Occasionally, during corporate worship, my focus is taken away from the God who is deserving of all my praise and drawn to the words upon the screen.  Although I try to resist the distraction, it’s not easy.  Sometimes I am diverted by a bit of bad theology.  Yesterday, I chuckled because a line was just weird.  Other times, it’s because I notice the words don’t really mean anything or are cliche.  And then there’s the mediocre, or even bad, poetry.

It is clear from their enthusiasm that the worship leaders and many of the worshippers either don’t notice or don’t care.  They seem to be able to look past the lyrics, to the recipient of our praise.  I am not always able to.

Does the whole worship song thing need to change because of me?  No, I don’t think so.

Might the whole worship thing be improved in such a way that the experience of the participants is enhanced in a way that they never before imagined?  I think, yes.

The Test of Repetition

I too am able, for a time, to ignore unremarkable lyrics.  When we sing a new song in church, I don’t begin by scrutinizing every phrase, word, and rhyme to see if it is worthy of my voice.  Unless the words are truly silly or empty, I can be led into worship several times with almost any song.  It is only at that point when the repeated singing of a truly great song begins to open up deeper worship through its inspired lyrics, do I notice the inadequacies of those of an inferior one.

It is at that point when the repeated singing of a great song opens up deeper worship through inspired lyrics, do I notice the inadequacies of those of an inferior one.Click To Tweet

After this happens, every recurrence of the so-so song impedes, rather than enhances worship.

Is it My Problem?

Some have told me that I have a problem, that I shouldn’t be so critical.  This may be true, but I believe I have three legitimate defenses against this accusation:

  1. Does not our creator deserve the best that we can offer up?  As we bring the sacrifice praise to the altar of the Lord, don’t we want it to be the best of the flock?  Should we not strive to present songs of praise that are excellent, not just musically but lyrically as well?
  2. God gives good gifts for the edification of the church and the world.  One of his gifts is the ability to create beautiful things–this includes poetry.  Some have only the gift of appreciation, but even so, I think we need to take this gift seriously so as to honour the Giver.
  3. My third argument is more complex, and it is contained in the series of posts that follow.  In essence, better lyrics lead to deeper worship, even if you don’t care about the lyrics.

It is certainly true that God probably doesn’t notice the difference between our best attempts and our blemished ones, for they are all offerings of a sincere, but fallen people.   God needs neither our sheep nor our songs.  When  God’s people are commanded to sacrifice the best lamb, grain or ox, it is for our sake.  It is a reflection and a reminder of how we are to think of him.

The Poetry of Worship

In an attempt to edify the church, I will write a series of posts to help would-be lyricists take some steps toward becoming poets.   These posts will also be useful for those who choose the songs we sing each Sunday, as they too will be equipped to better judge the poetic from the prosaic.

As we bring the sacrifice praise to the altar don't we want it to be the best of the flock? Should we not strive to present songs of praise that are excellent, not just musically but lyrically as well?Click To Tweet

My assumption is that most of those who write the songs we sing in corporate worship started as musicians.  Some of the more passionate and gifted move on to writing their own music.  It is natural that some of these would, then, try their hand at writing a song, lyrics and all.  What they may not realize is that developing the skills to write great lyrics takes at least as much time as it takes to master an instrument.  If Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed, the typical worship leader took at least 10,000 hours to develop their skill at playing the piano or guitar.  To write the lyrics of that song will require another 10,000 hours to develop the poet’s skill.

It is sadly obvious that many would-be praise-and-worship songwriters are uploading songs to YouTube before having made the time investment in the poetry of worship.

Developing the skills to write great lyrics takes at least as much time as it takes to master an instrument. Click To Tweet

This series of posts, called The Poetry of Worship, is designed to challenge would-be lyricists to consider some principles of poetry that will start them on a journey toward writing songs that will evoke, not just the emotions of worshipers, but their imaginations as well.  These posts and plus the 10,000 hours of practice might one day lead to a lyrically decent worship song.

Posts in this series:

The Poetry of Worship: Diction (2)

The Poetry of Worship: Developing a Poetic Ear (3)

The Poetry of Worship: Unity and Focus (4)

The Poetry of Worship: Avoid the Abstract (5)

The Poetry of Worship: The Magic of Metaphor (6)

The Poetry of Worship: Sound (7)

The Poetry of Worship: Symbol (8)

The Poetry of Worship: Engaging the Heart and More (9)