or sit in front of them, but when we tweet, when we post a picture on Instagram, when we put something on Facebook, we are directing their attention to something. So, so where are we pointing people’s attention and affections and ultimately their adoration? ’cause if we’re not clear on that it will point to something other than Jesus.

BK: And as we, I think we’ve said on the podcast before, we can’t be more than signposts. Signposts are directions and not destinations. So we don’t want people settling on us. We don’t want people stopping the car at the signpost and saying, Wow, that signpost is amazing. Just, it’s, I love the colors. It’s, I love the shape. It’s, you know, the signpost is just telling us, here’s where you’re going. So whatever we’re posting should be helping to do that. So the paradox for those of us who are in some kind of ministry or public position is that it, it’s easy for us to slip into looking less like servants of a crucified Savior and more like public figures who should be admired for our abilities.

DZ: Totally. Yeah.

BK: Its easy to end up using the church to promote our songs, our achievements, our gifts, our abilities, rather than using those things to point to who Christ is and what he’s done.

DZ: And I mean, fundamentally it’s sin, right?

BK: Fundamentally.

DZ: It is our own. It’s wanting to receive all the glory, but even taking it another step further when it’s so bound up in your identity, who you are, we think so individualistic already. We think so self-glorifying already anyways. But you mentioned it earlier of the servant King who came. I immediately think like, man, it’s really hard to build your brand and your identity when it’s not built around being a servant. And I think of Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” And obviously the implication of that is, and to give his life a ransom for many. He served us so that we could make much of him. We have that so backwards though, in how we tend to think about building our own platforms. We want people to serve us.

BK: Yeah.

DZ: So I just think there’s a fundamental problem with the platform building we constantly see around us.

BK: Yes. And that’s fed in part by this mindset that, oh, I’ve got to be posting this much. I’ve got to post it every day on Instagram. I’ve got to get something out there, otherwise people will forget who I am. I mean, when we went to the Philippines, I took different pictures and stuff, but then just didn’t post a lot of it. Just like, I mean, we did a short story about being in the airport, which it’s always fun to do, but I thought, does everybody need to know what we’re doing? I mean, is that contributing something? I mean, I want people to see what the Lord’s doing, but is it I want people to see what the Lord’s doing through me.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: And that’s… It’s a question I ask pretty much every time I post something is do I want people to see what the Lord’s doing through me? It’s just a good question to ask.

DZ: Oh, for sure. We’re so quickly tempted. We’re so quickly, those lines get blurred so quickly, right?

BK: Yes. Yes. And the amount I post can be a statement of how much I find my identity, my value, my significance, my importance, my relational connection with the people who see my posts and how many likes I get, and how many people saw it, and how many people left comments. And I’m aware that temptation too, just, yeah, okay. That registered, that resonated with people. Okay, I got to do more like that. Why? What is our aim? What are we going after?

DZ: Well, I mean also we’re talking about this people who are, I mean on the back half of the internet in terms of I didn’t have the internet until I was in high school. And I’m thinking about kids that grew up with a cell phone in their hand.

BK: Yes. Yes.

DZ: I mean, how will they navigate the world in 20 years when it’s all they’ve ever known? I need to inform everybody what I’m doing at all times.

BK: And a good question to ask you is do I?

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Do I need to inform everybody? So knowing the aim for why you post anything is really important. What’s driving this? Where is this coming from? Why do I feel driven to do this? And you can almost feel like events, and this is what I was going to say earlier. Events aren’t as significant because I haven’t posted about them. Did it really happen if a tree falls in the middle of forest will it make a sound? Yeah. Did that event really happen? Was it really significant?

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Likes on an Instagram post do not make an event significant. It’s the fact that you were actually there doing it. So getting into, okay, so what do we do? How can we change things? Especially if you’re in ministry in the church, and that may be part of your job to post things about the church. So some things to keep in mind are, one, keep in mind, the church is everyone, not just the people with a microphone. How often do we see pictures of congregations singing to the Lord? But all you’re seeing is people in front.

BK: That does something to us over time that does something to us. But videos or pictures of your congregation passionately proclaiming the praises of God can encourage others just as much as maybe even more so than seeing the people in front doing their thing. In fact, sometimes it’s more encouraging because the people in the congregation are there. They’re saying, yes, I think we’ve said it before our meetings, they aren’t meant to be Instagramable. They aren’t meant to be Facebookable. That’s not the purpose.

