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Words & Phrases That Probably Shouldn't Be Included In New Songs at Least for a While

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Joshua Rhodes, Sep 17, 2003.

  1. Joshua Rhodes

    Joshua Rhodes <img src=/jrhodes.jpg>

    Jun 9, 2003
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    The following is an article I found on Ross King's website: rosskingmusic.com. I thought some others might have some thoughts. I agree with him, and admit my guilt in including some of these in my songs. But hopefully, from now on I'll be more aware. Enjoy, or despise!


    I’m having to put disclaimers on my journals these days. Here they are:

    First Disclaimer: I need to say that what I am going to be proposing in the following journal is something that is strictly for worship leaders who want to write new songs. As you read this, you may be tempted to think that I am talking about or criticizing songs already in existence, or songwriters who have written those songs. I am not. The ideas I will introduce are in reference to new, not-yet-in-existence, corporate, praise-and-worship-type songs.

    Second Disclaimer these are just my opinions. They are based on about 10 years of praise-and-worship-leading experience, and my limited knowledge of the Bible and it’s author, God. Of course I think I’m right, but it’s ok if you don’t. Disagree away!

    Third Disclaimer: relax, take a deep breath. I may sound angry and overly-serious. I’m not. I’m just trying to use my tiny little platform to make people think. I don’t hate anybody or have any major agenda, other than the glorification of Jesus in every nation of the earth.

    Got all that? If so, read on. It’ll make more sense in a minute.

    I’d like to issue a challenge to all worship leaders and Christian praise-song writers. I know that very few of them have ever read this journal, but I like the drama of a world-wide, sweeping, “line-in-the-sand” statement. It makes me feel important to think that I’m sending out a message to the world, even if it’s probably only reaching about 17 people.

    Before I throw down the gauntlet, here’s a little set-up.

    Ideally, we worship leaders/songwriters are all on a quest to sing and write songs that have meaning and purpose and power and doctrinal integrity. But in this age of CCLI seduction, pop-praise, and worship-artistry, the temptation is high to sing and write what is popular and pleasing to the ear. The Apostle Paul warned his son Timothy that these days would come (2 Timothy 4; remember, this was at the tail end of two letters that basically revolved around guarding the doctrine ), but I think we all thought he was talking exclusively about preaching.

    I submit that what we sing from the stage has the same (though, perhaps, misplaced) influence that preaching has, at least from the standpoint of the listener’s inference. What I mean is, for better or for worse, what we sing matters. What we sing has impact.

    But there is a problem with our songs.

    Now, I have no intention of saying that there are no good songs out there right now. There are lots of great praise songs in popular circulation as I write this. I certainly don’t have any intention of trying to convince any of you that my songs are in some way superior to, or more appropriate than, any others. And I definitely don’t think the Kingdom is in need of more songs. This journal isn’t really about that at all. I have another agenda entirely.

    Many of us are songwriters, and I think we’re all going to continue to write songs for as long as we live, whether anybody is listening or not. We do that because something is in us and it feels good to let that thing out. We write songs for lots of reasons, and one of the most prevalent is: we're compelled to. So if we’re going to do it anyway, I thought I’d do what I can to help us frame that compulsion.

    See, for me, the greatest struggle I currently face in writing songs is one that I had never considered until recently. There are piles and piles of worship songs out there. There are thousands of statements being made by Christians everywhere. Most of the things that we desire to say have already been said in song. Many of those songs are really good and don’t need to be expounded upon. Maybe there’s nothing new to be said!

    So if there’s nothing new to be said (which is really just a hypothetical consideration, not a reality), what are we to write? Here’s what I propose. I’m going to give us a list of words and phrases. These words and phrases fall into a category that I’m going to call, “words and phrases that probably should not be included in any new songs, at least for awhile.” I realize that it’s not a very catchy title for a category. But feel that I must sacrifice literary acuity at the altar of detailed truth-telling.

    I think one of our problems is that we are stuck in a phraseology that is polarizing and crushing and intellectually debilitating. We’re just using the same words over and over again, like we’re playing lyrical red-rover with each other. We’re saying the same phrases over and over again, and our words are, subsequently, losing their power.

    I need to prepare you for the fact that several of these words and phrases have appeared in songs that you and/or your friends have written. They've definitely appeared in songs that I've written. That’s the point. We’ve overused these words. I think it would be good to try out some new words; new thoughts; new poetry. Does this mean that songs containing these older words/phrases are powerless or trite or antiquated or small-minded? Of course not. On the contrary, many of these phrases and words are powerful and biblical and brilliant and pointed. But we have spoken and re-spoken them so much that they may have lost their power, at least for those who speak and sing them. Sometimes, the words we use are so lofty and churchy that they have almost no application in our un-lofty, non-churchy lives. Am I making sense? Either way, here’s my list. So as to be “part of the solution,” and not just a complainer, I’ve made some suggestions for replacement words as well. Feel free to add to either list as needed.


