In my eleven years as director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, I’ve reviewed hundreds of worship songs and written a few of my own. Not all of them have been stellar. Actually, very few of them have been. I’ve noticed recurring tendencies that keep weak songs from becoming good or great songs. I’m intimately acquainted with those tendencies in my own songs and I’ve listed my top ten below. While these thoughts are meant for songwriters, most of them apply to leading worship as well.
So if you want to write bad worship songs, follow these simple tips:
1. Aim to write the next worldwide worship hit.
It’s already been done, and you can’t control the results. Who are you writing for, anyway?
2. Spend all your time working on the music, not the words.
Does it really matter what words we sing? God thinks so. We should, too. If God thought music was the most important aspect of a worship song, we’d have recordings of King David singing and playing the Psalms.
3. Spend all your time working on the words, not the music.
Don’t be concerned about melodies, rhythms, or harmonies. After all, only the words matter. Really? Consider this: great theology set to melodies that are bland or impossible to sing won’t be remembered for long. If at all.
4. Don’t consider the range and capabilities of the average human voice.
You may have a three octave range but most people in the congregation are comfortable in the range from a low A to a high D. Also, they probably can’t sing the alternate melodies and inflections as well as you can.
5. Never let anyone alter the way God originally gave your song to you.
Why mess with divine inspiration? Well, because we see in part and don’t always get it right the first time.
6. Make sure the majority of your songs talk about what we do and feel rather than who God is and what he’s done.
Why clutter up our songs with clear, specific, and compelling descriptions of God’s character and works? Why not just emote and talk about how passionate we are? Because an emotional fire that has no doctrinal fuel dies out pretty quickly or ends up trying to feed on itself.
7. Try to use as many Scriptural phrases as you can, and don’t worry about how they fit together.
This is what Nick Page refers to as “fridge magnet poetry.” It sounds biblical, but no one quite understands what you’re saying.
8. Cover as many themes as possible.
Unless you’re writing 17 verses like some 18th century hymn writers, you probably shouldn’t try to deal with creation, the fall, Israel’s history, the incarnation, Jesus’ life on earth, the last supper, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, the church, ministry to the poor, salvation, holiness, the second coming, and heaven all in one song. Great lyricists can weave numerous themes around a consistent focus. But most of us aren’t great lyricists. Stay focused during your song, and make sure you have a good reason for one line following another.
9. Use phrases and words that are included in 95% of all worship songs.
You bore my loss/upon the cross; you took my shame/I praise your name; you came to save/me from the grave; my filled my soul/and made me whole; thank you for your love/that came down from above. Believe it or not, those phrases and rhymes have been used before. They’re fine words. We can probably think of more creative ways to use them, though. We can probably think of other words, too.
10. Forget about Jesus and what he accomplished at the cross.
Make it sound like we don’t need a mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), like we can gain access into God’s presence on our own (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:9-22), and like our worship is acceptable just because we’re the ones offering it (1 Pet. 2:5). While every song doesn’t have to mention why the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is so important, it should always be in our thoughts while we’re writing.
I’m sure my list is incomplete. What are some other ways you can think of to write bad worship songs?
By the way, if you’re interested in some tips on writing good worship songs, we’ve collected MP3s and outlines from some of our past song writing seminars at the WorshipGod website. They include thoughts fromSteve and Vikki Cook, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Dustin Kensrue, Kevin Twit, and Mark Altrogge.
I’d be interested in hearing some specific examples of worship songs that embody the characteristics that you describe. Or ones that you think are generally unfit for most corporate worship gatherings.
Thanks for this post. I’ve been trying my hand at writing worship songs but I’ve had no real advice and counsel. After reading your list, I find that I’m breaking a lot of those guidelines. It’s easy for me to get caught up the actual writing and lose sight of Who I’m writing for and why I’m writing for Him.
Thanks again. God bless.
Some more insights (some light-hearted, some serious, some overlap with yours) at http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/2007/03/20/how-to-write-a-mediocre-worship-song/
Just a thought that I received: could you write a post on how to prepare for worship songwriting? Of course there’s the obvious “pray before you start,” but maybe some insight into what to pray for and any other methods for preparation. Perhaps you could write about your own songwriting process and possible inspirations?
I can’t speak for anyone else but that would definitely be a helpful and interesting read for me.
Joel, I may post some thoughts on preparing for worship song writing. Thanks for the thought. In the meantime, I updated the post to include a link to some of our songwriting seminars from past worship conferences.
Use really odd phrases and metaphors that just sound strange or silly – eg “Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree/Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy” or “So Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss” from ‘How he loves us’ – while the theology behind the song is great, and the song speaks to those in the original situation, it’s let down hugely by over-poeticising and a need to know the original situation to make much sense of it.
