Last week I spent four days in beautiful Mt. Hermon, CA, near San Jose. I had the joy of participating in a Christian Songwriter’s Retreat sponsored by the Mt. Hermon Retreat Center. About 300 folks came to learn how to develop their heart and craft as Christian song writers. The speakers/musicians included Paul Baloche, Joy Williams, Mia Fieldes, Charlie Peacok, Don Moen, Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Phil Wickham, and yours truly.
I really enjoyed the format. There were morning and evening sessions with seminars during the day. The main sessions started with about 25 minutes of singing, followed by a 30 minute teaching. I was the speaker in the morning and Charlie Peacock took the evenings. After the speaker, one of the writers would share “Songs and Stories.” Those were instructive, enjoyable, and rich times as we saw how there’s no “one size fits all” for the way a song is written.
I was particularly affected by the thought, care, and intentionality Sara Groves puts into her songs. Not surprising, as I’ve enjoyed her songs for years (The Word is still one of my favorites). She has a gift for writing about the struggles and joys of relationships within the context of a biblical worldview. I got to hang out with Sara and her husband, Troy, for a few minutes to talk about potential producers for future Sovereign Grace CDs. I got a picture of them along with Joy Williams, and Jeremy Bentley, the organizer of the retreat.
Charlie Peacock spoke on the songwriter as creator, servant, and prophet. In one session he encouraged songwriters, “Know the Word of God. Don’t even start to talk about being a Christian songwriter until you can tell the story of the Bible from beginning to end.” Great counsel.
On Tuesday morning I spoke on “The Theme of our Songs.” I contended that If I am a Christian song writer, every song I write, indirectly or directly, has to do with Jesus Christ. Here are the points I made, along with some of the subpoints.
We write some songs ABOUT Jesus.
- The best songs ABOUT Jesus help us know and love the true, biblical Jesus.
- Our words and melodies will never be more impressive than Jesus himself.
- Our job as poets, as lyricists, as songwriters is to study the reality of who Jesus is intently, consistently, and faithfully and as we see more clearly, try to communicate his glory through our songs.
We write some songs TO Jesus.
- The best songs TO Jesus make him look better, not us.
- It’s possible to focus so much on what we’re doing and saying to Jesus that we can lose sight of who we’re talking to.
- We don’t need any more “God is my girlfriend” songs. There really is a massive difference between what I say to my wife, or girlfriend, and what I say to Jesus. 1) Jesus is worthy of worship, obedience, exaltation, and adoration. My wife isn’t. 2) Jesus saved me from hell, my wife didn’t. 3) I need Jesus. Although he loves me, He doesn’t need me.
- Our expressions of emotion are tempered and guided by the character and glory of the one we’re speaking to.
We write all our songs BECAUSE OF Jesus.
- The best BECAUSE OF Jesus songs take the realities of heaven and hell, forgiveness and damnation, unending pain and eternal joy seriously.
- We work to write fresh melodies, creative hooks, thoughtful lyrics because they reflect the beauty, creativity, and glory of the one who gives our lives meaning, purpose, and joy.
- We write songs about pain, trials, confusion, mysteries, grieving, growing old, because these are the things that lead us to Jesus. And we don’t grieve as those without hope.
- We write songs that refresh and inspire people, that cause them to reflect and to consider, to smile and to move, because God is the giver of all good gifts and sends rain on the evil and the good.
I’ll be sharing some thoughts from my other messages in later posts. I’m grateful for these opportunities to teach, met new friends, and to become more aware and appreciative of what God is doing throughout His Church.