One of the most common myths about Christian songwriting is that, if you just learn enough tips, tricks, and hacks, you can somehow bypass the hard work of learning how to craft powerful songs people will love.
I believe that tips and tricks are no substitute for having a rich inner life in God to draw from as a dedicated Christian songwriter. If you have that and strong songwriting skills, you don’t need to hack it — the clarity and confidence to write well is always there to access as you need it when you feel the Spirit moving in your heart.
Photo Laura E. Partain
Our digital fast-food culture has indoctrinated us into a kind of microwave mindset, convincing us that we can be like CHATGPT or AI. We think we should be able to enter a few prompts and spit out a song in under three seconds that everyone will flip out over.
But, in my experience, the songs that impact the world over a long period of time have come from writers who didn’t depend on hacks. They were – and are – practitioners of the craft of Christian songwriting, communicating at a high level through their art. They didn’t just “try” to write a song one day and stumble into an “Amazing Grace,” “In Christ Alone,” or “10,000 Reasons.”
They were already studying and seeking to excel in their art when the big ones came along. They were constantly educating themselves on how to craft powerful words and melodies into compelling structures that could capture the ears and hearts of listeners with something emotionally moving, something with that irresistible “WOW” factor that’s tough to explain, but you know it when you hear it.
These are the writers who aren’t trolling for free Christian songwriting workshops or giveaways. These are the seriously driven songwriters already on the job, already learning and practicing the highest poetics and lyric approaches. These are the women and men paying their dues and putting in the time to create at a significantly higher level than I see most wannabe writers willing to put into their craft.
We all admire people like Matt Redman, Matt Maher, Lauren Daigle, and the Gettys for their amazing contribution to Christian worship songwriting. Where would we be without Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone?” But we often forget that these writers have invested years into honing their craft and even struggling in many ways to refine their songs and their ministries.
Their ability to bring a strong song title, or “hook,” to life is unparalleled, but that didn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t for anyone. Even the new Centricity Music phenom, Katy Nichole, has been posting songs since she was fourteen- years old. Her hit “In Jesus’ Name (God of Possible)” seems to us like she got a lucky viral break, but that’s a false impression. She’s been at this for years. (Way to go, Katy!)
How to Develop a Rich(er) Inner Life
There are many ways to develop a rich and satisfying inner life as a Christian songwriter. Here are three things to keep in mind as you seek to grow and express your faith in your music.
Prioritize soul care. We’re all busy. We lead overcrowded, hectic lives that leave little time for soul care. While our caring and service to others should never be neglected, we’ll burn out if our own need for rest and replenishment are left undone. Whatever it means to you to take care of yourself, think of it as vital to maintaining your inner life, a life that cannot be separated from the care of your outer life and physical body.
Feed your intellect. Christian songwriters often neglect their intellects and assume that only Bible study, prayer, and singing worship songs are the important elements of a sanctified life. But the best songwriters read deeply. They know that it’s impossible to write incredible words if they’re not filled with them first. If you stopped reading after college, or even high school, hitting the books again is irreplaceable for you. Feeding your fear and cultural biases by watching network or cable news doesn’t count. If you want to write anything that could have an impact and even outlive you, feeding your mind with great literature, poetry, and other inspiring works is a must.
Unplug from negativity. Cable news is nothing but ratings-driven fear mongering. Even the “Christian” stations thrive on making you mad so you’ll keep watching and sit through their sponsored ads. Talk radio, shock jocks, and even the conservative pundits keep their jobs by building ratings and sponsorships for their shareholders. But the sheer negativity they incessantly spew is killing your soul and your creativity. Try fasting news of any kind for a few weeks and spend that time sitting quietly thinking about the love and goodness of God, then see if your positivity doesn’t begin to overflow into your songs. Negativity robs you of your joy and increases fear and anxiety. Take a break and fill your heart and mind with Jesus’ Spirit again.
Writing from the Overflow with Skill
Christian artists and songwriters like Nichole, Tomlin, Redman, Maher, and so many others write from an overflow of their relationship with God, for sure. But their success is also due, at least in part, to their skills as Christian songwriters. I love what Australian golfer Gary Player so famously said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
As you’re developing your ministry in Christian songwriting, don’t forget to continuously develop a rich inner life as you’re developing your songwriting skills. The world needs something innovative, bold, brave, and liberating from you — not just the rehashed phrases and ideas we’ve heard for decades.