Church Music by Mills and Boon

Last night we sang Martin Smith’s 1992 song, ‘Lord you have my heart’. Melodically it’s brilliant. I love the tune, even though it is a little ‘gentle’ for my tastes. Congregationally it’s so easy to sing because it’s uncomplicated. Theologically it’s orthodox and so it passes the CCB ‘soundness’ test! Devotionally it’s encouraging because it ensures that our relationship with Christ is not mere assent to theological facts but living dependence on a person. It’s lyrically that I have issues.

‘Lord you have my heart and I will search for yours, Jesus take my life and lead me on’

What was he thinking? I may be overreacting. It wouldn’t be the first time. But am I the only one who sings those lyrics and feels distinctly uncomfortable.

I don’t know Martin Smith. Never met him. I think he’s the front man for Christian band Delirious. But I’ve never bought into the Christian pop/rock scene so that doesn’t help me much. In all likelihood he’s probably a thoroughly good bloke and I’d enjoy his company. He’s probably a wonderful Christian man. He might even be a full on alpha male for all I know. But you wouldn’t guess it from those lyrics, would you?

‘Jesus … lead me on’ sounds like something that’s been cut and pasted from a the dialogue you’d encounter in a Mills and Boon. It’s romantically loaded. The somewhat overwhelmed younger woman throws herself into the arms of the slightly older gentleman and whispers ‘have your way with me’. It’s right out of the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ selection of Christian music. I accept that it could just me my twisted mind or an embarrassing over familiarity with the romantic literary genre, but it sounds to me a little bit too much like ‘Jesus have your wicked way’. I know Martin Smith didn’t intend that. And I do feel uncomfortable having a go. But I am. Gently. In love. And for the good of the church. And though he’ll never read this I wouldn’t want to discourage him in any way. I sympathise with the creative sensitivities of those who work hard at something and then put it out there for use only for it to be chewed over by a bunch of opinionated critics. But can we really encourage ‘Jesus lead me on’ to be sung in congregations where we expect men to feel at home?

32 thoughts on “Church Music by Mills and Boon

  1. Lauri May 2, 2011 / 1:56 pm

    The short answer to your last question is yes, sadly for now. After all there is plenty to dislike about Church, whether songs or otherwise that we are just going to have to put up with, particularly if we want to sing songs that are a bit more accessible.

    I said sadly because I personally don’t like quite a lot of the modern praise songs, not necessarily because of their rather “wet” nature, but rather because they tend towards expressing worship via that individual rather than the corporate and musically are not that interesting. Why not challenge our musicians to write their own stuff? I know we have the talent and you could feed into the process.

    The medium answer must be styled as a retort to the assumptions inherent in your post about male/female-ness: namely the same things you say about this type of music could be said inversely about methodologies that chaps like Mark Driscolls use. They use similar methodology as “shock jocks” and thus appeal to the rather more male slap your face/Sargent major type emotional security some men seem to need, therefore fit snuggly in the category of a type of male “mills and boon” emotional typology, which, I think it would be fair to say, makes some women (and men) uncomfortable. So I don’t see how offering a lite critique of Martin Smith is consistent with encouraging men to imbibe Driscoll.

    The long answer is I don’t know, but I think the beginnings of the right answer must be in counteracting the frigidity in male to male friendships and how men handle emotions and how we appropriately articulate them to each other or to our girlfriends/wives. C.S Lewis book Four Loves, particularly the section on Phileo is helpful hear.

    • theurbanpastor May 2, 2011 / 5:58 pm

      Lauri, i’m thinking of havin a rule limiting the length of comments – i’m sure yours are longer than most of my orginal posts!
      I used not to allow people to comment – I liked that; didn’t have to engage or have my opinions challenged!
      I think you’ve missed my point. I assume I need to be clearer! My point is not that devotional songs shouldn’t be allowed in church. They should. They must. But just not ones with lyrics that sound a little bit like ‘Lord have your wicked way with me’. That’s just awkward and suggestive!
      Your comment about Mark Driscoll’s ministry is, at best, out of left field. I’m not going to bite. My point about the inappropriate lyric doesn’t obviously lead on to a discussion about whether Mark over eggs a distorted view of maleness. He may. I guess his talk at the London Men’s Convention will give me a better idea.
      There’s nothing inconsistent about encouraging men to listen to Mark Driscoll when he teaches the Bible and avoid singing disappointing lyrics! I want to encourage men to be biblical and sensible in such a way that it shapes what they listen to, what they believe and what they sing.

