Good words + Good tune =

July 9, 2024

We invited Andy Fenton, Director of Music Ministry, to write a guest post for us on the importance of words and music together in worship. Andy has also posted this on the Music Ministry website.

In my youth, the ‘mix-tape’ was used to send a message to the one you were wooing! It was a collection of songs recorded onto a cassette tape, personally chosen, painstakingly edited and ordered to send the clearest message, voicing your affections for the recipient (the playlist of the 80’s & 90’s!)  Songs do that; a good song is a heady mixture of truth and tune, where words and music combine to great effect. That is why we often remember people, places and moments by the songs we associate with them.

But how should we understand the balance of this powerful combination of words and music in the songs we sing, as we gather on a Sunday in our church families? Understanding this tension and their combined function in song will affect our song choices, the ordering of songs; if we are musicians and singers it will affect our song writing, leading and playing. So, let’s consider the constituent parts of a song: words and music. How important are they individually and then combined?

Stating the obvious first…

1. Words are important

The top 10 words used in modern pop songs are (according to Google): baby, love, heart, girl, night, dance, life, time, world and you. Analyse that as you wish! It is given that words function to convey deep affections and objective realities; and despite the insistence of some to hijack pronouns, words remain the vehicle by which we receive and express truth.

Therefore, consider the words we sing as we gather on Sunday…

  • What words would be most used in the songs we sing?
  • What do they tell us about God?
  • What do they tell us about ourselves?
  • What do they convey to the ‘outsider’ as they come in?


One would hope that included in our top 10 words sung would be gospel-centric words that point us to the hope we have in Jesus  But do we miss certain ‘essentials’ in the words we sing? For example…

  • How many of our hymn/songs verses acknowledge the true depths of our sin?
  • How many songs use words to confess sin (e.g. Ps 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143)
  • Do we lament the brokenness of the world in song? (There are around 65 Psalms of lament)

If there is scant acknowledgment that this world is a groaning mess and that our sin is repugnant before a Holy Holy Holy God, then have we redacted our hymn verses to a point that is no longer in line with the songs of God’s Word?

I wonder: if we only allow our church families to have a cursory glance at to the realities of sin, hell and judgement in song, what will be the lasting effect of that ‘imbalance’’?

Words are important, so the words we sing, as much as the words we avoid singing, will convey something to our congregations and the ‘outsider’. My feeling is that over the last few decades we have sanitised our words to welcome the outsider (a good motivation) but perhaps to the detriment of the believers that gather?

2. Music is important

Hear it plain and simple from William Booth (Salvation Army); writing in ‘Good Singing’,

‘You must sing good tunes. Let it be a good tune to begin with. I don’t care much whether you call it secular or sacred. I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes, and, after his subjects themselves, music is about the best commodity he possesses.’

Of course, the term ‘good tune’ is a subjective criteria, dependent on demographics, culture, musicianship and many other factors, but we all experience the objective reality of the ‘good tune’ in congregational singing. A good tune to accompany congregational singing is fundamentally:

  1. …a tune that is easily learnt, sung and enjoyed by the majority.
  2. …a tune that helpfully ‘gives colour’ to the truths it is accompanying.

Clarity of accompaniment and melodic simplicity are important if we believe point a. But please note; a ‘good tune’ on our playlists at home might be enjoyable and edifying in that context, but sometimes that same tune might not be suitable for your Sunday gathering, because what works in our ears at home isn’t always workable, wise or kind to sing on a Sunday.

Neither is the chart-topping catchy tune a ‘good tune’ or suitable accompaniment if it doesn’t appropriately pair with the truths of God’s Word being sung. For example; it is hard to lament or confess sin to an uplifting, victorious tune; likewise it is hard to rejoice in resurrection hope, to a dour melody in a minor key!

“You must sing good tunes”

3. Songs are super-important

The songs we sing are more than a ‘good tune’, they are more than just words and they are not just Bible verses with an accompanying melody. They are a poetic, univocal proclamation of biblical truths, written for those gathered, to sing to the Lord with their hearts and to one another to build each other up (Eph 5:18).

Each part should stand on its own merits – good words and good tune. You should be able to read the words of a song without the tune playing, understand the logic of the song and be moved by the beautiful biblical truths it is conveying. If you can’t read a song without the highly produced accompaniment, is it really a good song?

We have been blessed with hymns and songs down the ages by greats like Watts, Wesley, Newton & Cowper. They have poetically penned good biblical doctrine and married those words to ‘good tunes’ and the result has been a great blessing to God’s church.

‘Good words’ joined to a ‘good tune’, form a song/hymn that is a potent combination, a gift from the ‘Potentate of time’. And in his ineffable sublimity he has allowed us to express our highest joys and our deepest sorrows, through the Word in song, so that it might dwell richly (Col 3:16). The church needs good songs!

 ‘The history of Christian awakening shows that whenever the word of Christ is recovered, it is received with great joy, a joy that can fully express itself only with songs of praise.’

Dick Lucas (p.155, Colossians BST commentary)

Good words + Good tune = Good songs

Read More…