Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

START AN INDIGENOUS SONGWRITING MOVEMENT II

Phil was sitting at the piano with his back to the sparsely filled room. It was a Wednesday night prayer meeting in a traditional church. The crowd had quietly mumbled through a hymn or two and quickly transitioned into sharing prayer requests. Phil began to quietly play as the church members behind him shared the weight of their burdens, joys, sickness, and praise. They talked to God. They talked to each other about what God was doing. Phil could feel the connection point between the melodies he was playing and the eternal story his people were playing out just over his shoulder. Phil told me in that moment, he remembered how the scribes worked faithfully to record and transmit the story of God’s people. He remembered the work of the Psalmists painting song-pictures of the intersection between their personal story and God’s eternal story. He was feeling the songwriter’s call and he began a discipline of writing songs for his people; songs that tell their story, reflect their culture, and use their unique language.

Phil’s story is one piece of a larger movement. Churches around the globe are re-discovering the value of indigenous content. To clarify, I’m defining indigenous content as songs that are written by the people in one local congregation or region FOR the worship life of that congregation or region. I’ve now worked with songwriting teams from the East coast to the West coast; large suburban churches, urban church-plants and traditional rural congregations. Over time, a congregation develops its own vocabulary—its own cultural ethos. Those linguistic nuances come from repeated phrases pastors use from the platform, vision statements, church slogans, and sermons. Different denominational tribes have their own lexicon as well that often drive language development in your church.

But just because your people share a few unique phrases, does that really mean you should be writing your own songs? There are currently over 25 million songs in the iTunes store. The company, CCLI, licenses the use of worship songs in churches. They currently have over 300,000 songs in their catalog. Do we really need more songs? Does your church really need songwriters?

The answer is yes. We need to write new songs in the church because it’s THOROUGHLY biblical. We see implicitly in the repeated command, “sing a new song to the Lord,” that the church NEEDS new songs to sing. We have ample biblical evidence of the songwriting process stirring among God’s people. There are over 30 song lyrics beyond the 150 Psalms in the Bible. (See Ex.15, Deut. 31-32, Num. 21, Jdg. 5, etc.). The psalms are a beautiful example of the connection between specific moments in the life of the songwriter (or the lives of God’s people) and the songs that were written in response. From Moses to Mary, Jubal to John, the Bible is full of songwriters and the songs they wrote. Writing new songs within the church is evidence that the living God continues to move among His people. A fresh movement of God’s Spirit draws fresh expressions of worship from us. Is God alive? Is the Spirit of God still at work? Is the cross still Good News? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then new songs should be born in the church.

Practically speaking, songwriting within the church also kills the pop-culture dependence in us. It challenges the “idol factory” in our hearts. It is not the responsibility of a celebrity who doesn’t know our people to feed our people. God has chosen to use His servants in the local church to feed His people. Giving voice to the worship of God’s people around us is our responsibility as songwriters.

Inevitably, as you have read these posts, a number of barriers have popped up in your mind; reasons an indigenous songwriting movement cannot work in your setting. There are plenty of barriers, both real and perceived. In the next post we will wrestle with a few of these.

For the people quietly lifting up prayer requests behind Phil as he sat at the piano that Wednesday evening, it was worth the risk. For the people sitting to your right and left this Sunday, it will be worth the risk. Write with courage.

START AN INDIGENOUS SONGWRITING MOVEMENT

SongwritingGroupFor a few years now, I’ve been working to foster an indigenous songwriting movement among the churches I visit. I long to see more churches both writing and using original content in their corporate worship gatherings. I have seen new songs for the church created in over 15 languages around the globe as believers work to give voice to the praise that wells up naturally in every human heart.

All of humanity was created to worship, and we all bear the creative image of Yahweh the Creator. It is not only natural, but Supernatural that new expressions of worship would surface in us.