      • Lauri Moyle May 2, 2011 / 6:50 pm

        No I got your point. (You are not talking about devotional songs, Amazing Grace is a devotional song as well…)

        I was talking about your point with regard to the possible ease males/females feel in church in relation to styles you are happy to critique and ones that you recommend even though the styles include elements that are equivalently questionable. (see the end of your post, but also throughout… mills and boon, men feeling uncomfortable etc…)

        These are my points expanding on your perspective, assuming that “mills and boon” are predominantly read by females, and given that you mentioned men being uncomfortable with that sort of lyric… well the gender issue should not go unnoticed and if you didn’t mean to take it there I wander why you mentioned it? But I agree that I am expanding on your original point so some of this might be stuff you might not have thought relevant.

        Sadly in your response to me you seem to have completely missed my point, namely that Driscoll has a “style” that is equal to “mills and boon” for men. Male emotional titillation if you like. (What does the London Men’s convention have to do with anything? You have recommended him to people at church before this. You have recommended his books to people on this blog.) He is an emotional Shock Jock… sort of inverse to a mills and boon…

        Furthermore, you make clear that the song by Martin Smith is Biblical (else you would not have allowed it in the service), so there is no comparison between Martin and Driscoll with re “bible truth”, hence with regard this issue and the LMC in relation to consistency is a moot point.

        Is that short enough for you? Do you need more clarity? What about the more positive point I made in relation to supporting our musical talent to write their own songs?

      • theurbanpastor May 2, 2011 / 7:55 pm

        OK
        this is why I don’t like the comments! i much preferred when I was just allowed to dump my opinions into the ether without needing to back them up or think them through!
        let’s respond to your last comment stream

        You say …
        No I got your point. (You are not talking about devotional songs, Amazing Grace is a devotional song as well…)

        I was talking about your point with regard to the possible ease males/females feel in church in relation to styles you are happy to critique and ones that you recommend even though the styles include elements that are equivalently questionable. (see the end of your post, but also throughout… mills and boon, men feeling uncomfortable etc…)

        I say …
        In general men are likely to feel more uncomfortable than women when they sing songs that fall into the Jesus is my boyfreind genre. In general, you note. Of course, some men might feel OK with that. And some women might be uncomfortable with that. But in general, I stand by my assertion that this type of lyric is unhelpful for men.

        You say …
        These are my points expanding on your perspective, assuming that “mills and boon” are predominantly read by females, and given that you mentioned men being uncomfortable with that sort of lyric… well the gender issue should not go unnoticed and if you didn’t mean to take it there I wander why you mentioned it? But I agree that I am expanding on your original point so some of this might be stuff you might not have thought relevant.

        Sadly in your response to me you seem to have completely missed my point, namely that Driscoll has a “style” that is equal to “mills and boon” for men. Male emotional titillation if you like. (What does the London Men’s convention have to do with anything? You have recommended him to people at church before this. You have recommended his books to people on this blog.) He is an emotional Shock Jock… sort of inverse to a mills and boon…

        I say …
        Mark is speaking at the London Men’s Convention this Saturday. That’s why I mentioned him. And why I thought you’d brought him up especially at this time.

        No, I got your point. I chose to go round it! I’m not really in a position to comment on whether Mark is the male equivalent of Mills and Boon for women. If by that you mean he’s been very successful in connecting with young men who appreciate straight talking Bible teaching then I agree. The talks I’ve listaned to have tended to be about church planting and mission and I’ve appreciated his un-nuanced approach which has given me cause to think and discern whether I agree with him. I’m happy rejoice in the biblical stuff that he sets forth and I’m happy to question the unbiblical stuff. But that’d be the same for anyone who preaches. I’m after discernment in listening.
        Do I think that Mark will appeal to everyone? No. Some, for example, may undoubtedly find him overly rigid and offensive, perhaps. But neither do I think Tim Keller will be universally appreciated. Some, for ewxample, may find him too professorial. God seems to raise up different kinds of blokes for different kinds of people.

        I’d ask whether you’ve read Driscoll’s book ‘Death by Love’. To characterise that as emotional male titilation would be unfair. I realise that you’re not saying that about that book in particular. But I think the pastoiral heart that he reveals in that book shows that there’s more to him than perhaps the popular view permits.

        You say …

        Furthermore, you make clear that the song by Martin Smith is Biblical (else you would not have allowed it in the service), so there is no comparison between Martin and Driscoll with re “bible truth”, hence with regard this issue and the LMC in relation to consistency is a moot point.

        I say …
        I think i’mbeing consistent in encouraging people to sing sensible songs and listen discerningly to MArk Driscoll, and anyone.

