Worship leaders and music directors are faced with a seemingly impossible task in the era we live.
Mass-marketed music is advertised to them, written for them, and sold to them by commercial enterprises designed to make as large a profit as possible for shareholders. That’s capitalism in action, I get that.
However, the church is for all times and places and, as such, should be treated differently than a "Joe Consumer." The bride of Christ is more valuable than a roomful of potential dollars. After all, Jesus laid down His life for her and ransomed her from destruction. In other words, it’s special.
Several years ago, I realized the music being written by the professional songwriters I was listening to wasn’t cutting it; it wasn't giving to the people God had placed under my care words that could be carried until death. Fortunately, I was helped by a few things.
First, I discovered a wider world of songwriters and artists beyond what was advertised in worship leader magazines and what was popular on the charts. Artists from the northwest portion of the country were my introduction and I am forever grateful for those people and their ministries. Afterward, my circle of influences expanded to other regions as well. This gave my church a whole new set of songs to sing with meaty lyrics and excellent music. However, I took an even greater step in another area:
I started writing songs based almost completely on Scripture.
I don’t claim to be the world’s strongest anything. Leader, singer, songwriter, guitar player, dad, husband - the list is endless. However, I’ve found through some work that God has provided me with the ability to craft (mostly) simple songs with, hopefully, memorable melodies for the people God has given me to lead.
Having stayed around for several years in the ministry I was planted in, I noticed a Scriptural deficiency among the people around me. The culture was, and is, one where Scripture isn’t memorized, isn’t highly valued, and simply is not a priority for many churches. The lamp unto our feet and light unto our path is often very dim.
I wrote our first original congregational song because our church was going through the book of 1 Peter and I was having trouble finding enough songs to help drive the Scripture home with our people. It’s a simple three chord song — with a minor chord in the bridge, naturally — that simply repeats portions of 1 Peter. The main refrain comes from chapter 2, verses 9 and 10. It’s not Bohemian Rhapsody or anything, but it’s a song our church still sings regularly nine years later and it has helped people remember that passage of Scripture, even if they don’t remember chapter and verse. Of course, there are seasons for a song's longevity and several of our original songs have been retired along the way. I try to be honest enough with myself to realize our songs may fit for only a brief window in the church’s life and they aren’t held any higher than anyone else’s music.
Writing music for your people is a challenge - it is a heavy responsibility to put words and thoughts about God into people’s hearts and minds. However, God has given us His word through Scripture, as well as the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our efforts.
There is much room for artistry in the church. I “envy” those songwriters who can beautifully capture the gospel with eloquent phrases that seem to be beyond my grasp when I write. However, basing your songs off of straight Scripture is an excellent starting point. Songwriting can be a useful arena to help your congregation learn Scripture and hide His word in their hearts.
You and I may never get a song on the CCLI/iTunes/Spotify charts and reach millions around the globe. In fact, we may not be called to anything beyond what He has placed in front of us. Serve your church well. Teach them truth through the songs you choose and, if the songs you need aren’t there, try your hand at making the Scripture singable via songwriting.