Me and God vs. Us and God I have already been critical of modern praise & worship songs and told you why we don't sing them. This week and next I want to get specific about one of the critiques with the hope of helping us think critically about our song selection on any given Sunday.
One of the reasons I find mainstream P&W songs lyrically anemic comes when you ask them the question 'Who is singing to who here?' I examined the top 25 worship songs used in worship in 2012 to ask precisely this: do the lyrics speak primarily in 1st person singular voice (I, me) or 1st person plural (we, us)? More plainly, are the most popular P&W songs lyrically based around 'me & God' or 'us & God'?
This distinction, while seemingly semantical and insignificant, can be reflective of far more than simply our song's pronouns. It can be indicative of several attitudes and assumptions that we might not even be aware of concerning our worship gatherings. All get at the core question: What are we doing here?
Analysis of the Top 25 Worship Songs of 2012
Before we start addressing why I am so worried about these pronouns next week, let me show you what I found when I looked at the top 25 worship songs used in worship in 2012 (as reported by CCLI in reporting period 412). By listening to the first verse and chorus and looking at lyric sheets I was able to identify the following about the top 25 P&W:
First, nineteen of the top 25 are sung from a 1st person singular perspective (I, me & God) while only six are sung primarily from a 1st person plural (us, we & God) mindset. That's 76% in favor of the self-centered. I also noticed that these pronouns were expressive of the general theme of the songs. Meaning: 19 of the 25 songs were built around Me & God motifs and experiences.
Second, I also recorded whether each song sang TO GOD (2nd person singular: You, Thou, Your) or ABOUT GOD (3rd person plural: He, Him, His) and found that these are far more evenly distributed. 13 are sung to the divine 'you' and 13 about the divine 'God' or 'Lord' or on the topic of the gendered 'Him' (note: one sang to both).
Third and finally, it is worth noting that the most common from-who-to-whom combination was the 1st person singular -> 2nd person plural, or the Me singing to You construction. These were over half of the top 25 at 13 such instances. I would take a wild guess and say that this is reflective of pop-music's most common I Love You sentiment.
Now to show my work:
Analysis of top 25 P&W Songs of 2012 Summary: From: 6 of top 25 are from a 1stP perspective 19 are from 1stS
To: 13 are TO 2ndS 13 are ABOUT 3rdS
From -> To: From Me: TO GOD: 13 ABOUT GOD: 8 From Us: TO GOD: 3 ABOUT GOD: 3
Most popular worship songs of 2012: 1. Our God - 1stP -> 2ndS 2. How Great is Our God - 1stP -> 3rdS 3. Mighty to Save - 1stS -> 3pS 4. 10,000 Reasons - 1stS -> 3rdS 5. Blessed Be Your Name - 1stS -> 2ndS 6. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) - 1stS -> 3rdS 7. Revelation Song - 1stS -> 3rdS 8. Forever Reign - 1stS -> 2ndS 9. Everlasting God - 1stP -> 2ndS 10. Here I Am To Worship - 1stS -> 2ndS 11. In Christ Alone - 1stS -> 3rdS 12. The Stand - 1stS -> 2ndS 13. How He Loves - 1stS, 1stP -> 3rdS 14. Jesus Messiah - 1stP -> 3rdS 15. Your Grace is Enough - 1stS, -> 2ndS 16. Hosanna (Praise is Rising) - 1stP -> 2nds 17. Open the Eyes of My Heart - 1stS -> 2ndS 18. Hosanna - 1stS -> 2ndS, 3rdS 19. Happy Day - 1stS -> 2ndS, 3rdS 20. Holy is the Lord - 1stP -> 3rdS 21. Forever - 1stS -> 3rdS 22. You Are My King - 1stS -> 2ndS 23. How Great Thou Art - 1stS -> 2ndS 24. From the Inside Out - 1stS - 2ndS 25. Shout to the Lord - 1stS -> 2ndS
Next week we will talk about why this is important. Here's a hint, its something like parallel play vs. cooperative play and begs the question What are we doing here anyway?
This is part of a series called Sunday Noise which is aimed at helping pastors, lay leaders, music directors, and worship leaders begin to think critically and creatively about the music in their worship gatherings.