Part 3 | Text is Important
By Dave Yauk
The Total Story in Text…
In case you haven’t tuned into previous posts, In Post 1, I introduced our series by considering Paul’s exhortation in Colossians as to why and how he thinks we should sing as Christians. In Post 2 I first explored how a good approach to singing would be to first ensure that we are singing the total scope of God’s story. I included a document for Corporate Worship Singing called the Song Selection Rubric , that will continue to help us more thoughtfully think through our singing, and I want to explore in Post 3 the next part of this Selection Rubric in hopes of broadening our approach to corporate singing.
Text with a Cherry on top…
Not only are songs important in total but I think songs are important in specific. Those who write lyrics or share them with others are responsible for the words they put on the lips of people. Though not all people will scrutinize every word of the songs they listen to, those who give songs to others, like a song leader at a church, are held to a higher pastoral responsibility. The words we sing shape people’s faith and worldview and are thus a serious responsibility.
Personally I use a tool created by Dr. Constance Cherry in her book Selecting Worship Songs: A Guide for Worship Leaders. In it she creates a grid to analyze songs. She begins by classifying songs into 5 categories as to whether they are, Proclamation, Petition, Praise, Exhortation or Call to Action. One might ask, “why is this important—sounds like jot and tittle micromanaging?” What I believe Cherry does well is understand how God never intended that songs would serve the same function. Here’s an example…
Years ago I attended a church that sang “I Give Myself Away” as the opening song in their worship. The song is all about our actions in worship and speak little of God’s. It is a truly a response song, and the church had placed it in a place of proclamation. I found myself wondering, “how can I give myself away to nothing—what am I responding to?” The Bible clearly shows us that God observes a rhythmic pattern in worship whereas he always reveals himself FIRST, and in our encounter with his holiness, we are then motivated to give our sins up in repentance, and ourselves away in service. Here, text and function become important because this church I speak of is not just making an illogical choice, but an unbiblical one. They are stressing the actions of man first before the actions of God—going against thousands of years of church liturgy and wisdom—and are truly shaping their church toward a man-centered-focus rather than a Godward gaze. As seen on the Song Selection Rubric , when I plan songs, I take a look at the number of total songs, and the text of the songs I’m using in order to best determine if I’m including songs of revelation (God’s actions) and our actions (response). If I overstress or underemphasize one or the other, I make a mistake.
Cherry, in a strong fashion also includes an evaluation of good poetry in her booklet. She looks at a lyric’s strength and weaknesses in allusion to story, Trinitarian language, references to God, corporate Ethos, sentence structure, diction, coherence, sound, melody, harmony, rhythm, compatibility with music and text, and singability. These may seem like small things but in a day and age where we’ve lost profound poetry in worship music, we need to learn from those in the body of Christ that have gone before us who have enriched us in how to craft more illustrative prose. Consider if a church were to maintain a balance between the words of these two songs in their prose (one simple, yet lacking, one profound and descriptive):
I Give Myself Away (example of Modern Day “Surrender” Lyrics)
Written by William McDowell in 2009
Chorus: I give myself away, I give myself away so You can use me.
Jesus I My Cross Have Taken (example of Historical “Surrender” Lyrics)
Written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1825
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
You, are where my all shall be.
Perish ev’ry fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition;
God and heav’n are still my own!
The heart here is to crave and thirst for good poetry and prose in our singing; using language that adorns God’s truths with beauty, and allows God’s people, in the best way possible, to comprehend God’s majesty.