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The art and craft of songwriting...and worship songs...

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The art and craft of songwriting...and worship songs...

I'm currently sitting at a local cafe digging into 1 John and Psalm the 'fertilising' stage of writing some new songs.  But I've been happily distracted by this brilliant post from @shaungroves that raises some really important questions and critiques (I'd suggest anyway...he's trying to be a bit more diplomatic!) about a lot of contemporary worship songwriting.  A bunch of us from @Kirkplacechurch spent 6 weeks with @ptpattison studying songwrinting with this free online Coursera course (HIGHLY recommended if you'd like to be stretched in your songwriting skills) - and I was left with these same questions...and more!  Have a read and let us know what you think?

"I have a theory. I think worship writers have parted with standard songwriting practices because they’re creating with the live experience in mind. So their priorities are much different from those of a traditional songwriter.

Participation, for instance, is a top priority for the worship music experience. To ensure our participation on Sunday morning, lyrics and melodies and song forms are simplified to the point that standard practices are broken.

Because when we participate we want to feel something too, writers and producers give us a lot of long-building crescendos, emotive guitar swells, drum breaks, and other production techniques that stir our emotions during the live experience. And they don’t put as much effort into crafting lyrics, which tend to be thought of (right or wrong) as tools best suited for eliciting thought rather than emotion.

We don’t want a great song. We want a great experience. And that’s what worship writers are giving us.

This is either resulting in good hockey or bad painting. I don’t pretend to know which. What do you think?"

Read the whole article here...

BTW - its given me a new appreciation for great worship this song from @dustinkensrue and @StuartTownend.

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Additional notes and quotes from preaching Psalm 149


Additional notes and quotes from preaching Psalm 149

It was a real privilege to explore, learn from and then preach from Psalm 149 on the weekend at Kirkplace.  We learned that God's people are to revel in Him as we gather together, with new songs and with all that we are and all that we have - breaking out in singing, music...and even dancing!  We've got every reason to celebrate...God is our Maker and our King, he takes pleasure in us and is even now "adorning us" like a bride ready for her wedding day.

We need to let these realities shape our gatherings - even more so than our cultural upbringings and comfort zones - and ensure we have an accurate knowledge of our God...who is infinitely delightful and praiseworthy!

And we need to remember that who we delight in, we also defend.  If we honour God with our lips...our lives must follow.  The two are intrinsically linked - as we gather together and celebrate Christ, we also equip ourselves with the weapons of warfare for a life of 24/7 worship.

You can listen to the talk here.

But, as usual, there was a whole bunch of really helpful and encouraging stuff that time just didn't allow us to get to.  So if you're keen to dig a little further, here's some thoughts and links...

(BTW - most of these quotes below are just snippets from longer passages...all which are gold, so I encourage you to follow the links!) 

More passages to look at...

Firstly, I want to reenforce again that the Psalms, in their breadth and variety, show us that we can honour God as much through cries for help as we do shouts of praise.  When we were exploring reasons that we might feel sometimes inhibited to revel in God with abandon, I probably didn't affirm enough that sometimes you don't feel like celebrating.  Sometimes we might just feel like crying out, complaining...or even shouting at God!  And I think the Psalms show us that its OK...have a look at Psalms 6, 10, 22, 28, 38, 60, 64, 74 amongst others.

When Psalm 149 talks about singing, dancing and playing tambourines, it recalls (no doubt intentionally) the celebrations as God rescues his people from Egypt.  Check out the spontaneous praise and dance party that erupts in Exodus 15.

Other issues...