Make ironic statements – “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you Jesus” (another song that speaks into the original situation really well, but doesn’t transfer). Singing about yourself realising that you should be singing about Jesus does make it difficult to stop me bursting out laughing.
I’m just picking out examples of bad songs (well, songs that were good in one place for a time, but are bad outside of that 4D location or situations that are very similar) already in existence, however. Still learn from mistakes.
Although, I feel like I’m the only one who notices them sometimes, so they’re probably not that big a deal.
My favorite is about sending us as laborers into the vineyard because the fields are white for the harvest.
There’s some agrarian confusion in there somewhere, unless we’re talking about white grapes.
This is a great post!!! As worship songwriting becomes more and more popular, these categories so much importance. My personal favorite are 6,8,and 10. Thanks Bob
Hey Bob –
So blessed by your ministry. I tried contacting you through this website about a month ago with no result. Would there be another way I could contact you?
I am a student at Liberty University where we’re using your book in a graduate course.
I’m also a former music director at a Harvest Bible Chapel. James spoke here last Friday and both him and Andi Rozier had very affirming things to say about your ministry at the Straight Up conference – God be praised.
All that said, I would love to get in touch with you. Let me know what would be the best way to do so.
Thank Bob for this post. It has a good deal of meat and yet is winsome and light, and thus, encouraging to me as a worship leader looking to find the voice of the people of whom i have the joy yo lead in worship.
I can too easily ONLY rely on worship on a national scale and the people here MISS OUT on their own response to God’s revealed Word… all that Christ HAS done and IS doing in our midst through the Holy Spirit. I appreciate this post a lot!
I’ll add another Bob from a smaller congregation/few musicians perspective if I may.
Having introduced a few new worship songs recently we have been struck by the number that have unusual time/rythm settings, and/or change time/rythm in the middle of verse/chorus for no apparant reason.
Recently we had a song that used 12/8, transitioned to 15/8 at one point, then to 12/8 and thru a few bars of 9/8 in (from memory. Another written mainly in 4/4 had one bar of 2/4, and only one bar in the middle of the chorus(??).
Our small group of musicians all asked the same question – “Why?”, we wonder if the songs had been written for performance firstly, not for a congregation to learn and sing together.
I hope those who write worship songs can have a couple of principals in mind as they compose;
1. How can I make sure this is first & foremost for a congregation to sing, not for musicians to perform.
2. How can I cater for musicians who are not as skilled as I am.
I like all the points you mentioned!
I will sent it to our songwriters :-)
Sorry you’ve had trouble getting in touch. I don’t remember getting an email from you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Appreciate this greatly, it connects with a lot of things I have been thinking for a while regarding the current state of popular worship music.
Regarding point 4, I did wonder what Stuart Townend was thinking with his recent salvation’s song, particularly the bridge.
When we tried it in our congregation there were quite a lot of struggling faces.
Can I add, come up with a catchy 5 word phrase and repeat it 26 times in a 3 minute time frame. Too often I feel like I should be sitting cross-legged on the floor, my fingers pinched into a circle, humming, “uuummmmmmmmm”, until I reach my nirvana.
How about use of grammar? My wife (an English major in college) cringes when she hears songs that leave the congregation hanging with an unfinished thought…because Christ’s work on the cross is Finished! For example: “We have come with open hearts/O let the ancient words impart.” Impart what? Is it not worth saying or stating what we wish to receive from the preaching of God’s Word?
God is using you, brother. Thank you for helping others around you look upward to see Him there who made an end to all our sin!
In Christ Alone,
I have another way to write a bad worship song: repeat the same, fluffy, unintelligent phrase over and over and over.
One reason I believe hymns to be so effective is because they don’t do this, and they’re packed with all kinds of deep theology. A lot of modern “worship” songs seem really shallow, and often I find myself just singing some silly phrase (e.g. “I want to see your face”) over and over again, while wondering exactly why it’s being sung. Is my desire to see God’s face (whatever that really means) truly worship?
Si Hollett: I completely agree about the “ironic statement” comment you made. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung “The Heart of Worship” in church and thought, “Wait, isn’t this an anti-song song? So why are we still singing?” I understand the sentiment, but it does seem kind of odd.
Make it appear that believers are romatically involved with Jesus and/or the Father.
“No one else can take Your place, to feel the warmth of Your embrace”
I apply a test from The Simpsons – if you can substitute the word “Baby” for “Jesus” in the lyrics,it’s better off as a pop song.
“Make sure the majority of your songs talk about what we do and feel rather than who God is and what he’s done.”
