Lost Sheep

and Ice Cream Cones


Ever since I first heard Cory Asbury’s song

‘Reckless Love’, part of me loved it

while the other part of me didn’t.

Musically, it is brilliant. It has a powerful hook and a singable melody line. And most of the song makes my heart soar and connects me to Jesus. I love the idea that Jesus will kick down walls and tear down lies in order to run after and rescue me. As I write this post the song has had over 97 million streams on Spotify, so it is obviously popular.

However, two things made me stop and think and both are to do with lyric choices…

Helpful or Hindering Language?

Firstly, the word ‘reckless’ has become increasingly popular in worship songs in terms of describing Jesus’ or God’s love for us. When looking up the definition of the word on Dictionary.com it says it is an adjective that means “utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless” and has synonyms that include “thoughtless” and ”negligent”. For me the use of this word to describe the love of God and the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross is unhelpful in our theological understanding of that perfect, redemptive act. 

Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament. He is the long promised and waited for Messiah. He is the culmination and fulfilment of God’s amazing salvation plan for all humanity, a plan that you can trace throughout the Bible. So describing it as a thoughtless act, or a knee-jerk reaction to something is unhelpful in our understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done. Now I accept that this may indeed not be the meaning intended for the word as it is used in the song, but because this meaning is a possibility for the chosen word, it is best avoided. 

Would you like a chocolate flake

with your ice cream?

Secondly, reference is made to a story Jesus told, often called ‘The Parable of the Lost Sheep’ where a farmer has 100 sheep. One gets lost, so he leaves the 99 sheep he has in order to go and find and rescue the one lost sheep. However, my problem is that the use of this reference is mostly unhelpful to someone who is unfamiliar with the Bible story. In today’s post-Christian society where people come to faith having little to no biblical background, expecting them to know and understand this reference is a bit of a stretch. 

In the UK, the closest every-day reference to the term ‘99’ is actually an ice cream cone that has a chocolate flake in it. So if someone who is new to faith, or is still on their journey to becoming a Christian with no knowledge of the intended Bible story, they could easily mistake this line in the song to mean that Jesus left his ice cream cone behind in order to chase after them! Perhaps running whilst eating an ice cream is a little impractical after all.

Theologically accurate

And easily understood

As worship songwriters we have a responsibility to ensure what we write is theologically accurate as well as being easily understood. This means that we need to ask people who are better at knowing and understanding the Bible than us for help. To read through the lyrics of a song and point out any errors they may find. This could be a Pastor – if you are writing for a particular local church context, I would highly recommend involving your church leaders in this process.

A quote from Ray Hughes that was recently shared with me in a discussion about theology in modern worship songs on Facebook says “Worship songwriters, when you write a worship song you are not writing next year’s popular lyrics. You are creating the next generation’s language and understanding of God.”

This is indeed a big responsibility, but it is a responsibility that we choose to carry as a writer of worship songs and it is something that we need to take seriously.

About The Author

Matt McChlery has been writing songs for 25 years. After recording his first single in 2002, he won various awards for his songwriting and blog, racking up airplay on hundreds of radio stations around the world, including the occasional appearance on television. His songs are also sung in numerous churches around the globe. Songwriting runs in the family. His great, great, great grandfather, Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould wrote the classic hymn…

FOLLOW Matt McChlery

Unearth a new song