    "Seek Your face" – we’ve ridden this pony to death. It’s quite an abstract idea, really, and given that this phrase may have some implications that are rather disturbing (see Exodus 32-34), it’s time to hang it up anyway. Let’s try something like, “find out who You really are” or “discover Your true identity” or “know You as You desire to be known” or “see You as You are.” While we’re at it, we can stop rhyming “face” with “grace.” It’s been done. Plenty.

    "Bow down" – this is a great thing to actually do, but most of the time we’re playing guitar when we say it, so it’s extremely difficult to model it. Let’s try something like, “give You my body” or “make myself low” or “lower myself for You.” Let’s try finding a biblical way to explore the necessity of shame (as an emotion, not as state of being) and lowliness and grief in the life of the disciple. That’s the point of “bow down.” We’ve just forgotten that, I think.

    "Worship" and/or "praise" – in a few years, these words will once again mean what they are supposed to mean. Until then, people will quite often think that they refer to the specific, immediate, musical thing that happens when cool guys with goatees sing songs. Let’s try words like “applaud,” “discover,” “value,” “enjoy,” “appreciate,” “relish,” “bask,” etc.

    "You are good" and/or "I stand in awe" – these are good phrases, and they’re certainly true, but let’s kick it up a notch. Lots of stuff is “good,” and “awe” just gets lost in the tragic flood of “awesome” over-usage. Let’s use words like “unbeatable,” “immeasurable,” “pleasure,” “delightful,” “fabulous,” “tremendous,” and “delicious.” Let’s say phrases like, “You always win” and “I’m ruined by Your greatness.”

    "Reign" – as long as we live in a democracy (in this country and in most of our churches), we will have an exceptionally hard time connecting with this phrase. Let’s say what we really mean. How about “in charge,” “master,” or even “boss,”? Let’s try “You will not be shaken” or “You cannot be stopped” or “no one can push You around.” Does anyone have the guts to say something like, “You cause me to…”?

    "Rain" – this analogy has been beaten to a bloody pulp. As a matter of fact, it would probably be ok for us to leave out the idea of anything “falling on us” for a couple of years at least.

    Instead of saying "fill me," let’s try something like “thank You for filling me.”

    "Holy" – of course it’s a very biblical phrase, but I think we forgot it’s implication a long time ago. How about “completely unique,” “matchless,” “without peer,” “unlike anything else,” or “incomparable”? That’s really what it means, so let’s just say it, and leave no room for the de-sensitized Christian brain to miss it.

    "Worthy" – again, it’s biblical, but let’s give this idea some meaning. Somebody write a song with words like “valuable,” or “noble” or “priceless.”

    "Resound" – huh? This word is completely useless in any communicational context except for church. We like it because it rhymes with “bow down” and “renown” and “all around.”

    "Dance" – I’m not against dancing, but this one just seems like the “poor man’s easy route to false excitement.” If we talk enough about dancing, maybe people will actually dance. Then we’ll be that band that was “so good, they had my kids dancing!” If we’re really interested in seeing congregations get excited, let’s sing songs about Him coming again. If this doesn’t make them dance, I’m pretty sure dancing isn’t what we want.

    "Exalt" – what does this word mean, exactly? This is the first word/phrase in a sub-category that I don’t really have time to get into. That category might be called “things we never say unless we’re talking in church” (like ‘resound’). Maybe we should think about trying something like “make much of” or “admire” or “highly esteem.”

    "Renown" – this is really an excellent word, and I applaud the Passion/OneDay machine for re-introducing us to it, but like we always do when something is cool, we may have already sucked the life out of it. I like “fame” and “famous” and it’s getting used a lot, which is good, I think. How about phrases like “very important “or “reputation” or “reputed” or “everyone knows about You”? When’s the last time we used the word “renown” outside of a church gathering?

    "In one accord" – what does this even mean, exactly? Again, we’d never say this in a conversation, so I have a hard time believing that it represents something genuine and heartflet when we say it in a statement to the Lord. It just sounds silly and contrived and convenient, if you ask me. How about “all of us agree” or “we are unified”?

    "I cry" or "we cry" – why do we feel a need to always describe our communication with God as “crying?” Any other time that we say “cry” we mean “shed tears.” I suspect that this is just another one of our attempts to insert drama into the all-too-boring Christianity that most of us exist in.

    I’ve got more, but this is probably more than enough for now. I don’t want to sound like some kind of vocabulary nazi. Besides, I’m sure somebody has already thought of a good long argument to prove that I’m mean and/or wrong. If that’s you, I can only say “please send it! I’d love to dialogue with anyone who loves the Kingdom enough to have conversation about it!”

    At first read, many of my suggested/substitute words might seem awkward or out-of-place or overly wordy in worship music. That’s because we’re so used to using the other ones. Let me say again: These over-used words and phrases are biblical and good. Please hear that. Many of these phrases are even quoted directly from the Bible. And I think it’s always good to quote the Bible. But I believe that, for the most part, many of these words and phrases are losing their meaning in the midst of an under-whelmed, excessively song-centric culture.