I would say David had a healthy balance here. Personally, I believe that most songs that talk about how we feel are fluff not because they are songs about how we feel, but because they are songs about how we “should” feel. If I’m feeling lousy because work was hard this week, that’s a lot different than the feelings David had in Psalm 88.
C.J. recently posted an interview with John Piper on sermon preparation which could provide a good place to start while waiting for Bob’s post.
You could also add the “South Park” Method: take any common love song, change “baby” to “Jesus”, and rerelease it as a Christian song.
There’s also my personal pet peeve which isn’t limited to Christian music: keep repeating the same 4 words over and over and over and…over again. That makes me want to scream (either at the radio or in church) “I get the point! You can stop now!”
Great thoughts. I appreciate the post. I can identify songs played on our local CCM station that follow several if not all of those rules.
thanks so much!
Although certainly not a musician, I would add to your point #4 and to Don’s comment above…
Don’t consider that the average person “got no rhythm.” Although I don’t believe syncopation is intrinsically evil, its overuse becomes problematic for congregational singing.
There one item I’d like to add to the discussion that in my mind relates to #3 and #9:
Use the same familiar chord progressions and rhythmic patterns that are found in 95% of worship music (and U2-influenced progressive rock tunes :)). Don’t bother to listen to or study music outside of your personal experience with the goal of expanding your compositional vocabulary; go with what’s comfortable and familiar.
Thanks for your list,
Gavin, I want to echo your concern: “Make it appear that believers are romantically involved with Jesus and/or the Father.” This is probably the “bad song” characteristic to which I am most sensitive. A myriad of songs – not to mention Christians – use romantic/erotic language to describe our relationship with God. Though the “warmth of your embrace” line bugs me some, the super common line that drives me up the wall is any variation of “falling in love” with God. I simply think this kind of language is tremendously unhelpful. It even pops up in otherwise good songs (e.g., “Shout to the North”), thus disqualifying them (in my opinion) from congregational singing.
I would add another principle of bad congregational songwriting:
“Write entirely from a first-person singular perspective, ignoring the reality that the church is gathered to express their togetherness in the gospel.”
i have a friend who says that he feels like a lot of worship music writers just throw a bunch of christian words in a hat and whatever words they pull out form the song. seems pretty accurate to me.
I am a published songwriter. Big deal. All that this means is that someone, somewhere, working at some Christian music publishing company, felt that what I submitted fulfilled enough of their criteria to publish my song(s).
I have re-submitted the same song to the same publisher a year after my original rejection only to discover that my song was now worthy of publication.
It’s a fickle biz –
So, if we are IN IT FOR the “biz” then perhaps we are in it for the wrong reasons.
My advice is this:
> allow the Lord to minister to YOU, to HIM and to OTHERS as He gives you lyrics and chords and notes and rhythms that you craft together into a song.
> if you have the opportunity, share these songs with your congregation. They will either aid or hinder the worship in your church. If they aid, keep using them. If they hinder, then put them on the back burner until you can re-work them, if you feel that is needed.
> if you feel compelled to do so, submit your songs to publishers. But the moment you do that, remember that you have crossed over a definite line of “ministry business” which is not always the same as “ministry.” The business aspect does come into play because you are suddenly asking a company to put forth a lot of money to bring your song(s) to market. Listen to the publishers. If you can’t seem to find a place of agreemnent prior to publishing then either find a different publisher or praise God that your songs are used in your local church, ministering to God, and to your congregation.
After many years of being involved in both the creating and producing end of church music I have arrived at the conclusion that there is just no such thing as “the perfect song.” I know others will challenge me on this, and that’s fine. It is a highly subjective arena regardless of what “the pros” tell you. If you love writing songs, then write. If you want to test the waters of publishing, go for it. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t.
That’s the way the quarter note bounces…
#11. Remember what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but fail to mention what He accomplished through the resurrection.
This was great! I have this feeling though, that you could come up with another 10!
Thanks for yet another very useful resource, brother.
Another bad song worship writing “tip” – use melodies complex enough that they leave the congregation mumbling and fumbling as they try to “guess” their way through your musical obstacle course. Sure it sounds cool when you get it, but most people give up long before then.
Fantastic comments all! Please, no more 5 words, repeated over and over and over and over and over. Oye! This is my greatest pet peeve!
Todd said, “Fantastic comments all! Please, no more 5 words, repeated over and over and over and over and over. Oye! This is my greatest pet peeve!”
Oh…Ohhhh Let it rise….
I have a friend who calls it “The Bread Song.” It’s maddening sometimes!
Aim to make a song that might be appropriate for CCM radio without regard for its impact in corporate worship.
I don’t know about writing worship songs, but I know how to write a bad puppet skit.
