Today we have more worship music available to us than any other time in history. It is both exciting and overwhelming! We can literally find an unlimited amount of worship music online from popular Christian artists and other churches from around the world. Churches of all sizes are writing, recording and putting out great worship songs. You would think that the plethora of resources would make the task of putting together a Sunday service easier… but in reality it has made the task much more daunting.
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? Suddenly the seriousness of the situation becomes clear…
In a time when we have so much music to choose from, why should we as worship leaders write original music? I mean surely there’s a song already out there that tackles the topic my pastor is preaching next week? Surely there is already a great upbeat worship song to open our worship service with in 2 weeks, right? The answer to those questions is most likely “yes.” But in this post I am going to discuss why I feel it is important for us as worship leaders to continue to write for the local church and why we should also develop writers within our congregations and ministries.
“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.”
In a previous blog post I wrote that touches this topic I said this,
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. Maybe our church could write and sing new songs about what God is doing among us?
Let’s think together how the writing of new songs within our congregations can contribute to both the local and universal church!
- Our Writing Can Help Make Worship Personal
There’s no doubt that we can find a great worship song that will fit just about any theme we need. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, there’s something special about a song that is written from within a local church community specifically for that community of people. Maybe God is doing something great within a church and a song of celebration is what is needed. Or, maybe a church is going through a difficult time and a song about trusting in God or God being our hope and our refuge is just what our congregation needs. As a worship leader, how do we respond in these types of circumstances? What encouragement can we provide in such dark and discouraging times? I believe one of the best things we can do is write. Write from your heart and how you are feeling about what is happening in the life of your church. Write from what God is speaking to you through His Word about the circumstances your church is facing. Write to encourage others in your congregation who are chasing the same vision of reaching your community for Christ.
In the book of 1 Chronicles we are getting towards the end of King David’s reign. He is preparing for the building of the temple (although his son Solomon would be the one to build it) and dividing up responsibilities for the tribes of Israel. In chapter 25 David sets apart some men for the job of singing and leading songs. Among those men are Asaph and his sons. So basically, Asaph has been set apart by King David as a worship leader. Knowing that… if we fast forward to the book of Psalms we see that Psalms like 50, 73, 75 and 77 were all written by Asaph. So not only was he one of King David’s chief musicians but he also wrote songs for the people to sing and worship God. I think that is an important lesson for worship leaders today. Sure, times were different. They couldn’t hop on iTunes, or SongSelect and download the latest and greatest worship songs.
In this time the Israelites needed people to write songs to sing to God and their Worship Pastor stepped up! But, as with most of the Psalms, they are written from such a personal place. They are written to celebrate God, who He is and what He had done for the Israelite people. They were also written to cry out to God in difficult times. This is the lesson I think worship leaders today can learn from 1 Chronicles 25.
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, just like Asaph and the Israelites. This allows what we sing to be connected to what we are learning as a congregation, 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.
Some may be thinking, “I’m not really a writer.” And that’s okay. Not all worship leaders have to write. But, as a worship leader you probably have some musical ability. Maybe there is someone in your congregation who writes poetry or lyrics. Encourage them and work with them by adding music and melodies to the words and lyrics they write. Or, maybe you want to write but have never been able to, or feel like you don’t have the time. Pray about it. Ask God to help you free up the time and to give you words and melodies that will encourage your congregation.
Remember, no one knows your congregation like you do. No one knows better what your church is facing or celebrating which means no one can write a song specifically for your congregation like you can. Write from your heart, write for your congregation and most importantly, write for the glory of God.
Is God doing something unique right now in your church? The best worship songs, I believe, come out of authentic church experiences with the Lord. I love to hear music that arises from a move of the Holy Spirit. It’s always inspired and fresh. And we should celebrate what God is doing through music.
We should write worship songs as a response to God’s greatness, not as a sign of our giftedness.
- Our Writing Can Help People Process what God is Speaking
I’m a fan of churches being united and concentrated together. It’s incredibly helpful when the worship leader sings what the pastor is preaching. It brings continuity and focus to people in the congregation. It helps make our messages “sticky.”
I have written before about how our songs are just as much part of the “message” as the preaching in any particular gathering. Each and every week people flock in and out of the doors of church buildings throughout the United States and around the world. Many have heard the Gospel proclaimed accurately, many have heard compelling stories or corny illustrations, and sadly many haven’t heard (or remembered) anything at all! If we are using our position effectively we can battle that by saturating our congregations ears with specific messages and memorable themes!
Singing a song is a lot like riding a bicycle. Usually once you’ve done it the difficulty is gone. You can hop off and take a good long break and as soon as you are back on the seat it comes back naturally and off you go! Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? As humans we store literally hundreds, even thousands, of songs in our brains without even knowing it!
Do you need a song that says something really specific? With the abundance of worship songs available to us, it’s still hard to find songs that deal with really specific issues. Think about it… a songwriter out of Nashville doesn’t want to limit the “target audience” of a particular song by being too specific. Many of the popular songs that we sing can have a multitude of meanings and applications. Now this isn’t always a bad thing… but sometimes we need to have a target and aim to hit it with our writing.
An important idea to remember is: There will always be fresh expressions of timeless truths!
The more I study scripture and the more I encounter the living God the more convinced I become that there could not possibly be enough songs to celebrate Him and to capture all that God is! The Psalmists figured this out! Check out Psalm 146 and see how many descriptions of God you find. It says,
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!
Our writings can open up new “eyes” for our people to see God through and new “avenues” for them to approach His holiness!
Let’s not take the same route every time! God is too big and unfathomable for us to get bored or stuck in a rut singing what we’ve always sung.
The Apostle Paul wrote letters to seven different churches. Each church was in a different location, surrounded by a different culture, & dealing with different things. This is reflected in the very different language and themes that Paul uses when writing to them. What if Paul had written a letter to one church & just sent it to all seven? Often there is a timely word for a specific church in a specific place and time. Let’s not assume the latest song written in Australia, Redding, or North Carolina is the best song for your local church. At times it may be… at other times maybe not.
What is God speaking into your church right now? How can you come alongside that? Could you write a song to help that word sink deeper?
- It keeps you in tune with the flow of the Holy Spirit
As a worship leader, it’s easy to coast. To show up, assemble a list of hit worship songs, and plow through the music flawlessly. 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 than 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.
I think it’s better that we are intentionally invested in what God is speaking to our people. That’s why I write songs. It helps me process, “God, what are you saying to us? What do you want us to sing?” It’s more than just a cool “rock star” thing to do. It helps keep us in tune with where the Holy Spirit is leading us! 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!
Writing songs can help us to shepherd our congregation. 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 sing-able? 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.
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.
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… and that leads us to our final point.
- Songwriting Is An Opportunity To Use Our Creative Gifts For God’s Glory
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.
Honestly, most of us could not write a better song than the ones that have come to be sung in thousands of churches around the world. And that’s okay. Our songs probably won’t get a standing ovation or usher in a new movement of the Holy Spirit. They 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.
What if every Pastor stopped preaching because we could just play a video from our favorite world class preacher? What if every writer stopped writing because we could all just read that best seller? What if every painter stopped painting because we could enjoy something better at the museum?
If God has given you a gift and passion to write songs be obedient. Walk in that gift! Now don’t hear this as an excuse to write bad songs for the heck of it! Write the best song you can and if the Lord leads, share it! Ephesians 2:10 says,
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
If songwriting is one of the things you were created for walk in it!
So… how are we contributing to the worship “dialogue” that is taking place in our churches on a weekly basis? Are we utilizing the power of the original?