“I” versus “We” Songs In Corporate Worship: The Case For “I” Songs

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Worship Leading

Stick around a worship music culture for long and you’ll hear someone say “The Church shouldn’t sing first-person singular worship songs. We should sing the plural ‘we’ because we need to get away from me and Jesus theology.”

But the book of Psalms is filled with “I” songs. We see examples throughout scripture of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in both singular and plural forms, so both are appropriate for contemporary praise and worship songs, modern hymns and psalm adaptations.

Here at My Song In The Night we’ll do a two-article series, showing the benefits of both types of worship songs. I’ll use my hymns Lead Us Back and We Are Changed when we examine “We” songs in corporate worship.

Today we’ll look at “I” songs. I’ll use Let Your Blood Plead For Me, below, featuring Sojourn’s recording of this song that I wrote with Jeremy Quillo and Mike Cosper. First, let’s look at Kristen’s My Song In The Night, which we wrote together. Here is the audio track:

Why Write A Church Worship Song Using The Singular ???
Is it wrong to sing “My song in the night” instead of “Our song in the night?” No. One goal of corporate (meaning “gathered/ communal”) worship is the spiritual formation of the worshipers.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs … (Colossians 3:16a)

Book cover of "Worship Words: Discipling Language For Faithful Ministry" by Debra and Ron Rienstra, published by Baker Publishing GroupPart of our spiritual formation includes learning the “devotional vocabulary” we need in our personal, daily walk with Christ. And only Jesus will never fail us. He is our ultimate authority, comfort, protection and salvation, so your personal relationship with him is important.

The Communal “I” In Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
From Worship Words by Debra and Ron Rienstra:

“… the lyric voice of the psalmist never stays focused on himself for long. The “I” of the Psalms always turns outward to consider the mighty deeds of God, God’s faithfulness to God’s people, and the way in which God’s relationship with the speaker is surrounded by broader purposes for the world.

“So when I sing words from Psalm 51 in worship (“Create in me a clean heart, O God/ and renew a right spirit within me) I am joining my voice not only with the others singing that day, but with thousands upon thousands of worshipers from ancient times to the present who have prayed these words. My “I” joins their “I” and becomes “we.”

So how does this play out? Hopefully you listened to “My Song In The Night” in the player above. You can download the lyrics/chord sheet and watch instructional videos for My Song In The Night here. Let’s see how the “I” turns outward:

We begin with an internal focus:

Oh Jesus, my savior, my song in the night.
The rest for my soul; the strength for my fight.
To you, O Lord, in affliction I call;
By day my comfort, by night my song.

An individual worshiper praising Christ and lifting her hands to the heavens We praise Christ together, and we praise him individually.

This is the reality for every believer, even when circumstances separate us from worshiping together with the church (perhaps due to illness, or living in a remote area). But the second verse and chorus, like the “I” psalms, praise Christ for his mighty deeds and his work for his people. The final couplet of verse two says:

In your darkest hour, I could not stay awake,
Yet still you pressed on to the cross for my sake

Now the singer, the “I,” expressly identifies with the disciples who fell asleep when Christ told them to keep watch as he prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night he was betrayed. Then the chorus dives into the action:

You sang no song at Gethsemane
But cried “My God, take this cup from me!”
Yet for sinner’s sake, you gave up your rights
And died for all wrongs, my song in the night.

He died for the sake of the unnamed “sinner,” an emblem for all of those Christ redeems from sin. He died for all the wrongs of his people. Now the singer has become the “communal I” described by Ron and Debra Rienstra. Verse 3 continues in the singular voice. It’s a story that Christians can claim as individuals, also feeling solidarity with each brother and sister who sings it with them:

Oh why should I wander away from your care,
Or fear for my future? You’ve made me an heir
(Adopted by God to the Kingdom of Light)
You conquered the darkness, my song in the night

Let Your Blood Plead For Me (and Us): another example
Sojourn’s Jeremy Quillo, Mike Cosper and I wrote “Let Your Blood Plead For Me,” another “I” worship song:

Unlike My Song In The Night, this song doesn’t provide a historical account from the Gospels but it does describe, biblically, the state of every person’s soul before they come to Christ:

Lord, how secure my conscience was,
And felt no inward dread.
I was alive without the law,
And thought my sins were dead.
My hopes of heaven were firm and bright,
But then your standard came
With a convincing power and light
To show how vile I am.

The chorus echoes the only cry anyone can make that will lead to salvation:

“Let your blood plead for me! Let your blood wash me clean! I believe — Lord, I believe — your blood has covered me.”

The second verse circles around and furthers the singer’s acknowledgment of their condition from the first:

My guilt appeared so small before
Till terribly I saw
How perfect, holy, just and pure
Was your eternal law

Again, although we wrote this hymn in the singular (based on an Isaac Watts text) the conditions described are universal. Sing it alone in your personal devotions or sing it together with tens, hundreds or thousands of family members in a church service — it is the cry of the individual and the song of the community: the communal I.

  • Next week: “We” worship songs, using the modern hymn of repentance and confession, Lead Us Back, and the praise hymn We Are Changed.

Top photo courtesy Chuck Heeke.

Bottom photo courtesy Sarah Horrar

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