Writing Contemporary Worship Music: A Webinar

worship-leaders

You’ve got a problem.  You feel the Lord calling you to a career as a chart-topping, face-shredding rock star, but you feel guilty about the sex, drugs, and sex that inevitably accompany super stardom.  Your solution?  Become a worship leader!  Get the groupies, the Facebook fanpages, and the all-you-can-drink booze buffets you’ve always wanted while keeping your conscience squeaky clean!

Now, before you run off to Colorado Springs and start a band, I should tell you, it takes more than non-threatening good looks and a severely inflated ego to become the mouthpiece of the church.  You need a catchy ditty that people of all ages will relate to without fully understanding.  Sounds daunting right?  Wrong.  Thanks to advances in modern science, we’ve simplified effective worship song writing into a single, can’t miss formula.  Just follow the template below and people will be saying “Dave Crowder who?” by this time next month.

First you want to state who your song is addressed to.

Jeeeeesuuuuus.

To avoid confusion, you will then want to distinguish this Jesus from the one who mows your lawn.

Sovereign Lord of all creation.

Perfect.  Next, let everyone know how cool you think Jesus is with a disjointed list of laudatory adjectives.

Holy, Incredible, Awesome, Invincible, Phantasmagorical!

Having established the high regard you have for the second member of the Trinity, you will next want to describe the extravagant lengths you go to to demonstrate your love.

Falling before you / forever adore you / always want more of you / doing my chores for you / making some s’mores for you.

Then comes the pre-chorus.  This is an integral part of your song wherein you ratchet up the emotional fervor until it reaches critical mass just as the chorus begins.  Use this time to describe the many-faceted complexity of your relationship with the Savior.

I love you / you love me / we’re best friends as friends as can be (repeat 4x).

By the fourth repetition, the instrumental accompaniment should have reached a crescendo loud enough to drown out the vocalists, though they are now shouting at the top of their lungs.  In this frenzied state you will transition into the chorus.

Regardless of your song’s message, the chorus should always follow the same format: repeated shouts of adoration intermingled with requests that those in attendance join you in singing.  If you have trouble coming up with the right words, feel free to borrow liberally from other musicians.

Jesus, you’re so hiiiiiigh, high above me / you’re so lovely! / Sing it with me! / You’re so hiiiiigh, high above me / you’re so lovely.

After the chorus, the assembled worshippers will likely need a breather and a sweat rag.  Those who have been slain in the spirit will probably need medical attention.  As the puppet master of this whole scene, it is considered good form to bring things down a notch for the second verse.

In the interest of time and efficiency, feel free to copy and paste the lyrics from the first verse into the second one.  If you feel you must, it is acceptable to modify the list of adjectives from line three.  While some consider this to be extravagant and needlessly showy, it is a great way to keep your disciples on their toes.

Insurmountable, indestructible, unassailable, super-fantastical!

The second verse is, of course, followed again by the pre-chorus and the chorus.

After the second chorus, you will want to give the hand raisers and ribbon dancers a brief respite before the home stretch.  A “bridge” is a popular way to do this without letting their heart rates or endorphins return to normal levels.  The bridge is an important interlude, often accompanied by a key change, which serves to connect the second chorus to the third without subjecting the performer to the artistic degradation of a third verse.

Again, feel free to borrow lyrics from chick flicks, romance novels, or Seventeen Magazine.

You are the one, the only one for me. / Together forever, with you I’m free. / Nobody else makes me feel like you do. / Together forever, too good to be true.

Following the bridge, the chorus should be repeated 12-15 times.  Apply fog machines and laser lights as needed, and close the whole thing out with some sort of explosion and/or stage dive.

And there you have it.   Get some hair gel, buy a few graphic T’s, master the G-C-D chord progression, and prepare yourself for your new life as the second incarnation of worship-rock god, Chris Tomlin.

See you at Passion 2010.

