What songs contribute to your church’s worship culture or spiritual foundations? Who determines what we are singing? Who writes what is speaking into the hearts and minds of our congregations on a weekly basis?
These are all questions we should be asking ourselves as we evaluate what songs we are singing as a body.
“Sing to the Lord a new song.”
The phrase is repeated over and over in the Scriptures. In the Old and New Testaments, we see “new songs” as a part of what God is doing amongst and through His people.
Isaiah 42:10 says,
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Revelation 5:9 says,
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
As a Worship Pastor who enjoys writing and reading I always catch myself wondering while reading those verses how “literal” we are meant to take them. How “new” is a “new song?”
When the psalmist tells us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” he was literally singing a new song to the Lord. So maybe our worship team should try it out, I thought. Maybe our church could write and sing new songs about what God is doing among us?
I’ve heard some argue that songwriting is only for a chosen few. That the “average Joe” just doesn’t have what it takes to write a “good” song… that contains the format, fit, and finish that it takes to polish off a hit. Now certainly songwriting is a gift and a craft, but I’d like to argue that it’s not just for the “professionals.” It’s something that you can do with your team, in your church, and that you can start today. We all have a song to offer.
Psalm 40:3 says,
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
So… what is stopping you?
Are you afraid that your songs won’t stand up next to the Hillsong, Sovereign Grace, Chris Tomlin, or Bethel songs we sing?
Let me assure you… they probably won’t.
Your song probably won’t get a standing ovation or usher in a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It probably won’t hit the CCLI top 100 or be led in churches worldwide. If hits are what you are looking for then you most likely are going to be disappointed. But with the correct motivation and expectations songwriting has the potential to shape both the congregation and us individually in powerful ways.
So… what can local songwriting do for our congregations? Let’s think together.
- Songwriting speaks to the Body… from the Body.
Hopefully all the songs that we are currently singing express theology that is true everywhere in every time. After all, we all know the importance of what we sing and the picture it paints of the Gospel. But… what is happening at any particular time in our congregation may be difficult to express for someone on the outside of the “experience.”
The songs we write can be specific expressions and responses to what God is doing in our church at any given time. This allows what we sing to be connected to what we are learning as a congregation and how we need to grow, to our sermon series, and to sorrows and celebrations we have shared as a community.
Local songs help to express local content and local stories.
An author once said,
Most of us would find it strange if our pastor decided to start “covering” popular sermons. We love the idea of a timely, localized sermon. Why? Because a Spirit-filled sermon can challenge and inspire your congregation at just the right time. Songs can function the same way.
Like the altars built by the Old Testament fathers, songs can be a way for us to look back and say, “Look what God has done!” Singing those songs together as a community can be a meaningful bonding experience. Whether it’s a particular scripture, sermon series theme, or a timely word from the Lord, songs help to trace the history and story of your congregation. Our songs can be like altars that point us to the work of God in our community and lives.
- Songwriting is our Contribution.
We worship leaders make choices every week about how and what our people will declare, pray, and celebrate together through songs. There is so much being produced these days that there has to be a healthy filter to what is allowed in our singing, but filtering that constant stream of new music can develop a culture of selfish consumerism and complacency. I’ve seen this in my own heart! It so much easier to judge and dismiss the works and expressions of others that to contribute for the ultimate benefit of the Body.
When we are not writing, we stand outside the stream of what is being created, evaluating every word, melody, hook, and chord choice. When we start writing songs for our congregation I guarantee that our perspective will shift. We can move from critics to creatives… from seeing the problem and being part of it to working towards a solution.
Rather than complaining about how songs don’t measure up how about we write some that do? Let’s step off our musical and theological high horses and start laboring to serve the church through what we can write.
Songs can help us to shepherd our congregation.
Knowing, loving, and praying for your community is a vital part of being an effective worship pastor. Writing songs specific to the struggles or journey of your congregation is a fantastic way to love them that they will immediately take hold of. The responsibility of writing lyrics for your congregation often leads to an ear toward Heaven, a heart toward people, and a new kind of dependence on the Holy Spirit.
- Songwriting Develops us as Leaders and Believers.
Songwriting can be formational. It can change our perspective and stretch our minds and hearts.
The process of songwriting can stretch our understanding of our values as well as the Gospel, and can help us to develop a culture of worship within our congregation. As we write and share songs, we are inevitably forced to ask questions: Does this teach what is true? Is this singable? What response does this evoke? Is this clear and understandable? Could these lyrics be misinterpreted? Will this serve our community well right now? As we create and write new songs, we ourselves are being cultivated, growing individually as songwriters and Worship Pastors and Leaders.
Let’s work to view our creativity as a spiritual discipline, let’s use it as an act of worship to God. In fact, creativity is a part of being image-bearers of God!
Genesis 1:26-28 says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
At the outset of creation, God gave us certain qualities are in His “image” or “likeness” and among those qualities is the act of creating. By creating music that good, beautiful, and truthful, we imitate God and reflect His glory.
- Songwriting creates Culture.
Do you admire churches like Bethel or Hillsong that have created and emphasized a culture of personal and congregational worship that has impacted churches around the world? Many dream of having such an impact but follow up those dreams with complacency to sing songs written solely by others. We often forget that the hallmark of those ministries is their faithfulness in writing and singing new music! In today’s culture, there’s arguably nothing more culture-shaping about your church than the kind of music you play on Sunday morning. Songwriting is a great way to speak to people in ways that they admire and understand!
Do you want to shift the “worship culture” of your congregation? Do you want to develop hearts that long after God’s own heart and desire to be worshipped? Then write about it, encourage it, and remain faithful as God works.
Creating songs is hard work! The chances of writing the next “How Great is our God” is very slim. But who else can better offer your congregation such specific, timely, and original responses to the God whose character and message never changes?
What would look like for your church to write and introduce a new song this next year written in house?
Let’s decide together to “sing a new song.”