Worship Songwriting

Posted on Posted in God, Music, Passion

God created us all for a purpose. Generally, we are to reflect his glory and return his affection. Specifically this happens in unique ways. We are all made to glorify God by being the best version of our original selves as possible.

God has made people of every genre, and he is an amazing artist. He has made incredible accountants, lawyers, poets, architects, bartenders, managers, painters and more. When we are lazy and not living into our potential, I imagine that God yawns and shakes his head. And hopes that we will change.

Worship songwriters, let me now address you for a minute. Yes, David Crowder, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Chris Tomlin, Kim Walker-Smith, Chris QuilalaMichael Gungor, John Mark McMillan, Jeremy Riddle, Kristian Stanfill, Martin Smith, Jon and Tim Nuefeld, Paul Baloche, Darlene Zschech, Glenn Packiam, Lamont HiebertErik Cooper, Nathan LaGrange, Nathan Partain, and many many more international and local worship songwriters, I’m talking to you… Some of you have been amazing at pushing forward musically and lyrically (Gungor and McMillan, I’m looking at you…). But some of you have been lazy. Really lazy. Just because Matt Redman can pull off a simple line with incredible depth does not mean that you should try to write simply all the time. Now, I must admit that I have contributed to this problem. I have written some terrible lyrics in my day and am SO glad I discovered the power of co-writing a few years ago. But I can still improve. I must. I can. We all can.

So after two decades of leading worship, let me humbly request the following:

Please do not

  • regurgitate the same lines from old worship songs and put them into new songs.
  • use a religious term to end a line simply because it will rhyme.
  • default to religious language because it is common.
  • use “Lord” or any name for God as a comma.
  • repeat the same word or phrase over and over if it can be avoided.
  • overuse the words following words: light, shine, you, your, woah, yeah, oh, holy, glory, sing, praise, lift, mountains, voice, awesome, raise, grace.
  • use future tense when present tense will do, especially if we are already engaged in such activity. (eg: we will praise, we will sing, we will stand)

Please be

  • creative.
  • a good poet.
  • melodic.
  • theologically sound (not theologically popular).
  • unwilling to settle.

The church needs artists. We need songwriters. And we need you to be the best that you can possibly be. Some of us have a lower ceiling than others, but we must continue to push and grow and not settle. There is greatness in us planted there by the greatest artist of all. May our best continue to emerge as we reach higher.

Thank you.

5 thoughts on “Worship Songwriting

  1. Awesome, I have to fully support your stance on this Adam. Worship music can get so darn repetitive and boring. Being unique and melodic while still maintaining integrity and theology is really key to great worship music.

  2. Writing worship songs, particularly songs to lead a congregation, is a balancing act. Being theologically sound and also original. Offering a unique perspective but (literally) putting words in someone else’s mouth. Keeping a message simple enough to be relevant, but not so simple that it’s trite.

    The paradox of this sort of art is that if by putting great effort into it, you make the end result look effortless. If you labor over a song enough to make it truly exceptional, the people who sing it will think “of course it goes this way, it couldn’t have gone any other way.”

    It’s a great challenge to accept the criticisms you mention above and still come out with an exceptional result.

  3. So much to say. Doing so without hijacking this post via a lengthy comment is tricky. I like your Do/Don’t lists. The only thing I’d add to the second list is: Please be honest and realistic about YOUR walk as you write.

    Nothing breaks my worship focus (either leading or following) faster than trite, bogus jargon. I struggle. A lot. Following Jesus isn’t easy. You know that (or you shouldn’t be writing worship songs about it), so let’s struggle together. Give me some music that I can really dig my teeth into.

    If we, as songwriters, fail to do this we set ourselves up as “model Christians” who never have any thoughts beyond those written in Psalms. Lyrics are most powerful when our lives crash against scripture and reveal a truth about God, and/or about ourselves. Write a song starting from that truthful moment, or stop writing, go live, and wait for truth to emerge. Anything other than that is fodder for the Christian music marketing machine. If you’re feeding that beast… [looks down, shakes head]

  4. It seems that most of the artists mentioned in this post fall into a similar genre (white middle class contemporary church music… is that a genre?). Additionally, this post addresses the lyrical and thematic content of the genre. I feel that the same critical eye could be given to the music as well. Must we all use the same orchestration and arrangements?

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