They’re a soft target, most worship songs. Partly because they tend to be lousy musical compositions, but also partly because they tend to be mushy and indistinguishable from love ballads bar the occasional “God” and “Jesus” thrown in. In short, they’re all-around lousy songs.
One day I was in a cruel mood. So I thought I would try taking a couple of these fluff-fests and seeing how they fared when set next to the genuine article: real, bona fide love songs.
It’s not pretty.
Take, for example, Big Daddy Weave’s “Every Time I Breathe”:
Now compare it with Brad Paisley’s “She’s Everything”:
Fact: I’d rather hear Brad Paisley sing this song about his wife than hear Big Daddy Weave sing that song about God. Not only is the romantic language far more comfortable and appropriate, but the writing actually holds my interest. A novel concept.
Let’s try again with something a little different, a song that’s not technically worship but has a “vertical” orientation and got played a lot on Christian radio:
This one gives a laundry list of things the singer “questions” before concluding with, “The one thing I don’t question is You. You really love me like you say you do.” God is the fixed point in the singer’s life.
Okay as far as it goes, but when one of your main hooks runs, “Hold me, come on, hold me. I need your love. Hold me. Come on now…,” and when, moreover, the song is addressed to God, this is an epic fail. It’s an epic fail anyway, but the God part makes the fail even more epic. Plus, if you seriously “question” your “ability to judge wrong from right,” you’ve got some issues. And if you’re not sure what race you are, you’ve got even bigger issues. (Yes, yes, I know that’s not what he meant, but I couldn’t resist.) The whole thing just comes off very trite. It fails to make me take it seriously or provoke any thought, even though presumably it’s supposed to.
Compare this with the very similarly themed but vastly superior “Kathy’s Song,” by Paul Simon (lyrically anyway, though admittedly the melody isn’t particularly inventive). Note in particular how Simon self-consciously takes some of the language commonly used in reference to the divine and works it into this very horizontal piece (and how much more elegantly this succeeds than the reverse operation):
So you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true.
I stand alone without beliefs.
The only truth I know is you.
Or even more explicit: “There but for the grace of you go I.” And yet this lyric is far more believable, profound, and thought-provoking than the Coleman song, which actually is referring to God.
Here’s the brutal truth: If you’re going to talk to or about God, you need to expand your vocabulary. Because if all you’re doing is writing a love song with “God” and “Jesus” thrown in, I’ve got news for you: The rest of the world writes way better love songs. Like so much better it’s not even funny. Your job is to prove that a relationship with God is deeper and more holy than any human love relationship could ever be. Will you still write about love? Absolutely. The love of a father for his child. The love of a shepherd for his sheep. The love of a creator for his crowning creation. But what you write for your girlfriend? Keep that separate from what you write for God. If that’s something you need to work on, do us a favor and just sing about your girlfriend until you figure out how to write better songs about your God.
That is all.