Several years ago, Mark Snyder shared this great songwriting approach with TWC. It’s a great way to look at the songs we’re writing for worship and also a great way to analyze songs that we’re including in our Sunday Setlists from other writers.
Worship songs are an area of vastly differing opinions. Evaluating what works and what doesn’t can be very subjective. One sentiment I hear and read all the time is ‘let’s take the focus off of us, or I, or me, and put it on God, where it belongs.’ In many ways, this is a push back on the effects of a ‘generation me’ culture. But, to figure out why a song leaves this impression is not as easy as it sounds.
As a career software engineer who is also a worship songwriter, I try to allow my analytical side to influence what I do musically. When I am songwriting or considering songs for my set list or recording projects, I like to think in terms of an analytical measure of a song I call the God Quotient (or GQ for short). GQ is a way to look at a song and try to evaluate its real focus.
Each song we use for corporate worship has a certain amount of creative energy expended to write it, and a focus it brings to the congregation. It is useful to examine where the creative energy of a song is strongest. Assuming a song is well written, theologically sound and grounded in Biblical truth, I like to then evaluate a song along several scales to look at its GQ.
I look at each lyric, especially focusing on the pronouns that describe me, or us, but also the ones that describe God. Repeated lyrics get more weighting. I also look at where the song has its strongest musical moments (typically the chorus and bridge) and what those are saying. Here are some contrasts I typically draw:
Feeling versus Fealty
This one is probably the most controversial, because we like to write and sing from the heart. Many worship songs spend a lot of creative energy on how we feel.
“I love to bring You praise”
“I eagerly run toward You”
“I feel liberated”
“Your Spirit moves me”
These are good sentiments that express our heart toward God, but what we hear way less of is our duty toward God, our obligation toward God, our obedient response to God.
“I willingly keep Your commands”
“I listen for Your voice”
“I will love the poor because You do”
“I will glorify You in everything”
I judge a songs GQ score higher if it can offer a response that urges me toward action and not only toward emotion, because God is a God of action and we are His hands and feet to carry it out.
Problem versus Provision
We expend vast creative energy describing our problems.
“In the deepest, darkest night”
“When the storm is rolling in”
“When I am in the valley and I cannot go on”
The Psalms do a lot of this. We need to express our need to God, but His provision is always greater than our need. How much creative energy do our songs bring to describing His provision?
“Your sufficiency is infinitely greater than my fear”
“Your willing death overcame all of sin’s pain”
“You faced the cross because I was a sinner and was lost”
“Your Heaven is my real, amazing home”
A songs GQ is higher if its creative energy is spent more on who He is and what He provides, and less on our need.
Response versus Renown
This is primarily focused on the actions of a song – its verbs. What are they telling us? Are they all about our response?
“I joyfully lift You higher”
“Our earnest praise rises to You”
“I worship You humbly”
All of these things are great attributes of our response, and they are necessary. But what about the attributes of Him, and who He is?
“You are infinite”
“You are eternal”
“You created everything”
“You rescued Your people”
“You sacrificed everything to save us”
When a song gives Him the renown He is due its GQ is higher.
Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. Some low GQ songs are great. Many Psalms are low GQ.
However, if the majority of our set list consistently rates low on the GQ scale, you can probably be sure the worship music will generate the kind of comments I began the article with. The songs we sing will be ‘me’ focused, and we will not impart as many great treasures from His Word as we might otherwise. We should strive for, at a minimum, a balanced GQ in every song, and it never hurts to have a high GQ. But low GQ can be a problem.
Why is this important?
Why not just worship and leave this kind of analysis aside? For me, anyway, it is simple. God wants to speak His truth into our congregations, and our worship music is one vehicle for that. He wants to see His bride on fire for who He is, what He wants to do. He wants to see His truth, as He gave us in His Holy, inspired Word, made manifest, so that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess who He is, hopefully now, before it is too late.
If worship music is to be a part of His Bride’s mission, then its focus should be where it belongs – on Him.
Mark Snyder is a longtime worship leader, software engineer, and lead songwriter for the Tree Hill Collective (www.treehillcollective.com). He runs the web site www.weekendwarriorworship.com as a resource to provide songs for the church from its weekend warrior songwriters, focusing on the art of the worship song as it applies to the worshiping church of all ages.