When I lead worship, I often sing the song, “Good, Good Father” by Chris Tomlin. But if I’m being honest, it’s just not that great of a song. It’s melodically and lyrically repetitive and simple.
The chorus says: “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are. And I’m loved by you. It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.”
I recently spent a weekend serving a youth group in a small town. The girls I worked with didn’t have fathers in their lives, so the song had a different meaning for them. God is the only Father they know. The song works as a mantra- phrases they need to say over and over because it’s just so hard for them to believe. For many Christians, songs like this become a starting place, a simple, childlike foundation for a new faith.
But for mature Christians, songs like “Good, Good Father” can fall a little flat. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As Christians mature in their knowledge of God, they need to grow in expressions of worship. That includes the language in worship songs.
A 2015 study from Eastern University compared the use of God’s name in pre-modern and contemporary worship songs. The study found that pre-modern worship songs referred to God with the names of the Trinity 52 percent of the time or as “God” 25 percent of the time, while the contemporary songs referred to God as “You” 74 percent of the time. The study also found pre-modern songs used group pronouns such as “we” or “us” at a rate of 50 percent, while contemporary songs used first-person pronouns such as “I” or “me” at a rate of 84 percent.
This simple study shows a deeper truth: modern worship is more self-centered. Millennials are so focused on individual needs and personal desires, selfishness has infiltrated our worship music. We like to make worship “personal.” We like to relate God’s character to our personal experiences. Yet we can’t truly know much of God from our own experience. When we hit rock bottom, our experiences won’t be enough to build our faith on. That’s why we have a varied collection of faith stories in the Bible. That’s why we gather as a church to hear other believers talk about the aspects of God they experienced. And that’s why we need worship songs with depth of language, expanse of words exploring God’s character from all sides.
I’m probably still going to play “Good, Good Father” and other modern worship songs because they’re simple and everyone can sing along to them. But I encourage worship leaders and students to listen to old songs, and maybe start writing new ones with a focus on God and His mightiness, more than humans and our personal problems.