Worship Songwriting Part 1 - Content

From time to time I get requests from people asking for my advice on writing corporate worship music. Although I have written music for a while I do not by any means consider myself the best source. But I do try to help out as best as I can. These are a few of my short thoughts on the subject.

The first thing we have to start with is content. The biggest thing I would recommend is to treat each song like a sermon. I am not sure if you have ever preached or will preach in the future so if I am telling you something you already know feel free to diregard it. What I mean by that is spend as much time as possible researching scripture and texts and concordances for each song's subject. I know when I prepare a sermon I will spend several hours the week before preparing and meditating and chewing on the text. And the odd thing is the shorter the sermon the more prep time is required because when we try to pack theology into a small suitcase (a song is a very small suitcase) we have to pack deliberately, intentionally and thoughtfully. So instead of grabbing a text like Psalm 34 and attempting to immediately comprehend the 'fear of the Lord' and throwing that idea into a song, spend some time asking the Lord what that actually means. Read books on the subject and search scripture for the meaning of things and how they apply to us so that when we pen a lyric it will not only express the emotion we feel as artists, but it will fulfill the greater mission of educating the worshipper about important theological truths. This is the greatest mistake of modern worship songwriting is that we think we only need to emote and that is only a small part of it.


Jason Campbell said…
Marty, this is brilliant! You are right on and the thought of an artist of any kind doing a little research and exigesis knowing that truth, wisdom and reality will only enlarge their sense of wonder and deepen their emotional connection makes me very happy.

I actually write some of my poems first in the books I am reading. Study is a path to expression ... but unfortunately, modern art (including modern worship) only studies inside. I know how you feel about Mr. Stevens, but one of the reasons his lyrics (whatever you think of his music) are substantially deeper and richer than almost anyone his age (including Connor Oburst of Bright Eyes who is good for a navel gazer) is that his songs come from studies about the world around him ... outside of him. They are all about Sufjan grappling to understand history and place.

And I think your image about suitcases is perfect. You really could expand on this and publish it in Christianity today or Books and Culture (even better). I heard Wright talk about theological terminology as suitcases once and how important it was to unpack them. But I think the way you used the imagry is important ... stating that the smaller the space, the more deliberate you have to be with the packing.

This is definitely what makes those old hymns like Sacrad Head so profound. Evrery phrase and every stranza is a profound world of passion, theology, scripture and power.

Marty, please keep blogging.

One more thought ... this way of thinking opens the door for collaboration. It is possible that two or three could work together ... or even that a great songwriter and a tone-deaf reader could create together.
Yes! Finally! Great post, Marty. I agree with Jason all the way, especially about you writing more.

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