DZ: True.

BK: And we did the podcast on COVID, how COVID affected things and made us start thinking, oh, it’s got to look like this. It doesn’t have to look like that. Whatever it is, whatever that is, it’s the people of God gathered together, that’s what is so amazing that these are people who were going to hell and they’re not anymore. They’re cherished and dearly loved children of God, the creator of all. That’s amazing. They’re one in Christ and they’re gathered together. So yeah, it’s not just the people on the microphone who are worthy of being displayed. You can use social media to thank people who serve. I love some of the people I follow. I don’t follow many people on Instagram, but they’re always posting things about other people. I hesitate to mention names, but.

DZ: You don’t need to.

BK: They talk about the people who travel with them or they talk about the people in their church, the people who serve around them, or just families in the church. People and individuals in the church. And it’s not just, “Hey, look at how humble I am.” They’re genuinely appreciative of these people. And you can see that, and it is so refreshing.

DZ: Well, I think it’s also refreshing because it’s more on the rare side. More on the rare side to see, I mean, there’s even artists I follow that wouldn’t call themselves Christians, but they are promoting everyone around them as a sense of we all win when we’re all sharing this, when we’re all together, as opposed of, I’m building my kingdom and my domain shall reign forever. It’s like we are doing this together. Even that, even in a non-Christian sense, is refreshing. So you’re making more, you’re actually preferring others over yourself in that sense.

BK: Yes. And whether someone’s a Christian or not, that brings joy to people. That encourages people to say, wow, look, you could be making this just about you, but you’re not. You seem just as if not more excited by the fact that other people are joining you in what you’re doing. That as a Christian, that brings glory to God.

DZ: Yeah, absolutely.

BK: But as Christians, we can do more than just draw attention to our music. We can draw attention to the truths we’re singing, to the lyrics, not simply visuals, not simply sounds, but actual drawing attention to what does this song actually say? So rather than what a great sound, what a great riff, what a great whatever. Talking about what the song is actually saying and doing it in a way that points people to the Word, that points people to Christ. And that moves us, moves our affections with the right things. It’s not wrong to be moved by visuals. It’s not wrong to be moved by sounds. I mean, God designed us that way, but if I have the opportunity to maximize impact, I want to direct people to the things that are eternal, to the things that are true to the things that really matter. So that’s just a way of thinking about social media that can…

DZ: Well. Yeah, and I love Bob that you’ve modeled this and how you lead on Sundays and how I’ve see you lead at conferences and even how we talk to our guys that come to our Worship Matters Intensive is when you’re rooting what you’re singing and saying in the word of God, you’re actually giving them more than just your personal opinion.

BK: Absolutely.

DZ: You’re giving them something like you said, that is eternal. Something that actually has the ability to change their lives. Change their perspectives.

BK: Yes.

DZ: Change their perceptions. For guys that pick the songs on Sundays, I mean, it has to be rooted in God’s Word, and you should know what scripture that song relates to in some sense and tie it. I would tie those things together for people. Give them what they need.

BK: God’s words are eternal, ours aren’t. Gods words are authoritative, ours aren’t Gods words are sufficient, ours aren’t, it is just okay, the difference should be obvious. Not that God doesn’t use our words, but ultimately, like you said, we don’t root people in God’s word. Another thought for what can we do is with the events, share happenings not hype. And by that I mean posting about what you’re doing or you’re going to do can be helpful. Letting people know this event is going to come, this is going to happen. And some people do reels on that, focusing on Instagram, Facebook or you can tell people what this is going to be telling people how amazing, great, awesome, and unbelievable it’s going to be. That’s not as helpful. Just saying, this is how you should feel about the thing we’re doing because we’re doing it. Come on, be there. And churches will sometimes motivate that way, and.

DZ: It feeds the fear of missing out or whatever that is.

BK: Yes. FOMO. Yeah. It’s like, no, why don’t you tell, as I say, when we’re leading, don’t tell me to shout. Give me a reason to shout.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Don’t tell me to sing. Come on, let’s sing this.

DZ: Sing it out. Shout it out.

BK: Yeah, give me a reason to.

DZ: Yeah. Good.

BK: It’s just like when we post, give people a reason to want to come.

DZ: Yeah, that’s good.

