It seems to be happening to all of us. We LOVE a new song. It moves us, and we immediately want to sing it in our church. We start learning the song when all of a sudden, WHAM!
A lyric jumps out at us and makes us doubt whether or not we can sing it.
People mostly love it, but there’s just this one phrase that bothers them a little – some more than others. They love what the song is generally saying… they just wish it didn’t have that one word or that one phrase.
Some church leaders say, “We just re-write that phrase and change the lyric.” That seems like a reasonable way to use the song without having to accept something that bothers you about the lyric. The only issue with that approach is that it is illegal to change the lyric without the permission of the song owner. If a song is that important for you to use it, you should reach out to the song owner and discuss a possible lyric change or to gain more clarity around the writer’s intent. Generally speaking, most would appreciate your request and could possibly accommodate your concern.
Another option is to sing it as it is written, with explanation. The leader could say something like this: As we sing this, I want you all to know what we mean when we repeat this chorus – and then you go on to clarify the lyric for the congregation and lovingly attempt to eliminate any confusion.
You might even choose not to use the song. When asked, “Why don’t we sing that one?” you can explain the point of concern and use the occasion to demonstrate the care your church gives to the content of your worship services.
The point here is this — no one song is worth confusion at any point — about the theology or the intent of the leader that chooses to sing it.
One more thought. You could practice Romans 14:5b. “Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” (CSB) The principle here is the reality that good and spiritual people can disagree on some of these lyrical nuances. You can be diligent about the content of the songs you sing and, at the same time, give license to others to feel differently. You don’t have to protest either way. Let each person make their own assessment as each one considers the phrase in the context of the whole song.
When I am in a service and lyrics come around that some may have doubts about, I can still sing – even if the phrase may be a question mark. I don’t have to climb up onto my theological soap box and protest someone else’s position on the song. I can apply my own view to the lyric as I sing it and take the song in the best sense of its potential meanings.
Lyrics matter greatly. Careful attention must be given to every phrase and every word. But, the lyrics of our songs can only carry the authority of scripture when they are scripture. When a writer uses metaphor and applies human attributes to our infinite God, some literary license has to be given. As a matter of fact, this is not a new issue. There are many phrases from older songs that create the same kind of concerns.
A song your church is using may be questionable in your mind. Evaluate it thoroughly against scripture – speak to the leaders about it if you cannot find a way to accommodate it. But, most of all, follow your own conviction and have patience with those who may feel differently.
You can be convicted without being offended. Love your brothers and sisters more than any song or lyric.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.