Explaining Song Lyrics

Is it a good idea to explain or teach the meaning of lyrics of new songs during the service?

One of the keys to successful worship leading is for the worship leader to carefully examine and understand the lyrics of the songs you use. It is extremely important for the leader to do this because those who are following rarely will.

Sometimes it is necessary to explain some of the words before teaching a song. People from various backgrounds may have a different understanding of the same words. To alleviate this problem a quick, simple explanation (an “Amplified Version” of the song) often helps immensely. Of course, many songs will need no explanation at all, but there will always be a few that do. Obviously, your understanding the words is a prerequisite to an explanation. If you are uncertain about what a song is saying it is best to delay using it until you can clearly establish its meaning. (Better is to make decisions about which songs to use based primarily on the words, not the melodies.) This may seem obvious but I have seen many people who do not follow this simple rule.

Next, try out your explanation verbally with a close friend. This is to be certain that you are actually clarifying (and not “mud-ifying”) the meaning of the song.

In teaching new songs it is helpful if the lyrics are within the realm of experience and understanding of the congregation. Songs with a great deal of slang or hymns using ancient English will often not work well in certain congregations depending on the congregation’s cultural orientation.

Many of the hymns written centuries ago require a bit of study for us today to fully comprehend their meaning. This is not because the songs were poorly written but because the meanings of words and phrases have changed or the words have become outdated over the years. “Gladly for aye we adore Him” almost always needs an interpretation. And people will always wonder why we’re raising an Ebenezer. (Is this about Scrooge?!)

One of the important things to remember here is that music is an extremely potent vehicle. It can be used to lead or mislead, to guide into truth or into error. Through our music we have the power to properly teach Scripture and scriptural principles (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19) but sometimes we unknowingly use it to promote false concepts. Just as a great deal of secular music has taught immoral values to many people, our music must hold up God’s standard and the truth of His Word. To make this reality the people must understand the lyrics. Therefore, at least occasionally, yes, you will need to offer some explanation of those lyrics.