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.
hey bob, you were in nor cal near san jose? i live in san jose. i wish i was there at the songwriters conference. i saw you at the t4g conference and shared how your reignited love for singing hymns again in me. thanks for your book and autograph. it’s a blessing.
Thanks, Joe. I was going to mention where I was going to be on the blog, but never got to it. It was on my Events page, but I don’t think many people check that out. In any case, great to hear from you.
Bob, I was deeply affected by the songwriters conference and continue to process the many things God revealed during that period. Thank you for your lessons and fellowship! Thanks also for the Valley of Vision…it’s becoming a refreshing, regular read for me. Be blessed!
I couldn’t agree more about Sara Groves’ writing. I really enjoy her writing about relationships through a lense of learning more about God. Thanks for all the great songs, Bob!
Why do great conferences have to be so far away? How are us poor folk supposed to get there?
What are you thoughts on Phil Wickham’s songwriting? I downloaded his “Singalong” CD from his website and I LOVE IT. I’ve since downloaded “Cannons” from iTunes. He seems to have a worship leader’s heart and has the singing church in mind when he writes. Thematically, he doesn’t tackle much out of the ordinary. Any thoughts?
One of the most influential songwriters in my life has been Derek Webb. I would love to hear what he has to say about songwriting. How was your experience with him and what did he teach, and what are your thoughts about his songwriting?
I was at the retreat as well and sat in on your class on songwriting. I think it was helpful for a lot of us to see how you revised and rewrote some of your own songs (particularly In the Valley) before they were really “right”. I think we all struggle with being satisfied to easily as writers and need to see the value of hard work in the craft of writing songs. I’d love to see you post your questions for songs that you worked through in that session as I think it would be very beneficial for a lot of writers. Thanks for your talk on the idols of the songwriters heart too. I think God used that in a lot of peoples hearts that week.
Thank you for your insight and transparency in dealing with songwriter idols during the conference. I appreciate your ministry and pastor’s heart.
Do you know if they are going to do this again this year?
I want to thank you for the time you spent with me in prayer at the altar at the Mt. Herman retreat for my husband and I, and our future in ministry. God is amazing. His ways are not always what we want as selfish humans, but they are always what is best. Glory be to Him for all he has done since that time in our relationship. Thank you for your wisdom in a time it was much needed. : )
God bless you and your wonderful wife,
Thanks for letting me know how you’re doing. We serve a great Savior and a sovereign God who is always working things out for our good and his glory.