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About the author

Hailing from the great state of Oklahoma, Kent Woodyard was raised in a tepee by an uneducated family of country singers and Native Americans. He taught himself to read by studying a book of knock-knock jokes he found at a cattle auction (thus, his highly refined sense of bourgeois humor). For the last seven years he has been toiling faithfully as "the coolest kid you haven't met yet." He retired from that position the minute you read this. Kent counts Jared Fogle (the guy from the Subway commercials), Keith Olbermann, all the members of Nickelback, and Scar from The Lion King as personal enemies. When Kent grows up, he plans to have enough money to have all these people imprisoned for no reason whatsoever. As of this writing, Kent is acutely interested in the following: weekends, push pops, Disney sing-alongs, Lost discussion boards, widgets, Whoppers (the hamburgers, not the disgusting malt balls), Mongolian throat singers, and the early work of Billy Crystal.
  • Duke Div

    this has made me smile. thank you.

  • Duke Div

    this has made me smile. thank you.

  • Josh O

    This is spot on!

  • Josh O

    This is spot on!

  • Struzdoc

    so painful, yet so true

  • Struzdoc

    so painful, yet so true

  • http://mattersofmuscle.blogspot.com Pete

    Repetitive motions add to the effect, and the opening act down onstage runs through the usual drills. The audience claps in unison. Long rows of people hold hands and sway together in their delirium. People do that rainbow hands.
    Whoever invented this routine, the agent tells me, they pretty much run things in Hell.
    -Chuck Pahlaniuk

  • http://mattersofmuscle.blogspot.com Pete

    Repetitive motions add to the effect, and the opening act down onstage runs through the usual drills. The audience claps in unison. Long rows of people hold hands and sway together in their delirium. People do that rainbow hands.
    Whoever invented this routine, the agent tells me, they pretty much run things in Hell.
    -Chuck Pahlaniuk

  • Josh

    Looooooves it.

  • Josh

    Looooooves it.

  • chuck

    so, kent had a messed-up childhood and shitty church experience? that’s all i got from this unoriginal rant.

  • chuck

    so, kent had a messed-up childhood and shitty church experience? that’s all i got from this unoriginal rant.

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Good Lord, Chuck. It’s satire. Lighten up.

    Do me a favor will you? Don’t assume you know anything about me, and I won’t assume you’re some lonely, humorless prick who gets off on trolling the internet and leaving a trail of negativity behind him.

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Good Lord, Chuck. It’s satire. Lighten up.

    Do me a favor will you? Don’t assume you know anything about me, and I won’t assume you’re some lonely, humorless prick who gets off on trolling the internet and leaving a trail of negativity behind him.

  • conor

    is chuck a pseudonym for david crowder? david? is that you?

    look man. just chill out a little bit. we’re not saying you’re not an artist or anything. we’re just saying you don’t really produce art.

    …so maybe we are saying you’re not an artist.

    anyway, the point is: cut your hair. and shave.

  • james k

    wow. i’ve read all your stuff, and this one’s way up toward the top. btw, who let cornell west into the picture?

  • james k

    wow. i’ve read all your stuff, and this one’s way up toward the top. btw, who let cornell west into the picture?

  • Jacob

    Check out the keyboardist in the background. It’s hard to make your face do that. Try it!

    Great post.

    -Jacob

  • Jacob

    Check out the keyboardist in the background. It’s hard to make your face do that. Try it!

    Great post.

    -Jacob

  • Bubba

    Haha this is a joke right?

  • Bubba

    Haha this is a joke right?

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Yes, Bubba, this is a joke.

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Yes, Bubba, this is a joke.

  • Peccator

    When I want to defend my favorite Church practices, I ALWAYS make sure to accuse my dissenters of “shitiness” of some form or another.

  • Peccator

    When I want to defend my favorite Church practices, I ALWAYS make sure to accuse my dissenters of “shitiness” of some form or another.

  • http://bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com Brian

    To be fair, couldn’t you write similar satire directed at *any* genre of popular music? I mean…blues, 80′s rock ballads, grunge, dance tunes, disco… There’s a lampoon-able cookie cutter for nearly every genre out there. You might even argue that the fact of being a musical genre makes it cookie cutter-esque. The similarities that keep it properly within the genre predispose the music to formulae such as those exposed by the article.