When we discussed the issues that can discourage a culture of revelling in God as we gather together, one of the points I didn't get time to address was the impact of pride.  Pride - or "self-worship" - rears its head in a bunch of different ways.  And while I think we're all conscious of 'show pony' pride, are we as aware of the impact of pride in our lives if we're constantly thinking about not standing out or looking foolish or fitting in?  Its at the opposite end of the personality spectrum...but can be just as much a pre-occupation with other peoples attention...and yet I think we more readily excuse it because it 'looks more humble.  Is this an issue for you?  It definitely is for me!  Here's some other verses if you need to think about this more...  Matt 6, 2 Sam 6, Phil 2-3

We also had to move fairly quickly over the particular role of the nation of Israel in God's plans. Knowing this role is essential to understanding how we can apply these "politically charged" Psalms to us today.  If you'd like to get your head around this more, can I suggest that a great starting point would be these books by Graeme Goldsworthy.

When we spoke about our role in defending God's honour, we spoke mainly about warring against sin in our personal lives.  But the Psalms have a constant thread of seeking justice in the community, and I think this needs to be something we're active in as well...speaking out and working against oppression and exploitation in our society.

There's also a profound truth we need to get our heads around...we glorify God by enjoying Him!  If we get this balance wrong, we can start leaning towards being "blessing consumers" on one side...or on the flipside, trying to earn our way to God's blessing.  John Piper does a great job of exploring this wonderful truth - I'd suggest starting with The Pleasures of God or Desiring God (You can download a free PDF of this one!) if you want to explore this further.

Articles, quotes and blogs...

We spoke about how praise and delight almost requires to be shared...and in doing so is magnified.  This is a great passage from CS Lewis as he discovered this overflowing nature of praise...and how our enjoyment glorifies God. 

"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation."

I've found a couple of really helpful blog posts by David Mathis on Desiring God website...

We spoke about how we need to be singing and writing new songs, because God's blessing and mercy to us is constant.

"New songs of praise are appropriate for new rescues and fresh manifestations of grace. As long as God is gracious toward us, as long as he keeps showing us his power, and wowing us with his works, it is fitting that we not just sing old songs inspired by his past grace, but also that we sing new songs about his ever-streaming, never-ceasing grace."

This one explores self-forgetfulness in our corporate worship - really relevant as we discussed things that impede our revelling.

"Corporate worship is a means of grace not when we’re caught up with what we’re doing, but when we experience the secret of worship — the joy of self-forgetfulness — as we become preoccupied together with Jesus and his manifold perfections."

And this great blog post just went up yesterday about 5 benefits of corporate worship.

"Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life."

Finally, if you've made it this far...then you might be up for some extended quotes from Jonathan Edwards.  If you haven't read any Edwards before, its like climbing a mountain...really hard work, but stick with it - the view at the top is amazing!  The first quote is reflecting on Christ's love for his Bride - the church.  And the second looks towards the day when our praises will be perfected...unhindered by our current foibles and failures...

1. We ought to consider how much Christ has done to obtain that joy, wherein he rejoices over his church, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride.   The creation of the world seems to have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified. Doubtless the work of creation is subordinate to the work of redemption: the creation of the new heavens and new earth, is represented as so much more excellent than the old, that, in comparison, it is not worthy to be mentioned, or come into mind.   Christ has done greater things than to create the world, in order to obtain his bride and the joy of his espousals with her: for he became man for this end; which was a greater thing than his creating the world. For the Creator to make the creature was a great thing; but for him to become a creature was a greater thing. And he did a much greater thing still to obtain this joy; in that for this he laid down his life, and suffered even the death of the cross: for this he poured out his soul unto death; and he that is the Lord of the universe, God over all, blessed for evermore, offered up himself a sacrifice, in both body and soul, in the flames of divine wrath. Christ obtains his elect spouse by conquest: for she was captive in the hands of dreadful enemies; and her Redeemer came into the world to conquer these enemies, and rescue her out of their hands, that she might be his bride. And he came and encountered these enemies in the greatest battle that ever was beheld by men or angels: he fought with principalities and powers; he fought alone with the powers of darkness, and all the armies of hell; yea, he conflicted with the infinitely more dreadful wrath of God, and overcame in this great battle; and thus he obtained his spouse. Let us consider at how great a price Christ purchased this spouse: he did not redeem her with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with his own precious blood; yea, he gave himself for her. When he offered up himself to God in those extreme labors and sufferings, this was the joy that was set before him, that made him cheerfully to endure the cross, and despise the pain and shame in comparison of this joy; even that rejoicing over his church, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride that the Father has promised him, and that he expected when he should present her to himself in perfect beauty and blessedness.

