“Sing to the Lord a new song.”
The phrase is repeated over and over in the Scriptures. In the Old and New Testaments, we see “new songs” as a part of what God is doing (Isaiah 42:10, Psalm 40:3, Revelation 5:9.) As a worship leader who writes songs, I was recently intrigued by the idea that maybe these verses are more literal than we tend to make them. When the psalmist tells us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” he was literally singing a new song to the Lord. So maybe our worship team should try it out, I thought. Maybe our church could write and sing new songs about what God is doing among us?
But I was afraid.
I was afraid the congregation would think I was being self-promoting. I was afraid that my songs wouldn’t stand up next to the Hillsong or Matt Redman or Jesus Culture songs we sing. I was afraid that it might be distracting. I was afraid that it’d be hard to arrange a song that we didn’t have a reference recording for. I was afraid my pastor might ask me not to introduce original music anymore.
I shared my doubts and insecurities with my wife and friends. They began to encourage me, so one week I just did it. I snuck one of my songs onto the setlist without telling anyone I’d written it. It didn’t bring down the house in uproarious applause or usher in a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t get picked up by other churches or played on Christian radio stations.
But you know what? It was a much-needed encouragement to our congregation. It was a timely song that spoke to our need for an unwavering God in the midst of chaos. Over time it led to conversations about what God was doing among our congregation, which led to more writing, more musicians, and more songs that spoke to us in a specific ways.
I’ve heard some worship pastors argue that songwriting is only for a chosen few. Certainly songwriting is a gift and a craft, but it’s not just for the “professionals.” It’s something you can do with your team, in your church, and you can start today. As a part of you and your team’s regular spiritual practices, songwriting has the potential to shape both you and the congregation in powerful ways.
WHAT IT DOES FOR YOUR CONGREGATION
Songs are altars.
Whether it’s a particular scripture, sermon series theme, or a timely word from the Lord, songs help to trace the history and story of your congregation. Like the altars built by the Old Testament fathers, songs can be a way for us to look back and say, “Look what God has done!” Singing those songs together as a community can be a meaningful bonding experience.
Songs help to reinforce common language and local content.
Most of us would find it strange if our pastor decided to start “covering” popular sermons. We love the idea of a timely, localized sermon. Why? Because a Spirit-filled sermon can challenge and inspire your congregation at just the right time. Songs can function the same way.
Songwriting is a unique way to encourage your congregation in the pursuit of Jesus, all week long.
Most people will only listen to their favorite sermon once or twice. But a well-crafted song might stay with them for years to come. For the pastoral songwriter, that’s a great opportunity. A catchy song can take deep biblical truths and help make those things stick for people.
WHAT IT DOES FOR YOUR TEAM
Creativity is a part of being image-bearers of God.
At the outset of creation, God gave us certain qualities are in His “image” or “likeness” (Gen. 1:26-28.) Among those qualities is the act of creating. By creating music that good, beautiful, and truthful, we imitate God and reflect His glory.
Songwriting is a means of creating unique culture.
We’re fascinated by churches like Passion, Hillsong, and Bethel that have fostered a unique worship music community. But we often forget that the hallmark of those ministries is their faithfulness in writing and singing new music. In today’s culture, there’s arguably nothing more culture-shaping about your church than the kind of music you play on Sunday morning. Songwriting is a great way to speak to people in what Brian Doerksen once called people’s “musical native tongue.”
Co-writing is a great way to work out Kingdom ethics and build humility.
Writing worship songs together with your team opens up all kinds of potential for conversation and growth. It gets your team thinking about the responsibility of choosing the lyrics for your community to sing. It gets them thinking about the importance of contextualizing the Gospel message in song. Co-writing can also help you and your team become more humble and open-handed with your creative gifts.
WHAT IT DOES FOR YOU AS A WORSHIP PASTOR
Songs help you shepherd the congregation.
Knowing, loving, and praying for your community is a vital part of being an effective worship pastor. Writing songs specific to the struggles or journey of your congregation is a fantastic way to love them well. Is your community filled with violence? Write a lament or a prayer for peace. Has your church seen sickness or death this year? Write about the hope of resurrection. The responsibility of writing lyrics for your congregation often leads to an ear toward Heaven, a heart toward people, and a new kind of dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Songwriting can be formational.
Over the past year I started looking at creativity as a spiritual discipline. I wondered what it would look like to offer my creativity as an act of worship to God. So I took one psalm each morning and just starting singing, approaching God through the lyrics of the psalmist. The process has significantly shaped the way I view both my creativity and my prayer life. Singing my prayers and longings to God has been an incredible way to engage with His Spirit. And as a bonus, a bunch of those psalm-singing melodies turned into songs that we sing as a congregation.
What would look like for your church to write and introduce a new song this next year? Maybe it means finding someone you can share new songs with to give you trusted feedback. Maybe it’s seeking out a co-writing partner whose gifts compliment yours. Maybe it means inviting one of your team members to share a song with the congregation. Maybe it’s having a humble conversation with your senior pastor. Maybe it’s releasing yourself of the expectation to write like Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman.
Or maybe it means sitting your basement with nothing but an open Bible and a guitar and “singing a new song to the Lord.”
NICK MORROW ( www.nickmorrowmusic.com)
Nick Morrow is a pastor and musician at Common Ground West in Indianapolis. On a good week he enjoys writing songs, hiking, convincing legitimate musicians to stoop to his level, telling stories, meticulously building Spotify playlists, and pretending to answer fake interview questions in the car. He enjoys it all with his wife Melissa, their three kids, and a fake toy dog named Lucy Boy. He loves his job more than anyone probably should, and God has been kinder to him much more than he deserves.