Stuart Townend – Role of Songs in Worship

Found this recent blog post from the Garage Hymnal with some notes from a songwriting workshop with Stuart Townend (author of In Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love for us). Reposting it here…

Role of songs
When selecting or writing songs, it is helpful to bear in mind the role of songs in church:
  • Serving the local church (not about self-expression). Think about what your local church needs. Church songs have a life outside of the writer. Have to be accessible to ordinary church-goers. Whether song works is determined by whether people can sing it easily, and not be confused by the lyrics.
  • Teaching. People often remember more theology from songs than from sermons. Songs put words in people’s mouths – a huge responsibility for songwriters and those selecting songs. What sort of a picture of God are we painting through our songs? (eg. Currently we’re not talking much about his justice or his compassion.)
  • Bringing together the objective and subjective. Objective songs make statements about God and his character. Subjective songs are our response to God. Some songs do both – eg. ‘Here I Am to Worship’ (verse makes objective statements, chorus is a subjective response). But in the last 20 years we may have erred too far towards the subjective. We need songs that explore who God is.
  • Reminding and remembering. Songs are a great way of us taking truth with us into daily life. Not just about our experience on Sundays. Songs need to help us to live during the week.
  • Understanding Scripture. Most worship songs are consistent with Scripture, but many of the lyrics can be vaguely biblical (sloppy and don’t really say anything). We need to work hard to explore all aspects of God’s character. Some Scriptural lines are so familiar to us they have lost meaning – we can use our poetic creativity to rephrase these truths (still remaining biblical). Our songs should be helping people to understand the Bible.
  • Perspective. Part of us gathering together in church is seeking God’s perspective on the lives we live. If we look at the Psalms (the hymn book of the Old Testament), they have a breadth of perspectives on life. We need greater breadth in our songs – perhaps more ‘angry’ songs (eg ‘God, why aren’t you intervening here? But I know God that you are faithful.’).
  • Artistic expression. God is so far beyond our descriptions of him. Sometimes poetry and the arts can speak to us at an extraordinary level, beyond what we can understand. We need to trust God that he is speaking to us on levels that we can’t understand.

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