Jonathan Edwards [1743], Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (WJE Online Vol. 25) 

"V. In the way of CONSOLATION to the godly! It may be matter of great comfort to you, that you are to spend your eternity with the saints in heaven, where it is so much their work to praise God. The saints are sensible what cause they have to praise God, and oftentimes are ready to say, they long to praise him more, and that they never can praise him enough. This may be a consolation to you, that you shall have a whole eternity in which to praise him. They earnestly desire to praise God better. This, therefore, may be your consolation, that in heaven your heart shall be enlarged, you shall be enabled to praise him in an immensely more perfect and exalted manner than you can do in this world. You shall not be troubled with such a dead, dull heart, with so much coldness, so many clogs and burdens from corruption, and from an earthly mind; with a wandering, unsteady heart; with so much darkness and so much hypocrisy. You shall be one of that vast assembly that praise God so fervently, that their voice is "as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of might thunderings...

...You long to have others praise God, to have every one praise him. There, there will be enough to help you, and join you in praising him, and those that are capable of doing it ten thousand times better than saints on earth. Thousands and thousands of angels and glorified saints will be around you, all united to you in the dearest love, all disposed to praise God, not only for themselves, but for his mercy to you."

Jonathan Edwards [1743], Sermons, Series II, 1734 (WJE Online Vol. 49) , Ed. Jonathan Edwards Center 


But what if I just don't like singing...?


But what if I just don't like singing...?

I really enjoyed a workshop I ran at Figtree Anglican Church last weekend - we had some great discussions on a bunch of issues (I think the audio might get posted online soon...I'll add a link if and when that happens).  But in the midst of all this discussion about how we - as singers, musicians and sound engineers - can equip and encourage our churches to worship God in singing together, someone raised the question "But what if I just don't like singing....?"

From memory, my response was pretty brief (as I'm constantly running out of time in these workshops), but a recent post by prominent author / blogger Donald Miller has sparked a lot of discussion on this very issue that I think we can learn a lot from - both as 'worshippers' and those who 'lead worshippers' in a church context.

Below are the links to a few posts.  Firstly, Millers original post and a follow up he posted responding to various comments he received.  After that are two different responses - both which in general disagree with Miller's position but helpfully look at ways we, as the church and as individuals, can learn from his critique.

If this is a question you've wondered about - either for yourself or for those you seek to lead on a Sunday - these blogs might be a helpful starting point for more thinking and discussion.

(11 Feb - I've just added a really helpful post from Bob Kauflin pointing to the biblical reasons why we should sing)

I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

So yes, I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.

Contrary to popular sentimentalism, we are not singing for “an audience of one.” While we do sing to worship our Savior, we also sing to rehearse the truth of the Gospel together and be sanctified by it. We sing to remind ourselves of the great and glorious prize at the end of this race and encourage each another to keep running.

To say that I will not gather to sing with the local church because I don’t connect with God that way is immature consumerism at its finest.

We need each other. I need you. You need me. We are living stones who gather to build one another up in love. If I choose not to show because it’s not how I feel like I best connect with God, not only do I miss out, but the people I have been called to build up in love miss out. A significant piece is missing.

Furthermore, when I come to church and refuse to sing, not only do I miss out on personally rehearsing the truth, but the people around me miss out on my voice encouraging them to keep their eyes on what is excellent, true, right, honorable, and good.

The singing in your church may be dreadful. Your voice might sound like a cross between a beached whale and an alley cat in heat. Singing might make you feel uncomfortable. Those who lead the singing in your church might do it poorly. And if there’s anything we can do to change the situation, we should.

