God is so much more than a dude.
While God the Father is a beautiful and scripture-supported metaphor for God, a quick listen to a majority of Christian worship music could cause you to think that “Father” is the most complete description of our God. But the Bible offers so much more for us to work with! If you’re looking to explore this or are deconstructing your view of a male God (yay you!), check out this podcast or this bible verse where God is described as a female bird.
This isn’t just about being theologically accurate, though. Hidden in the one-dimensional image of God is the fact that the Christian church has long been a refuge for misogyny. Ill-intentioned men have co-opted the male image of God to reinforce sexist practices, forcing submission in women and taking away their agency in the church and at home. It has led to inequality and even violence. We must use our tools as worship leaders to empower marginalized identities and trample systems of inequality.
So if you’re a worship leader who works at a church that uses exclusively male pronouns and you’ll probably get in trouble for this (been there!), or you’ve recently realized that God is more than a dude and that your worship repertoire needs an overhaul (done that!), or you’re at a church that freely flips between gendered and non-gendered pronouns for God (what’s that like?), let’s work together to build a worship culture that lifts up a God that doesn’t just look like Zeus. Your worship will be richer when you do.
Here’s what I’m learning on my journey towards de-gendering God.
This all starts with a reorientation of what you look for in worship music. If you want to offer a vision of a “not just male” God, your song searching and setlist creation need to prioritize that vision. The male image of God is so prevalent in Christian music that it’s easy to miss the He, His, and Him references. Train your ears to perk at male language, and invite yourself to find alternatives.
I had to say no to Good Good Father, arguably one of the most popular worship songs of the last five years. Contemporary Christian Music charts be danged — Good Good Father hinges on the singular maleness of God, and every verse crescendos into just that point. It unbalanced my repertoire.
A great way to easily find gender-free worship songs is to seek out “You” language. A lot of songs that refer to God as “You” are safer bets for gender-neutrality. Plus, they contribute to a more intimate worship atmosphere anyway by singing to God instead of about God. The songs on my Progressive Worship Spotlight are gender-free, so if you’re looking for new ideas, check them out. Hot take: I’ve come to equate male pronouns for God as weak songwriting.
Build your set lists with gender ratios in mind
When you look at your set list on a particular Sunday, what kind of God picture do the songs paint?
Say you have seven songs each Sunday. If four of your songs feature a male God, then the picture you’re painting is going to look like Zeus. If one of your songs uses male language, but the rest are intentionally gender-neutral, you’re getting closer to a more nuanced and inclusive image of God.
It may be helpful to say here that Jesus songs with male pronouns are great! Jesus was male; no one’s arguing that Jesus wasn’t male. However, Creator God, Sustainer God, Spirit God — no genitalia needed.
Rewrite, and do it well
Plenty of our favorite songs can easily become more inclusive with a few pronoun changes. For example:
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
That he is Godthat God is love
This small lyric change turned this already powerful worship song into a real revelation for my worship band. I bet you can imagine which phrase is more worthy of shouting from the mountains and telling to the masses!
When you do choose to rewrite, be as meticulous as possible. Try to make these lyric changes just as good or better than the originals. Here are my guidelines for replacing lyrics:
- Stay within the original rhythm – Inconsistent rhythm will make the song feel clunky or incomplete. Don’t waste a syllable.
- Keep the language style consistent – The average Hillsong song will have a different lyrical feel than O Come O Come Emmanuel. When you rewrite, ask yourself: does this feel like the rest of the song?
- Take your time – We’re working with a scalpel here, not a weed whacker. Take the work seriously and dedicate some prayerful time to rewriting. It may take some playing the song in worship for you to find a helpful alternative. Stay open to how the Spirit leads you.
Worship songs aren’t relics, they’re tools. If you were a Hillsong cover band, or looking to present a Bach cantata, keeping the song untouched would be key. Worship songs are different though. These are the tools worship leaders use to help congregations connect with the Divine, which sometimes requires a bit of tinkering.
Write your own dang song!
Friends, we’re starting a movement here. The Christian music producers at the top know that songs which stick to convention and appeal largely conservative audiences (a.k.a. Zeus songs) will make the most money. But we follow Jesus, who had a few things to say about people who put too much value in things like profits.
If you’ve been waiting for that nudge to sit down and start writing some songs, here it is. Just start writing. It doesn’t have to be Oceans — in fact, it’s better if it’s not! God our Mother (Isaiah 66:13) blesses you and cheers you on.
Our God breaks apart any descriptor-cage we put it in. And yet She is as close as a mother, as loving as a Father, and as present as the air we breathe. Join me, friends, in guiding our congregations to expand their minds to the true wonder of who God is — which is so much more than a dude.
COMING SOON: I’m a progressive worship leader in a conservative church. Help!