1. Don’t read the lesson plan. Just read the Title.
2. Immediately begin brainstorming outrageous creative ideas based upon the title…which you don’t thoroughly understand the meaning of.
3. Start sharing your outrageous ideas and brainstorming with others.
4. Form an outline and plot in your head to communicate the title.
5. One day while contemplating creatively, pick up the lesson plan and read the content.
6. Look up the passage of scripture and read it.
7. Discover you have gone completely down the wrong street for three weeks…and you now have three days to find a way to communicate the topic.
8. Awkwardly cling to your brilliantly creative idea and force your round idea through the square lesson you just read.
9. Forget theology and give it your all. Afterall…it’s all about the special effects.
10. When the show is finished, have the pastor say something like, “Were we both on Lesson 11?”
It seems like we need a good dose of humility, embracing I Cor. 1:18-31. And #9 made me laugh out loud- so true! We do injustice to who God is by our lame and thoughtless attempts in painting an incomplete and shallow picture of Him.
Write a song that’s “cutting edge.” Or, write a song that “rocks.”
If you want a lot of bad worship songs, create an industry where there is a lot of money to be made if your song goes big. I think money is a big reason for the over simplistic emotionally driven pop worship songs. You want to write a bad worship song? Write it to make some money.
Hey there, Bob – excellent post. I’ll think I’ll give it some ‘blog-love’ soon on my own site. And, just to note, my blog has moved… I’m finally getting The Hope Farm up and running, so I’m moving my primary blogs over to http://www.SaintLewisMusic.com/
blessings, and thank you for your encouragement!
I’m new to Reformed theology and thus new to the PCA. Although I grew up (and led worship) in the church, my previous denomination didn’t do very many of the same songs and hymns my new denomination does, so I’ve had a steep, steep learning curve.
Here’s my pet peeve — songs that don’t end on the same chord with which they begin. There’s a pile of them that do that, especially the RUF songs, which I otherwise love.
It’s virtually impossible for a congregation to sing along with a song that leaves you hanging on, say, a D chord when the verse begins with an A. You end up having to mojiferate some kind of transition or turnaround, and it invariably sounds silly. There’s more than one song that I’ve re-written the melody line so that it comes back around to the original chord.
“mojiferate”. Now that is a truly beautiful word. In fact I think I’m going to use it…in a worship song!
Re “You could also add the “South Park” Method: take any common love song, change “baby” to “Jesus”, and rerelease it as a Christian song. ”
So true. I have heard lots of songs that could be on secular radio quite easily, and one or two that actually made me feel quite uncomfortable with they way they referred to the God of heaven and earth.
There are a few good comments here (I found dan mcgowan’s thoughts the most helpful), and a bunch of (IMO) arrogant comments.
There are certainly extremes that a song writer should stay away from, but there is a lot more middle ground than many of these comments would lead one to believe. If a new song writer were to read the comments here and attempt to write a song with each of the “rules” in mind, the song would never be written. My guess is that David and the other Psalmists didn’t have a list of rules and guidelines written down that dictated how they wrote and arranged.
A few of my own thoughts about this topic:
1. Some people have been given the skills to write great church music, and others have not.
2. Just because a song is being sung by thousands around the world doesn’t mean it’s a good song for my church.
3. Just because a song is a great song for my church doesn’t mean it’s a great song for other churches.
I have several more thoughts based on specific comments above, but I’ll save those for another day.
Thanks for your helpful thoughts. The point of this post is to encourage songwriters to work more diligently on their craft. The Psalms show many signs of careful, skillful, and thoughtful writing (parallelism, acrostics, extended metaphor and imagery, etc.), much more than many of our songs do today. There is no perfect song, but we can certainly seek to write better songs. Every songwriter, no matter how gifted, can get better at what they do.
You wrote: “Remember what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but fail to mention what He accomplished through the resurrection.” I wouldn’t include that in the list of ways to write a bad worship song. While the resurrection is implicit in its meaning of the cross and the affirmation that the cross was effective, Paul and others had no problem mentioning the cross apart from the resurrection (Gal. 6:14; Gal. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; 1 Jon 2:1-2).
Now if you’re talking about the song diet of a church, then yes, we should regularly proclaim the resurrection, because if Christ has not risen from the dead we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). But is a song bad just because it talks about the cross and fails to mention the resurrection? Nah.
As a on and off song writer, I appreciate the post. It is a good set of humorous observations to make an important larger point. Worship is a serious thing. It is more than sound and words to be sung by individuals and congregations. It is a command of God that begins with the condition of the heart and played out in our daily lives. When our worship rises in song, it ministers, teaches, joins, encourages, etc. (we could list so many). So what we say (sing) is important.