        You say..
        Is that short enough for you? Do you need more clarity?

        I say …
        No. Just sit at my feet and take in the wisdom! That’s not much to ask. Stop holding me accountable. That takes time and mental effort!

        You say …
        What about the more positive point I made in relation to supporting our musical talent to write their own songs?

        I say …
        Just imagine the personal care car crash if then I have to criticise their songs on this blog!

        every blessing bro
        looking forward to catching up about Cornwall
        perks

  2. Kip' Chelashaw May 2, 2011 / 3:12 pm

    My short answer to your last question is no.

    I think that there are so many other options for good hearty biblical edifying music that “sissfied” songs where you could almost swap Jesus with Alice need to be banned from our Sunday worship.

    Mind you I’m not saying don’t ever listen to songs whose content/form evokes feelings of being at a Take That or ABBA gig – please do but just not in Church.

    K

  3. Andy Woodward May 2, 2011 / 5:31 pm

    ‘Lord you have me heart’? Is he from Yorkshire?

    • theurbanpastor May 2, 2011 / 5:45 pm

      thanks for the heads up andy – it’s been amended!

  4. Phil C May 3, 2011 / 9:04 am

    I think I agree with you, Perks. There are other songs that are far worse, though, like that “Jesus Saves” song to the tune of Jingle Bells…

      • Phil C May 3, 2011 / 2:17 pm

        I’m not dissing Colin, I’m just dissing that song. The tune completely undermines the lyrics, and teaches kids that the subject matter is all a bit silly and jolly and bouncy bouncy. I mean, Jingle Bells is a pretty cringeworthy song as it is – singing about sin and redemption to the same tune is an awful idea. I don’t even think kids enjoy it really, unless they’re too young to understand the words.

  5. Lauri Moyle May 3, 2011 / 11:06 am

    Thanks Perks. Cornwall was great.

    I agree that elements of Mark Dricolls ministry are worthwhile. I never said otherwise though I guess I could have been more clear on that point. I am simply saying that he uses shock jock face smaking methods and I think that is emotionally titilating to some men as much as Jesus is my boyfriend music has a place but can also be a type of mills and boon for some women.

    But the larger question with regards to how men love other men, including Jesus and how we express that is important and it has been lost in western culture. What does it mean for you to love Jesus and how do you express that in worship? Or to put it in your words, what sort of music IS helpful for men to express that love?

  6. Phil C May 3, 2011 / 2:20 pm

    Are there any Christian songs out there that women would/do feel uncomfortable singing?

