the baby and the bathwater

July 6, 2009, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We held our anual heartheadhands day here in Cheltenham on 27th June. It was a great day where we were joined by many worship leader friends and their teams from around the region. The main teaching of the day was incredible – from Alan Scott – which you can listen to by going onto the pod-cast page of our church website If you are there, I recommend also listening to his talk from Sunday morning too.

It was great to join with a number of the songwriters for our afternoon seminar: in case it helps, here is the outline talk:

Biblical context: God loves it when we sing songs to Him. Songs are often a herald to, and a consequence of, acts of power in the Kingdom.

Cultural context: Great songs cross religious and cultural barriers. Speak to someone about God and you may put them off, yet thousands will sing a U2 anthem with no problem at all.

Church Context: The impact of worship leader/songwriter celebrity status, and the financial consequences of success can cause mixed motives.

Given the biblical, cultural and church context at the moment, how do we navigate through it all in our approach to songwriting.

1. Write songs for your church. Don’t write primarily for the big event, for the next CD, for the promise of global recognition. Write for your church. The best people to write songs for your own church is you.

2. Write out of what God is doing. Most of the great songs come out of great moves of God – reformation, vineyard, hillsong. Look and listen at what God is doing in your church and see if there are ways you can turn that back into a song. Don’t worry if other churches don’t ‘get it’, as long as your church does.

3. Articulate the song story. A great discipline – can you articulate what the song is saying in a few short words or a simple sentence? What is the ‘one idea’ that underpins your song. Worship is a journey (psalm 84) and most people can only cope with so much at any one time.

4. Remember it is to be sung in church. Most people in your church are far less musically skilled than you are. Most people just want to sing songs to God that don’t test their musical expertise too much. People moan about the three-chord trick. But often that can be the best thing. Too many songs are too complex musically or too personal lyrically to be sung in a gathered worship context.

5. Theology is massively important. People retain theology from the songs they sing – make sure they sing truth. It is the truth that sets people free. Bad theology always comes back to bite you. Run your songs past theologians and church leaders. You may not always agree, but the discussion can be hugely helpful.

6. Get some good ideas form other people. Don’t steal. But do learn. Work with people who compliment your own particular strengths.

7. Don’t be afraid of re-writing again and again. Often the biggest stumbling block to a great song is the prophetic voice that won’t be refined. Single small changes can make a good song great. The diamonds often take the longest to find.


1 Comment so far
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Hi Neil,

Cheers for the session last saturday, really enjoyed it and found the songwriting advice really useful. Was great to be with you guys for the day.

[I was only a little disappointed to be the only one in the room not to be asked where I was from…maybe I’ve got one of those “I know someone who looks just like you” faces! We worship leaders like to be noticed you know…in fact isn’t that what it’s all about?]

Thanks again.


Comment by Kev B

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