Songs are a powerful thing. They have the ability to speak to the mind with lyrics and content as well as speak to the heart with music and melody. The lyrics tell the story and share the message. The music and melody give the feeling or emotion. When you pair these two together, you are communicating to the very core of a person… you are communicating to the soul of that person. The soul of a person is what makes them “them”. It is made up of their emotions, their convictions, their knowledge, their morality, their thoughts, their doubts, and everything else that shapes the way they live. This reason alone makes songs a very powerful tool in communicating to people. When I hear certain songs from my past… I am immediately brought back to that time and place. Some of those times were seasons of happiness. Some were seasons of sorrow. Some were seasons in college where I was gaining my independence. Some were seasons of my childhood when I was very involved in sports and others bring me back to the innocence of being a young boy who had yet to face the ugliness of this world. Anyway, all that to say, Songs communicate to us in a way that reaches down to the very core of who we are. And if they can reach down and communicate to us in those places… then they can help change us in those places! This is why it is so important for us to write songs for the church.
We CANNOT forget that there is a spiritual battle going on everyday for the souls of man. The enemy will do and is doing whatever he can to take the glory away from God and keep people from giving their life to Him. We HAVE to see that our culture is immersed with songs and music that celebrate sin and glorify things that are nothing more than false gods. Money, sex, drugs, self indulgence, greed, pride, and so many other things are celebrate in the pop music of today. So, as believers. As the Church. As sons and daughters of the Most High. And as musicians and songwriters… what are we doing about it? We need to join the fight.
So who qualifies to write songs for the church? Anyone can be a songwriter! You don’t have to be a musical prodigy or genius to write a beautiful melody. You don’t have to be an accomplished poet to write beautiful lyrics. And you don’t have to be a pastor to impact people with the Gospel. But you do have to be a passionate believer who is hungry after the heart of God and eager to see others do the same. You also have to be willing to put that journey on display for others and let them see the parts of that journey that is not often visible. God is writing a story in your life through your experiences with Him that can be used to draw others closer to Him… if we are willing to be used by Him. This should be the goal of our songs: to make much of Jesus. Our songs are our sermons and they should ALWAYS be pointing others to Jesus. You have to be willing to be used and to be vulnerable. Willing to listen when you need to listen. Willing to learn when you need to learn. Willing to see when you need to see. Willing to speak when you need to speak. Songwriters are instruments in and of themselves. We are messengers who need to be willing and ready to deliver the message when it is given.
Some Practical Tips
Start listening more – Again, this goes back to understanding that we write from our place of inspiration. Inspiration comes when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. Many times He will do that through sermons or through the testimonies of others. It can also come from an encouraging word from a good friend or it can be the encouraging word that someone else needs. Also, many times, your circumstances or seasons are preparing you for your songs. Instead of complaining, let’s ask God what lesson is He trying to teach us. As I stated earlier, many times we have to live our songs before we write them.
Discover “your” language – It is a common temptation when writing worship music to just adopt the general sayings or the popular phrases instead of digging for our own language. God has given each one of us a mind and experiences to draw from. We need to start sacrificing “our” language for others. God wants to hear your unique words to Him, not someone else’s. One question to ask yourself when writing lyrics is “do these lyrics speak?” This is referring to the freshness and the power of the language. If you are saying what everyone else has already said, then your lyrics will not speak. A good way to improve in this area is to expose yourself to other people’s language through reading. I heard it said once that every great writer is a great reader first. The Psalms and old Hymnals are a good place to start.
The melody is king – The melody should be the starting place for every song simply because it is the melody that carries the message. This is not to say that every nugget has to be a melody. Just that once the process of shaping and crafting the song takes place, the melody should be the starting point. Make sure the melody is “catch-able”. If it is too complex and hard to figure out than it will not serve it’s purpose. There should be some sort of pattern to your melodies. I would be careful about altering the melody for the sake of the lyrics. If you are gonna creatively shape something throughout the song… leave the melody alone and focus on the lyrics.
Don’t overwhelm the listener – Most of the time, less is more when it comes to songwriting simply because of depths at which songs can communicate to a person. It is not just words that speak to the intellect. It is also music that speaks to the heart. Sometimes just one word paired with music and a melody can speak so much more than a page full of mindless lyrics. Ask yourself “what is the main theme of this song?” and stay on track with that. Use restraint and take time to just sit and listen. Sometimes we can be so busy “writing” our song that we over-write. Remember this too… repetition is not always a bad thing in songwriting. There is no greater way to get a phrase, idea, or word stuck in someone’s head than by repeating it.
Co-write – This can be a tough and challenging process, but it can be so rewarding. Not all of us are experts in all the areas of songwriting. However, we may be strong in one or two areas. That is normal. Be aware of your strengths and embrace your weaknesses. Challenge yourself to lean on others who are strong in the areas where you are weak, but remember not to get too attached to a certain idea. The song doesn’t exist to serve the songwriter, the songwriter exist to serve the song and make sure it is the best it can be. If that means trashing your idea and going with someone else’s, then that should be o.k. To steal an idea stated above; At the end of the day, the song is king! Not our ideas. Not our feelings. Humility is the key ingredient of a co-writing relationship.