Here’s my “however”:
It is really easy to overlook how consumer driven we have become as a society and as the church. It becomes much like a restaurant where we order what we want, prepared to our specifications, served in a manner that pleases us, and if it’s really good we might leave a small tip on the table. YES, as song/worship leaders we must keep our congregations in mind: range, rhythm, language, culture. Paul Baloche says that we are here to serve the congregations we lead, not demand that they sing the songs we love. Just because a particular song does not float my boat, and there are plenty, doesn’t mean that it is a frivolous offering in the Kingdom. Let’s watch our theology, keep it musically accessible for people, and draw word pictures people can relate to, BUT if we just sang “Holy is the Lord” over and over for all eternity, it would be true and worth it.
On a side note, here’s a cool quote from a friend of mine who is a song writer and worship leader:
“I would like to write thousands of songs (for God) and a few of them would be heard by men”
~ Jonathan David Helser
Thanks again for the post!
Great comments. I’d draw a distinction, though, between “songs that I like” and songs that I truly believe will help people encounter the greatness of God in Jesus Christ. Because God is God, I can’t always know how every song will affect different people, but as a worship leader (and song writer) I’m responsible to serve my congregation with songs not with songs that feel good but with songs that are actually good for them. So while “Holy is the Lord” is a biblical and worthy expression of worship (“true and worth it”), we’ve been made in such a way that if we sing one phrase over and over, our minds will most likely drift, become dull to what we’re singing, or start to focus more on the music and experience.
None of those things will happen once we receive glorified bodies, but we’re not there yet.
That’s why for now, song writers should use all their skill to find the best words and melodies that will help us better understand and express who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ.
Great quote from your friend. Would that all song writers felt that way!
Thanks for the response. I totally agree with you. It is a tremendous responsibility for those of us who lead worship to pray, hear God, and work hard to serve our congregations with music that is as good as we can do and is good for them spiritually. What is tremendously amazing to me is the variety of church expressions. I grew up in traditional church settings, spent some time in independent churches, attended a Presbyterian College for a while, graduated from a Pentecostal Holiness College, and have been in ministry in Charismatic and Evangelical circles since. I have a great love for liturgy and hymns, yet I find great beauty in the “modern” expressions as well. All of this is to say that depending upon the frame of reference you come from in church experience greatly determines the impact of various “styles” of worship. For example, I have some church friends who spend tremendous amounts of time in “repetitive phrase” types of worship songs and it is powerful for them. However, I lead worship at a church that is very blended in style and repeating things over and over doesn’t fly.
Don’t you think, since we established the need to serve our congregations (in the sense of what God is saying and what they need), that these song issues are going to vary according to church types, locations, and cultures?
Thanks again for this discussion! It has been a tremendous blessing
By the way, I tagged this post over on our worship team’s page and added your site to our resources page. You’ve great a great site and I appreciate your heart and insight!
We are getting ready to kick off the church THIS Saturday. Wanting to feed on some good “worship stuff”, I looked up your blog today and am sooooo blessed. Thank you for taking the time to post. I’ve definitely written some bad songs! Thank you for the tips. Also, we are introducing 3 of SGM songs on Saturday. Yeah!
Brandon and I (and Hartmut and Antje) are still basking in the generosity you all shared with us.
Maybe we will see you in April.
As I look for a new church to attend I am amazed how many churches think that their way of doing music is the best. It’s very hard to find a balance. I may oversimplify this but I see it like this: Hymns are truth, choruses are spirit. We should worship in spirit and in truth. Some songs are timeless and I feel a connection with God in worship. Other songs are not worth singing in church even once, yet they get repeated. Fortunately we can also worship God every moment of every day wherever we are with what ever song God puts in our minds at that moment.
I’m glad I am not alone on seeing that some songs during (contemporary) worship are not peaking the spirit. I go to a later worship service that staffs a pretty mighty rock group. I realize I’m an old hippie whose restraints have come into a nuance of a more quiet expression.
However, as a musician and songwriter, I sense the awakening and there are songs that I describe as ‘zig-zag’, unproportioned to random rhythms and rhymes. It is not predictable. If I were applying jazz chords, it would be one thing, but we’re talking about something that prompts the church in unison.
Sorry if I submit something that might discourage the newbies. I don’t mean to.
