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Want to sing a story? Read a good one first.

People like stories. I'm always very surprised when I come across people who don't like stories. Whether it is a book or a movie, I love stories. And I think we all like good storytellers. Charles Dickens knew how to tell a story. Great Expectations? Now, that is a great story. 

Songs are like stories, too. And some tell stories in song better than others. Stan Rogers, a Canadian folk singer, told stories. And he knew how to weave them to draw the listener right into it. Gordon Lightfoot, another Canadian, has also told stories. When I drive to school, the only radio stations I listen to are the oldies and the country station (I switch away from the other when a song I don't like comes on ). Country songs definitely tell stories, and again, not all country songwriters are created equal. Sometimes, Christian songs remind me of badly written country songs.

One of the things I see in some contemporary worship songs is that they sing more about "my" story than the story of God. Now, I will concede that one of my favourite hymns "Be Thou My Vision", is a song full of "I" and "my, but it is one of those songs that sounds like a prayer to God, not necessarily one of those songs like the infamous "The Christmas Shoes." There is nothing wrong with such songs, but do they have a place in worship? Worship songs should sing more of God's story, not my story. 

I read a tweet by Fernando Ortega the other day that I really liked:

A songwriter should immerse himself in great literature. Poetry, novels, stories written by anyone with a piercing eye and beautiful words.

The fact of the matter is that some story tellers are better than others, whether it's a book, poem, or song. Go ahead and use the story motif to write a Christian song, but learn what a good story is. Learn how to use words. Here's a revolutionary thought: study literature (including the Bible) and music together.

There is a place for testimony, but when we gather for worship, our major focus ought to be to tell the story of Christ and what he has done for us. These days, anyone who can read a chord chart and write a few verses that prick the emotions is considered a songwriter. I suspect there may be a bit more than that. How about opening up a book of poems or reading some good books before putting pen to paper (or pixel to screen)?

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