As I meet with more and more worship leaders and teams, teaching them about songwriting, I have noticed a certain mentality amongst musicians and in worship services that troubles me. It’s the notion that they should limit the amount of original material they present to their congregation for fear of being prideful/self-seeking and also that the congregation will not engage with an “amateur” song.
I am here to state loud and clear that this is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in regards to corporate worship. I can already see how the worship music culture is starting to stagnate because of our fear of releasing our own sound. Songs are coming from a few select “popular” sources and we are allowing them to dictate what our worship sounds like.
Let’s break this down in a comparison on a practical level. When Matt Redman, for example, sits down and pours out his heart into an original worship song, it began in his heart and was birthed in either his private time with God or with his worship community. Is he being prideful? Is he seeking his own popularity instead of God’s? Of course not. If he was, we would see right through his ambition, and his songs would not be sung for decades in churches throughout the world. Leaders like Redman have allowed themselves the freedom to express their musical gift to the world, and that confidence has given us a relevant sound to our worship.
My question to worship leaders would be: “Why are you so different?” Whether it comes from inside your mind or the outside pressure of your church leadership, why do you think you fall into a lower class of worship leader? We hold these global worship artists on such a high pedestal simply because they have gained the church stamp of approval by having that golden record deal and CCLI recognition. When it comes down to it, they are just as human as the rest of us and they struggle with the same pride/ambition problems that we do, probably even more because they are famous.
We have to embrace the fact that every song was original at some point. Who it comes from is irrelevant. Every songwriter, at some point, had to make the decision between fear of the flesh and faith in their identity in Christ as they got up for the first time to present their song to their congregation. The strange paradox is that we encourage—even more than that, we require preachers to bring original and fresh material to the pulpit with every message … why would we do any less in our worship?
Your original songs are necessary to the spiritual development of your church family … never doubt that. Where you should be checking yourself is not the song, but why you feel the need to present it. The song itself is a reflection of your relationship with and revelation from your Savior. It will speak for itself. However, if you are looking for approval and validation for your writing skills or to stand out as not only a worship leader but as a “Christian artist” … then you need take a step back and re-evaluate.
The second doubt that comes up is if the congregation will follow along and engage with your songs like they do with all the standards. My answer to that is a resounding, YES THEY WILL! If and ONLY if you have taken the time to write a well-crafted song that is memorable, relevant and theologically sound. Good songwriting isn’t easy. It takes discipline and collaboration to consistently create effective worship songs that bring heaven to earth and leave a legacy. If it is a well-written song, they should be able to follow along by the chorus the first time they hear it. It’s funny how we wonder if people will catch on to our originals, yet we never give them a chance. You might have to play them a few weeks in a row. Some stick and some don’t … same goes for the cover songs. You have to make it a regular aspect of your worship service and people will change their expectation.
The church I lead worship at has made it a cornerstone of the worship culture to encourage original songs from our team. The way they sing, engage with and take ownership in our songs is far deeper than with anything we pull off the CCLI chart.
If this article is hitting home with you then let me sum up with some practical action items.
1. Put down the false humility and fear of man.
2. Go spend some time alone in the secret place and with your worship team, asking God what He wants to hear from you.
3. Get some training in songwriting for your team so that you are crafting high-level songs that have the same elements as those you already play from other artists.
4. Be open to constructive criticism and humble when praised for your songs.
5. Introduce only your best material and do it intentionally and regularly.
My blessings on all of you worship leaders, musicians and songwriters. I believe there are powerful songs waiting to be birthed by you and shared to the world.