BK: Just don’t say, yeah. I think it’s appealing to FOMO. So what can we do to, if we find ourselves in this dilemma or this situation where we are maybe posting, doing the worship selfie, where it’s more about us than about Jesus. Just some ideas. Spend more time just thinking about what your life is about. Just why are we here? What’s the purpose? Is it to gain more followers? I heard about a, old guitarist, I don’t remember his name at this point. Wasn’t a believer, but I think he had 1.2 million followers on Instagram. You may know who I’m talking about. And it wasn’t feeding him anymore, and he just shut it down, just closed it. And it’s like, no announcement.

DZ: See yah.

BK: Just see yah. And I thought, wow, that’s freedom. And now he’s back doing it again, but feeling better about it and whatever. But could we do that? Could we just say, okay, I got 5000 followers on Instagram. Yeah, but you know what? This doesn’t feed my soul. I’m just going to close it. Wait a minute. Wait a minute! And that’s where social media has tempted us to believe that the purpose of life is to gain more recognition.

DZ: Right.

BK: And be noticed more and gain more praise and be in everybody else’s life.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Our purpose is to make much of the Savior who came to live and die and rise from the dead for us, for our salvation. That’s our purpose in life. Before you post something, ask how this is gonna edify people. Will it serve them? Will it build them up? Take a look at the frequency of your posting. How often am I, sometimes we aren’t aware.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Sometimes we’re very intentional.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: But just, and look at what you’re posting about. Look at the… Yeah, what you’re posting.

DZ: The feed or whatever.

BK: Yeah. And just think, wow wow, that’s silly. Why did I do that?’ When you go on vacation, go on vacation.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Don’t spend the entire time telling people that you’re on vacation.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: It’s like… I’m not always appreciative of those posts either.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Great, I’m glad you’re so glad you’re in like the island somewhere. This is really wonderful. Just I’m here just holding down the fort. Just doing my job. Steady at my post, as my friend Jeff Purswell would say.

DZ: That’s amazing.

BK: Tony Reinke has written a book called “12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You”

DZ: Yes, that’s good.

BK: Which is fantastic. And he wrote another one called Competing Spectacles. Both of those are fantastic. We can use social media to give people perspective they wouldn’t otherwise have. So that’s where when someone posts something behind the scenes, yeah this is happening…

DZ: Yeah.

BK: That’s what I thought. Those can be really, really helpful.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: And if you can’t use social media without falling into this trap, cut it out. If you find you’re constantly tempted with self-promotion, wasting time, or temptation to sensuality, cut it off.

DZ: Yeah, it’s not worth it.

BK: It’s not. It’s not worth it. And I talk to people who I struggle with this. Well, have you thought about turning it off? No? Or, maybe you should think about turning it off.

DZ: Yeah. They’re actually designed to keep you. Yeah. I mean, they’re scientifically engineered to keep your attention. For sure.

BK: Puritan John Owen said, ‘Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” That’s what happens.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: But the great news is there is a way to use social media in a way that brings glory to God…

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Brings glory to Christ.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: That serves others. But we just have to be intentional about it. And we have to be intentional about knowing our temptations and not allowing it to become this thing of, well, the paradox of the worship selfie.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: Where our gratification comes not so much from making much of Jesus, but from being noticed and applauded.

DZ: Right.

BK: And admired and appreciated.

DZ: Right.

BK: Because in the end, God tells us that all his servants will worship him.

DZ: Yeah, everyone.

BK: Everyone. And it won’t matter how many posts…

DZ: Right.

BK: How many comments, how many likes, how many fans, how many followers. It will not matter.

DZ: At all.

BK: At all.

DZ: Right.

BK: I can be impressed when I look at see a musician shows up in my feed and I go and look, wow, they have 2.2 million followers. I’ve never even heard of them. When we stand before the Lord, he’s not going to ask us how many followers we have.

DZ: Right.

BK: He’s going to say, did you follow me?

DZ: Yeah, right.

BK: That’s all that’s going to matter. So…

DZ: Right.

BK: I pray, we pray this has been a help to you.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: If this has been a struggle. And if you have any questions, please write us at… SoundPlusDoctrine.

DZ: Sound plus Doctrine. Spell it out. P-L-U-S.

BK: At

DZ: Yep.

BK: Yeah, we’d love to hear your questions and seek to answer them sometime in the future. But at this point, thank you so much for joining us. We hope you’ll join us again.

DZ: Yep.