Songwriting for the Local Church1
Our church sings original music.
Not always, but sometimes we do it. Most of the time it’s awesome, but other times, it’s an exercise of patience for our congregation. Recently someone asked me to explain why our church writes original music, so I’ve been thinking about all the ways songwriting serves our local church. I could give ideological reasons for expressing our creativity as image-bearers of the greatest Creative, but I think sharing some ways that songwriting has benefitted us as a congregation explains the value of writing music for my own local church.
Songwriting moves us from general to specific
The songs we write hopefully express theology that is true everywhere in every time. However, our songs are expressions and responses specific to the church in our time and space. 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. These original songs are like our church family’s favorite mixtape, as opposed to a random pop-radio variety. Other church families may like and use the songs we have written, but these phrases, expressions, and melodies were birthed out of our specific needs and God’s specific work in the people here.
Songwriting moves us from consumers to contributors
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 music phariseeism. I’ve seen this in my own heart. When it’s easier to dismiss or disapprove of the music I hear rather than consider our God and the response it encourages, I know I have a sin problem. When I am not writing, I stand outside the stream of what is being created, evaluating every word, hook, and chord choice. When we started writing songs for our congregation, however, I witnessed a shift in our perspective. We moved from critics to creatives. Rather than complaining about how songs don’t measure up, we decided to start writing, or attempting to write, what we hoped to declare and celebrate with our congregation. This doesn’t mean we don’t battle pride consistently, but we are able to name it, own it, and repent of it. We’ve stepped off our musical and theological high horses and started laboring to serve the church instead.
Songwriting moves us towards development
We also have a strong desire to grow as worship leaders and train other leaders. The process of songwriting has stretched our collective understanding of our values and developed our culture of worship planning among musicians and worship leaders in our congregation. As we write and share songs, we ask questions: Does this teach what is true? Is this singable? What is an appropriate response to this truth? Is this clear and understandable? Could these lyrics be misinterpreted? Will this serve our community well right now? Is this poetic? We courageously share songs with one another and offer loving and honest feedback, which leads to changes in a “wonky” lyric or “hard to sing” melody almost every time. We push one another regularly to think more clearly or stretch ourselves creatively. As we cultivate individual songs, we ourselves are being cultivated, growing individually as songwriters and worship leaders.
Creating songs that are singable, proclaim truth, and provide an appropriate response is hard work. The chances of writing the next “In Christ Alone” are almost nil. So far, no song we’ve written together has passed every measure of singability or perfect clarity. But no one else can offer our congregation such specific, timely, and original responses to the God whose character and message never changes. Next time you are cultivating a setlist, consider creating a song that complements the teaching, current culture, and people in your context. Include your team and get feedback. You’ll likely grow and see your worship leaders grow in the process.