Archived entries

writing for the community in community

Songwriting can be tough! Songwriting for the local church can be even tougher because not only are we balancing lyric, melody and meter, but we are called upon to create something for everyday folk – people who are not skilled musicians or singers. We are called to craft approachable words that give voice to the human heart for people who, generally speaking, are not poets – theological truth that can be feasted upon for people who are not theologians, and somehow package all this in a way that preserves artistic beauty. (And by-the-way, we all want beauty, artist or not. You want beauty. I want beauty. Heck, even my log-buying-mule-riding-punch-you-in-the-face dad wants beauty!) Admittedly, it’s a daunting task, but one well worth the struggle and strain.

Perhaps one of the best ways to start is by creating a songwriter’s circle. We first began one at our church five years ago and I can honestly say that nothing in all my years of being involved in the church has done more to empower songwriting. Up until our songwriting group formed, original songs were sporadic and generally written by two people. After the group, new music was regular, as well as the number of writers increased dramatically. One of the most enjoyable parts of all this for me was that people who never considered themselves to be writers were suddenly, within two weeks, writing songs – songs that our church still sings five years later!

Here are the essential ingredients to a songwriting circle that will change your church forever:

1.) People! Keep the group small enough that there can be time to share songs without creating a four hour meeting but big enough that it is interesting. 4-10 people is perfect. Also, don’t be afraid to invite a couple of people who didn’t instantly come to your mind – someone new to the worship band, the super awkward 13-year-old skate punk, the mom of three who hasn’t played her guitar in years. Often, these “additions” are packing a punch in terms of fresh perspective.

2.) Deadlines! Decide how often you are going to meet, and when songs are due and stick to it! At our group we write a song every two weeks, and if you don’t bring a song then you are out! The biggest obstacle to writing is procrastination, and everyone knows that musicians and artists are the worst procrastinators. Make a deadline – every week, every other week, once a month or some other interval – the interval isn’t as important as sticking to it.

3.) Critique! The only way to get better is to play what you have written and then receive some real feedback. This can be sticky – artists are notoriously sensitive, but it is essential. Maybe that melody isn’t quite as rad as you thought, and you need to know – and eventually, you will be glad. Likewise, maybe there are a few things that are pure gold, a turn of phrase or metaphoric idea, and again, you need to know. Make this way more about encouragement than correction, especially with new writers. Also, backhanded complements just suck, so don’t be a jerk. At the beginning, only allow a critique after two or three positive affirmations.

More to come!

Peace!

Adam

from consumer to producer

Hello IW friends. I’m Hannah Daugherty, worship pastor at the Vineyard Campbellsville. I want to share with you about my experience as a woman, raised Southern Baptist, musician-turned-songwriter. My singing experience began when my twin sister and I cranked out the best christian hits as ‘special’ music at church. There was no emphasis on taking our ‘gift’ and using it to express the joy, frustration, sadness, triumph, peace, longing, disappointment of following Jesus in our own words. These early experiences were not a total loss because it allowed us to develop the craft of singing.

The shift came when I began to hang out at the Vineyard Campbellsville – before I came on staff. They did their own stuff–stuff that no one knew. Yet it expressed the good things of God and shared in my heart’s thoughts. Five years ago the church developed a new group called ‘worship force.’ It was a songwriter’s circle that met every other week to share new songs. You had to bring a song you had written to the group, and if you came empty-handed you had to leave the group! I was fully intimidated: I had never written anything and couldn’t believe I was about to try. It didn’t matter how pretty of a singer I was at this point. This was a whole new ballgame.

I’d say the first year was spent getting the muddy water out of this new well. It was such a great experience. What felt new and labored back then is now a flowing spring of life within our local church. Today, to cut off new song writing would feel like cutting off life flow.

We regularly include songs from Jesus Culture, friends from around the Southeast and others to the set list on a Sunday morning. They’re anointed! But there are some things that must be said by the home team. The guys that serve day-in and day-out at our local church see the hearts of the people. Creating songs in this environment serves the local church and gives a voice to the people that show up at our place each week. Growing up as a musician in this culture of song writing and musicianship has allowed me to approach worship songs in a new way. There’s so much more to learn, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to add my original voice to the worship. The veil has been lifted. I want the same for you.