    Perhaps it’s offensive with Christian music because it’s supposed to be worship, not entertainment…OR IS IT? >>dramatic chord<<

  • http://bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com Brian

    To be fair, couldn’t you write similar satire directed at *any* genre of popular music? I mean…blues, 80′s rock ballads, grunge, dance tunes, disco… There’s a lampoon-able cookie cutter for nearly every genre out there. You might even argue that the fact of being a musical genre makes it cookie cutter-esque. The similarities that keep it properly within the genre predispose the music to formulae such as those exposed by the article.

    Perhaps it’s offensive with Christian music because it’s supposed to be worship, not entertainment…OR IS IT? >>dramatic chord<<

  • Eric

    Oh snap!

    Eric

  • Eric

    Oh snap!

    Eric

  • Paige

    I love that this even mentioned the obligatory key change at the bridge . . . though even without a bridge, said key change is often still placed between the penultimate and ultimate “verses.” Musical emotional manipulation at its finest, folks. =)

  • Paige

    I love that this even mentioned the obligatory key change at the bridge . . . though even without a bridge, said key change is often still placed between the penultimate and ultimate “verses.” Musical emotional manipulation at its finest, folks. =)

  • Korey

    having a rather ecclectic spirit for varying worship styles (and able to relate to the good and bad in every style) I would love to see what Kent would have to say about a “traditional” worship experience filled with hymnody and the ever amazing organ (an instrument that truly “rocks” if there is someone who actually knows what to do with it!)

  • Korey

    having a rather ecclectic spirit for varying worship styles (and able to relate to the good and bad in every style) I would love to see what Kent would have to say about a “traditional” worship experience filled with hymnody and the ever amazing organ (an instrument that truly “rocks” if there is someone who actually knows what to do with it!)

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Korey,

    I too have a deep appreciation for all flavors of worship music (djembe preferred but not required). If asked today, my ideal worship set list would include the following and only the following:

    -Days of Elijah
    -Come to Jesus (By Chris Rice)
    -Agnus Dei (As performed by Third Day)
    -That one by Stuart Townsend
    -He Reigns (By the Newsboys)
    -As the Deer Panteth
    -Friends are Friends Forever (By Michael W Smith)
    -Fix You (By Coldplay)

    –Kent–

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    Korey,

    I too have a deep appreciation for all flavors of worship music (djembe preferred but not required). If asked today, my ideal worship set list would include the following and only the following:

    -Days of Elijah
    -Come to Jesus (By Chris Rice)
    -Agnus Dei (As performed by Third Day)
    -That one by Stuart Townsend
    -He Reigns (By the Newsboys)
    -As the Deer Panteth
    -Friends are Friends Forever (By Michael W Smith)
    -Fix You (By Coldplay)

    –Kent–

  • publicola

    The part I liked best about the praise band was when the power went out.

  • publicola

    The part I liked best about the praise band was when the power went out.

  • Becky

    I thought about coming up with a list of things that people seem to like in worship music and the above list is only missing one – while it says above that changing keys during the bridge is appropriate I think it would be wise to specify that any key changes need to be made by the half step as this really drives the crowd mad. Also, one should NEVER prepare a key change with a common/pivot chord.

    One more thought – my husband and I always get a chuckle when there are more than three names listed as song writers for songs with only 10 words in the entire lyric. So maybe along with always modulating up by half-step, one should remember to include all of his friends in the compositional process.

  • Becky

    I thought about coming up with a list of things that people seem to like in worship music and the above list is only missing one – while it says above that changing keys during the bridge is appropriate I think it would be wise to specify that any key changes need to be made by the half step as this really drives the crowd mad. Also, one should NEVER prepare a key change with a common/pivot chord.

    One more thought – my husband and I always get a chuckle when there are more than three names listed as song writers for songs with only 10 words in the entire lyric. So maybe along with always modulating up by half-step, one should remember to include all of his friends in the compositional process.

  • Pingback: Why We're Releasing A New Worship CD Based On Isaac Watts Hymns | Sojourn Music

  • Mark

    “Do not sit in the seat of mockers” Psalm 1

    One thing I know: it’s a lot harder to get out there and write a worship song, and to stand in front of a church and lead worship – than it is to laugh about the process.