I believe that every church on earth is a congregation full of songwriters in hiding. I believe that God plants melodies and lyrics in our hearts, giving us the tools we need to bring Him fresh expressions of praise. Our culture often stifles those spiritual gifts or muffles heaven’s melodies in us. “Leave that work to the professionals” an inner voice says, “you’re not creative enough to be a writer.” Or perhaps, “how arrogant of you to think you have something better to offer than the songs that have already been written.” I believe countless melodies have been surrendered to the noise of negativity in our hearts. How many lyrics have been scribbled in private journals but never shared, songs written and then placed in a proverbial box under the bed?

Along my own journey as a songwriter, there are plenty of songs that God has inspired in me as a private expression of personal worship. Those songs were written IN a moment, FOR a moment between God and me. But I have also experienced moments where I sensed God was calling me to give a voice to the worship of the people I’ve served. Those songs used the unique language of our tribe. They included images and word pictures that marked a particular season of our faith-family. Sometimes, those songs were written to respond to areas that seemed lacking in the “worship diet” of our church.

Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of blogs that I hope will inspire you to contribute to an indigenous songwriting movement in your church. I’ll explore some biblical and cultural MOTIVATIONS for writing new songs and suggest ways to overcome some of the key BARRIERS you will face. Finally, I’ll outline some key FIRST STEPS to help you contribute to an indigenous songwriting movement in your congregation.

The Holy Spirit of God searches the earth for a ready pen and resonant heart. Is there a song coming alive inside of you? Set it free!

Stations of the Cross – A sense-bound writing exercise

I’ve given my songwriting class at Truett-McConnell an assignment this week. It’s an exercise I intend on practicing this week personally and want to invite you to join us. We will be doing some timed, “Sense-Bound” creative writing. It’s an idea I first heard about from Berklee professor, Pat Pattison, in his books Writing Better Lyrics and Songwriting Without Boundaries. You can find out more about the unique approach of sense-bound writing from THIS EXCERPT FROM PAT’S BOOK. Taking a moment to read this brief excerpt will help make sense of all this.

Our version of this exercise involves only 5 minutes of writing per exercise (I intend on doing 2 a day). Limiting yourself to the time allotted is valuable because it keeps you from treating this like HOMEWORK. You are not writing a speach, a song, or a sermon (although your writing may inspire one or more of these). At it’s core, Sense-Bound Writing is creative writing where, for the allotted time, you allow your senses to drive the bus. The goal is to draw your reader into a sensory experience of the object, moment, or place you are describing. As a writer it forces you to reach for rich and stirring language. For five minutes at a time you are forced to stretch your lyrical muscles.


For our topic each day we will use one of 15 Stations of the Cross. They are listed below. I will start on the Sunday before Easter doing 2 sense bound writing exercises a day and will finish with The Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.

You will be surprised how LITTLE ground you can cover in five minutes of focused writing; barely more than a paragraph. The goal is not the Quantity of content you can generate but the Quality of language you can tap into while inviting your readers into an experience of the moment you are describing.

If you decide to join our journey, why not share what you write in the comments section of this post. I WILL NOT be grading your submissions! 😉

STATIONS OF THE CROSS

  • Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested
  • Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
  • Jesus is denied by Peter
  • Jesus is judged by Pilate
  • Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
  • Jesus takes up his cross
  • Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross
  • Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  • Jesus is crucified
  • Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief
  • Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other
  • Jesus dies on the cross
  • Jesus is laid in the tomb
  • The Resurrection

Give the Gift of Growth

After years of writing songs that no one ever heard, my wife gave me the greatest gift I could imagine. She signed me up for a workshop. Not exactly a new car I know. To feed the songwriter in my soul, she signed me up for a songwriting conference in another city. It was her way of investing in my creativity. That weekend became the front door to a rewarding 10 year (so far) career as a professional songwriter.

Do you a songwriter or worship leader? What if you invested in their gifts the same way my wife did signed them up for some training, encouragement, and inspiration? There are 2 ways coming up that you could give that remarkable gift to the quiet songwriters in your world.

