Should We Use “Oh Oh Oh” in Worship Songs?

While the trend has been growing for years now, I’ve been noticing that more and more songs (particularly fast songs) have entire sections where the singer just sings “oh, oh, oh” (and to a lesser extent “la, la, la”). I’ve been thinking as a leader whether this is beneficial for our congregation to sing and whether it is good for the global church as a whole. I’ve had leaders and friends in my life who have argued for them and against them. Let me lay out the argument the way I see it.

Why this is an issue

Before we look at the pros and cons of it, some may wonder why we even need to talk about it. There should be no part of a worship song that isn’t looked at. None. When we look at worship songs, we are looking at the tools that enable a congregation to corporately worship God in unity. Worship is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) purpose of the church and we should take the songs we sing very seriously. Every song teaches us something, even if it’s subconsciously. We need to look and ask “what are songs with lots of “oh, oh, ohs” teaching us and our congregation?” and “Is it helpful or harmful?”

Examples

Not every song with an “oh” in it am I dealing with. I think singing it here or there is fine. I am particularly dealing with songs that make entire second choruses of them. Here are some of the songs I’m talking about:

All of these songs feature (if not start out with) long “oh, oh, oh” choruses. Let’s look at the pros and cons of such songs. We’ll start off looking at the cons so that I can better argue both sides.

Cons

  1. Laziness in songwriting.
    I find (for the most part) that entire choruses built on “oh oh ohs” to be extremely lazy songwriting. As a popular satire video said, “all you have to do is sing ‘oh, oh, oh’ and you have a hit song.” Since songwriters put words in the mouths of worshippers, they should be carefully pondering every word of their song. Many times, what results from lazy songwriting is the congregation engaging in spiritual gibberish.
  2. Polarizing.
    The younger generation loves songs with “oh, oh, ohs”. Turn on any radio station (Christian or not) and you’ll be hard-pressed not to hear a song that doesn’t contain any of them. Many songs written by younger artists includes ohs. At the same time, many older artists do not. It was a rare thing to have a song that had a long extended “oh, oh, oh” section in it fifty-or-more years ago (Hey Jude from The Beatles were one of those songs). Many older worshippers don’t understand singing “oh, oh, ohs” to God. This is important. Since corporate worship is about everyone joining together and worshiping God, anything that would hinder an entire section of people from worshiping must be looked into. It is better not to do any “oh, oh, oh” songs than to hinder people from worshiping God.
  3. Untheological.
    I’m not saying that “oh, oh, ohs” are bad theology, but rather that they carry no theology. They are neither true or false. They are sugar. They are just a condiment in a meal. Depending on the “meal” (worship song/set), they may add to it, or they may take away from it. Relish is great on a hot dog, but not so great in chicken pot pie.
  4. Redundant
    I’m not sure is this is a terrible thing, but if “oh, oh, ohs” aren’t done well musically and melodically, they can be quite redundant. This only adds to the polarizing effect.

Pros

  1. Unity
    The greatest strength I see with “oh, oh, ohs” in songs is, if the entire congregation is engaged together, the incredible unity that happens due to the utter simplicity of the words. Sometimes, either due to a song being newer or too wordy, many in the congregation can’t sing along well enough to “sing in one voice” with the rest of the people. If sung with a deeply worshipful heart, I feel the ohs can add to the unity of a song.
  2. Heartfelt and heart-engaging
    Someone once argued to me that “oh, oh, ohs” in worship songs were pointless. I was quick to point out to them that if the heart is truly the thing worshipping, then it can worship by singing random syllables. In fact, I see it (possibly) in the same way as “singing in the Spirit” (also called “singing in tongues”). I’ve mentioned elsewhere:

    “I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.”

    While singing “oh, oh, ohs” is not the same thing as singing in tongues, due to the simplicity bypassing the stumbling part of our brain, I believe singing ohs can produce close to the same effects.

  3. Rejoiceful
    I was going to say that singing “oh, oh, ohs” can be fun (and they are when done right), but that didn’t seem like a good justification to use them. However, since we are commanded to rejoice, I see them helping us engage with that command. Laughter and joy are a part of worship, yet they have no distinct words, just sounds. If you are singing a celebration song, it may be good to allow the congregation to “take it up a notch” with some ohs.

