the great sloppy wet kiss debate :: preference, poets and purpose

September 16, 2010

Personally, I prefer a sloppy wet kiss to an unforeseen one.

I could just let that stand as my entire blog post, and I’d probably field a slew of comments… albeit far ranging in subject matter and context.

But if you have lead worship in a church with any contemporary leanings in the last six months, I’d bet you a ham sandwich that you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  I am referring, of course, to that great declaration of the love of God in the epic ballad “How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillan (or “JMM” as the church creative community calls him these days.)

I knew this song was a big deal.  I knew it the first time I heard it.  And then a couple weeks ago uber-blogger Carlos Whittaker posted a question on his blog ( about what songs really seem to be powerfully impacting local churches across the country right now.  Hundreds of worship leaders, pastors, and lay people commented and left their lists of what God seems to be blessing and using right now to speak to his church.  At the top of the list?  Yep.  “How He Loves.”

The crux of the issue of discussion comes in verse three.  Listen to these two brief examples, first in the original format, the way John wrote and recorded it, and then the updated version, as recorded by David Crowder:


     >> Original (via JMM):  Heaven meets earth like a SLOPPY WET kiss

     >> Updated (via Crowder):  Heaven meets earth like an UNFORESEEN kiss

If you’re a worship leader, you have most likely already come down on one side or the other of this debate.  It has been interesting to watch.  Now the debate rolls on, as various congregations and artists consider the ramifications of rewriting someone else’s poetry to edit out the distracting (or offensive) phrases.  How does John Mark McMillan feel about all of the hubbub?  You can read his excellent response here.  In a nut shell, he has no problem with David Crowder recording his song with the new text… on the other hand, he’s asking why the Church can’t handle singing about God stuff using the phrase “sloppy wet kiss.”  “Are we in Kindergarten?” he asks.

And to be clear, John wasn’t EVER intending to say that somehow God interacts with us, His children, through a “sloppy wet kiss.”  The lyrics are “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  It is the messy, beautiful mingling of the divine and the natural realm through Jesus’ condescension – most specifically at the cross – that John is marvelling at here.  “But,” he says, “Heaven meets earth like a ‘gory mess’ didn’t have the same ring to it.”

Right.  Here’s the thing…

When it comes to the corporate worship setting, we as worship leaders are called to model authentic worship and lead in such a way that people can focus on and respond to God in an intimate way.  Free of distractions.

And THAT is the issue for me.  Like I said at the top of the post, I prefer sloppy wet kisses to unforeseen kisses.  The artist in me revels in the beauty of that poetic idea.  Just a few well chosen words convey so much depth and emotion.  So if I am singing this in my car, or in the shower, or in my prayer closet… I’m all about those sloppy wet kisses.

But when I lead this song at Living Hope Church, I know… because they have told me so… that a number of people in our congregation just get weebed out singing that phrase.  It’s not that we’re not mature enough somehow to sing “sloppy wet kisses” without blushing.  It’s simply that the phrase is awkward.  It is arresting, because it is so vivid a metaphor.  And the fact that it is arresting makes the phrase both powerful (in an artistic sense) and ineffective (in our church) as a worship tool.  So what could be a POWERFUL reminder and declaration of God’s love for us runs the danger of becoming…  that “sloppy wet kiss” song.

One little change of wording, and the whole song works – powerfully – free of distraction, and full passion.

Yep, I’ve done this song both ways.  On one occasion, when I failed to communicate clearly with our vocalists on the Worship Team, we did it both ways at the same time.  I don’t recommend that. 

But from this point on, I’ve choose to lead with “unforeseen kiss.”  At the end of the day, it is NOT about my preference.  It is NOT about singing the better poetry.  In the end, when I lead worship I want to help our people throw themselves deeper into their love response to God – and that means removing distractions as we lead them.  That means that our purpose trumps our preferences every time.

How about your church?  Are you all down with your bad selves and rockin’ that sloppy wet kiss?  Or are you surrendering to the less provocative unforeseen kiss?  And more to the point… why?