But our confidence and comfort in singing comes from this: Jesus, our great high priest, makes all our offerings acceptable to God through his perfect life of obedience and his perfect sacrifice of atonement. The Father loves our singing not only because it’s sincere, but because when offered through faith, it sounds just like his beloved Son.

And besides. One day we’ll all have better voices and our songs will far surpass anything we’ve sung here. It’s then we’ll realize that eternity won’t be long enough to contain the songs worthy of the Lamb who was slain.


Stuart Townend - Do we really need more worship songs?


Stuart Townend - Do we really need more worship songs?

Totally agree with Stuart in this article...and would plead with you to keep offering 'loving suggestions' if you think I'm falling short in any of these areas!!

Now, I’m not advocating a 21st century Herodian edict, where any worship songs that don’t match up should be killed at birth… Although I think it might be helpful if those who work alongside us worship writers – pastors, publishers, event organisers, record companies – played a part in pushing us to write material that makes a meaningful and distinct contribution to the genre – and are not afraid to tell us when it doesn’t.

Help me dedicate time to writing new worship songs - find out more at



Books, blogs and more...

Every time I run a workshop, I end up quoting or directing people to some talks, blogs, articles and books that I've found really helpful recently as I've explored some of the issues around music and worship.  So I thought I'd list some of them down here...

There's been a few talks from the Sovereign Grace Worship God conference that I attended last year that I've been really dwelling on and learning from - particularly thinking about how we serve, and the role music and singing plays in preparing and equipping people to respond in worship in all of life...and particularly in the hard times.  I've linked the blog summary of the event on Bob Kauflin's Worshipmatters blog (as always, there's heaps of other great articles there, so its worth looking around) and the two particular talks that have impacted me.

While we're talking about Bob, this talk he gave at the TWIST conference in Sydney a few years ago is GOLD.  Pastoring through song.

Another blog I've found really helpful is from Zac Hicks - Zac is the Worship Pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and a very regular - and always insightful - blogger!  In particular, I found this post about the danger of letting our bands do the 'worshipping' for us really challenging - A Reason to Be Suspicious of Worship Bands

While in the States, I picked up this book. Its worth a read just for the first few chapters, which traces out the story of God gathering a community of loving worshippers - from before time began and to all eternity.  It is beautifully written, concise, and is a great place to start if you're exploring the big picture of worship, as Cosper draws from a bunch of other helpful books and articles that you could move on to.

This is a book I'm currently in the middle of...and need to go back to the start and work though slowly again - there's so much rich content packed in on each page!  Peterson's book Engaging with God is a thorough exploration of the 'big picture' of worship.  Encountering God together - as you've probably worked out - narrows the focus down to our worship gatherings.  In particular, the chapter on edification had a few lightbulb moments for me.  I'll post again about it once I'm through...

The other book I'm in the middle of (yep...I'm one of those 'pile of books all half read' readers) is Delighting in the Trinity.  Like me, you may have been tempted to place the triune nature and character of our God into the theological 'too hard' basket...impossible to understand, even harder to explain, and maybe not a critical factor in my faith.  If that's you, you need to read this book!  Reeves not only shows the importance of understanding and relating to our God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but writes with a infectious joy in these truths!  Again, I'll post again once I'm through it!

Anyway, I hope that you might find some of these helpful.  And please, keep the conversation going...I'd love to know what you've got lots out of recently?



Blog worth reading - Corporate Worship: A Lifting of the Gaze

We gather together in worship to have our eyes set upon Christ. The hand of the gospel lifts our drooping head to remember that in Christ the acceptance of God has been fixed upon us. The weekly practice of hearing the gospel in song and in sermon clears the hazy effects of sin from our eyes and focuses our hearts on the glory of God. Lifting our gaze brings clarity to us of who God is and who we are as his people.