Conclusion

So, now that we have looked at the pros and cons of songs with extended refrains of “oh, oh, ohs”, we can now ask: should churches sing songs with lots of ohs in them?

My personal opinion? It depends on your church and the song.

If the majority of a church is mostly older believers (let’s say >50 years old), I would advise against it. However, if the church has a good blend of ages (like mine does) then singing some songs like mentioned above are fine when used sparingly.

If the greatest part of the song is the “oh, oh, ohs” (meaning its the main purpose the band is wanting to do the song), I would advise against doing it, even if the church’s demographics are fine with ohs. We want to make sure that we don’t cause people to yearn and seek the sugary things or “condiments” instead of the main meal. Train them to yearn for songs with theology, songs that are built on the gospel.

If you sing deep, “full-meal” type of songs, a little sugar or “condiments” are fine to use here and there.

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Help To Better Worship

As a worship ministry leader, I often have to think about the congregation we’re serving. While I find there to be many reasons why people struggle to worship, both at church and in their personal lives, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest reasons why people don’t worship is that they don’t know how. I admit that it can be a little discouraging looking at others who seem caught up in a worship time when you’re not feeling or experiencing anything. Hence, I wanted to write a few tips I’ve learned over the years that will help people worship better.

Pray for revelation

The first and greatest thing we must realize about worship is that it is not something that we create. There is no such thing as self-sustained worship. The origin of all worship is God. We give Him nothing that wasn’t first given to us by Him.

Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:35)

If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? (Job 35:7)

When God gives us revelation of Himself, who He is and what He is like, our hearts naturally respond in worship. Our hearts can’t be still or quieted when we see God. It’s a natural overflow. Therefore the first thing we do when worshiping is to ask God to reveal Himself to us. God wants worshipers and is more than willing to make worshipers by revealing Himself to them.

Remember, be thankful, and praise accordingly

We are people with short memories. Israel was a perfect picture of this. Many times in the Old Testament, the author would write “but they did not remember the works of the Lord.” The Bible links Israel’s problem with worshiping God wholeheartedly with their memory problems. We should learn from them. During worship times, focus your mind on what the Lord has done for you. This will stir up thanksgiving in your heart, and thankfulness is the key to the door of praise and worship.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28)

Remember your salvation, how lost you were without Him; how He has forgiven your every sin, how He has protected you through every trial, pain and sickness. Remember His mercies and gifts He has given you — family, friends, a job, breath, and all things you need for life and godliness.

Think about what you’re singing

Many times the reason we’re not engaging in worship is because our brain is turned off. We may be singing, but we’re not comprehending what we’re singing. Take a moment and think about the words you’re hearing and singing. Think about how they apply in your life. If they don’t, pray that they would. Our worship many times takes form as a prayer to God. Certain statements like “there is none else that I desire but You” are biblical but are not true of our current life. Take those words and pray them while singing them.

If a song is describing what God is like, stop and think about it. Songs like Revelation Song are great to think about.

Follow the Bible’s physical instructions

Many times we look at someone dancing or shouting and wish that the Lord would “move us that way”. Yet, this isn’t how it works.

God created us and created worship. He knows what will unlock our heart and worship Him in spirit and truth, like He requires. The Bible doesn’t say “wait till you are experiencing the Lord in worship and then clap your hands.” No. Rather it says “clap your hands.”

There are physical things we can do, in obedience to the Word of God, that will unlock our hearts to love God more. When I lift my hands, it’s not usually because I’m overwhelmed. Rather, I lift up my hands in worship, like the Bible commands me to do, and then something unlocks in my heart and I experience God in a different way. The same with all the different physical acts of praise — dancing, clapping, bowing, shouting, etc — the more I humble myself and praise like the Bible commands me to, the more my heart opens to worship God.

Sing spontaneously

Even though we may do the physical acts of worship, there are times where our heart is cold and unengaged. I have found two remedies for this problem.

  1. Sing spontaneously
    To engage my heart, sometimes I need to stop singing the words everyone else is singing and sing my own song to God. I call this “letting your heart sing.” Many times it is just giving thanks to God in song, singing my testimony and singing about His recent faithfulness in my life. Sometimes I just sing to Him how much I love Him. Sometimes I open the Bible, particularly Psalms, and sing some lines I read there. 
  2. Sing in tongues
    While I do not believe that all people have the gift of tongues (per Paul), I do believe it is a gift and a often given one to people. I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.