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

27 responses to the great sloppy wet kiss debate :: preference, poets and purpose

  1. First of all, that song is one of my favorite songs ever. And secondly, I’m 100% with you. “Heaven meets earth like an unforseen kiss” doesn’t give me the chills that “sloppy wet kiss” does. And to further it…my heart DOES turn violently when I hear the sloppy wet kiss. There’s something so passionate and profound about it–really makes me feel so close to God. Really puts me into a place of awe, and makes me just want to worship. Really worship.

    Personal preference perhaps, but that’s just how it is for me. I’m with ya!


    • Thanks for checking in here friend. I agree – this is a powerful song. Ironically, I actually think it ought to be used in moderation as a REMINDER of God’s love for us. Remember, singing does not = worship. Worship is our response to God for Who He is and what He has done. Worship is our love response and deep gratitude, and the obedience of a life surrendered. So…

      I am careful to keep in mind that this song FEELS amazing to sing, and it stirs our emotion, but saying “He loves us, He loves us” is a declaration of what we believe… that does not automatically equate to worship. Do you understand?

      What I’m saying is, next time we sing this at church (or you sing along with your iPod), make a conscious decision to praise and thank and respond in obedience to God for what you are declaring while you sing this song. Because singing what is true by itself is not worship in and of itself. Rather, our RESPONSE to the truth is our worship.


      Bless you Hannah Banana.

      • Thanks for your words of wisdom here. I think that moderation is good–to (or is it too? my grammar is killing me today) often we can take a Christian song and make it a feel-good thing instead of a let’s-praise-Him. To me, when I get down into the nitty-gritty, that song (usually–like you said, moderation is important) makes me go, “woah. look at how he loves us.” and that makes me wanna worship, because it’s so unbelievably true. But thanks for your insight, because it’s a good reminder for me. I might be guilty of the feel-good type of worship too much.

        And somewhat unrelated to the conversation, but since we’re on the topic of a song, do you think that you could sing the song O come all ye Faithful anytime soon? Christmas is only a few months away. Hee hee…

        Bless you guys–seeya on Sunday!

  2. Oh, and also, when I hear that verse, I just feel so washed by God’s love. One of the best worship songs ever. 🙂

  3. I actually really like the “unforeseen kiss” version… it is for sure less distracting but also not a moment that you wonder what your unchurched guest might be thinking about the whole church or Jesus thing… just takes away the “umm…..” moment post service

    • Luke – I love that you have a “front porch” kind of “how will our guests respond to all this” mindset! WAAHOOOOOOO!

      I actually hadn’t considered that aspect, sad to say. I mean, I’m a believer in “worship evangelism” (worthy of another blog post – or a book, for that matter): basically that when unbelievers encounter God’s people genuinely worshipping Him with freedom, even though they may not understand it, it will be attractive.

      Because of that, when I plan our worship times, I have the believers in mind most of all. Unbelievers can’t worship anyway. HOWEVER, your comment is a great reminder to me… there are always guests among us. The spiritually confused and curious. Interesting. I wonder what joe-schmoe on the street would think about all this “sloppy wet kiss” stuff.

      Hmm… Thanks brother. God bless you and your family! I’m glad we get to do church life together!

  4. /* Erased 100 words of blabber */

    I dont like this song just like I don’t like country music, and I don’t like gospel music. Let’s be honest, theres nothing wrong with the sloppy wet kiss line. Other than being sort of emasculating. But I just don’t like the song.

    So I sit while the Spirit speaks powerfully to millions of people through a song I think is poor. Praise his name.

    • By “gospel” music, I mean specifically the gospel genre, which has almost nothing to do with the actual gospel.

      • OK. Good times. I have two songs in mind that make me want to stick a fork in my knee. And yet the masses seem moved. Likewise, one of my personal favorite songs to use in worship has been forbidden basically by our pastor. 🙂 Hates it.

