If there’s one thing the last fifty years have taught us, it’s that making church music rel.e.vant. will get people back in the doors and their dollars back in the offering plates. A drumbeat a day keeps the congregational discernment consultants away, you know.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer some worship song suggestions from the pen of Taylor Swift, the voice of an angsty and churchless generation.
I’m Only Me When I’m With You (Taylor Swift)
What is this if not Blondie’s version of “My heart is restless until it rests in you?” It’s got youthful theological overconfidence (“I know everything about you”) mixed with poetic mysticism (“You and I are painting pictures in the sky”), and it’s the perfect tempo for clapping on one and three.
Hey Stephen (Fearless)
Sure, Protestants don’t usually sing to saints, but Stephen is in the Bible, and we have no evidence that he didn’t “look like an angel.” But what I really love about this one is its, um, delicate reference to Stephen’s untimely death: “Of all the girls tossing rocks at your window / I’ll be the one waiting there even when it’s cold.” Too soon, Taylor, too soon.
It’s not just the chorus (“We’ll sing hallelujah!” 2x), but the vaguely political apocalypticism: “These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down / It’s a revolution / the time will come / For us to finally win.” Perfect for a congregation to sing together even when half of them think the “walls” are corporate income taxes.
State of Grace (Red)
Your local worship band’s already got this one covered, because it might as well be the first draft of Phil Wickham’s soteriological banger “This Is Amazing Grace.” (Seriously, you can pretty much sing their choruses interchangeably. I heard that from someone else.) Plus it’s got a chill acoustic version in case your church is less reputation and more folklore.
Holy Ground (Red)
At first you think it’s Moses singing at the burning bush, but then maybe it’s Peter stepping out on the water (“it was good never looking down”), but then maybe it’s Satan tempting Jesus at the top of that mountain…?? (“we had this big wide city all to ourselves”). I actually like to think of it as a heartbreaking tale of David and Jonathan’s lost love (“I guess we fell apart in the usual way”). But since when have worship songs demanded coherent biblical theology?
Ah, a confession-and-assurance song. There’s something so awkwardly Christian about describing salvation as being able to breathe after drowning. (In fact, I seem to recall that that’s the preferred metaphor in Ted Dekker’s Circle series, which I was reading in middle school when I should have been listening to Taylor Swift, darn it.)
King of my Heart (reputation)
The song that inspired this post. A sea of raised praise-hands as the band drops out before the chorus, a heartbeat of holy rubato, and then the worship leader pours out the Spirit: “And all at once you are the one that I’ve been waiting for!” And if that’s not enough, you could always pass it off as Bethel Music’s song of the same name from 2017.
It’s Nice to Have a Friend (Lover)
There’s plenty in T-Swift’s catalog to cover the infamous Jesus-is-my-boyfriend category of worship songs, but fear not, she’s got something for the “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” crowd too. And it’s a little bit beautiful to think of God as a childhood playmate, a chalk-drawing partner—wait, they get married at the end of the song? Nevermind.
invisible string (folklore)
I don’t know how to explain it, but this song’s about predestination.
cowboy like me (evermore)
The Gaither Vocal Band gave us “Jesus and John Wayne” in 2008, and now T-Swift is here to assure us once again that Jesus is a “bandit … hustling for the good life” with skeletons in his closet and “boots beneath [his] bed.” Not to mention her one and only quote from the Heidelberg Catechism: “Dancing is a dangerous game.”
Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eva Rinaldi (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Josh Parks graduated from Calvin in 2018 with majors in English and music, and he has since earned master’s degrees from Western Michigan University and Princeton Theological Seminary. This fall, he’s starting a PhD in religious studies at the University of Virginia (so his plans to be in school forever are working well). When not writing, he can be found learning the alto recorder, watching obscure Disney movies, and making excruciating puns.