In His sight, Dianne
Can anyone share with me why musical craftmanship is being left out of writing these days? Remember the tools you learned in music theory, music history, and counterpoint that the masters of composition used when writing their classics? Whatever happened to theme and development? Why can’t more hymns and praise songs be written to contain a melody which interweaves with a counter-melody? A perfect example of a Christian anthem that does this is “Here I Am, Lord” by Daniel Schutte. Listen to how he uses the piano to interweave the verse into the chorus. It is wonderful craftmanship! The chorus iof this anthem s now being used as a praise chorus. Why do Christian artists, writers, and perfomers not include any of these elements in their music these days? Even the pop music in the secular world has examples where these tools are being used (“She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 and “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba). Christian songwriters: I challenge you to use the tools you learned in school to write hymns and praise songs that will not only inspire the congregation as they sing them, but also challenge and inspire the orchestra, keyboardists, praise team and/or praise band as they perform them. God has given us some wonderful musical tools. Let’s implement these and make our musical offerings a craft again!
I don’t think there’s a way to write a bad worship song. A true worship song. When you sit down and write a song as a form of worship to him. You can’t go wrong.
I didn’t really have time to read every comment. But I read a couple that mentioned the heart of worship as a bad worship song. I think you misunderstand that song so much. If you can listen to that song without it absolutely breaking your heart I think you need to try to gain a better understanding of it. The Heart of Worship is not something that just relates to one person or situation, it’s not an anti-song song. It’s a call to true worship. To not just be going through the motions. But to be truly thinking about what our worship is about and that’s jesus. Not just the worship leader but every person. It’s about every single person coming back to the heart of worship.
In a way I think this list makes some good points. But at heart I disagree with the list as a whole and several of these points.
Fred, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.
If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that a song written sincerely out of a heart to worship the Lord can’t go wrong. In one sense I can agree with you. God looks upon a person who is genuinely seeking to honor him through writing a song and accepts it through the finished work of his Son.
But I think a songwriter can go wrong (obviously, or I wouldn’t have posted this). Not all worship songs are of equal quality in terms of serving God’s people. Some have difficult melodies. Some are confusing. Some use images and/or sentiments that seem to be at odds with Scripture. Some are overly personal and hard to understand (and I’ve written all of these kinds of songs). I’m aware that God can use mediocre worship songs (he’s certainly used some of mine). But that doesn’t mean we ignore the principle of seeking to write songs that are true to Scripture and edify and encourage the greatest number of people.
As humble followers of the crucified Messiah we should always seek to see the good in any worship song. But songwriters should strive to write the best worship songs for the good of his church and the glory of God. When I’m working with a group of songwriters I don’t say, “Write what you feel sincerely.” I say, “Write what will help others know and love God more, in a creative way, and in line with what he’s revealed about himself in his Word.”
I first of all want to thank everyone for their posts regarding this topic. From what I have experienced this is quite an area of discussion among Christians and the arguments for and against are as opposite as night and day.
I’m speaking in the sense as a younger generation growing up. I am 23 years old and I can understand a little bit of both sides of the argument. I agree that content is very important in a song, but I don’t think we should knock some songs just because their theological concept is not as deep as others are. God has placed people in different walks of life and different levels of maturity. If we sing all knitty-gritty heavy doctrinal songs all the time, the lost coming to church or new believers may not have a clue what is being said just as easily. Likewise, this doesn’t mean we should go the polar opposite way either and sing all fluff songs. But we always need to take into consideration what the composer intended. Just like scripture, if you don’t place the words in context you can make the Bible pretty much support anything you want. It’s context that gives the scriptures its full meaning and we often just lead songs without providing context for them.
What I have learned from youth is that they don’t always need all the doctrine spelled out for them in a song. They have heard the doctrine and sometimes it’s nice to share a simple concept in worship to God. Sometimes I get the feeling from Christians that every song needs to be ultra deep in order to be acceptable for worship but really it depends on how the song is setup in the framework of the rest of the service. Most songs sets can feel like a string of separate songs flung together if no meaning or purpose is presented with them. Some people don’t like the song “Breathe” because it has less than 50 words or so. I heard some musician say, “I would like someone to share with me the meaning of breathe” (implying that it had no depth of meaning to it). The song is telling God that His word is the air I breath and my daily bread. How many of us step aside and think of simple things that we take for granted? Teens can take a song like that and it hits home with them not out of pure emotion per se but because they understand the context of the song.
So I do try to be careful when I knock certain songs without understanding the context within which it was written otherwise people could be highly critical of the Bible because of concepts and ideas it seems to support without supplying the correct context.
As others have said before, this post is just meant to present another angle of the discussion and not to push a position. I think worship through music is one of those areas that is impossible to evaluately purely without any bias at all as we all have our own ideas of what works but as someone mentioned previously, as long as the church itself is worshipping God and the words are not contrary to God’s word (not just because things could be phrased better), then that’s the reason for gathering together. Have a blessed day everyone!
5. Never let anyone alter the way God originally gave your song to you.
You are absolutely correct. Only those who write the songs with the Power of the Holy Spirit would know that. And am sure that if it is the work of the Holy Spirit – I feel that it is flawless – I hope you agree with me.
