More than ever, I believe in the power of songs.
Music narrates our lives. As we’re walking through fire, songs are there to lift us. As we’re celebrating at an altar, music is there to commemorate the moment. As we walk through the pain of loss, songs give us context.
And while it’s quite possible to worship songs themselves and get caught up in the emotional lift of a melody, a great song is a great service to our journeys.
So I’ve really been working hard to improve as a songwriter. Like all skills in life, mastery is never something you arrive at or finish. Everybody can improve.
I’m not interested in the quick fix, the “one take” or the “in the moment” inspiration. I want to write the songs I can’t wait to sing. I want to look forward to every section of the song. I’m not content to write a great chorus and tag some verses and a pre-chorus on. If every section isn’t a “heck yes” it’s not ready.
So I’m getting more picky, more selective, and submitting to a patient process. Which is frustrating. Because it’s harder to finish songs that way. But I’m OK with this. Of the hundreds of songs Keith Getty writes, only a few are truly “successful.” But it’s worth the blood, sweat and tears it takes to wrestle a song to completion.
Another habit I’ve undertaken is to study successful songs. What is it about my favorite songs? Why do I love to sing them? Why do I love to lead them in church? While we hate talking about predictable formulas with worship songs, there are some. There are patterns and strategies that simply “work.” This doesn’t negate the “God” factor in writing. We want to say the things that we hear from him. We want to sing the songs that move His heart.
But we’re not doing anybody any favors if we settle too soon and fail to push a song to its full potential.
So I want to leave you with two filters for pushing your songs to the next level. I guarantee you, if you push your ideas through these filters, your songs will be stronger than ever.
#1: The Theological Filter
The people of God love declaring the truth of God in a compelling way. Think of recent songs like “Cornerstone,” “Living Hope,” “What a Beautiful Name,” “In Christ Alone” “Resurrecting.”
These songs resonate with people because they are robust in their theology. They don’t rely on cliche and easy rhymes. They actually say something with substance. So filter your song through these questions:
- How can I make my theology more clear?
- How can my idea say something deeper, yet with less words?
- What does the Bible actually say about this?
- In what ways can I make this more descriptive of Christ and His work on the cross?
Every song we sing creates a theological framework. The challenge here is to cast the net wide and display a massive view of God—his nature, attributes and actions. Don’t settle on what is easy. Dig and when you’ve dug some more, dig even deeper.
There is gold to be found.
#2: The Shocking Filter
Many popular songs have a certain edge to them. They may be saying what other songs have said, but they are unique, different and what I like to call, shocking. Think of songs like “Reckless Love,” “How He Loves” and “Set a Fire.” Of course, by “shocking” I don’t mean a quick and easy “shock factor.” I mean saying something in a unique way that is moving, challenging and/ or bold. Most songs don’t go here, but if they did, they would be far more effective.
“Shocking” also doesn’t have to mean “controversial.” “Shocking” songs can also simply carry a little bit of attitude to them. Songs like “Take Courage,” “Good Good Father” and “Holy Spirit” carry an unreserved boldness to them.
If you’re wanting to apply the “shocking” filter to your songs, ask these questions:
- “What’s a more unique way I can say what I want to say?”
- “If I were preaching a sermon on this topic, how would I get my point across?”
- “If I wanted to stir up faith in my spirit, what would I say?”
Many songs are a combination of both. But the lesson for both is to not settle. Don’t settle for a mediocre song that doesn’t say anything. Write the lyrics that light your heart on fire. Challenge yourself. Be bold.
Let’s talk about it.
This article originally appeared here.