Know What Your Testimony, Song or Sermon Needs?

by Bobby Gilles

in Church Communications,Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Testimony Tips

Passion and correct theology, of course. Know what else?

Active voice. When you say, sing or write in the active voice, the sleepers awaken, the sluggish perk up and the perky dance.

Action voice conveys authority and conviction. Think about the inverse: when reporters catch businesses or politicians in wrongdoing, the offenders often issue statements like:

Mistakes were made.

No, mistakes weren’t made — you made mistakes (notice the dishonest noun too, “mistakes” instead of “sins,” “atrocities” or “felonies”).

In Active Voice, the subject of your song lyric is doing the action. In Passive Voice, the writer treats the target of the action as the subject, even though the target isn’t doing anything.

  • “We magnify Your name, Lord” (active)
  • “Your name is magnified by us, Lord” (passive)

Look how less compelling the titles of “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High” and “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” would be if written in passive voice:

  • Lord, Your Name Is Lifted On High By Me
  • When The Wondrous Cross Is Surveyed By Me

Yet we writers often slide into passive voice – not so much in titles, which are often too short to allow for such mistakes, but in the most text-heavy sections, like our verses. Look at these lines from “Jesus Paid It All” by Elvina M. Hall and John T. Grape. Then compare them to their passive alternatives:

“Sin had left a crimson stain” – NOT – “A crimson stain had been left by sin”

“He washed it white as snow” – NOT – “It was washed white as snow by Him”

You can see by these examples that passive constructs are often either awkward or vague, and usually more wordy than active constructs. But passive voice can be a good choice. For instance, passive voice creates a sense of mystery, which is why mystery fiction writers often employ it:

  • Suddenly, a shot rang out (passive)
  • Suddenly, someone fired a shot (active)

The passive sentence carries a sense of mystery and ambiguity.

I used passive voice in “We Are Changed,” a song I wrote with Neil Degraide and Dave Moisan, based on an old Isaac Watts hymn. I wrote, “We are changed” instead of “You change us” to convey our passivity and helplessness in the salvation process. God elects us because of His grace, not our merit.





Previous post:

Next post: