Avoiding Nonsense in Worship Songs

I don’t even know how I came across a book I read recently called, “And Now Let’s Move Into a Time of Nonsense: Why Worship Songs are Failing the Church.” It’s by Nick Page, a prolific UK author.

What I do know is that I’m not aware of another book on congregational song that is as insightful, humorous, helpful, and brief (a real plus from my perspective). In only 121 pages, Nick covers a brief history of worship music, why the words we sing matter, how modern culture has influenced us, the importance of technique, the problem of language, and helpful suggestions for what we can do. Letters from a fictitious worship leader named Kevin Molecule are scattered throughout the book. If you’re familiar at all with the modern worship culture, these letters are at the same time painful and very funny. In fact, the whole book is that way.

Nick explains his reason for writing the book: “I wrote this out of sheer frustration with the quality of the words we sing in church. The book argues that we have bought into a pop-song model of worship songs, where the words are secondary to beat and melody. The result is songs which are filled with a strange semi-Biblical code and which suffer from poor technique. Above all it encourages writers to really think about the words of their songs and whether they really communicate truth about God.”

As with most books I read, there are a few points I would nuance, or say differently, or perhaps even disagree with. But the insightful observations and specific applications throughout the book make this a valuable resource for anyone who cares about the songs the church sings.

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

On the words we sing:

“This is why the words of worship songs matter. They convey the truth – the truth to which we are supposed to respond. They aren’t just sounds to enable us to join in the melody. They are the means by which the mind understand what God has done for us.” p. 30

On emotions:

“I’m not knocking emotion. As we saw in the last chapter, emotion is part of our response to God. A non-emotional Christian is someone who has forgotten how to feel; but, equally, a completely emotional Christian is someone who has forgotten how to think. Too often worship times are judged, not on whether people were changed or challenged or renewed, but on the response of the crowd, the ‘buzz’ in the building. This is not a reliable indicator of the presence of God. I frequently feel intense emotions when Watford scores a goal. But I wouldn’t claim that God had much to do with it.” p. 41

On large Christian events:

“I am not knocking these big events. Indeed, hearing God speak to me at a main meeting at Spring Harvest changed my life. I will be forever grateful for that. But we always have to keep checking that, at these big events, people are worshipping God and not just enjoying the band.” p. 45

On unclear lyrics:

“Worship songs are not solely vehicles for personal expression, they’re invitations to corporate worship. If you want to write stuff that only you can understand then keep a diary, otherwise you have to cut the rest of us some slack; you have to help us understand.”

I could go on, but I think you get the point. And don’t get the idea that the entire book simply bashes modern worship songs. No, Nick is seeking to humbly admonish us to sing and write songs that serve God’s purposes for music in the church.

“Done right, hymns and worship songs touch people’s hearts. This is beyond the emotional pull that I talked of earlier, it’s something far deeper. Make the words right and they will write themselves on people’s hearts. Make the words right and they will form part of people’s lives. Make the words right and they will open people’s eyes to the reality of God. Make the words right and, as they sing them, God will come home to people’s hearts.” p. 112

My prayer is that God will use this little book to promote the writing of great worship songs for His glory.

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2 Responses to Avoiding Nonsense in Worship Songs

  1. Mike Perrigoue November 25, 2005 at 2:16 AM #

    Ah yes…the balance of emotion and mindful thinking. Tough one. So many Christians don’t feel like they are really worshipping God unless they are emotionally moved. Sadly, sometimes they are missing the point in their own statement.

    To whom are they really directing their worship?

    This books sounds great. I can’t wait to read it!

  2. Nigel March 14, 2009 at 4:56 PM #

    ohhhhh wow!!! I shouldget my hands on this book! Im a song-writer, and Im very careful to write directly from scripture, though obviously weaving creativity into it. I must admit, I sometimes suffer the “pop song structure”, but Ive learnt now that its important to make the words cause people to dwell in the secret place, and abide under His shadow, even through music!

    God bless Bob!

    PS you articles have been instrumental in my development as a lead worshipper with character and knowledge, among other things!

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