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two sons, one daughter and a kentucky farmhouse

I am a father. I have three kids – River, 9, Seth, 7, and Magnolia, 4. Along with my wife, Heather, they are the joy of my heart. One of the things that I’ve observed about my kids is that they love to sing, and from what I’ve heard from other parents, this is pretty common. At any given moment, my house is echoing with the sounds of all three kids singing the unrehearsed, free-form verses of their heart. Their song is irrepressible: always erupting from within, splashing my home with sound and joy. They are always singing. They sing quietly in their rooms. They sing loudly with tiny blue earbuds stuffed into their ears. They sing their sorrows, though usually it’s a song of joy that can be heard. They sing songs with words they know and sometimes the words and melodies are new, as fresh as the moment in which they are sung. Children sing.

I should also tell you that, as their father, I get great joy out of hearing them. I love listening to life processed through innocent hearts. I love these songs because they let me know where my children are. When I listen I immediately know where they are in the house and where they are in their heart. I love hearing River sing in the shower. I love hearing Seth sing in the backseat of the car. I love hearing Magnolia sing alone in her room while she’s playing with her toys. I think they sound great.

We were all born with a song. We were all born loaded with meter and melody–though some of us come with a more refined version. There is something in the human heart that can only be expressed through a song. We were hard-wired this way, and it’s good.

I’m also pretty sure that I’m not the only father that gets a great deal of pleasure out of hearing his children sing. I’m positive that the same is true of our Heavenly Father!

For those of us who feel called and compelled to write songs for the local church, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are sons and daughters of God. Let’s write and sing from “home,” that place where we have his affection and approval. Some of us want to serve our brothers and sisters with songs that connect us all to our common Father. Of course, that’s good: let’s be sure it flows from “home”.

Some of us feel completely overwhelmed in trying to write something that’s catchy, singable, and doctrinally correct. Sometimes the best starting place is alone in your room, with the “edit” button turned off. I promise that God finds pleasure when he overhears you.

Now I’m not going to lie, this is the long road. Few people would take note of the songs that my kids sing or the art projects that they bring me, let alone find great joy in them as I do. I’m pretty sure that none of the other boys or girls in Magnolia’s preschool class are impressed with her voice, or her ability to turn a phrase, but there is a good chance, if she keeps singing, keeps creating, in a few years they’ll all be joining in.

Let’s hear it for “home” and our loving Father who hears it all.



criticism, feedback, reflection

There are at least three essential components in a song-circle that will generate fresh songs for your local church community – people, deadlines, and a critique. You can check out some of the previous posts on the topic HERE. This week we will look at the critique.

As creative people, most of us would rather avoid any form of critique or constructive review. We are all so danged insecure! Think your not? Go ahead, sing one of your songs for a few people and invite their honest opinion. You may have just felt yourself swallow hard.

Even though the thought makes us shutter, a system of honest critique is absolutely essential. It has been my experience that church is the one place on the planet where people regularly talk about how great truly awful things are. I know this to be true because people have come and complimented me on songs that were, at best, underwhelming.

The truth is that very few of us are all that self-aware, about anything. Our insecurities and fears have either beat us into shaking submission or have puffed us up with delusions of grandeur – though, most of us are a complicated mixture of both, and like kites, are being blown by every kind of wind.

The #1 job of the person who is leading the group is to make this process a good balance of safety and honesty, to withhold either is to rob each person present of the opportunity to grow, the chance to become a more refined, nuanced writer. That said, people will get their feelings hurt. That’s o.k., people need pastoring. People need someone to speak encouragement to their fears. Other people need someone to punch their jerkiness in the face – that’s pastoral too.

One way to balance safety and honesty is to impose a 3 to 1 rule, meaning three positive compliments to one constructive, critical comment. It’s also important to try and get everyone to comment, in this fashion, on everyone else’s song – that increases the feedback on each song, which is always really helpful, AND it causes everyone to listen and comment with grace knowing that they will also be on the receiving end!

Another facet to the 3 to 1 rule is the emphasis on the good. Oddly enough, most of us are just as blind to the strengths in our songwriting as we are the deficiencies. We need to know when the melody soars. We need to know when the song concept is genius. We need to know what’s good. This practice is for the people offering critique as much as it is for the person receiving. Our culture is drunk with biting criticism and negativity. We are all well trained experts in what “sucks”, to the point that we have often times become blind to the greatness in the people all around us. All of our constructive, shaping words must be applied to a strong frame of encouragement.

At the same time, our songs need careful and gentle criticism. If the verse melody is lifeless, or the second line of the first verse is a tired cliche, we need to know. Often, the difference between a good song and a great song are the simple tweaks that emerge from an honest evaluation.

Ira Glass, of This American Life, points out that when a person begins creative endeavors, their “taste” will be better than their abilities. I know nothing that helps close this gap like a song-circle where a person can get honest, encouragement leaning feedback.



talking songs with steve jones


This is part three in our series on developing a song-circle. This week we will look at the second essential ingredient to a healthy, functioning song-circle – deadlines! We all hate them. They cause memories of school to reemerge – demanding teachers who expect a four page paper on Benjamin Franklin by next Friday! All of our angst sitting right beneath the surface. Deadlines.

Here’s the deal, we all need deadlines. We all need an appointment. Deadlines keep us honest and force us to press beyond the inspiration that gave us the first verse. Deadlines produce finished work. Period. It may not all be good, but it will be finished, and the path to good songs is paved with finished songs. How many of us have notebooks crammed full of half-finished songs? A chorus here, a verse there – that’s not songwriting, that’s song-starting. Unfinished work depresses me. A finished song changes my world.

Deadlines cause us to be more in tune with the subtle currents of inspiration. Most songwriters, me included, are intoxicated with the inspiration lightning bolt that strikes and leaves a song behind. Most of us, me included, ride that initial burst of inspiration right up to the point that writing gets hard, then we quit. More notebooks filled with half-written songs. However, a deadline causes me to simmer with inspiration, because in the back of my mind is the due date. I drive my car to town thinking about lyrics. I hum melodies in the shower. My entire internal thought life is transformed until I’m thinking like an actual writer. That’s the power of a deadline.

When forming your song-circle make deadlines and stick to them. We write from May till August each summer (when our people have a bit more free time). Songs are due every other week, no exceptions. If you come without a song, your out until next summer. We have chosen this method because it was the only way for us to continually respect the deadline. At the beginning of the summer I always hate having the due date hanging around my neck, but at the end of summer, when I have a notebook of finished songs, I’m in love!

Pick your interval. Make a deadline. Stick to it.



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