Sometimes a little confession among friends helps us all as songwriters. I can write a story song, a love song, silly song for my kids in no time flat. I don’t have to mull over any of the wording, it just flows effortlessly, and the main reason is because the precision of those words isn’t a huge deal. It’s mostly a gut feeling or random idea that I can lyrically drop out and let wander a bit.
You guys know as well as I do, that when it comes to writing songs for the church to sing in worship - there are a laundry list of things that come into play.
- Is this a melody that is approachable?
- Can people physically sing this?…other than me? (tenors unite!!!)
- Are these words theologically aligned with Scripture?
- Does our congregation need to be singing these words right now?
- Honestly, has this already been said? Even said better?
- Did I already write this song before????
It’s a gut-wrenching thing to approach. I hear a lot of songs for the church, that I sometimes wonder if any of these questions were even on their radar. Therefore, as a writer it can feel very stifling and un-artistic to have these constraints.
One pitfall of mine that I find myself falling into, is using the same vocabulary that I use all of the time, or the same vernacular that I hear in other songs over and over again. What this can create is a staleness to your writing that just doesn’t grab people. God has made us as writers - creative for a reason. It can often be simple to look at the constraints of writing songs for the church as a cop-out instead of an opportunity.
Here’s one helpful tip to maybe help you get out of your own head a little, and it’s something that I have done for years; I have always called it Rolling Stone Writing: When I’m writing a song I usually have a thematic idea or maybe a key phrase, hook or direction. I sometimes find myself getting bogged down in my same old “go to” churchy phrases, and I finish a song that started in a good place and it has fallen short of being fresh.
To combat this phenomena, I started taking that theme or idea and I would pick up a Rolling Stone magazine (obviously doesn’t have to be that exact magazine) and I would start to just skim through articles, ads, interviews for words that just weren’t words that I typically use. I try and key in on maybe words or phrases that feel like the thematic space that I’m trying to move in a song. I make a huge word and phrase bank, then I go back to work, trying to craft something that pushes more deeply into the place I want to go.
I feel like my Rolling Stone Writing approach is the equivalent of taking an entire tool chest into a job, rather than just carrying a hammer and trying make it work. I think leaning into this or a similar approach approach, however it fleshes out in your writing, can help get you out of the box and ultimately take your writing to a rich place that will touch more people than it could have before.
Now, go use this device for something worthwhile.