I cannot digest song written by your muscle power – cause it will be as good as dead and will move nothing nor bring salvation.
Your right – never allow anyone to alter the songs the way the Lord has given you
George, I hope you understood the point of my post. Maybe you’re joking. I can’t tell…
When we think that no one can change a song we’ve “received from the Lord” we’re acting as though our ability to hear from God is infallible. It’s not. Too many song writers fail to write great songs because they’re unwilling to listen to wiser, more experienced, dare I say, more humble musicians who are offering valid critique. Of course, our critics aren’t always right, but the wisdom from above is “open to reason” (James 3:17) and a godly person is not “wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:12). That’s the attitude I want to have when others are giving me thoughts on my songs.
Great List. Here’s a big one…
*Don’t worry about consulting God in prayer before you even begin. Why would you need His help. After all, it is YOUR song, right?*
Excellent stuff, thank you!
The “Jesus as my Lover” songs are highest on my list of can’t-stands, mostly because there’s been such a huge proliferation of them in the last 5 years. There’s a fundamental confusion between the correct assertation that the church (corporately, worldwide) is the bride of Christ and the idea that I (individually) am somehow Jesus’ lover. Supporters of that genre of worship song always protest that of COURSE it’s not meant to be in any kind of sexual way. OK then, how about we don’t write it using sexual terminology?
John Stackhouse has a great entry on the topic here:
Dovetailing a bit on David’s post about musical craftsmanship … why is it that many SG songs, while lyrically strong, have no distinctive melodies or rhythms to distinguish themselves? My church sings mostly SG songs during worship, and while they ARE good to sing, I literally cannot tell the difference between those songs because they sound the same. And when listening to the recordings, the songs don’t sound much different than other CCM “worship/praise bands”. On the other hand, smartly crafted melodies and arrangements (those musical tools) invite us to sing out the theology in the lyrics, and help us remember those truths long after singing time is over. Is there something that I’m missing in SG’s approach to songwriting/worship?
I know that the substance vs. style debate in Christian music won’t be solved. One catchy hook does not a good song make. Worship must not be turned into a concert, guitar solo showdown, or an emotional experience. But it’s a mistake to ignore musical tools, techniques and even styles (!) from other countries and cultures. When we worship the Lord, music need not be all minor keys, somber tones, jangly fuzzy guitar and 4/4 time – it should be happy and inspiring, too. Let the musicians stretch their chops, and bring out even more beautiful offerings to share with their congregations.
I agree with you. Music should support the lyrics, not just go with templates (with both music and lyrics).
During my recent deep discussion with our music director in our church, I have learned that music style isn’t as important as “music not getting in the way of the song”. Though our church elders were against loud drum sets and beats, they weren’t against beats properly applied and being just there but not being the foreground (of bass and cajon and shakers). That was before our youth fellowship
Paul Baloche also wrote a book called “God Songs” that talks about how to write worship songs. It’s really practical and very applicable. This article was insightful, I enjoyed reading it and picked up on some things I hadn’t heard before.
Great post. On the topic of “mixed metaphors” I remember hearing a song once asking God to rain down blessings for 40 days and 40 nights. I was perplexed as to why anyone would blend those two ideas together. The last time the Lord caused rain for 40 days and 40 nights, He wiped out the vast majority of the human population.
Like many here, I too cringe at a lot of the songs I consider to be saying nothing more than “I want to sing how happy I feel that I’m in love”. They seem very self-centered and totally miss what worship is all about: Christ — not ourselves.
The purpose of worship is to seek to exalt and honor Christ. As we lift Him up, our own selves should be diminishing into the background. If the music we sing in a worship service does not do that, then it is a “bad worship song”.
This is not just my thought or a “too-theologically-deep-for-some-to-handle” thought: this is how the Lord Himself has instructed us as to how we are to worship:
“Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.”
~ Psalm 148:11-13
Suggestion: Put some real content into your worship songs, rather than just a copule lines.
There are so many “7/11” worship songs out there these days (7 words . . . sung 11 times). These songs may appeal to the emotions for a few moments, but most of them are very shallow, and contain very little in scriptural truths to teach us. That is where the traditional hymns have it hands-down over most contemporary worship songs; the hymns have 2, 3, 4, or more stanzas of great text, and you learn much of these texts over the course of a lifetime.
Case in Point: My mother suffered with Alzheimers for over 21 years, and just passed away 10 weeks ago. Some years into her condition, we took her to church one day, but we weren’t able to get her there in time before the service started. Rather than embarrassing Mom by bringing her into the church in the middle of the service, we decided to take Mom on a quiet Sunday drive. We had the radio playing on a Christian radio station.
