Is it Humility to Leave My Name Off a Song I Wrote?

Recently someone wrote me and asked:

A young woman in our church has written a few songs that we have taught but she doesn’t want to let anyone know she wrote them. I think she feels she is being humble but I also see how it can encourage our church to know one of our young adults is doing this. Your thoughts?

I appreciated the question. I also appreciated a songwriter is even thinking this way. Social media tempts us to believe it’s our duty to broadcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or our blog that basically, we’re doing a bunch of cool stuff, saying some awesome things, or eating some incredible food. How refreshing for a songwriter to think God alone needs to know what she did! It’s similar to John the Baptist’s comment about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I wonder how many songs we’d actually finish if our names were never attached to the songs we wrote. Certainly would be a motive tester!

But. I don’t think what she’s doing is necessarily humble. And it may not be the best way for her to honor God and love her church.

Humility Defined Biblically

We often think humility is hiding what we’ve done from others, and there’s certainly biblical precedent for that (e.g., Mt. 6:3-6). But in essence, humility is recognizing who we are in light of God’s greatness. It’s having a realistic view of our gifts, talents, abilities, etc. It’s what Paul is encouraging in Rom. 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” He’s not saying not to think of ourselves at all, but to think realistically, accurately.

Likewise, Peter counsels us: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10–11). Peter doesn’t tell us to avoid being seen. He says we’re to do what we do with the strength and ability that come from God, not ourselves. The very fact that God is using weak and fallible people to bless others highlights how good, powerful, and wise he is.

Jesus sounds the same note when he tells us to let our light shine before others so that they “may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) No one can give God glory for what he’s doing through us if they never know we did it.

Missing Out on Grace Received

There’s one kind of grace that comes to us through humbling ourselves (1 Pet. 5:5; James 4:6). But there’s another kind of grace that comes through the encouragement we receive from others (Heb. 3:13; Prov. 16:24). Of course, we don’t make it our aim to garner praise from those around us. But when I try to keep others from knowing that I served in some way, my very awareness of what I’ve done can be a sign I’m putting too much value on it and thinking of myself too highly. Like when I clean the dishes and take pains to make sure no one knows. Not only do I get points for serving, but I’m also being humble about it!

God is bigger than our attempts to “look” humble. He actually humbles us so that we might receive grace. One of the ways he does that is by using what we do to encourage others, even when we aren’t aware of it. Because ultimately, we’re in charge of faithfulness, not fruitfulness. It’s humbling to be aware of our failings, inadequacies, and sins, and suddenly be reminded by someone else that God’s grace has not only covered our sins but is producing fruit through our lives. That’s why Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Including our name on something we wrote also gives others the opportunity to give us feedback that could help us grow. In other words, happily embracing our “jars of clay-ness” allows others to see the treasure is in us and not us. And this leads to a final point.

Missing Out on Grace Given

God typically uses means to accomplish his work. And the more “ordinary” the means look, the greater the praise God receives. So hiding the fact that I wrote a song can rob people of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit at work through an ordinary person. What a blessing it would be to this girl’s congregation to see how God is raising up songwriting gifts in their church! And actually,  if there’s no composer listed when he songs are projected, it might cause people to wonder who it is, and draw more attention to her!

It’s always good to fight our pride. As the Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” But fighting pride should eventually lead us to a place of being unconcerned about how others perceive our gifts. Then we’re able to use them freely in front of others, trusting that God will do what he wants to with them, all for our joy and His glory.

For some helpful thoughts on pursuing humility I highly recommend The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller and Humility: True Greatness by CJ Mahaney.

 

10 Responses to Is it Humility to Leave My Name Off a Song I Wrote?

  1. Michele payton August 15, 2017 at 9:29 AM #

    Great article, and wise advice!

  2. John Bjorkman August 15, 2017 at 11:47 AM #

    Hi Bob,

    Well done, sir. You’ve touched on a very difficult subject. Pride is not just a hazard of writing worship music. Merely being on the worship team can challenge one’s humility. And it’s not just a problem for the individual fighting their flesh.

