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The Words Matter: Writing & Choosing Songs for Worship

I rushed home and played the rough recording of my great new song for my young bride. Out scratched the first lyric, “You turn wine into water.” She was not exactly impressed. I’m sure the folks at the wedding at Canaan would have been equally befuddled if Jesus’ first miracle had played out as I had described it. That was not my brightest day of song writing.

As someone with an abiding passion for worship, the church of Jesus Christ, and penning new songs, I have learned to take seriously this reality: the words matter.

I find great joy in crafting songs that help the body of Christ sing joyfully and beautifully about a big and glorious God. I am equally fearful of missing that goal.

There are 2 simple but critical questions I have learned to diligently ask when writing or choosing songs for corporate worship:

1. Is it Biblical?

2. Is it Clear?

This is what the church needs: clearly Biblical worship. Song writers and song stewards (those who choose the songs for their church) are shaping the theology of the church. Nothing less than clear and Biblical is adequate to the calling.

Being Biblical means that we are not adding ideas that are beyond the bounds of God’s revealed Word. It may sound poetic, but unless it is rooted in the what God says about God it is likely more dangerous than helpful.

Packing theological concepts into singable phrases is the constant struggle of creating great worship songs. We must however be willing to labor until there is little room for misunderstanding. Our songs should not need a notes section explaining what we mean to communicate. Clarity is key.

Beyond being aware and careful, the input of others is invaluable. I trust the men I call band-mates to challenge my ideas. I have a community of writers and pastors who are willing to listen and critique. This gift proved itself when we were finishing our first full length album in 2012.

While tracking vocals, our producer, Mitch, piped in over the talk-back mic and called me into the engineering room. The band huddled to ponder a lyric in the bridge of our song “Christ Alone.” At the time it sang this way:

“There is no other Name, by which we might be saved, under the heavens above.”

What I meant to say was clear in my mind, but Mitch pushed on the word “might.” Could it be read to mean “by which we might possibly, per chance, maybe end up being saved.” The idea was obviously not as clear as it needed to be.

Fortunately the solution was simple, the original source of the idea: the Bible. Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Biblical and clear we tracked the vocal and sing the song today “by which we must be saved.


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