God has given you a song. You sat down with your guitar one day, and it started flowing out effortlessly. Or, you were driving in your car when suddenly this incredible melody came to you that felt so powerful that you thought the whole world should hear it.
Perhaps you’ve been writing poetry since 5th grade, and you have about 4,000 poems so far. You ask, “Is there a true call to write songs on my life or not?” It’s hard to believe God would give you so many songs and have no plans to expose them to anyone else on the planet.
But does that mean that your songs are destined for contemporary Christian radio?
Well, maybe yes and maybe no.
Kinds of Songwriters
I’ve come to believe that God indeed gives everyone songs, but there are different kinds of songs and songwriters, with their own unique function in the Body of Christ.
Paul’s double admonition in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 about, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,” applies to every believer. We all have songs rumbling around in our hearts, whether we know it or not, but that doesn’t mean every believer is going to become a professional songwriter.
When I work with songwriting clients, I often use a tool called “The Song Continuum” that places ‘devotional songs’ on the far left and ‘commercial songs’ on the far right with all kinds of songs in the middle, like Scripture Memory songs, liturgical service music, children’s music, and more. It’s a helpful way to discover where your writing falls and make adjustments if you want to.
There are many kinds of songwriters from purely devotional to highly commercial ones like Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and all the great songwriters you know and love. The good news is that you can decide where you want to be on “The Song Continuum.”
Commercial songs like you hear on the radio (or even the most popular worship songs) are highly crafted to appeal to the largest number of people. They’re not ‘better’ than devotional songs that don’t have memorable hooks and melodies, and we make a mistake when we think we’re ‘failing’ if we don’t write on a commercial level.
I’ve helped dozens of songwriters move down the continuum towards commercial songwriting. They’re just as inspired by God once they move down the continuum as they were when they wrote by intuition only and ‘from their hearts,’ as we say. God’s still giving the songs, it’s just that they have more tools with which to craft them into a style and form that many more people can enjoy.
I interviewed Jon Thurlow for The Song Revolution Podcast recently, and we talked about this very thing. As a worship leader at the International House of Prayer (Kansas City) for many years, Jon would cycle through hundreds of known songs, but a lot of spontaneous devotional songs would happen, too. Most of them were just for that moment, but some of them he felt were destined to be taken and crafted into songs that many more people could sing as he shaped and fashioned the original idea or snippet into a fully-developed song. He knows how to write and flow devotionally as well as craft perfectly singable, memorable songs on a commercial level.
While I believe God indeed gives all kinds of songs to all ages, from children to the aged, these songs are, more often than not, actual gifts to the individual more than gifts to the entire world. God is just precious and close that way. Zephaniah says that God is constantly singing over us, so it’s only natural we’d want to sing back.
The rub happens when we think a simple song in our hearts should be the next big hit on K-LOVE Radio. If you’re feeling the tug to write more commercially, dig in to how that happens. Get more resources and training to add greater skill to your writing, and begin to develop your talents for the glory of the Lord. But always remember that true devotion is where every great song starts.