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An English Teacher Looks at Praise and Worship Songs

In Rants on May 17, 2013 at 4:15 am

Praise 1One of the things we do in church is sing.  I love singing.  When I was a kid I didn’t; I think I must have driven the Sunday school teachers crazy.   I was one of a group of boys who delighted in changing the lyrics of the Sunday school songs and then giggled at our cleverness.

 I am much older now, and most of the time, the songs are very effective in bringing me, sometimes  incrementally, to a place of worship.  This is, I believe, the purpose of singing in church.  But some songs, at least for me, can work contrary to this purpose.

 In these cases, I just can’t get past something in the song and I end up focusing on what I believe is bad writing and not on the intention of the song–be that praise, thanksgiving, confession, prayer, or whatever.

 I struggle with whether this is my problem; perhaps I am too critical.  I am critical of movies, songs on the radio, books and restaurants, so it’s difficult to turn it off on Sunday morning.  But maybe I should try harder.

 On the other hand, perhaps everyone would benefit from praise and worship songs that overly critical people like me could sing without distraction.  Would it not be better if the songs we can in church were excellent in every way?

 I understand that there is a lot of personal preference in the songs we like or don’t like.  This can’t be avoided entirely, but I believe there are objective standards  to which I am appealing.  As a matter of fact, some of the songs that I think are excellent I don’t particularly like.   I understand that all  human art is likely pretty poor to its heavenly audience no matter how good it is, but I do believe that it is important that our offerings of praise be our best, nonetheless.

 My first impulse was to level an indictment at specific examples of songs that I believe fail artistically (or theologically).   But, this approach can be upsetting and the point of the critique is completely missed.  John Stackhouse wrote a blog critiquing inferior worship music and many were unable to receive what he had to say.

 I thought it would be better to praise aspects of some songs that are excellent.  My hope is that present and future worship leaders and song writers would give a great deal of thought to the songs they sing and write so as to powerfully serve the connection between mere human beings and their creator.

Next Post:  Good Metaphors, Bad Metaphors

  1. Great questions and observations Trent. Having just read Martin Smith’s (Delirious?) book about his journey with one of the most influential worship bands at the turn of the millennium, I have developed some concerns about what the worship “industry” has been churning out over the last 20 years, in turns of volume and quality (or lack thereof). My thought pattern looks something like: A) music is a gift from God, and ultimately was created for His Glory. B) as God’s children we are blessed with His favour, and as we seek to write music it should be excellent in sound and language, edifying for His Body, non-distracting if it is meant to be worship. C) We should not have to be pondering if it measures up to mainstream “secular” music, or ripping off musical styles, or packaging it up the same way, etc., etc… D) As cool as it is that there are so many people writing so many songs, and the barriers to recording have been largely removed, we as the Church do not need to be introducing new songs every week, having our corporate worship confused and muddled with people continually trying to learn as they sing it, so often losing the real purpose of coming to Our Father with a still, open and contrite heart.

    The songs that have spoken most to me recently are songs of excellence; songs that don’t necessarily have a consistent rhyming pattern, yet are poetic at the very core. “Christian” songwriters would do well to explore the very raw feeling of life on earth, knowing we are here, side by side, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of humanity, and what does our “little light” look like in that context? Unfortunately, besides Josh Garrels, most of the newer “Christian” stuff does not evoke as much thought as some (IMHO) amazing music like the album “High Violet” by The National for example. We have been given the mind of Christ, and so often we have a Pauper mentality that Arts to the Glory of God should somehow strive to measure up to the stuff of Pop Culture. (Wait – didn’t U2 have a phase of an entire decade that spoke tongue-in-cheek to this very idea? Marketing God and His Truth to the rest of the world? I guess I am just slow on the uptake).

    Anyways, some random, poorly put together thoughts on this topic. Maybe I should put them together into a song and try to record it ;).

  2. Thanks Dan, My thinking is in line with yours. Which is good, because you listen to way more music, Christian and otherwise, than I do. That means I must be pushing in the right direction.

  3. Worship music seems to get caught up in the euphoria of being with God, so much that the human realities of the listener are just tossed aside.

    But as a songwriter, we have obligations. In the worship environment, folks come and let down their guard.The worship song easily enters this open door, and can wreak havoc if this invitation is not respected.

    Rhyme is important because people are predictive by nature. Research shows people want to be right in their predictions of what will come next in music, 50% of the time. More than that is boring, less is frustrating. If you doubt this, go on and study the subject for a few years. Lots to learn about your craft.

    That does not mean you only have to rhyme 50% of the time. The rhyme you establish in verse one MUST be consistent throughout the other verses or it is not a song, it is a blog to music. The rhyme scheme is a foundation, that has to be solid.

    Not rhyming is usually just being lazy. It may be difficult to rhyme with “God”, but if you recast the line, and the previous lines, you may find a ‘revalation’ of your own.

    Not rhyming is dishonest to the people who have trusted you, the congregation. God has charged you with the responsibility to lead His flock through your music. He will give you the words, just let him.

    I am guilty too, I must confess. I just let it go. I was lazy, but the song just took over and got lost along the way, much like us. But clearly, the best songs are well crafted and rhyme. Does God deserve anything less?

    Morgan Paul

    • I really appreciate your thoughts on rhyming in praise songs, Morgan. Rhyme can contribute so much to a poem, and it is my thought that it, too, can make a praise song better too. With power comes great responsibility; rhyme handle poorly can damage a praise song as well. I intendend to write a post about rhyme and show how it can be used positively. My problem is that I don’t find any songs that use it consistently for a positive effect. I find many where the rhyme is not an impediment to the central purpose, and many where it is. I will keep looking. If you have any suggestions, I will gladly receive them. Thanks for your comments.

      Trent

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