Hannah Daugherty

protecting the “yes”

File this entry under Developing a Culture of Creativity Part II – Real Platforms. A creative culture, one that produces a harvest of songs, requires the right kind of soil. Oak trees won’t tolerate desert sand and neither will songs tolerate the arid climate of indifference.

But there is one thing beyond soil composition that is required – space to grow. It doesn’t matter that I want to grow tomatoes if my garden is already planted with corn and cucumbers. In this scenario the only solution is to pull up a row of corn or maybe remove a hill or two of cucumbers.

The point is, every church has a liturgy, a garden, if you will – and like a garden, our liturgy has limits and boundaries. Every component of the service is a plant that takes up space – space that allows it to absorb the nutrients of the soil beneath it and hopefully produce a harvest of life – space that could also be planted with another variety. The issue for every pastor and leader is this – every “yes” is also a “no”, which is why we must diligently consider everything that gets precious space.

When we put together one worship set after another, composed solely of CCM top 40 and traditional hymns, we are filling our “song garden” all the way to the edges – leaving no room for a local expression. Amend the soil, remove the rocks, and pull the weeds but don’t forget to save some space.

Peace!

Adam

developing a culture of creativity part III

Spend Some Bucks

It has often been said that a persons checkbook is a kind of window, allowing an unbiased view into who a person really is. This is because we all spend our money on the things we love and value. It’s the same at church.

Seeing a culture of creativity established in a church requires spending money. When we allocate a percentage of our budget towards worship, creativity, and artistic endeavors we are communicating that these are valuable – so valuable that we are willing to spend limited resources to see that they happen.

Every musician that I know is inspired by quality gear. When I pick up a really great acoustic guitar and begin to play, something about the subtle nuances of the instrument takes hold of me and suddenly I’m singing melodies. And while I’m on it, let me say something about church sound systems. A full 40-50% of what we do when we gather depends upon the sound system, yet most churches that I go to have seriously underinvested in this critical component. About four years ago we realized that we needed to invest (again) in our sound system, because the band was better that the system. Over the course of a few years the the musicianship had steadily grown here at the church, but that wasn’t coming through on Sunday mornings. The experience of the band on the stage and that of the people in the congregation were dramatically different. That’s when I knew it was time to reinvest.

Not only has musicianship grown at our church, but song-writing has really flourished. We just finished our second studio project. About half-way through I realized that we were not going to quit writing songs for the church any time soon, and so we probably weren’t going to quit recording either. That’s when the elders and I decided to take two underutilized prayer rooms and turn them into a recording studio. Even though our church is only 250 people, and is set in a really rural part of Kentucky, this has become a reality because we VALUE creativity – and it shows in the budget!

I realize that the mere mention of money is liable to ignite a firestorm of push back, and to a certain extent there is good reason. I’m not suggesting that all one has to do to see creativity flourish is throw money at it. With that sort of logic (lack of wisdom) the only “players” would be large, rich churches in Mercedes Benz suburbs. That’s ridiculous. I’ve been to lots of large, well funded churches who had all the bells and whistles, but certainly did not have a culture of creativity – they had lights, thundering subs and well-paid “hired guns”. Likewise, I’ve been to small, poor churches in the third-world, where members of the worship band constructed their own drum-kit from random pieces of thrown away garbage, to find creativity flourishing. The point is that what we value is illuminated by how we spend our cash.

Open doors, real platforms, and dollars spent are practical ways to “flesh out” the invisible value for creativity. They work best in concert – to take any one of them away is to knock over the proverbial three-legged stool. These are three approaches that we have taken to valuing creativity at my church, but I know that there are others – What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear.

Peace!

Adam

developing a culture of creativity part II

Real Platforms

For a culture of creativity to take root in a community of believers there must be real platforms for creative expression, and that includes Sunday morning. The songs and sounds that are conceived within a given congregation absolutely must be put before the people.