  7. James May 3, 2011 / 2:59 pm

    Hi Richard – it’s been a while since I caught up with your blog, and you seem to have been busy posting! This topic amused me, because I am both a big Martin Smith/Delirious fan, and I understand where he’s coming from, but I also get your point as well, as well as Lauri’s (I’m just an understanding type of guy!). For a former prop forward, I’m also quite into a lot of the gentler ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ type of worship music (it heals the deeper emotional wounds cause by all those beatings at the bottom of so many scrums by my fellow alpha males!).
    When you ask what is Martin Smith thinking when he writes ‘Lord you have my heart and I will search for yours, Jesus take my life and lead me on’, surely you understand and can chime with someone saying that his heart has been captured by the Lord, and he is seeking the heart of the Lord on any and every topic (surely that’s what we all do when we are seeking God’s will?), and he is asking God to lead him? I dont think he’s asking Jesus to ‘have his wicked way’ with him, though I realise that perhaps it’s the addition of the word ‘on’ to the phrase ‘lead me’ that might be miscontstrued that way, as in ‘leading someone on’ in a un-noble selfish non-committed fashion in relationship, but I think as a song writer he’s more just making the words fit the melody (and so cant leave it at just ‘lead me’), and the ‘on’ should be translated as meaning ‘on from here’ ie ‘forwards’, neither of which would fit the tune either. Perhaps it never occurred to him that it would be taken that way so didnt feel the need to guard against it. Are you sure you’re not just a bit sensitive having ‘been led on’ by a former girlfriend of something way back in those confusing teenage days (by one of those Monkton divas?! 😉
    I jest, but I think it’s just a simple problem of worship song ‘exegesis’, ie interpreting what the original writer intended the original song to mean to the original audience! I’ve not met Martin Smith in person, but I can assure you he’s a top bloke, if not a rugby playing classic alpha male!
    But as a former public school boy myself, strong on the intellect and the rugby field, but maybe a bit less ‘well read’ emotionally, I think there is more to what Martin Smith is saying here than just unintended inuendo and a simple request for divine guidance.
    In the christian circles in which I’ve meandered since departing from strictly anglican circles (about 20 years ago, though wandering back that way a bit in recent years), I’ve heard a lot of the topic of ‘intimacy with God’, through worship and prayer, both musical and otherwise.
    To put this in context, there are many illustrations in the bible of the relationship with us and knowledge of us and the knowledge of Him that God wants to share with us. As distant, proud, impennitent sinners, we may see a God, like us, who is distant, aloof, veangeful and angry. Once we get past that and see our sinful state and see him revealed as saviour, of course there is the relationship of ‘Lord’ and ‘Servant’, and that is the humility in which we come as penitents acknowledging an almighty God whose grace we need. But God quickly goes beyond that, revealing himself as not just Almighty God and Lord, and reveals another facet of himself when we approach him thus, gathering up his kingly robes and his crown perhaps discarded as he runs full tilt towards us as that loving father of the prodigal son, no longer content to sit on high but anxious to meet his children down where they are and bring them up where he is. So progresses our revelation of and relationship with God. So yet another illustration of the relationship God desires with us is that of Jesus the bridegroom and the passion he has for his bride, the church – yes Richard, on that great day of the marriage feast of the Lamb, you too will wear a wedding dress, as part of the corporate bride of Christ, when he comes for us! 🙂 Now we are getting into dodgy territory if we are going to discuss the dynamics of that kind of intimate relationship and the rich vein of imagery contained there, particularly if we are british and anglican – we could be all awkward, and jokily male about it, and we’d never leave the rugby club bar and rude jokes, or we, as males, can risk all, dare I say it ‘bare all’, and go into that place of intimacy that both God, and our wives, want us to go, where there are no secrets – where we ‘know’ completely, as we also desire/fear/long to be known, that place of ‘oneness’. To go there requires a level of trust, abandon, and vulnerability that runs well ahead of cautious, well reasoned and thought out actions, into a place where our intellect struggles to keep up assuming we dont abandon it alltogether in the ecstasy of that extreme intimate ‘knowledge’. Ooo-er, we’re into the real Mills n Boom stuff now, the pulse racing, racy stuff! We’re possibly getting into ‘experiential’ christianity, again, dangerous (or is it?) territory.
    I may have lost you a bit along that trail, but I hope you get my point. Along those lines, Martin Smith may well be saying to God ‘you have my heart, lead me where you will, and lose me forever, I have ceased caring what you do with me, I trust you completely’! Now that does indeed make someone very vulnerable to someone who does not have honourable intentions, and is indeed intent on ‘leading someone on’ and having his ‘wicked way’ – as is the case with the enemy of our souls, and hence many too-trusting souls are terribly used and taken advantage of when they give themselves to the wrong suitor/seductor; but when you fall in love with a saviour who has no wicked way in him, are you not safe to say that, and follow Him wherever he leads with all security?
    Dodgy ground for an alpha male – or is it? Surely a real man is comfortable with risk, even emotional risks, if he is emotionally healthy and comfortable in himself?
    There is plenty of material in the Song of Solomon in this vein, how about ‘my beloved is mine and I am his’ – there is much ‘Martin Smith’ song material in these passages! (if you think he’s bad, how about Noel Richards ‘You are my passion’, or John Mark Macmillan ‘Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss’ (not his words I dont think).
    I hope I’m making sense, I’m rambling a bit I know, I returned from a week in France last night at 4am after a stormy crossing in this windy weather!
    I know for myself this more ’emotional’ journey has been a necessary, healing one, my (once considerable) intellect being somewhat damaged and malfunctioning these days after crashing out of the public school/oxbridge fast lane and spending many years figuring out who that made me now.
    By the way, like you, I love ‘meaty’ worship music, singing the gospel, singing truth, for that reason I love belting out the timeless hymns, because they stir my mind AND my heart, I could probably do with more of those as I’ve had a bit much of the more ’emotional’ pop song style music in my diet for a while having been in Hillsong and more contemporary churches for a while. We need to build up and equip our heads AND our hearts and deal with both – different worship/teaching styles and methods help to accomplish this I think.

  8. Mark Murthen May 3, 2011 / 4:31 pm

    Perks,
    I think that it’s the combination of the music and the words myself that might make it seem a bit ‘soft”. If the song was more ‘rousing’ – would “lead me on” sound as strange? The other thing I noted was the song was written back in 1992. For a good while it seems like there was a lot more devotional songs written (maybe to address a need). Some were better than others, I think. But I once heard an interview with Martin Smith’s contemporary, Matt Redman, as he spoke about this very issue. Referring his 2000 song “You are God in heaven”, he wished that he’d not sung “Jesus I am so in love with you” – but stuck with “Jesus, I am so in awe of you.”