By that time, Mom’s Alzheimer’s had advanced to the degree that she could no longer speak more than one occasional word. She couldn’t remember our names, and couldn’t speak even a simple sentence. Yet, when a well-known hymn like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” started playing on the radio, Mom burst out singing. She sang 2-3 verses, without missing a single word. Mom sang along on several hymns that day. At least once, I had to stop the car because my eyes were too teary to drive. That shows how deeply engrained a well-written song can become in our hearts.
Please, write songs with good portions of biblical truth in the texts, with good verses that can become part of our permanent memory.
Wooow, I think you just put and end to this discussion, it is more than obvious that a well crafted,inspired song can act as a powerful tool!. Thats whats all about!!
I have to believe that God loves the groans and sighs from the heart of a redeemed soul in spite of the vehicle. all the Hymns do not contain good theology and all the P&W tunes do NOT embody the Spirit. But all can be an avenue when the intention is pure. I hear worship when I walk in the woods. As the wind blows I imagine the breath of God. When the sun peeks thru the canopy, I understand how the Spirit visits in moments of washing warmth. It’s far more worshipful to wrestle with your child in the front yard than it is to sing with the team on Sunday morning when the heart/relationship is right! BTW, I’ve been writing, singing, and performing original music for almost 30 years and I finally realize that I have so much more to learn…or perhaps, un-learn!
Songs come from the heart and whatever God lays on yours is what you should write . Never, ever let anyone else tell you that your song isn’t good enough, after all everyone has an opinion. People like different things. No opinion is ever going to change the gift God gave you. The only opinion that counts is yours and of course, God’s. If he gives you a song, then be grateful and realize that this may the song that draws someone to Christ.
Way to write a smashing chorus that will bump you into the top charts: just repeat the same phrase over and over till your audience falls into a deep, deep sleep… Or throws up.
Firstly, I thank Bob for writing this post and everyone else who commented on this subject as it has truly given me a lot. I know I’m commenting on this post which is many years old. But I stumbled upon it today as I was looking for a related topic.
This is exactly where I’m at in my life/walk right now. I waited almost two decades to finally start writing. I tried many times before but it never happened. I guess it was God’s timing and preparing my heart & language/vocabulary to articulate & convey His message. In the meantime, I’ve been blessed to worship each day with what God’s put in your hearts to write and tune. Its made me part of who I am.
Its one thing to try to sit down and force/squeeze a song out with sheer will and effort. And quite another when there is a strong leading of the Holy Spirit, who frankly writes the song for you. God (literally) knows how many times I’ve tried to do the former. And in His grace, He’s showing me how much more fulfilling and freeing it is when the latter happens. As of now, I’m more moved by what God’s done in me through the very process of writing. I’m really humbled by it all.
Maybe there are business/financial pressures in the industry to force one to write. I don’t know since I’m just an amateur. Also its not for me to judge the intent behind the writing of a song. That’s between the author and God. So if that lyric seem weak, maybe its because of me – I’m in a different place than the author was. Its the same way with the Bible too I guess. Not every verse will speak with the same way and strength to us each time. It depends on where we are in our walk.
And just as a parent puts up a child’s “art” on a refrigerator door, I guess it’s the same with God. Even the best worship songs we write falls short of His Glory and who He is. Its filthy rags in comparison. Nevertheless, He puts them up to make us feel good. And his heart is warmed in the process because He loves us and it encourages us to do better. That’s the way I see why Bob wrote what he wrote and even all the comments. Its God working in us to do better when those who can do something better come alongside those can’t and help them out. To judge one song is better solely on lyrics or music may be taking it out of context a bit since we don’t see what God sees – the attitude of the heart. And just as these things apply to those who write, the same can be said for those who sing them too! Repetitive phrases, when sung properly can take you straight to the throne room of God…. or they can be downright boring (but then that’s my problem!)
I came here to learn and take what I can apply to my writing from far more experienced people, both vocationally and spiritually for many of you’ve been in my place before. And for that I really thank God for each of you.
Hi worshipers,,, always remember that in doing song you must always see to it that it is directly intending in worshiping Jesus our God. and always be in love of what you are doing, Let your heart be full of worship so that Holy Spirit will guide you as always while writing and singing worship songs…
These were the reasons why I’d rather listen to hymns, Casting Crowns (and other bands/ singers with songs that struck me hard about my walk with God), or anime songs (love how intricate their arrangements are).
I HATE OCEAN SONGS!!!!!
Add extra professionalism to a song with sophisticated background vocal ideas. Don’t always slavishly imitate the lead vocal’s phrasing and timing. Try extending the end of the odd line in a harmony, then pick up with the lead again when it feels natural and musical to do so.