Posted by Craig Borlase on 11 October 2013

Do you consider lyrics to be set in stone, or are they merely a starting point for worship? Do you change words of songs to make them better suit your congregation, or do you consider such action to be off-limits? Does the fact that you’re using songs in worship overrule copyright?

We all have pet peeves when it comes to worship lyrics, don’t we? For me, it’s that line in ‘Away In A Manger’ where we sing about the tiny baby Jesus being perfectly silent. Eugh. And then there’s the lyric about how ‘I love your kisses’. Both find me in a temporary silence of my own when they come up on the screen. 

But do you ever change the lyrics themselves? Do you tweak words to make them more gender-neutral, or are there lines that simply don’t match your own church’s particular theology? Would you rewrite a line, or add your own lyrics to help break the cycle of lyrical repetition? 

Maybe you do. Maybe you see the lyrics of worship songs as being tools for the Church at large. Yes, you know that there’s that little thing called copyright, and you make sure your church pays what it owes, but in your mind the call to worship shouts louder than the need to comply with these particular laws. Maybe you think it’s crazy that we have let ourselves get into the position where we’re afraid of the songwriter’s lawyers when we set up for worship. So, yes, of course you change lyrics without permission. After all, Jesus did, so why wouldn’t you?

Or are you on the other side of the fence? Do you see copyright as an important - even vital - element in the worship life of the church? Do you obey the rules and write to the copyright holders, asking for permission on the occasions that you do want to change the lyrics? If they deny your request, you’ll comply and either stick with the original lyrics or choose another song. Of course worship is about more than following the law, but it shouldn’t ever be on the wrong side of it, should it?

Over to you.

PS - If you’d like to read a little more about this, there’s an interesting article on The Christian Century.

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