Say No to Woah

Imagine with me that King David had decided to write Psalm 103 this way:

Verse 1:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love
and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Woah, oh oh. Woah woah woah oh oh.
Woah oh woah. Woah oh oh woah, yeah.

The Lord works righteousness
 and justice
for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Woah, oh oh. Woah woah woah oh oh.
Woah oh woah. Woah oh oh woah, yeah.

Thankfully, and Holy Spirit inspired-ly, David left out the woahs.

What am I supposed to be thinking when I’m singing “woah”? To whom am I singing? Is this like a high school cheer or something? Am I telling a horse to slow down? I’m confused.

And my guess is that most (all?) of the people in the congregation are confused when a worship song breaks into a section of repeated woahs. For this reason, I tend to say no to woah.

In other words, woe be to woah. Or, woahs are a no-go.

In 1 Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.

It’s for this reason that as worship leaders, we should be leery of asking people to stop using their minds for a little while and just sing words that have no meaning. The melody might be creative and the recording might sound cool, but very little is being sung in those moments that will feed anyone or help anyone exalt God’s greatness.

Psalm 103 doesn’t need a section of “woahs” to give it a “lift” or a “hook”. It stands on its own. While worship songs are certainly not holy and inspired Scripture, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to have an expectation that they’ll be able to stand on their own as well, without the woahs.

10 thoughts on “Say No to Woah”

  1. Isn’t this one of those “secret OT facts” that “selah” is really a placeholder for “Woah oh oh”? Could have sworn that was covered somewhere. 🙂

    1. Hey Peter. From what I can tell, no one knows exactly what “selah” meant, but that it most likely a musical interlude for people to consider and respond to what they had just sung. Hopefully a bit more substantive than “woah”…

  2. Got it – so it acted like a guitar solo today. Chance for musician to play while everyone else listened and waited for the player to finish. Glad to know that things haven’t changed.

    (And yes, I’m just kidding around – I happen to agree that songs like this for worship tend towards distraction more than worship. Of course, the same can be said about songs with long musician interludes. Maybe it can be enhancing, but often it feels like a chance for someone to play for way too long.)

  3. How about ‘Oh Yeah’ ‘s ?

    I scrubbed them out of a song a while back and had to face the wrath of the band. If only I had worthily magnify to back me up then!

  4. don’t forget adding “baby”
    I about passed out the first time I heard a praise band sing this line:

    “It’s the blo-ooo–d of Jesus, baby”

  5. I’ll take it back a serious notch. I used to tease it the way you all do. I have to agree that, for the most part, we have a case of the bad parts of pop music leaking into the music of the church.

    That said, even at a time when I was against the “whoa,” I attended a Hillsong United worship concert. If you’ve listened to their stuff, you know that they are now the king of whoa. I am quite critical of Hillsong United for many things, but what I witnessed changed my mind about the “congregational whoa,” as I now call it. Basically, I saw it being used as a controlled congregational shout of praise. It was actually quite stirring and remarkable. I’ve personally wondered how to encourage shouts of praise in our congregations (they ARE biblical, after all), without having to go the route of raucous cheering at a football game. When the congregational “whoa” was sung at that concert, I heard a sound, high in the male range and low in the female range, that allowed for a true unison. It’s a powerful sound with a lot of people, and a very natural way to incorporate a “shout of praise” tastefully and appropriately in a modern worship setting. I did some more reflection on this in my concert review:

    My congregation isn’t the kind that would really fit a congregational whoa, but I now don’t totally count it out. Until I hear another substitute/way to incorporate shouts of praise without a lot of force, I’ve still got room for extended whoa’s in my mind.

    For what it’s worth!


  6. I think it’s absolutely awesome to be having a discussion like this. I think we should definitely be aware of how “whoa” fits into our local congregational culture and context. I remember first becoming aware of this conundrum more than a decade ago when I tried introducing David Ruis’ song “Every move I make”. Lots in our church were very uncomfortable with the na na na part in it, but the song really doesn’t work musically without it. In our case, we just used it sparingly. In that song though, particularly, the na na na part really intellectually serves the point of the song: Every move I make I make in you, …

    I’m kind of with Zac on this one in the sense that I think in some congregational contexts it works great.

    As to the verse from 1 Corinthians, I would counter with the whole idea that it says we do both, not that we can never do just one, or just the other. Right?

    Also, I would count the human voice as an instrument, right? Why can’t the human voice take an instrumental solo? And if everyone started clapping and dancing, … those are examples of human bodies participating “without words”. And how about throwing this verse in the mix

    Romans 8:26-27
    “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

    Isn’t there ever an emotion that you just can’t put into words and simply using melody does a better job?

    And I won’t even get into the hot topic of private prayer language/tongues …

    I guess I’m just saying I don’t see this as a very clear black and white kind of issue, but definitely something to be aware of.

    I do draw the line at adding “baby”! @Rich … you really heard this? I’m not trying to embarass anyone, but wow!

    Thanks for letting me join the conversation guys.


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