Writing a worship song can simultaneously be one of the most challenging and most natural things a Christian musician can do. It is natural because worship is what naturally flows out of any person whose nature has been changed by the saving grace of Jesus. It is challenging because songwriting is a craft, and like all crafts, great songwriting takes time and practice. Worship also has the added challenge of accurately and clearly communicating Christian doctrine, which means that extra attention must be given to lyrics to make sure that they truthfully represent Jesus.
Here are five tips to help you write better worship songs, regardless how much experience you have with the craft of songwriting.
- Start and end with Scripture. The Bible is an inexhaustible well of creative inspiration. If your songwriting process usually begins with melody, Scripture is full of jumping off places for lyrics. If your song started with a lyrical idea, find the places in Scripture that talk about that theme and search those ideas out in context. For example, if the first lyrical idea that comes to mind is, “God’s grace is enough for me,” then look at the context where that phrase originates. You can Google “God’s grace is enough,” and it will lead you to 2 Corinthians 12 where the Apostle Paul tells a remarkable story about being raptured into Heaven, where he heard heavenly creatures speak in languages that cannot be expressed in human words. In that place, he felt the brunt of his human deficiencies and begged God to take them away. God’s reply was “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” There is a wealth of lyrical inspiration from that one passage. If you are writing a song that glorifies Jesus, the context will always be the eternal Truth of Scripture, so dive in. Dig a deep well into the Bible with your devotional life, and your lyric writing will never run dry!
- Choose a specific theme, and don’t stray from it. This is the place I see most new songwriters trip up. There is a temptation in any art form to stick with what you know. In worship songwriting, this often results in stale, recycled lyrical ideas and songs that speak in vague generalities. This is where we get the all-too-familiar “grace-face-place” rhymes that have already appeared in a thousand other songs. However, being specific or even narrow in your theme places boundaries around the width of your lyrics so that you’re forced to go deeper instead. So, if you’re writing a song about God being enough, there’s no need to stray from that central idea and begin writing about creation. If you’re writing about creation, there’s no need to begin writing about healing. If you’re writing a song about healing, let it be about healing. Don’t settle for “filler” lyrics. Go ahead and write the filler lyrics if you get stuck, but revisit them later to pull them back into your central theme. A song about everything will ultimately be about nothing, but a song about something specific will pack a punch. Setting limitations and boundaries nearly always aids the creative process.
- Write everything down, even if it’s incomplete. As I said before, songwriting is a craft, and the only way to hone your skill in a craft is practice. It is a good habit to write something every day, even if it’s just a single lyrical phrase or one melodic line (use the voice memos function on your phone to record musical ideas). The regular practice of putting ideas to paper, even if you don’t feel like those ideas are very good, will stretch your ability to sit down and generate ideas in a songwriting session and help prevent you from getting stuck. On my computer, I have what I like to call my “lyric orphanage” and my “melody orphanage” where I’ve saved hundreds of musical scraps and of incomplete thoughts waiting to be adopted into a song. Often, I will have an idea for a song and scrolling through the folder of old ideas, I’ll find the perfect pairing from months or even years ago to fit into a new song. One day, if you sit down to write but you don’t have any new ideas, you can simply scroll through your old ones for inspiration.
- Find a partner to co-write with. There is no need to be possessive with your ideas. Deuteronomy 32 tells us that when God is on our side, one person can scatter a thousand enemies, but two can chase away 10,000! Don’t forget that when we worship, we’re doing battle in the spirit realm. Co-writing has both practical and spiritual implications. If you look at the liner notes for almost any album, you’ll see that most successful songs have more than one songwriter. Finding a co-writer can help shore you up in places where your writing is weak. It can help you generate words and melodies twice as fast as you would on your own, as your ideas begin inspiring each other. In my experience, nothing destroys writers block faster than having a co-writer. Probably 80% of my favorite songs that I’ve written were written with a friend. Spiritually, co-writing carries with it the power of agreement. There’s something mysterious and powerful about when Believers unify with the purpose of glorifying Jesus.
- Revise, revise, revise! Young songwriters are often overprotective of what they’ve written, wrongfully believing that making any changes is a compromise of their original vision. While it is certainly true that amazing things can be created in “moments of inspiration,” skilled writers can always take what was inspired and return to those ideas for improvement and sharpening. The first draft of any song, story, essay, screenplay, or novel is virtually never the best version. Learn to be a generous editor of your own work. Learn to gracefully incorporate the the feedback of other writers, publishers, or editors. I promise you, your songwriting will be better for it.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget what you’re doing. Even during the writing process, you are engaged in worship of Almighty God. You’re not writing something to worship with later but are actively engaged in worship right now. It’s okay (and encouraged) to stop and engage with the Person of God who is with you. In His presence, there is fullness of everything you need: joy, peace, love, creativity, revelation. Be aware of His presence as you write, and your songwriting will always be more powerful.
Here’s an example of a song that incorporated all five of these tips: Scripture, a narrow theme (old things being made new in God’s presence), using old ideas in a new song, co-writing, and multiple levels of revision.
And here’s the story behind the song:
Do you have any additional tips that have helped you write better worship songs? Share your experience in the comments below!
Also, if you think your worship team might be encouraged or inspired by these ideas, please share this post with them. As the Apostle John wrote in John 21:25, we serve a God who is so miraculous, there is no end to how much can be written about Him!