    • theurbanpastor May 3, 2011 / 8:24 pm

      Mark thanks for that. Good link and great little interview with Matt Redman. What a nice bloke! Humble.

  9. Sara C. May 4, 2011 / 2:30 pm

    Today I’ve been listening to some music from the Solomon Islands…I’d be happy to sing along with them “Jesus, hold my hand!” http://youtu.be/urRjuCWDnzs

    • Lauri May 4, 2011 / 10:02 pm

      Fantastic Sara, your genius on so many levels.

      • Lauri Moyle May 5, 2011 / 11:41 am

        I was being serious too Sara. I would love to sing some songs like that. Miss some of the singing I was able to participate in with in South Africa which was similar to this.

      • Sara C. May 5, 2011 / 10:46 am

        Hahaha! Brilliant as that is, I was actually being serious for once!

      • Phil C May 5, 2011 / 11:01 am

        Why have we not sung this at church yet?!

      • Phil C May 5, 2011 / 11:03 am

        This is wonderful

        “He is like a mountie, he always gets his man”

  10. Dave C May 5, 2011 / 9:05 am

    An interesting point and one which I, as a worship leader, am struggling with myself at the moment.

    There seems to be an increasing number of new worship songs that are, in essence, ‘cut and paste’ lists of Christian-sounding phrases without any coherent theme or message.

    I have written some worship songs myself and know how difficult it can be to express my own worship to God in language that doesn’t sound like cliche, but I think that our responsibility as writers is to try harder and not just put up with the easy (and usually bland) language that first comes to mind.

    Hope this adds to the debate

      • theurbanpastor May 5, 2011 / 11:26 am

        I’m with Lauri on this one – press on and serve us well Dave, thank you

  11. Keith May 5, 2011 / 10:55 am

    I do agree with the need for care in what we choose to sing. Standing out front facing the congregation, one can distinctly see (and share) the discomfort that many people feel with some of our songs – particularly the men. Can we have more songs that are:
    True to scripture;
    Less about ‘me’ (more about Him);
    Simple, clear and unambiguous;
    Melodic and singable.
    Please?

  12. Kip' Chelashaw May 5, 2011 / 11:37 am

    Keith,

    I think one place we could start is by learning and singing the entire Psalms and making them a regular part of our singing diet. This will have loads of benefits – we will get to learn and imbibe Scripture… we will by default be singing songs with Biblical content and we will acquire a biblical worldview e.g. after Osama’s death this week, might one rightly sing Psalm 58?

    K

    • Keith May 5, 2011 / 12:34 pm

      Kip,

      I’m sure you have a great point. It’s just a shame that more Psalms haven’t been set to good singable tunes. I never much rated those in the Anglican/RC traditions – they sounded much more like dirges to me. But twenty or so years ago there was a good fashion for setting scripture to new and very singable tunes. It’s sad that this robust treatment of the word came to an end.

      And if only we still had the original ‘Do Not Destroy’ tune to which Psalm 58 (and 57/59) were sung! It sounds strong and potent (and dare I say, ‘manly’) – not something to be ignored. And it’s instructive, in the context of your comment, that these three Psalms speak of mercy, justice, and deliverance respectively.

      • Phil C May 5, 2011 / 1:52 pm

        I like this idea, but I’m sceptical that the Psalms automatically work well as songs for us. You can’t just set any text to a “good singable tune” and expect it to work.

  13. Michael in Dublin May 7, 2011 / 11:37 am

    I often wish Christian songwriters would say in plain clear English what they mean and then check if it faithfully reflects what the Bible teaches. Consider the following:

    I can’t make it on my own without You here. 2x

    Even I stumble when I think I can run.
    (I can’t make it on my own without You here.)
    Even I fail when I think I am strong.
    (I can’t make it on my own without You here.) 2x

    ‘cause, You are the only One I can lean on.
    You are the only One with strength.
    Yes! You are the only One I can lean on.
    You are the only One with strength.
    I can’t make it on my own without You here…

    How different the old hymns by men like Isaac Watts and William Cowper. “The heav’ns declare thy glory, Lord” and “Jesus, where’er thy people meet” are so steeped in the Scriptures and their intent so clear.

    Thank God for those young Christian song/hymn writers who have moved beyond the syrupy choruses and endless repetitions to combine clear Biblical language with wonderful new melodies. We need to encourage them and to sing what grips our minds and emotions because it is centred on the “the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:11 NIV 2011)

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