Do it often

Although worship is not self-sustained, the act of engaging your heart is like muscle memory. The more you do it, the easier and more subconscious it becomes. Worship every chance you get — in the morning, in your car, during breaks at work, on your way to church, etc. The more you do it, the more you remind your heart where its focus should be continually on.

Worship Like A Son

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (Psalm 100:4 ESV)

I’ve been serving in the worship ministry for over 18 years. In that time, I have frequently heard the verse above as our highest protocol and path to enter worship. It’s been said that it is the reason churches start their song sets with fast, upbeat songs of praise and thankfulness well before any slower songs of love and worship. Many times the worship leader/speaker will say that we have to make our way into the Lord’s presence before we worship Him, and this is the biblical way to do it.

While I believe this scripture is right to follow and believe in (since it is part of the Bible), I think we must remember the context of it. This psalm and instruction was written to Old Testament Israel. They were not saved or redeemed. Rather, they did have to enter the gates and courts each time they wanted to worship God. They were not subjects of the kingdom but were rather guests that we occasionally let in to worship the King.

It’s easy to get in the same mindset as them. It’s easy to follow a formula. But the New Testament tells us that things have changed for those who believe in Jesus.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV)

The gospel transforms us from enemies to friends, from guests to sons/daughters. We are not outside the Kingdom anymore. Rather, we are seated with Him where He is. I feel like, that sometimes, we want to cast ourselves out of the kingdom, based on our unworthiness, and start a long process of earning and working our way back to Him by our laboring praise and formulaic thanksgiving. This is not the case. While we are completely unworthy, Jesus by His grace and kindness, has welcomed us in as family, not based on our merit but His.

Now I think in our personal, private lives, Psalm 100:4 is a great help in aligning our mind and heart to focus and worship God. In fact, Paul gives us a very similar charge like that in the psalm:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)

The difference is mindset. We rejoice, pray, and give thanks as an overflow of being children, not as a formula to get into His presence as guests. So stop casting yourself out of the kingdom and worship Him as a child of God. You’re right there with Him.

Worship Plotting

I read this post yesterday:

Disney’s chief technical officer Andy Hendrickson argued that the studios need to focus almost exclusively on the sort of “tentpole” films that can attract as broad an audience as possible—the sort of film, in other words, that succeeds almost exclusively thanks to brand recognition or CGI gimmickry. “People say ‘It’s all about the story,’” Hendrickson said. “When you’re making tentpole films, [nonsense].”

Although I am a big movie buff and am unhappy about this, my mind and heart started drawing ties from this post to the current worship leading condition in many churches. I feel like many worship leaders, especially those younger or ones trying to be more cool or relevant, are trying to enforce a worship formula based on results from “tentpole” churches. Here’s how the situation usually goes:

  • A worship leader will encounter an amazing worship experience (usually from one of the 10-12 “tentpole” churches) either by conference, album or DVD. Usually this experience is from a large venue with thousands singing, shouting and going crazy for Jesus.
  • The worship leader will see how people are responding, engaging and being ministered to by a certain song or moment in the service.
  • The worship leader will then decide to copy the experience as close as possible to recreate that moment for his/her church. This could mean doing a certain song, adjusting sound and lighting, changing the stage design or changing the worship team’s attire.
  • When the new song is sung at church, it falls flat leaving the worship leader trying to hype (or “encourage”) the congregation to worship and respond like the other church did.

I feel we are throwing away the uniqueness, diversity and the story/plot of our churches and replacing them with a formula based on exciting “tentpole” churches, thinking that it’s what the Lord desires. We end up “plotting” worship services but throw away the “plot” of our own churches, replacing it with another church’s plot. The Lord desires something real, something true. The story/plot in worship is the realness and trueness of worship. It’s teaching the congregation to worship and engage with God with deep emotions during the most simple and stripped down times.

