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

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Worship Leading

Multi-colored Easter eggs from church Easter egg hunt We were all bad eggs, bundled together for destruction. Until …

Last week I wrote about the debate between “I” and “we” songs in corporate worship services. Some church leaders advocate against using first person singular songs in corporate worship because we worship with each other, as a collective body. Yet scripture includes many “I” psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In my previous article I wrote about the “communal I,” and how to use it effectively.

But perhaps even more of the leaders of the contemporary worship music industry support “I” songs so much that the ratio of first person singular to first person plural praise and worship songs is out of balance. This reflects the “Me and Jesus” theology of the American frontier and doctrine of individualism, prevalent from colonial times to our day. The biblical model, however, shows that

  • evangelism took place by planting churches — faith communities where people became brothers and sisters, sharing life together as adopted children of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
  • spiritual formation took place in and because God formed his people into “the Church,” the “bride of Christ.”

So when we come together, of course we should sing plenty of “We” songs. And these don’t have to be generic, weak, abstract expressions of praise. Everything we can express as “I” we can express as “we” – praise, lament, repentance, confession, celebration, offering, dedication and devotion. Let’s look briefly at two of my own modern hymns: one expressing corporate confession and repentance, the other expressing corporate praise and celebration of our assurance in Christ.

“We” Songs In Worship: Repent And Confess Together:
I wrote the hymn text to “Lead Us Back” in trochaic 77.77D meter, and Brooks Ritter wrote the music.

Some would say that songs of repentance and confession should be “I” songs because we sin as individuals. But the Bible declares we are all sinners from birth, prideful, covetous, self-centered. And although sin manifests itself differently from person to person, we sin as a community and a society in many ways.

Lead Us Back” highlights three major ways in which the contemporary North American Church sins:

  1. We often place our own comfort over the inconvenient (and potentially dangerous) mission of Christ.
  2. We often show favoritism to those we admire or who can benefit us in some way.
  3. We often place the boulder of legalism in front of the cross, so people think (regardless of our intentions) that the way to be saved is to successfully navigate a list of “Do this/ Don’t do that” rules and regulations.

Shortly after we released Before The Throne (iTunes link here), the album that contains “Lead Us Back,” a pastor wrote to me that “Lead Us Back” is a well-crafted song but he couldn’t authorize his worship team to use it because:

No one in my church commits the sins you write about in “Lead Us Back.”

Really? No one in the church can honestly sing phrases like:

  • “Fences guard our hearts and homes/ ‘Comfort’ sings a siren tune”
  • “We’ve become a talent show/ Lead us back to life in you”
  • “With our man-made laws and creeds/ Eager, ready to condemn”

If we search our hearts, we can all see how easily we slip into sins like these.

Do you ever resist counseling a difficult person or helping a neighbor move furniture because you’d rather watch a movie while sitting on your couch? Would you get more excited about a pop star getting saved, joining your church and becoming your friend than a homeless schizophrenic? Do you ever come across to people as if you believe Jesus + something = salvation (Jesus + no alcohol. Jesus + good deeds. Jesus + no “secular” music …)
Worshipers standing and singing together at Christian worship service Many members, but one body …

Repentance is not a one-time thing for the unbeliever. We must practice repentance daily. This can include songs of repentance, sung together with our church family. Worship leaders and songwriters, this is where you can be prophets, whom every generation needs. Find or write songs about the ways in which your church needs to repent together, and then put those words on the lips of your people.

More “We” Songs In Corporate Worship: Singing Praises For Salvation, As One Saved, Ransomed Church:
I wrote the modern hymn “We Are Changed” with Dave Moisan and Neil Robins, adapted from the Isaac Watts hymn “Not All The Outward Forms Of Earth”. Although I’ve written here that writers should prefer writing in the active voice to the passive voice, I wrote the passive title “We Are Changed” on purpose, to show that we are helpless to save ourselves.

We all have reasons to praise God individually. And we all have a different story of salvation to tell (I publish new stories of salvation from Sojourn members each week on our church’s blog).

But here’s what we have in common, no matter how rich or poor we are, where we’re born, what we’ve done, which language we speak, which race we are a part of or which nation we belong to:

We are changed, no longer in chains
Once were enslaved but the Son has come
And conquered the grave, so we are changed.
We are changed — not by the things we’ve arranged
Not by the work our hands have done,
It’s through Your Son that we are changed

This is not just my story, or your story. For as many of us as Christ has redeemed, it is our story.

Christ prayed on the night before he was betrayed that his followers would be one, just as he and the Father are one. Singing together of our common salvation is an act of corporate spiritual formation — it forms us together. God has adopted us into his family “Through Your Spirit, through Your sacrificial Son.”

  • So worship songwriters and hymnists: write plenty of first person plural (“We”) songs for us to sing together.
  • Worship pastors, leaders and Minister’s of Music: look for first person plural worship songs — especially if your current repertoire is heavily weighted towards first person singular worship songs. Help your people to see that they are one body — the body of Christ, although they are many members.
“We” versus “I” hymns and praise & worship songs: The final verdict:
The Church needs both. We as individuals need both. A diet of worship songs that neglects one or the other will shortchange the body of Christ. Songwriters and worship leaders should mine the depths of hymnody and their own creative impulses, to give us worship songs that declare:
  1. Jesus is my hope, my deliverer, my strength, my song in the night
  2. Jesus is our hope, our deliverer, our strength, our song in the night.

Top photo courtesy Megan Lang
Bottom photo courtesy Chuck Heeke

Previous post:

Next post: