Part 3: The Lyrics
Lyrics are a critical component of a successful worship song. A church’s theology comes as much from its music as its sermons. In fact, the argument could be made that music is even more powerful for two reasons: 1. because sermons get preached once and songs get sung over and over and 2. because people will often come across the songs in different times and places that help to firm the ideas from the song in their minds. There are a few questions to ask when it comes to evaluating the lyrics:
- Is the theology solid? No song is going to be able to communicate all of God’s truth. There have been countless major works of classical music that have attempted to explore one aspect of God’s truth (Handel’s Messiah for instance, tells just the story of Jesus’ life and still clocks in at around 70 minutes for a performance time.) Each song used in worship should communicate some part of God’s truth.
- Are the lyrics… lyrical? Sounds like an odd question, but a song with solid theology can be very bland if it’s not written artfully. The flow of the words is as important as the truth they contain.
While those are the two big questions to ask about individual songs, there are a couple other questions that you should ask when looking at your overall repertoire:
- Who are the songs being sung to? There are two directions that songs can go: they can be sung to God or to each other. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell where a song is going (look at the pronouns that refer to God – He/Him/His are to each other, You/Your are to God) but it’s important that you have a balance between each kind.
- Are the lyrics scriptural? They certainly shouldn’t contradict scripture (unless it’s a solo piece that you’re using to make a point and it’s not part of your regular repertoire) but not all songs need to contain direct scripture. Again, there should be a balance between those that are and are not direct scripture references.
- What perspective is the song sung from? Does it use I/me or we/us? This is more a matter of individual church taste. Some churches feel using the individual perspective downplays the importance of collective worship while others feel it makes the words more personal. Whatever your perspective, stick with it. Don’t edit the words to one song and then not another or do it one time but not another. Be consistent. At Journey, I don’t edit the words to songs – they stay the way the author intended and the way people are likely to hear them outside of church.
- How would a first-time guest feel singing this song? This is one of the most important questions that I ask at Journey. Christians tend to forget that not every one knows what we mean when we say certain “insider phrases” like washed in the blood, the lion and the lamb and others, so we intentionally look at the lyrics from the perspective of someone who’s new.
Choosing good songs for worship is as much an art as it is a science. Through careful study, prayer and even trial and error, you’ll discover the styles and songs that resonate with your church and foster an atmosphere of worship and participation where God is praised and his people are built-up.