It seems that in the gospel music genre, particularly Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), there is a loss for words. We are listening to songs that may have four lines in the entire song that may be supplemented by someone providing ad-lib to the repetition of what is being sung.
What ever happened to songs with substance, songs with a message? At one time the typical pattern for a song would have been a verse or two with a chorus or refrain, and perhaps a bridge. Hymns oftentimes may only have verses, although many have choruses.
As a songwriter, most of my songs were born out of either something I was going through, experienced, or related to a scripture passage or some thought from a sermon. Most of them always had a verse(s), chorus and sometimes a bridge, and maybe a tag, which is usually a phrase from within the song repeated. Most of us have been listening to music all of our lives, and this is basically what we will hear in most genres of music. However, CCM doesn’t appear to follow the pattern.
MasterClass, an online education streaming platform comprised of experts in the arts, has an article for Songwriting 101 class. In this article, it provides the common components of a song. Songs are used to communicate a message, the message typically comes in the verse.
Today, as I was driving, a song came on and I only heard four words for the verse 3 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. But I believe that this only happens in the gospel music field. I don’t think other genres could get away with that, so why do we?
We, who know the true and living God, why is it that we are short for words? We have the words of life. There are sixty-six books in our book, the Bible. The Bible does tell us to sing a new song, so writing songs is encouraged. In Psalm 96, the psalmist not only tells us to sing a new song, but tells us what to sing about!
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.Psalm 96:1-6 ESV
There is much to sing about. This psalm tells us to tell others of God’s salvation, and to declare his marvelous works. We can write songs that lift up Jesus as Savior and Redeemer. We can write songs of deliverance, of lament, of testimony, and praise and honor to God.
A lot of what is being written today are what some may call “love songs” to God. There is a way to sing how we love the Lord. The psalms are replete with examples, but note in the following psalm, the psalmist tells why he loves the Lord.
116 I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”Psalm 116:1-4 ESV
Repeating the same line over and over again without giving the reason why, the message of the song misses the mark. The psalmist here tells us that he loves the Lord because he heard his cry and his plea for mercy. He tells us what was going on that he needed to cry out to God. Even in secular love songs, songwriters tell the reason why they love the person he/she sings about.
Gospel songwriters, we do have much to sing about. Let’s not be lazy in our songwriting. Let’s be salt and light even in our songwriting. The Apostle Paul exhorts that whatever we do, in word or deed, to do it in the name of the Lord. In another place, he says to do it for the glory of God. (Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31)
The congregation will learn the words. There is no need to dumb down our music. We sung hymns with many verses and memorized them. Have you seen the length of the song God told Moses to write and teach to Israel? It is in Deuteronomy 32. It has 43 verses, and it’s intent was to live unforgotten in the children as God’s witness against Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:19-22) It is a very long song, but it had a purpose.
Songwriters, we need the word of life, the wonderful words of life. Please write the songs with the words of life that teach us, uplift us, equip us, point us to the Almighty God who saves.