For 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!
For the last 10 years I’ve been chasing a unicorn. I’ve seen it. I know it’s real. You can’t tell me it’s just a crazy dream because I am one of the privileged few people in the world who know the truth; it’s rare but it’s real. Parents tell their children, “chase something certain.” Guidance counselors tell students, “don’t waste your gifts on a myth.”
The myth is this – you can make a living making music. Songwriter Regie Hamm once suggested anecdotally that 1% of people who write music ever make a penny from their writing. Of that 1% only 1% ever make a living at it and only 1% of that 1% of that 1% every get rich at it. 2 out of 3 ain’t too shabby. The life of an artist is a rare and unlikely wisp of a dream.
Here’s my problem, I have seen it. I know it’s real. The unicorn is real! And now the thought of ever stepping back from that precipice into a safer, more comfortable life seems ridiculous. Sometimes I wish I could settle back into the “normal life” of my peers and find a desk somewhere. Could I learn to keep my art in it’s “proper place” as a hobby while I work in an office every day to support the family and provide the material success we are supposed to want?
I cannot fault the world around me for being so certain that the unicorn is a myth. I realize it doesn’t make any practical sense. I couldn’t possibly tell the students I work with that it’s a dream worth chasing. But inside I hear the distant pounding of hooves and the strident neigh of that majestic one-horned beast. The chase continues.
Halloween has become a sensitive topic for Christians. The desire to distance themselves from the pagan and demonic images of Halloween in popular culture, have led many Christians to turn off their lights, lock their doors, and head to the nearest gathering of other Christians for a Fall Festival. I don’t have kids but I can imagine the opposing pressures Christian parents face this week are daunting. I would never presume to prescribe the “correct Christian response to Halloween.” However, as a follower of Jesus, Halloween has become one of my favorite holidays.
Once a year, all the invisible fences in my neighborhood drop. Once a year, my neighbors proudly parade their children to our front door to laugh, share, connect, and marvel at the cuteness of their kids. There is no EASIER chance we have to connect with our neighbors and to demonstrate LOVE to our neighborhood than on this one day. This Thursday (even if it rains) our lights will be on and our door will be open. We will give out candy, the best stuff we can afford. We will engage with the people who come to our door, ask good questions, and listen well. We will work to learn names and most of all we will LAUGH. Kids (and parents) in costume offer plenty of great reasons to express holy JOY!
Normally I can’t stand it when strangers come to my door. Several times a month strangers in pairs come to our door. It seems they never live in our neighborhood but have wandered in looking for converts to their brand of security system, lawn service, magazine subscription or religion. It seems they are always in costume (uniforms, suits, dresses, and hats that seem out of place for a stroll through my ‘hood). It’s one of the reasons I have always resisted the door-to-door visits that are common in my religious tribe. They feel like a spiritual sales call and while they have been effective for some I personally struggle to stomach them.
But this Thursday I can’t wait for people to come to our door. We will watch the shadows for movement and listen close for the approaching giggle of costumed children. I might even tie a paper ghost to my RC helicopter and fly it around the yard. If you’re looking for a friendly smile and a generous spirit – our lights will be on and our door will be open.
Birthdays always cause me to reflect some – maybe more so as the years pile up. As frightening as 42 might look to some of you, I couldn’t be more grateful for the view from here.
There are plenty of things I would have wished for at this point in my life: financial stability, effortless marital bliss, deeper friendships, and about 60 pounds less to carry around. But I can honestly say that all of those things are buried beneath a pile of overwhelming thankfulness.
Ten years ago I chased a dream to write songs professionally and somehow I’m still able to do it. I’ve received messages about the impact of those songs from around the world. That might seem small in light of my lack of “music industry success” but those little encouragements have kept me writing when it seemed like no one even noticed.
I’ve been entrusted with the worship leadership of a young and growing church. I count the leaders there as great friends and cant believe I get to be on their team. I own a modest home that I love in a city I am learning to love more everyday.
We’ve traded in our dream vacation to Italy on rich missions adventures in over 20 countries around the world. I never thought I would see the places I’ve seen, taste the things I’ve tasted, hear the sweet sounds I’ve heard or stand witness to life-changing truth among so many unreached people’s.
Today, I will look in the mirror and celebrate every gray hair. 42 has washed over me in a tide of thankfulness.
I’ve been writing songs for a living since 2004. Along the way I’ve recorded some of those songs to share along the road as I’ve traveled. None of those recordings have ever been released commercially. That has always just meant a handful of copies sold to family and friends around the world. Because it costs money to manufacture and distribute music, I have allowed 4 albums to go out of print. That represents a great loss for me creatively. I’ve written over 500 songs in the last 9 years and VERY FEW of those ever make it into the daylight.
That means the songs that have been released publicly are like children to me. They are pieces of me. They are snapshots from along my journey. They are deeply personal to me. Some of the music embarrasses me (a bit) but the lyrics of these songs, the worship, the narratives are glimpses of my soul.
I have curated a set of songs from those out-of-print recordings that are now available as a free download from Noisetrade. I wanted to pick ten songs from the 4 out-of-print albums. Some friends helped by voicing their favorites. In the end, these choices were entirely selfish.
From the 2005 album Echo I’ve included the songs “His Glory My Reward,” “Awake My Soul,” and “One Last Thing to Say.”
From the 2007 album Redeeming the Days I’ve included the songs “Foreign is Familiar,” “Permanent,” and “Blue Horizon.”
From the 2009 album The Hardest Step to Land I’ve included the songs “To The Nations” and “Look Among the Lowly.”
From the 2010 digital release Make It Loud I’ve included the worship songs “One True God” and “Bless the Lord.”
You can DOWNLOAD THE ALBUM HERE. Please feel free to share these songs with anyone that you think would be encouraged by them.