        I have no problem with preferences. We all have those, right?

        By the way, I mentioned Carlos Whittaker’s blog post above. As I read through the many lists of songs coming in, I was struck by the thought that many, many, MANY churches on Sunday morning could just swap set lists with a thousand other churches, and we’d all know each other’s stuff. How tired of “Mighty to Save” or “Open the Eyes of Our Hearts” must God’s ears be?

        The songs we use are just vain repetition, no matter what we choose… UNLESS… I do think God takes pleasure in His people honestly saying something to Him. When you speak of millions of people singing this song, I don’t think you’re far off at this point on any given Sunday morning.

        It kind of freaks me out a little. Is God just going to show up some day and say “HEY! Stop singing that! Talk to me…”

        The next time I lead this one, I’m going to have trouble not imagining you sitting there in our front row with a pained expression on your face, Stephen. 🙂

        And as an aside, I can’t handle most “gospel” music, either. If I’m forced to listen to the Gaithers (whom I’m sure are beautiful believing brothers in the Lord), hide the forks…

        • Baha hide the forks indeed!

          I’m with you on the 1,000,000th repeat of Mighty to Save. Actually our church was going through Ephesians this summer, so we asked our worship leaders to write a song that would reflect what we’re learning.

          They did, you can listen to it here (no download req):

          They’re hoping to release 8-9 more by Christmas. P.S. have you listened to Ascend the Hill? They’re *so* good.

          • Beautiful song, Stephen. If you think of it, please pass on my high-five and encouragement to your song writers and musicians!

            I think we NEED to excercize the discipline of singing a NEW song unto the Lord (it’s in there!) much more often. So I’m always encouraged to see churches and ministries crafting new ways to express their love and thanks to God. I love it.

            I think I have heard some from Ascend the Hill, but I’ll recheck ’em out, now, on your reccommendation. Thanks!

  5. My biggest fear is distraction rather than attraction. Our target is to glorify God as worship leaders and worshipers. Certainly the poet glorifies God when he/she writes a phrase such as this, but the setting needs to be appropriate to express it in corporate worship.

    To answer John Mark McMillan’s question: Yes, some of us ARE in Kindergarten. Sunday morning church services are usually an uncontrolled audience; we have no idea who is going to show up and have no idea whether they are spiritually or emotionally mature enough to handle or even understand sloppy wet kisses. Not saying you shouldn’t do it, but do we stop singing and explain why its okay to the “babies” in the crowd?
    When I was in high school, some parents opted out of having their children attend sex ed. There were lot’s of reasons for it, but most of them boiled down to them feeling their kids weren’t mature enough to handle it and/or they didn’t think it was the school’s place teach them this area.

    The analogy doesn’t carry all the way through because it IS the churches place to teach, but I do think we need to be sensitive to people’s maturity.
    Some people aren’t ready for sloppy wet kisses. Just ask Pastor Bob… Okay, okay. Holy Kisses are not the same as sloppy wet kisses, but it was still funny!

    Side-Note: An emotional experience is not a requisite of worship. There are times worship is purely an act of faith on my part because I don’t feel a thing. (Not pickin’ on ya Hannah… I know you were not implying this)

    • N8 – great thoughts, man. I’m calling you “Nate the Great” for the rest of the afternoon. (It’s already 4:39PM, so you won’t have to worry about it really.)

      You’re right about people coming to church with all kinds of maturity levels. My gut feeling is that actual Kindergarteners couldn’t handle this very maturely. 🙂 Grown-ups though… not a big deal. Do you think? I know there are people out there who may actually be OFFENDED by this wording. That is who John was writing about. But I think those people are few and far between. Like you, I’m concerned with not being DISTRACTING. If what we do draws attention to what we do, it is competeing with people’s attention to the Lord. That’s literally the OPPOSITE of what we’re called to do as worship leaders.

      And you’re right, we can’t always stop and explain a song to the crowd. Sometimes, I think that’s literally a good idea – some of Crowder’s stuff makes me want to do that from time to time.