If your congregation can’t worship without the “gimmicks” such as the new songs, the driving beat, the crazy lights or the energetic motions — then your congregation doesn’t know how to worship. You’re manipulating them into a frenzy, but even if they respond, it’s not true worship. It’s just hype. Likewise, if you’re congregation can’t worship with newer songs made in the last 5-10 years or worship when there are no words at all (spontaneous instrumental times), there are still things to teach your people regarding worshiping. Worship isn’t just about engaging with songs/styles that you’re comfortable with. It’s about worshiping God like He deserves, regardless of anything else.

Worship is taught and then it is caught. If you congregation isn’t worshiping like they ought, it’s not a programming issue. It’s a teaching issue. It’s a revelation issue.

I challenge younger worship leaders to sometimes take a break from the new, exciting concert worship songs and begin cultivating and teaching worship that is unique to your church, not just a copy of anothers. If every church only sung “I Love You Lord” truly and deeply, it would be a different and unique experience in each church. it’s the beauty of the body of Christ and its individual members. Churches don’t need manipulation or the right setting to worship, they just need Jesus. As leaders, let’s stop plotting how to make our worship experiences like another church’s and instead let’s teach them about Jesus and how to encounter Him.

Worship = Intercession = Our #1 Priority

What is a worship team’s first and main responsibility: engaging with God or leading people?

This question is probably the greatest and most argued question in the Christian worship world. Many sermons, commentaries and conferences spend their time debating whether worship teams and leaders should make their main focus seeking God or whether they should focus on the congregation they’re leading.

Before I try to answer this question, we must talk about the three kinds of worshipers that come to a church every service:

The white-hot worshiper

This is the person that comes to each service ready and prepared to worship. These worshipers are what I call “the worship team encouragers.” They are passionate, alive and in love with Jesus and whether they physically express it in their praise to God, their heart is engaging with God before the first note is played or sung.

The “smoking flax” worshiper

This is the person that comes to a service a bit unfocused and distracted or a little cold of heart and lacking in passion. This person will usually engage in worship by the end of the worship set, it just takes several songs before they’re heart comes alive. These people love Jesus greatly, but they struggle choosing to push through the worries, troubles and pressures of their lives in order to worship corporately.

The cold-hearted or unsaved

This is the person who either does not know Jesus or is so cold feeling towards Him. They come to church services either out of duty or to soothe their conscience. They may like or not like the music, the lights, sermon, songs, but regardless of what their opinions are, their hearts are unengaged.

(Note: It is not our job to judge what category each person that comes to church is in. We only need to be aware of the different categories for the sake of planning and prayer.)

Now upon looking at these three types of worshipers, we must ask what is the solution and answer for all three types. What is the answer for encouraging white-hot worshipers, re-igniting “smoking flax” worshipers and birthing love into those who are cold or unsaved? Lights aren’t the answer. New songs with driving guitars isn’t the answer. Using the best skill and talent available isn’t the answer. The only thing that can engage all three types of worshipers is the presence of God. Only an encounter with the Lord can encourage, re-ignite and break through to the heart of all types of worshipers.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8 ESV)

There’s a powerful thing that happens when we worship and draw near to God (whether indivdually or corporately). The Bible says that God draws near to us. His presence comes close to our hearts. The God who is a consuming fire, the fountain of joy and the healing balm comes close to us, engages and ministers to us when we worship Him. People who are struggling with addictions, shame or a host of other issues are set free when God draws near.

When a congregation seems not to be stirred to love and worship, the most loving/merciful thing a worship team can do is to love God without reserve; a love that removes all hinderances and distractions and focuses on God. Why? Because even if the worship team are the only ones truly loving God that service, God will still draw near to the entire congregation. That’s why we say in our church:

Worship is the highest form of intercession.

When we lead worship (instead of following people’s emotions for that service), we are reaching out to God asking Him to come and minister and touch His people. We are asking for the rain of the love of God to come and soften the hearts of His people to receive the Word that is to be preached that service. We are standing in the gap for those who are bound and can’t cry out for themselves.

I believe that you can focus on people during worship and still worship God as long as we are not taking ques from the congregation concerning how passionate we should be. Whether or not the congregation is stirred, we should give God our all, because after all is said and done, we are ministering to an audience of One. Our greatest hope and prayer should be that as we worship God with all that we are, He would draw near not only to us, but to all those who are following us. That is our #1 cry, hope and focus.