    In this age of idols and superstars, people often *don’t* give glory to God, but instead lavish praise upon the musician. It’s one thing to be encouraging, but another fawn over someone like a groupie.

    It’s a delicate balance between pride and true humility. Thank God for the grace He supplies to overcome our weaknesses.

    peace and joy,
    jbj

  3. Emily August 16, 2017 at 11:17 AM #

    Good thoughts and a cool story!

    One thought- is it possible this young woman is maybe aware of a particular temptation for herself to be prideful or do things for attention right now, and is trying to have extra cautions in place for her own heart? There are times when something might not necessarily be wrong (like having my name on a song I wrote), but I know it will not be helpful for me in a particular season. And if so, would that change your advice?

    • Bob Kauflin August 16, 2017 at 11:24 AM #

      Emily, great question. Someone asked me something similar on Facebook. I responded like this: If I was working with someone who was experiencing a peculiar temptation I’d try to help them realize the points I made in this post. Pride is rooted in an obsession with and exaltation of myself, which just takes a different form when I try to hide what I do from others. But that’s different from not intentionally and consistently broadcasting to others what I do. It IS good to refrain from that in order to fight pride!

      Pursuing an artificial humility still keeps the focus on me. Better to trust God to do what he wants to do through me, and not worry about it. Fear of pride can be one common reason the Lord doesn’t do more through us! We can fight pride knowing that it will never be fully eradicated until we see Jesus. Until then, our job is to be faithful, trusting that the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus covers all our sins!

      • Emily August 16, 2017 at 5:34 PM #

        Cool- thank you for your reply! :)

  4. billd1207 August 20, 2017 at 6:41 AM #

    This is the second instance of God’s providential answering of my prayers regarding dealing with motivation for good works, such as acting for the purpose of personal recognition. I write a blog anonymously, though most readers know who I am. I originally intended that no attention be brought to me, much like the songwriter here. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Don Chapman August 20, 2017 at 9:17 PM #

    I absolutely NEVER have my name on an original song when I introduce it at church. The issue has nothing to do with pride or humility – as a professional songwriter/arranger I want to find out if the song “works” with the congregation. I can’t get truthful feedback if people in the church know I wrote it because they’ll be complimentary even if they don’t like it! Once, after trying out a brand new worship tune, a deacon came up to me after church and said “I really did not like that new song this morning!” I’ve chuckled about that for years – do you think he would have told me that if he had known I had written it? Of course I wasn’t offended – I had a hunch the song was weak and his feedback confirmed it. The song ended up in the trash :)

    • Bob Kauflin August 21, 2017 at 11:33 AM #

      Don, thanks for your comment! While I appreciate your desire to get honest feedback, I think it would be better to encourage people to be honest with you! In the current setup, both you and the members of your congregation aren’t being fully honest. If nothing else, perhaps you could recruit a few people in the congregation to be completely honest with you. I have also been a professional songwriter/producer/arranger for decades but don’t seem to have any lack of people who will tell me what they really think about my songs! But it can take time to persuade people that you really want to hear the truth, positive and negative about what you’ve done. Another thought is to use a few members of the congregation to test drive songs on before you do them Sunday morning. There is value in letting people see that we’re all jars of clay and Jesus is the treasure (2 Cor. 4:1-7).

  6. Josiah Gennell September 11, 2017 at 12:18 PM #

    Wow, thank you for the insight, Mr. Kauflin. You have talked about the perfect balance of knowing that none of my works will stand and ultimately turn to dust, but at the same time all praise received can be redirected to the Father. It is so important to know that without the Spirit’s redemptive work in my life, I am depraved and evil and can create nothing that is good. Also, I think its helpful that saying pride should be dealt with in light of the Gospel, instead of hiding what God has done through you. I know that I done similar things to show God how humble I am, when, in reality, I was still being prideful and self-focused. Thanks again!

    Greetings from King of Grace Church,
    Josiah

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