    Besides, we never seem to write the way we talk. Poetry is lofty at times, to be sure, and it should be. But what we’re doing should have more practical application and less fancy word-play, I think. I’m not saying we should stop being poetic or artistic. Not at all. Many of my suggestions are of a fairly poetic nature. I love hymns because of their beautiful and eloquent use of words. I think God likes lots of hymns and appreciates those same things. I’m just wondering if our song writing is in need of revival. If so, this is just one possible solution.

    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that the real problem is not with the words and phrases themselves. The real problem is that we have become so over-churched and Christian-ized that we have stifled ourselves artistically and intellectually. The real problem is that we aren’t putting enough of our brain into this. The real problem is that we are in such a hurry to write “the next big song” that we are becoming lazy in our doctrinal and intellectual and artistic efforts. The real problem is that we are all-too-satisfied with the tiny little parts of God that we’ve been talking about for years, instead of constantly searching the Scriptures (and the mysterious Spirit inside of us!), looking for the attributes that we may have missed or misunderstood. The real problem is that we think God loves any song that is positively (even if incorrectly) descriptive of Him. He does not! He likes what He likes, and He accepts what He accepts! God desires and deserves our creativity and our pain-staking care in poetically addressing Him. After all, we take a stage and lead others. It is our responsibility (a high and judgment-worthy one) to lead them truthfully and well.

    When the scripture repeatedly says “Sing a new song to the Lord,” I think it’s talking about more than re-writing and re-producing and genre-customizing the exact same words that have already been used in hundreds (even thousands) of other songs. It’s talking about finding new ways to prick the mind of the believer (and perhaps the unbeliever as well) toward deeper appreciation and affection of King Jesus. It’s talking about bringing an unblemished, un-crippled sacrifice of praise to our Savior.

    Well, that’s it. Those are my thoughts. That is the challenge. I don’t have any misconceptions that my thoughts will be exceptionally profound. My hope is simply that these thoughts will help us celebrate and appraise God in ways that please Him and re-introduce His people to His goodness.

    Finally, let me say this word of encouragement. If you are one of the few worship leaders out there who is actually trying to write new songs and say fresh, creative things to our King, I applaud you. If it weren’t for you, what would our culture be singing? There are only so many words in the English language, and we all run into lyrical dry spells sometimes. We’re bound to have to use some clichés here and there.

    And to those others who are simply recording CD’s with the same 15 songs (that you didn’t write) that everybody else is recording… I’m not sure what to say to you. I’m not mad at you, but I think maybe you should be ashamed of yourselves. After all, we are making money off of the Church. That comes with some accountability and some responsibility. We need to own the statements that we are making, not just rent them for 8.5 cents per unit. We need to free the Church from it’s bondage to commercialism and noise, rather than needlessly contributing to that bondage for our own financial gain. We need to stop being rewarded for hiring a good producer and being the first person to put a drum loop on the latest Billy Foote or Matt Redman song. We need to represent creativity and passion and personal experience. In short, we need to bring our own spirituality to the table, and stop hiding behind the spirituality of others. Perhaps that is a topic for another journal.

    Blessings to all. Glory to King Jesus! Feel free to contact me with responses.

    Ross King
    [email protected]
  2. ScottEmerson

    ScottEmerson Active Member

    Jun 3, 2002
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    Ross King is the man. What an excellent article!

  3. Mike McK

    Mike McK New Member

    Sep 14, 2001
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    I agree.

    One of the problems with writing songs for a niche audience and about only one subject, even such an all encompassing subject as God, is that, sooner or later our finite minds run out of ideas.

    So much of CCM, particularly what passes for praise and worship, is so repetitive that it's been reduced to "See Spot Run" inanities.

    This is precisely the reason I won't listen to CCM.

    I think it's time for an artist to say in his songs, "I'm a Christian. God is very real to me. This is how it impacts my daily life."

    There are some artists who do this, such as Stonehill, Peter Mayer, Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, the late Mark Heard, etc.

    The problem is that these guys are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

    If they write the kind of songs the author is talking about, then they're written off as being shallow. But when they write these beautiful songs of great substance which promote an explicitly Christian world view, they're written off as being lukewarm.
  4. Pete

    Pete New Member

    Aug 31, 2002
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    Thanks for posting that article Joshua [​IMG]

    I think I generally agree with Ross' assessment of the problem, but not quite his offered solution to it [​IMG]

    If words like "Worship", "Praise", "Exalt", (and especially) "Holy" have lost their power, the problem is in the singer/speaker rather than the words used.

    Instead of dumping the words mentioned altogether (even though some seem to treat them as cliches for the sake of filling a CD...) more exposition on the terms could be given in the songs. Or even better, a few topical sermons [​IMG]

    Eg, I just went and had a look at my meager library, I have at least 6 books with the words "Holy" or "Holiness" in the title. That adds up to a whole lot of words (no, I didn't quite feel up to counting them tonight ;) ) about holiness. God's holiness, His call for us to be holy, etc etc. If these book writers can fill that many pages on a topic, surely a song-writer can add another verse or two on what holiness really means and why it is so important ;)

  5. Dr. Bob

    Dr. Bob Administrator

    Jun 30, 2000
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    Excellent. Two thumbs up. We really need to work on the lyr-yuks.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]