Putting Words in Their Mouths

I have always been a strong proponent of making sure that the texts of our worship songs are theologically sound. One of the driving principles of my personal philosophy for the use of music in worship is what I call the “Musician’s 3:16” Col. 3:16:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Much could be said about this verse. The main command of the verse is to let God’s word dwell richly within us. The rest of the verse helps to show how we are do to that: with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing with music, and singing with thankfulness. In this verse, it is clear that music is to be used to help God’s word dwell in us richly. The lyrics should be not only just theologically sound, able to teach and admonish, and be deep and rich in what they say.

The songs used in worship should also be able to be our personal expressions of our faith, praise and even petitions to God. Jon Althoff, worship director at Calvary Bible Church in Michigan said this: “when you are asking people to sing songs to the Lord, you are in essence ‘putting words in their mouths'”. This vividly expresses what we do when we select songs for people to sing. This is one of my concerns with “O How He Loves” that I shared earlier in a post last year.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with this song being sung as one’s person expression of faith.
The problem that I have is when I encounter this song in a worship context. I have trouble singing the verses. They are someone else’s conversation with God, and experiences that I have not had. I’m not sure with afflictions I would be referring to. I’m not convinced that it was the grace in His eyes that drew me to Him. I’m not trying to maintain any regrets, so why should I sing that line? It is just not true for my experience.

As we select and write songs for congregational use, let’s be careful about putting words in other’s mouths.

3 comments to Putting Words in Their Mouths

  • Ashley Auch

    This is actually an issue I’ve been debating recently a lot. In chapel or in church, we too often sing the words posted on the screen in a sort of mindless stupor. I was discussing this with a friend who pointed out that whenever we sing “The Stand” in chapel, everyone’s arms automatically shoot up when we get to the line “I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned.” Although this could be genuine for many, I think we worship on autopilot far too much.
    I think sometimes its more beneficial and appropriate to remain silent at points during a song in order to really process the lyrics and verify that we can truly say them. When we sing “I will exalt you,” do we really mean that? If we don’t, we shouldn’t justify saying it just because we said it with music. Although we don’t have control over what songs are selected, we do have control over how we worship. I think its crucial that we verify that the words we sing aren’t shallow, but that they derive from our hearts.

  • Jacob Tudor

    I agree with much of what you and Ashley had to say. I think the words to How He Loves are very beautifully written, but it’s also very true that some of it really doesn’t apply to me. In concordance with what Ashley mentioned, often people do go on “autopilot” during some Worship songs. This year at Cedarville, as I’ve studied music much deeper than I have before, I’ve become aware of things that I had never noticed before. Above all, I have really come to be bothered by Worship songs that really don’t say anything or have much of a purpose. Sure, they are pleasant to listen to, exciting, or might have chord progressions that make my heart melt- but that isn’t what touches the heart of the Worshipper. It really is about the words! Of course all those things are great when they are accompanied with Biblically sound words. But without true/deep/profound meaning that reveals my Creator, I often come to the point where I find no meaning in singing songs during Worship that aren’t very Worshipful! In addition, I think it’s important to raise the point how a lot of Worship songs have come to be more about “me, I, and us” rather than truly about praising God. One thing in particular that I just absolutely love about hymns are the words- they have the most Biblically sound words and gorgeous harmonies of any Worship song I have ever heard! And they are, for the most part, about God and creation, the Biblical Narrative! Worshipping isn’t about us, it’s about God, and I think it’s important to realize when the songs appear to be more self focused than Christ centered!

  • Jordan Redfield

    I think about this often during chapel worship sets. There are some songs we sing that I feel as if “put words into my mouth” so to speak. Many times it’s in context similar to as mentioned with How He Loves, where it feels as if it is not my words or experiences being sung. Other times I feel like we’re just lifting false claims before God. Some songs we sing refer to taking the light of the gospel into the darkest corners of the earth, etc., and sometimes I can’t help but question if we as a student body in the Cedarville bubble, are actually doing that. That is just one example to show that I completely agree with this post. It is crucial to be careful what words we put on a screen and ask people to sing to God…