      Let’s face it, “From wherever spring arrives to heal the ground… From wherever searching comes, the look itself… A trace of what we’re looking for, so be quiet now, and wait.”

      Those lyrics could use a little illuminating, too, yes? But with the whole “sloppy wet kiss” deal, I don’t think the explaining is worth the net benefit. And since JMM has already given his thumbs up to a ready-made option B, I see no reason at this point not to take it and run. For the sake of our purpose.

      For context, by the way, all a’yall non-Living Hopers out there reading these comments, here’s a direct quote from our pastor this week:

      “I know the Bible says to greet each other with a holy kiss. But I think it’s weird. And I do not want you to do that to me.” 🙂

      And you’re 100% right about not needing that emotional reaction in order to worship. Spot on.

      I love you, dude. Praying for you guys this week, as always. Let’s have lunch… soon. 🙂

  6. My initial reaction to this song was, “that’s kind of fluffy touchy feely” and “what’s with the sloppy wet thing?”

    Then I realized the whole song is pretty much a new version of “Oh how He loves you and me” from the 70’s.

    But the third verse still “weebed” me out. We will probably pick “God loves you” music that’s a little more focused on what that means- since our culture thinks “falling in love” is like catching a disease.

    Great post. And I’m DYING to know what songs knee-fork you and what song Bob hates.


    • Hola Wade. Yes – this song is “touchy feely.” My take on songs that drip with emotion is basically this: They can be really effective in a MIX of other songs and service elements that communicate clear and unambiguos doctrine – the truth about God and our desperate need and Jesus’ saving work on the cross. If ALL (or most) of your music were this kind of “touchy feely” stuff, then you run the risk of emotionalism – making the feelings your goal. On the other hand, I have no problem at all helping the congregation feel deeply when we think about the way that he loves us.

      You are exactly right, by the way, about “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” Perfect example of some of the “gospel choruses” that grew out of the 60’s and 70’s (pre-80’s Maranatha) with the Jesus people, etc. There was, for several decades in the evangelical church, MUCH doctrine in the music, but far less personal expressions of worship. The church sang ABOUT God more than they sang TO God. So, in response, out of the 60’s and 70’s arose a glut of sacharine sappy love-songy gospel songs that mixed in with our hymns. Can I get a “It Only Takes a Spark” anyone?

      The pendulum continues to swing. Through the 80’s and early 90’s there was a growing understanding of what makes for an effective song of personal expression… but there was very little focus on the cross. Think “I Love You, Lord,” and “More Precious Than Silver.” And then there was a correction, and a refocusing on the cross of Jesus. Great music came out of the early part of this decade – and a resurgence in modern hymn writing, like “In Christ Alone.”

      Now we find ourselves flooded with musical options, and I expect some retreat from the contemporary worship format happening soon. Not abandonment of the contemporary sound in church, but more open space for prayer and confession of sin, for example. A return (in “modern” churches) to more liturgy and creeds. I think God is patient with us and is still teaching His kids how to love Him authentically. Styles will continue to evolve, I think, even as conservative churches remain committed to sound doctrine.

      OK, brother, that was quite a rabbit trail, yes? But posting about this great song – which is the “it” song of the church right now – has made me think through what we are singing week after week. Interesting to note that arguably the most popular song in the contemporary church right now is focused on how much God loves US.

      I think you are wise to find songs to sing that communicate what God’s love means – I still want to make sure we include confessional AND responsive AND declarative AND encouraging songs, mixing certainty with some mystery, and keeping JESUS as the focal point, rather than our feelings or our experience.

      And having said all that… I also think it is brilliant to sing, “Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.”

      Whoa. That makes me connect my brain to my heart. Just as we are called to love God with all our MIND and all our HEART, yes?

      OK, back to my homework. Thanks for your insight and friendship. Celebrating your upcoming outnumberment.

