Do you love to have great conversations? We do to.
We think great conversation is built on common, clear language, and this was true for Martin Luther when he translated the Bible into common, clear language on September 21, 1522. Luther’s audacious move to put the Bible into the mouths of the common man not only changed Christianity, but it changed the world. The Reformation was not just a Church revolution, it literally diminished thought-dictatorship, and led to the free societies we enjoy today. What was the key?
He put powerful words into the mouths of common people.
In the well known Christian history book by Philip Schaff he describes Martin Luther’s work like this: “He listened, as he says, to the speech of the mother at home, the children in the street, the men and women in the market, the butcher and various tradesmen in their shops, and, “looked them on the mouth,” in pursuit of the most intelligible terms.”
This sounds exactly like the strategy note we put into the first Enter The Worship Circle album: we will write songs using the language of the common man. By common man we meant the every day Joe—not professional church-goers, not well-seasoned Christians, just everyday people who might have a chance to listen in on our musical conversations with God. Why?
Because helping the outsider is an act of kindness. It is an act of Christian hospitality.
When two professional architects are conversing about business they use all kinds of technical terms that only they understand, and between them this might be very important, but when they turn to address their clients—the people the serve—they drop the tech-speak and use the common language. It is hospitable, and it is also critical in the work of serving others. Many of us have become quite professional in the fine details and language of professional Church work and even worship culture-speak, but maybe it is time to turn and face the people we serve and find the words that will really help them understand.
Would you consider putting a little more effort into making your worship song selections fit into the mouths of “the mother at home, the children in the street, the men and women in the market”? We think it might literally start a revolution in your culture as common people are able to sing the powerful words of worship! Here are a few tips that have helped us along the way:
First, come up with a guiding principle for your team like, “If we wouldn’t say it to the barista at the coffeehouse, we shouldn’t be singing it in our songs.” We don’t have to be militant about it, but this kind of thinking will transform the way we approach our words and songs.
Next, instead of dropping some worship standards from our set that might not be so “common” in language, let’s just make the effort to explain them better—this includes vintage hymns. We would do this for the barista, we would say, “Now, what I mean by the word consecrated is …” and keep right on going. We could create a common language explanation before the tune, or we could sing an original reprise for the song that explains the more difficult sections in the common language.
Finally, write a new song. There is nothing better in our experience than encouraging the locals to put worship into the language of their locale. Whether we were teaching a songwriting workshop for non-English speakers in an Indian village, or for college students in the States, there has been nothing more powerful than hearing people sing their conversations with God in ways most natural to them.
What an incredible adventure we are on together as a worship culture, growing in new ways to help the outsider experience the amazing love of God!