This week saw twitter go into overload in response to Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican convention. It seemed like her speech writers had lifted significant chunks of her speech from a 2008 speech given by Michelle Obama…and then left a knowing ‘nod and wink’ in the form of what may be the highest profile rickroll ever!
The weight of our words
Here was one tweet that caught my attention.
Its a significant point - the words our Pastors preach must be able to stand up to that kind of scrutiny. But lets raise the stakes even higher…imagine if your words are going to be not just scrutinised, but memorised and even adopted by other people as their own expressions?
If you’re aiming to write congregational worship songs, then that’s what you’re aiming for - that people would take words that you’ve penned, and embody them and use them as their own expressions of worship, prayer and praise to God…that’s a huge responsibility!
This was brought home to me recently in a profound and humbling way. I’ve just started a new role at EV Church, and we’re still very much in that phase of getting to know people, and discovering all the mutual friends and random connections. As I spoke with one lady, she shared that “I only just realised you wrote that song "You Loved Me"…I’ve sung that to my daughter every night for the last four years!” That floored me! I never would have considered that as I was writing that song years ago - that it would be a significant piece in forming this little girls understanding of God’s love for her.
When you’re song writing, do you consider that these are words that might be sung to an infant at bedtime, or held onto in the hospital ward…or become the last words of men facing the firing squad.
We can’t know where God might someday take the song we’re writing at the moment. But there are definitely things we can do now to strengthen our songs - however God might choose to use them.
Fill our words with The Word
Col 3:16 shows us that songs are a gift from God to "let the message of Christ dwell richly among us”. So lets aim to saturate our songs with the message of Christ! And not just settle for stand alone ‘soundbites’ of scripture (I call these ‘muesli songs’ - they are full of little chunks of goodness…but they don’t make any coherent sense!) Aim to write songs that help people know and understand and embody sections of scripture. As I prepare for a conference based around 2 Peter 3, Michael Morrow’s “We Belong to the Day” comes straight to mind as a great example of this.
My personal observation (and my own temptation!) is that many songs seem to be ‘finished’ far too soon. Sometimes we can idolise the creative process - “That’s just the way it came to me”. Sometimes they might be rushed out to make a deadline - a preaching series or recording project. Or maybe we’re just eager to share them! But I think another serious issue is that we often lack the knowledge, experience, tools and skills to helpfully engage in re-writing. If you’re serious about songwriting for congregational worship, then we must keep growing in our knowledge of God’s Word and how to handle it with integrity. (Maybe start with How to read the bible for all its worth) But we also must continue to invest in and grow in our songwriting skills - how we can better use words, rhythms, rhymes and metaphors to carry and communicate these profound truths. And to that end, I can’t recommend Pat Pattison’s material highly enough - get a hold of “Writing Better Lyrics”. But why not take the time out to work through his free Coursera course. Or, even better, do it as a group or team, so you have shared skills and vocabulary to encourage and critique one another. Which leads to the next point...
If you just want a song to sing for yourself, then don’t worry about this! But if you’ve got any desire that it might be a song sung by someone else…then it effectively ceases to be ‘your’ song - it becomes their song too. So why not start with that assumption, and get other people involved in the writing stage as well - seek out co-writers and collaborators who can help in the processes of writing and rewriting. Run draft songs past your pastor to get feedback on the theology. Carefully consider and respond to other peoples criticisms…they often have good points to make, and they could strengthen the song. It can be hard and humbling work…but its definitely worth it!
Finally, if they are words that are worth sticking…then we need to work at writing phrases and melodies that will stick…but that’s a conversation for another day!