What’s Missing in Today’s Worship Songwriting?
nowing well that modern churchgoers get as much of their theological understanding from the worship songs, a few years ago we asked some prominent theologians (including the late Robert Webber, who wrote a column in every issue of Worship Leader magazine) which theological topics they think need to be written about. We thought this would be a good thing dig out and offer on our website, so you can keep the conversation going.
We need songs about God’s saving intervention in our lives. The Song of Moses (Exodus 15) serves as a model for theologizing through song. Woven throughout the song, we find theological statements of what God’s deliverance from Egypt meant to the children of Israel. They praised God powerfully by proclaiming “the Lord is my strength and song” based on a life-specific event in their community. I believe we need songs that follow this model: songs that arise out of the pain and difficulty confronting our lives and declare the specific ways in which God meets us.”
Roberta King is Professor of Communication and Ethnomusicology at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of A Time to Sing: A Manual for the African Church.
We need songs that declare the attributes of God in appropriate musical terms that give musical fabric (substance) to the attribute. We’ve done pretty well with “holiness” and “faithfulness” but not much with “justice” and “sovereignty” and His redemptive agenda. Songs that improve the personal and collective view of God would be a great advantage to the Church. Among other things, worship should always be directed to improve the participants’ view of God; they should leave the experience with a more biblical view, to displace the pollution our society seems determined to impose on the over-all understanding of who He is.
Gordon Borror is author of Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel.
In recent years evangelicals have been turning to the past to mine the great insights of the ancient church fathers and early church. One of these old, but now new practices from the past is the recovery of the Christian year. We now realize that God’s work of redemption extends not only to creatures, but to creation as well. God has redeemed time and we are learning to remember God’s saving action in time. Advent is the time to wait for the coming of the Lord; Christmas rejoices in His birth; Epiphany manifests His saving work to the whole world; Lent prepares for the death; Holy Week re-enacts the final saving events; Easter celebrates His resurrection and the making of all things new; Pentecost manifests the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is time to pay attention to the times of God’s saving actions, so my challenge is to write songs for the Christian year. So far it is an untapped reservoir of rich, very rich, material.
Dr. Robert E. Webber founded the Institute for Worship Studies in 1998 and was its first president. He was a regualr columnist for Worship Leader magazine, for which he provided an article in every issue published until he died April 27, 2007.
First, the one topic I have the hardest time finding new songs for is “pressing on” in the Christian life. When people come to worship, they come with emotions and struggles. Songs that acknowledge the hard work and the promise (“All that has been taken, it shall be restored”) of the Christian life can be a great help in our pilgrimages.
Second, I could use more songs that are recognizable settings of Scripture. Singing is a profound way of “laying up” God’s Word in our hearts. In college and grad school we sang Scripture that ran the gamut from Scripture ditties to moving meditations of Psalms or other passages. I would love to help my congregation sing Scripture into their hearts—wedding profound texts to a meaningful musical idiom.
Reggie Kidd is the author of With One Voice, a professor of New Testament, a pastor of worship and regular columnist for Worship Leader magazine.
We need more songs that take the teachings of Jesus and set them to music that stays in our hearts. For example, we have a thousand songs about loving God, but how many songs do we have about loving our neighbors? We have a thousand songs about God blessing us, but how many of our songs plead with God to bless the poor, the oppressed, the war-torn or the unloved?
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders.
My only request would be for more songs taking seriously the struggles of the Christian life—with sin and temptation, with persecution and rejection by family and friends, with sickness, suffering and death. I think immediately of some of the Psalms, though there are portions of the New Testament, such as Romans 8, that give a really helpful perspective on these things.
David Peterson is the Principal of Oakhill College and author of Engaging with God.
We need more songs about the gospel from a God-centered perspective. Though we’re seeing a trend toward more God-focused worship songs, what seems to be lacking are lyrics that teach us God’s ways—how He works in all things to exalt the majesty of His Son. Writers like Watts and Wesley managed again and again to write songs that taught the entire gospel—from creation to the consummation of the ages—without putting us, or even what we gain, at the center of the story. I’d love to see a rash of songs that do the same in our day.
Tricia McCary Rhodes is the author of four books on the subject of prayer and the cross, including Contemplating the Cross.
Dr. Don Williams
As has been often noted, our congregations learn most of their theology from the hymnal or, perhaps, PowerPoint and music CDs. Since this is true, the lasting value of a song is related to the strength of its theology as well as its lyrics and sing-ability. This becomes your challenge, as well as the challenge to your pastors and leaders who teach you. You must become working theologians. Make it your goal to provide the structure of our faith, our biblical worldview, for the church today and especially the emerging generation.
Don Williams is a Vineyard pastor who works with Soul Survivor and author of 12 Steps with Jesus.
We need a new genre of contemporary songs in the form of ballads that tell the biblical stories. We have a generation that is biblically illiterate. We now live in a culture of the artist rather than that of the orator. It is the songwriters who are likely to have the most impact on popular culture.
Eddie Gibbs is professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary and co-author of Emerging Churches.
Dr. Marva J. Dawn
If only we (the Church) had songs about several important aspects of the faith, worship would be more faithful to the whole narrative of the triune God. Some of the dimensions of the Church year or the biblical narrative for which good new music is lacking are these:
Advent – songs about John the Baptizer, about preparing for Christ’s second coming, about how the Messiah came to a world as troubled as our own.
Lent – songs that take seriously the suffering of Jesus throughout His life. Especially we need Good Friday songs that really lament!
Lament – songs based on the Lament Psalms in Scripture.
Marva J. Dawn is a Christian theologian, author, musician, educator author, and speaker for multiple National Worship Leader Conferences.