“He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” ― Jonathan Edwards
As I coach Christian songwriters, I always advocate for sticking with the broadest, most agreed upon doctrines of our faith for their titles and lyric content. It’s just common sense to do so, unless they don’t care that so few will appreciate or sing their song. To deny that writers write to be heard (and loved) is to deny any painter’s desire that his or her canvas be mounted in the Louvre and marveled at for its beauty, detail, and ethos. It’s just part of the mindset, the dealing out of God’s gifts, that the desire to be appreciated for one’s contributions be innate to the creative soul (or for all of us). That being said, why limit oneself when a broader audience may be found?
In almost every potential client call I make, the would-be writer states something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m not doing this for the money,” or, “I don’t really care if I get famous because it’s all about Jesus…” Really? It is? Then why are we on this call right now? If you didn’t want to be recognized for your talent, why are you on the phone with someone who coaches songwriters professionally and has done so for many, many years? Did you just want to hear my voice? I don’t think so.
Denying that God created us to enjoy that delicious moment when others recognize, appreciate, and consume our gifts is to deny that God is working in us to make Himself famous through every possible means (Phil. 2:13). It’s like saying you don’t want your church to grow. Of course you do, if you understood God’s heart for His own glory (see John Piper). Our songs are written to be heard, to be sung, to bring more of God’s glory into the lives of those who sing and hear them. Bottom line, our gifts (our songs, our sermons, our books, our media, our playing, singing, sculpting, dancing) aren’t meant for us, but for everyone else. My gift is for you, not me. To deny our gifts is to deny God’s working in and through us for His own glory.
In Parts 1 & 2 of this series, I spoke of the fact that serving your church in songs and songwriting means writing or using songs that have excellent Heart, Art, and Good Doctrine. Check out the links here if you missed them [Part 1] [Part 2]. Far beyond the stylistic arguments about tempo and instrumentation, new songs or old songs, choruses and hymns, pipe organs and bongo drums, if the songs you’re serving up each week speak on the level of a human emotional connection (Heart), are formulated in a singable and consumable manner for your group (Art), and contain the maximum level of biblical and doctrinal content to lead them to celebrate what Dr. Robert E. Webber always termed “the Christ event” (Good Doctrine), then you’re well beyond the average worship leader. This is no small task, given the vast landscape of songs to choose from. If you’re only using songs you like, odds are your congregation is suffering for it.
So, what does the innate drive in a songwriter to be heard have to do with writing or serving up songs with good doctrine? Everything, when you stop to realize that theology is a living thing, not mere thought or mental assent to truth. Theology, the living kind, is when the Word of God is so present to you in such a mental, spiritual, and even physical way that it’s more real to you than life itself. Living theology is when you don’t have to ask (or worse, beg) for God’s presence because you believe so deeply that He never “leaves or forsakes” you. Ever. Living theology is when you stop living in a kind of “sin management” lifestyle, believing God’s mad at you when you mess up or that you actually deserve His love when you don’t.
This kind of theology comes to life when the songs you write or use in your ministry are songs that may or may not be on CCLI’s Top 100 or played on KLOVE, but are the very God-breathed songs for you and your people in this moment. These songs impact on a visceral, heartfelt level. These songs brim with the urgent presence of God, even if no one in the room can say what it is or why they know it. Remember the first time you sang, “No guilt in life, no fear in death/This is the power of Christ in me”? Or the first time you went a cappella on that final chorus of “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free/My God, my Savior has ransomed me”? Those are the moments theology came alive for you. Those are the moments we long for, pray for, live for. Those are the moments we plan for by paying more attention to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it as we cull through song after song each week. When we have a “moment” in the car with a song and have to pull off the road, or we find ourselves in a puddle on the office floor because a song has taken us to a very tender place of praise or repentance, this may be the best indicators of living theology.
In the end, getting everyone to sing isn’t the real goal. Getting them to clap or visibly engage with us as praise leaders or musicians isn’t what we really want. Using the few song slots we have in that very short hour every Sunday morning to display our songwriting talents or stellar voices isn’t the end game, either. The only eternal value we bring to Sunday is when we recognize our innate desire to be heard, appreciated, and loved for our talents and yet completely yield it to the greater desire to see Jesus glorified through them. That, my friend, is living theology. That’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for from our worship leaders and preachers. That’s the moment it doesn’t really matter what song, or whose song, we’re singing. That’s the moment we’ll only be singing His.
John Chisum is a long-time Christian music business professional, ordained minister, songwriter, publisher, and worship leader. He is the former Director of Song Development and Copyright for Integrity Media, and the former Vice-president of Publishing for Star Song Communications. John has managed dozens of professional Christian songwriters such as Paul Baloche, Lynn DeShazo, Gary Sadler, and many others, and has had over 400 of his own songs recorded. Along with his business career, John is an internationally respected worship leader and has traveled over one-million miles in ministry worldwide, while constantly serving in local churches over the last 30 years. He holds a Masters of Arts in Worship Studies from Liberty University. John and his wife, Donna, have been married for 36 years and live in the Nashville area.
John is currently Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters. You can reach him at john@