This involves risk and trust, two words that most pastors embrace as abstract concepts, but look to avoid in actuality. I know this because I am a pastor. It’s sometimes difficult to be willing to risk the Sunday morning service for new songs or new worship leaders, but this is critical on numerous levels.

Taking “risks” with new worship leaders and new songs communicates to the church that artistic expression is valued. Without saying a word it communicates that we welcome creativity and the artists who make it. I can’t stress this enough, one of the main reasons that so many churches do not have meaningful artistic expression is because there have been so few platforms. In the absence of visible and meaningful platforms artists, musicians and creative types have gotten the message – “we don’t need you” – and so they leave, often times dropping their faith at the back doorstep.

Similarly, giving opportunities to songwriters is a really practical way of saying that we value people. If you do this I can promise you that there will be moments when you wish you hadn’t, because people often times get it wrong. Giving songwriters and their songs multiple chances says that people are more important than their inconsistencies.

“Excellence” is a hot word in the church right now, and rightfully so, but I have noticed that “excellence” is often times a principle masquerading as lack of trust. Embracing a culture of creativity means that we must be willing to occasionally have a bad meeting. Seriously. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that we should do things poorly, but I am saying that just because someone’s new song isn’t a hit that it should be interpreted as evidence that the person lacks talent. People need chances. Multiple chances. That’s down-right gospel.

When we share platforms and opportunities we are also communicating that we value diversity. When we make a spot for songwriters, musicians and artists we make a spot for a diverse group of people. This kind of diversity is the life-blood of community. Let me give you an example – the songs that I write are americana-folk-rock – very Tom Petty influenced. Sam, a song-writer from my church, writes these epic arena rock anthems. Hannah, another song-writer from the church, writes sweet acoustic, folk tunes. And Glen, yet another song-writer from the church, writes mostly pop-punk songs. By giving a diverse set of song-writers a real platform a diverse church is served. In addition, no one is “forced” to be something that they aren’t. Community where this type of diversity is present frees me, and everyone else, from having to be the expert in everything.

I would like to challenge pastors and worship leaders to look for ways to share the platform. The people that take center stage, and the ministry they bring with them, are speaking way beyond what is being presented in the moment. Take a risk. Try something new. Give someone’s song a chance. This kind of risk-taking is the essence of a creative culture!

Peace!

Adam

developing a culture of creativity part I

I pastor a small Vineyard church in the middle of nowhere Kentucky, but I’m not complaining. When the Southern Baptist university located in our town is in session our church balloons to around 250 people. Summer is another story altogether, at least as far as attendance is concerned. I bring this up because even though we are a small church in a small town we have always been really blessed with artists, musicians, song-writers and creative types. We have always written our own songs and used them for Sunday morning worship. I used to think that we were special and unique – but after being a part of this church for 14 years I realize that there were seeds of freedom planted into the soil-structure of our body that have been strategic in allowing artists and musicians the liberty to participate and flourish.

Here are a few of the really practical things that our church has done over the past 14 years that have engendered a culture of creativity.

Open Doors

We have always had an open-door policy with respect to the church building and the sound equipment. Early on we passed out keys like gmail accounts. Later on we put a lock box on the side of the building – a three digit code give access to the key that gives access to the building. Pretty much everyone who has been to our church more than two months knows the code. This has been a big deal because we have never been professional musicians. Especially early on, when most of the worship band was composed of people in high school who could barely play their respective instruments. The church has been, and continues to be a gathering space for the worship band and musicians to come and practice. Most people do not have a space where they can play their instruments at full volume – and even fewer have a space set up with really great gear! I will occasionally drive by the church at midnight or after to find that some of the young guys from church are jamming away. I love seeing that because I know that means that the hook has been set, and our church will continue be a haven for creativity and something new.

