The Danger of Lazy Lyrics

Posted by Craig Borlase on 21 February 2018

We live in a world where we are all encouraged to be storytellers. Trouble is, we’re just not very good at it.

You want proof? Just look at some of our lyrics. Seriously, flick your radio on and the chances are you wont have to skip through more than a handful of stations before you find some meaningless platitudes being spewed out above a fairly tasty sounding beat.

But if that’s the deal with mainstream music, what about worship? Are we on firmer ground?

According to Eugene Peterson – author of The Message – we’re not. He believes that the church is experiencing a word-crisis. The problem is serious and it is spreading, and it has a name; cliché. It seems that we’re getting seriously weighed down by the stuff.

But this isn’t just a complaint about bad poetry or poor rhymes. According to Dr Peterson, there are times when our words are deeply offensive to God.

“A cliché is as bad as a blasphemy,” he is quoted as saying while being interviewed for the Church Times some while back.

He highlights tired old phrases like ‘Jesus saves’, ‘born-again’, ‘God is love’ and ‘All things work together...’ as “pious conventions” which, once they’ve lost their freshness, lead to us taking the name of God in vain.

“Passionate words of men and women spoken in ecstasy can end up flattened on the page and dissected with an impersonal eye,” he warns. “Wild words wrung out of excruciating suffering can be skinned and stuffed, mounted and labeled as museum specimens.”

Telling Christ's Story

So what does it mean to tell Christ’s story well?

For Matt Redman, it meant facing up to the fact that his early assumptions about songwriting had been slightly misleading:

“For a long time I equated spontaneous with more spiritual. I thought that the quicker something landed on you the better it was.”

In time he learnt to appreciate the value of crafting songs of worship, working hard to say the right thing in the right way.

The choice of lyrics is a serious business. It certainly is for Stuart Townend, who in the process of completing In Christ Alone wrote a ton of verses, before whittling it down to the final four.

“Whenever I’m writing songs I tend to write a lot of lyrics. It always seems to work this way. I’ll look at scriptures and write, almost getting into a stream of consciousness thing. Part of writing is working out what the song is about. It takes me some time to get to grips with what the song’s about. So you look for patterns. Then you begin to work out what the theme is, taking your time to narrow it all down.

“When you know where you think the song is going you can then start compressing in order to make it count, to make it richer so that you're not filling it with things that don’t count. You make it richer by trimming out the things that don’t belong. 

“You don’t want to fill it with things that don’t really say anything. That’s why In Christ Alone went from twelve verses down to four. I always think that you should be able to say in ten words or less what a song is about. In Christ Alone is about the difference that Christ’s life, death, resurrection makes to us all. That’s at the core of the song, that’s the journey that we hope that people will go on when they sing it.”


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