One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about choosing new worship songs was to read the lyrics first. Since melodies and harmonies and rhythms and grooves have such a way of grabbing us, they can drastically affect how we perceive the strength of a song. Great melody? There’s a good chance you’re going to think it’s a great song.
I’ve gotten into the habit now of, whenever I can, reading through the lyrics of an album or a particular song before I ever listen to it. If someone recommends a song, before I look for it on iTunes or YouTube, I Google the lyrics. While there are exceptions, in most cases, without hearing the music, you’ll be able to spot a well-written song or a not-so-well-written song with more objectivity.
A great tune can turn a bad song into one everybody wants to sing. Likewise, a bad tune can turn a good song into one that no one has any desire to sing.
But I don’t think the problem with most new songs being written is that they’re great lyrics being set to sub-par tunes. Usually, the problem is either (1) neither the lyrics nor the tune are worth introducing to a congregation, or (2) the tune is catchy but the lyrics are weak.
It’s easy to criticize – and that’s not my intention. Rather, my encouragement to worship leaders who have the responsibility of choosing songs is to set the bar high – very high – for the kinds of songs we introduce. This means looking past a melody or a groove that grabs us on the first listen, and discerning whether the words of the song are equally as substantive.
Bob Kauflin taught an excellent seminar at the 2004 Sovereign Grace Ministries Worship God conference called “Choosing Songs Wisely”. This completely changed my thinking on this critical area – and you can download a free mp3 of his teaching here.