As a side note I would like to say that in 14 years nothing has been stolen, and less than $250.00 of equipment has been broken. In all honesty, I can’t remember anything that has been broken, but I’m sure that something has bit the dust. Now, just because nothing has been stolen or broken doesn’t mean that there haven’t been challenges. Monitor mixes are constantly changed, even though I’ve asked, begged, pleaded and demanded that they be left alone. The stage is usually a wreck and instruments are usually left out. I have spent many a Saturday afternoon cleaning up the stage and resetting the sound board so that things could be ready for the next morning. This really bothered me for years, until one day I realized that this just what it costs to have great musicians, and ultimately spiritual sons and daughters. Now I clean up the stage like my mother used to clean up my room, and I embrace it because it’s a chance for me to serve in creating an atmosphere of creativity and of family.

Peace!

Adam

recapturing the song

We’ve got to recapture song-writing in the church. Right now it feels like there are a handful of “experts” who sneeze out 12 perfectly singable, congregational “hits” every year that the rest of us play. I know that sounds snarky, and I’m sorry, but it’s not quite as snarky as it sounds. I’m asking why we all have to play the same 12-15 songs. Who says “good worship” is composed solely of internationally known songs that everyone knows?

Think of it this way: what if your pastor simply did his version of the latest, most awesome John Piper sermon? It would probably be decent because John Piper is a master preacher with real insight into the scriptures. But it would also be a bit hollow too. We expect that our pastors are searching the scriptures and seeking God so that on Sunday the word that is preached is “todays manna”

Week by week pastors partner with the Holy Spirit to hear His word. Week by week they hone their craft. What about us? Can the same be said of worship leaders? Who says that our worship experience should be “our version” of a popular song?

I’m not saying that we should never do covers or play the new “hot song.” (God knows that I have referenced John Piper numerous times in my own sermons) but if we become professional copy-cats our creative muscles will slowly atrophy. We will lose our ability to be truly indigenous. We will miss a great opportunity to be the local church. We will lose touch with the spark of creativity that God has planted within his people–the spark that inspires true artists–artists who walk out life with God and sing along the way.

Peace!

Adam

matt maher – writing for the local church!

matt redman – writing for the local church!

Songs Are a Sign of Life

Wherever you find life you will likely find God hanging around, because God is life. The signs are everywhere. Creation is a sign: with a few words God spoke creation into existence. Life exploded out of nothingness. Everywhere Jesus went he extended life to dying bodies, sick minds, and hopeless situations. Healing, deliverance, and hope are signs of life. Salvation and baptisms are signs of life. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon a group of 120 men and women resulting in 3,000 new births. God and life are inseparable.

Songs are a sign of life. In the same way that creation, healing, deliverance, hope, love, community, generosity, salvation and baptisms are signs of life, I would like to add that songs are a sign of life. When the God of heaven is truly among us, there will be singing.

In Exodus 15, when the people of Israel were delivered from slavery and the army of Pharaoh was destroyed, Moses and Miriam both sang to the Lord. Chapter four of Revelation, which is a picture of heaven and God’s throne, show us songs and worship constantly erupting.

I’m a pastor–to be exact, a worship leader turned pastor. The pastor part of me is always looking to compare our own church to the people and churches found in the Biblical narrative. I want to model our life and experiences after the live and experiences of the people of God found in the scriptures. I’m a bit compulsive about it because I believe it’s essential.

How can we measure in simple, quick ways whether we are on the right path? by asking questions like “Where’s the life in my church?” or “What is alive and vibrant?” or even “Where is there excess and abundance?” Often we will find the life of God in unexpected places and within unlikely people.

The centuries of church history confirm the connection between the life of God and the songs that are signs of life. God moved in the ministry of John Wesley and the result was life: untold numbers of salvation and a hymnal full of songs. Wesley’s brother Charles penned some of the most important songs in the history of the church during those years. Here is Love is my favorite hymn of all-time. It was written during the Welsh revival when a young man named Evan Roberts upended a nation by partnering with the Spirit of God. 100,000 people came to the Lord in just one year, and Here is Love became their anthem.

Both the scriptures and church history teach that songs break forth from the activity of God. Songs point to the fact that God’s presence is among us.

Where is the life in your church? is it evidenced by fresh songs and worship that are unique to your church’s experience with God? If so–awesome! If not–then what’s in the way?

Peace!

Adam



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