  7. Great, great thoughts on this subject and now-becoming-cliche-like-many-other-overplayed-or-overdone-songs song, Josh. I wrestled with this one as well and you put it in great perspective.

  8. I guess I’m just not very creative or poety or whatever… cause I just don’t get it. If my wife snuck up on me and gave me an “unforeseen kiss,” that would be a pleasant surprise. If I were to receive a sloppy wet kiss, that would be an unpleasant surprise. (Unless that was a foreseen kiss from my wife… but going there just further confuses me!)

    What’s the phrase suppose to mean? Is heaven meeting earth an unpleasant surprise, or a pleasant surprise (or a really pleasant surprise)??? Or is it suppose to mean something else? I’m just kinda confused! 🙂

    Anyway, I guess I’ve never “caught” all the verses before. I like the song… especially the chorus… which, apparently, is all I’ve ever really “heard.” Maybe if I had seen the lyrics on a screen or something, I may have noticed the verses, but I think I still would have been confused. Oh, how I wish I was more of a “creative” type! 🙂

    • Paul, you’re great. God’s wired some of us to revel in crazy poetic creativity, even if it stretches the bounds of the rational. Some people read lyrics like this and think, “Man, you guys are just trying too hard to say something new.” For me, “How He Loves” has found a way to say the old old story in a very fresh way. The poetry stirs me. Here’s the text… ponder these word pictures for awhile. I bet you’ll feel your love for God grow deeper…


      He is jealous for me,
      Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
      Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.

      When all of a sudden,
      I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
      And I realize just how beautiful You are,
      And how great Your affections are for me.

      Oh, how He loves us so,
      Oh how He loves us,
      How He loves us so

      We are His portion and He is our prize,
      Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
      If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

      And Heaven meets earth like _______________ kiss,
      And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
      I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
      When I think about, the way… that He loves us…


      C’mon Paul. That’s some good stuff. 🙂 My artist side can dig me some of that. You’re making me want to ask my Senior Pastor now, with his accounting background, just what he thinks about this one in the playlist. THAT would be interesting.

      • Hmmm… ok. That’s good stuff. It definitely helps a visual learner like me to actually SEE the lyrics. I still don’t get the kiss metaphor, though!

        Here’s proof that my creativity doesn’t go much beyond “drinking heat waves from the road.”:
        (Darrell Haugen helped put this song together, but I can’t blame him for the lyrics or the basic tune.) About the only redeeming thing from this old song, besides its grace message, is that it was written before all the other “coffee” songs!

        Anyway, some of us just aren’t blessed poetically! 🙂

        Bob, an accountant? I guess I’m not seein’ that either.

  9. Hey Josh-
    Lovin’ your blog! Thanks for your writing–and sharing it with all of us. Our church went through the same thing! I too, love the imagery and raw nature of “sloppy wet kiss,” but like you, we’ve decided that it is distracting to people, so we’ve gone with unforseen. When I sing it, I sing the word “unforseen,” but my brain is definitely thinking the “sloppy wet kiss” lyric! Love it!

    • Thanks Liz! You are not alone. 🙂 Thousands of other worship leaders around the world are making this decision for the sake of the congregation and are mentally rebelling against it at the same time. It’s a funny unifying inside joke we get to share with each other. 🙂 God bless, and thanks for reading and getting in on the coversation!

  10. we are “sloppy wet kiss” people – personally I think it captures the essence of the song better. of course our band also covered John Mayer’s “Gravity” without changing the lyrics. but that is probably another topic – and how did I miss this post anyway…

    • @cincyjourney strikes me as a “sloppy wet kiss” kind of church. 🙂 Not surprised. I’m still equal parts impressed, amused, and flabbergasted at Luke’s rendition of “Business Time” on Sunday morning. Ha!

      What… “stay the heck away from me” doesn’t get the point across? 🙂

      Thank God for Journey Church. Praying for you guys now as you move into your new facility with Hopewell, too. Praying God increases you sphere of influence in the city exponentially for His glory!