Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Lyrics in worship music

Following my earlier post, which referred to lyrics in secular music, I thought I'd look at worship music under the same microscope.

You would expect that music written mainly to help people glorify God would generally be of a pretty high standard, and you would especially expect that of the lyrics. However, a number of people have argued that we are settling for benign, clich├ęd and recycled lyrics instead of using the full breadth of expression in worship.

It's harder to write music for congregational worship because you have a number of constraints that just don't exist in performance-oriented music.
1 - Everyone should at least tolerate, and hopefully enjoy, the style of music.
2 - Everyone should be able to understand, and identify with, the content of the lyrics.
3 - Everyone should be able to sing the songs (so the pitch and the rhythms need to be singable).
4 - It has to be theologically sound.

Do these constraints stifle creativity? Certainly, there are Christian artists writing very creative lyrics, but they won't often get sung in church. Take How He Loves (John Mark McMillan) for example, which is very popular, but still not sung often in worship times because it has lines like "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss".

I do see a lot of creativity in the lyrics of hymns, and in the Psalms. One of my favourite hymn verses has got to be:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
(And Can it Be? - Charles Wesley)

"Thine eye diffused a quickening ray" might sound archaic now anyway, but there aren't many modern songs that come close to that level of creative expression. The best worship song writers are those who can take timeless truths and express them in a fresh, creative way. Matt Redman, for example, is fantastic at doing this. Hopefully, as I write more songs myself, I'll be able to remember my own advice.


Anonymous said...

My kids (and many adults) like All of Creation (all of God's Creation- specially caters to primary age humour

Andy said...

Is that the lovely jubbly song?