This question was asked at a conference where I was a guest on a panel on worship music. Honestly, at the moment I had a bit of a loss for words. The flow of new worship songs is essentially endless. I chuckle when I hear people say, “There’s just not any great new worship songs!” Depending on your definition of great that may be true, but there certainly isn’t a shortage of contenders.
So when the guy asked, “Should I be writing songs for my church?”, my first impulse was to shout, “No! Please don’t! We have plenty already!” But after thinking about it for a few moments, I said, “Maybe.”
Non-committal, right? Well, the answer to this question does require some thought and a little self inspection. Here are some probing questions to consider that will help you answer this for yourself:
1. Is this about you or your church? I’m in music publishing so I work with a bunch of songwriters. There are two extreme types of creative people: those that can create if needed and those who are compelled to create. Most creative people have elements of both types, but lean toward one or the other. If you lean toward the second category, you probably have to be creating something to be happy – writing a song, writing a book, painting, woodworking, etc. Life isn’t right unless you have a creative outlet. The other extreme are those who have creative talent, but will only use it if necessary. I know some great songwriters who won’t write unless there’s a pressing need or a clear reward. So where are you? If you must create, is your church worship the best outlet for that? I’ve seen worship leaders who were aspiring artists use their churches as a testing ground for new music. The church is not a test audience. Our congregations deserve to sing the best-crafted and richest lyrical songs available to us, regardless of who wrote them.
2. Is there a lack of existing songs that work in your ministry? I remember David Crowder saying he began writing songs because he couldn’t find songs that would work in his predominately college aged church. This could especially be true in urban and multicultural churches. Much of our popular worship songs come from white suburban writers, so there’s room for a new sound in worship. This might also be true in modern liturgical churches where the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus song structure doesn’t work.
3. 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. I was leading at a marriage retreat weekend once and I began looking for a song on marital unity. I couldn’t find anything! I ended up using Scripture and writing a chorus that worked for the event. It was really special for those attending because they felt that it was something God was specifically saying to them. So if your church is starting a new series, this would be a great reason to write a song to sing throughout the series. Then if the song doesn’t connect with your church, you can let the song die with the series :).
4. 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. Having the resources and talent is never a good reason to write worship songs and record an album. Unfortunately, many churches are making this mistake. We should write worship songs as a response to God’s greatness, not as a sign of our giftedness.
5. Are you a gifted songwriter? This seems obvious, but have you watched American Idol? I meet people every year at songwriting events who are convinced they are supposed to write songs, but have no real talent. I used the word “gifted” for a reason. I believe creative people must first have a gift and then they must work at developing that gift. If you have no songwriting gift, no amount of work will make you a great songwriter. Or, you may have a songwriting gift, but if you don’t work to develop it, you will never be better than average. Have an objective third party evaluate your songs and give you honest feedback. If songwriting isn’t your talent, don’t even think about making your church sing your songs.
Hopefully this will help you determine whether you should be writing new songs for your church or not. Remember, as a leader, your job is to serve the body. So, whether you sing your songs or those written by others, make sure you are shepherding your church well.