1. ALLABOUTWORSHIP – This is the easiest! AllAboutWorship.com is offering a series of weekly webinars that can be viewed from your own home. Even if there are time conflicts, all of the webinars will be available to registrants whenever they can watch them. I’ll teach one of the four webinars being offered along with Dustin Smith, Chris McClarney, and Daniel Bashta. Even the budget option of choosing ONE webinar to give as a gift for only $30 would be a remarkable way to invest in the talent of someone you care about. FIND OUT MORE BY CLICKING HERE.

2. GMA IMMERSE – The event my wife originally signed me up for has changed names over the years and is now called Immerse and happens here in Nashville May 26-29, 2013. Being here in Nashville means event registrants have access to an amazing list of artists, writers, and music industry leaders. I wish there were churches that would give registration to this event as a gift to a talented staff member. My experience at what was then called GMA Academy changed everything for me and I think the registration is FULLY worth the price. FIND OUT MORE BY CLICKING HERE.

Theres Something About That Name

Jesus. I know that name makes people uncomfortable. Religious and un-religious alike. I know that for some, seeing the song title “In Jesus” in the 9th spot on our new record means it’s a gospel record, songs written for Christians and about Christian things. I’ve decided the reason that name makes people uncomfortable is more complex than I have been willing to admit. I might have stood inside the church walls and declared that the name Jesus makes people uncomfortable because, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, Jesus came to “Comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.” People’s discomfort with Jesus, I would posit, comes from the realization that the things he said, the way he lived, his very existence are a direct challenge to a comfortable, self-centered way of living. The name Jesus makes people uncomfortable because it inspires guilt in us. Perhaps this self-righteous view is true for some.

A more troubling realization came last week. Association. The name “Jesus” has become associated with a complex list of things, people, political views, and actions that bare little resemblance to the person of Jesus or to the God He made manifest among us.

Recently I was driving through downtown in a southern college town with two friends that are not followers of Jesus. We passed a man holding up a sign on a busy street corner with John 14:6 on it; not the words, just the reference. A silent man with a Bible address that meant nothing to my friends beyond “that’s from the Bible.” It might as well have been a street address in Ohio. “I can tell it’s from Ohio but I have no interest in finding out whose house it is.” Moments later we passed another man outside of a bar with a megaphone announcing judgement to the students wandering the street in front of him. Fear and shame swept over me. I wonder if having a song on my new album entitled “In Jesus” makes people outside of the church associate me with these two men. Being a follower of Jesus means that I am painted with the same brush as the very best AND the very worst of those who claim the same followship.

Then a deeper question flooded my anxious heart. Can I speak (or sing) the name of Jesus without the humiliating associations that come with it? If I longed for my songs to ONLY BE HEARD by those with an evangelical Christian background, I could freely use whatever RELIGIOUS language I wish. But there would be other words, pains or doubts that I might freely share among friends but that must stay out of my songs. With an evangelical Christian crowd, using the name of Jesus in your songs (or casual conversations) is safe. If I long for a wider audience to hear these songs and walk with me through the narrative that unfolds in these lyrics, then I should probably choose more innocuous faith-speak. I have learned well from other writers and artists what language it is acceptable to use when singing about issues of faith, words that are free of the ASSOCIATIONS I fear.

But that would be dishonest for me. As an artist and a songwriter I need to be (LONG to be) honest. I need to be transparent with the deep pain and resentment I’ve faced. I also need to be forthright about the source of hope I’ve found along the way in my journey. I’ve found ONLY ONE consistent source of peace in the middle of life’s chaos. I found it in Jesus. Not in reading about Jesus. Not in simply trying to imitate Jesus’ way of living. Not in faith or spiritual experience. I mean that I’ve found hope in the ebb and flow of an ever-deepening love relationship with the historical and eternal person of Jesus.

Does that make “Only Love” a gospel record? I don’t know. Labels like that have never been very helpful to me. Hopefully it makes “Only Love” an HONEST record. That’s my hope. This is my journey and “In Jesus” is a chapter of the story I found myself in.

If you’re not too offended, you can buy a copy of the album from ITUNES HERE or stream it on SPOTIFY HERE.