    I never like this kind of humor when it’s applied to the Church or to the work Holy Spirit.

    If there’s something wrong in worship, it’s OK to spell it out, to come right out and say it – not hint or laugh at it. For example, if we feel that we’re just emotionally pumping people up, or that the words don’t really honor God: that’s a fair point that should be made. Is laughing at people God’s way?

    One more thing: it’s foolish to get lost in worship, to dance before Him, to express how much you need him. We make fools of ourselves when we do this. If you are too self-conscious you will never do that. And you will miss out. Because we need to lose our life to find it, we need to give up our pride to find God. The church is for the weak, the poor in spirit, the fatherless. We give all we have for God because we have no other choice: no where else to go to.

    When people seem to be getting carried away – sometimes it’s wrong: it’s of the flesh or just lack of self-control or proper fear of the Lord. Sometimes however, like King David, they really don’t care what anyone else thinks; they’re expressing a child-like love for their Father.

  • Mark

    “Do not sit in the seat of mockers” Psalm 1

    One thing I know: it’s a lot harder to get out there and write a worship song, and to stand in front of a church and lead worship – than it is to laugh about the process.

    I never like this kind of humor when it’s applied to the Church or to the work Holy Spirit.

    If there’s something wrong in worship, it’s OK to spell it out, to come right out and say it – not hint or laugh at it. For example, if we feel that we’re just emotionally pumping people up, or that the words don’t really honor God: that’s a fair point that should be made. Is laughing at people God’s way?

    One more thing: it’s foolish to get lost in worship, to dance before Him, to express how much you need him. We make fools of ourselves when we do this. If you are too self-conscious you will never do that. And you will miss out. Because we need to lose our life to find it, we need to give up our pride to find God. The church is for the weak, the poor in spirit, the fatherless. We give all we have for God because we have no other choice: no where else to go to.

    When people seem to be getting carried away – sometimes it’s wrong: it’s of the flesh or just lack of self-control or proper fear of the Lord. Sometimes however, like King David, they really don’t care what anyone else thinks; they’re expressing a child-like love for their Father.

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    “And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’” I Kings 18:27 (ESV)

    So, yes, it appears there are times when laughing at people is indeed “God’s way.”

    Prophets, apostles, and even Jesus himself seasoned their debates with language ranging from sarcastic to downright hostile (brood of vipers, anyone?). Yet whenever this less-than-loving language is employed by Christians today, it immediately starts a contest of “who can get offended first.” As Elijah shows us, the important consideration for Christians when reading or writing satire should not be that something is being mocked, but rather what is being mocked and by whom.

    The belief of many Christians that this kind of humor is not appropriate when applied to the Church or the Holy Spirit is also interesting when one considers the subject of the two most famous works of satire – Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Their barbs are aimed at Church corruption, institutional racism, genocide, sexual deviance, the oppression of the poor, etc, etc. Not exactly fluff pieces. It would seem that serious matters (spiritual or otherwise) are not only acceptable targets for satire, they are what satire was intended for. Just because something is funny, doesn’t mean it can’t be deadly serious.

    I recognize the beauty of sincere, heartfelt worship, and that is not something I would ever make light of. I have nothing but respect for those who are able to lose themselves in their earnest worship. What I don’t respect is the superficial, sentimentalized, mass-produced drivel that passes for worship music these days. That is what the article was mocking.

    Might some of my Christian brothers in the worship industry take offense to this article? Possibly. But, to borrow from Christian pastor and author Doug Wilson, “Perhaps they ought to have taken offense, and perhaps someone ought to have endeavored to give it.”

  • http://thetalkingmirror.com Kent

    “And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’” I Kings 18:27 (ESV)

    So, yes, it appears there are times when laughing at people is indeed “God’s way.”

    Prophets, apostles, and even Jesus himself seasoned their debates with language ranging from sarcastic to downright hostile (brood of vipers, anyone?). Yet whenever this less-than-loving language is employed by Christians today, it immediately starts a contest of “who can get offended first.” As Elijah shows us, the important consideration for Christians when reading or writing satire should not be that something is being mocked, but rather what is being mocked and by whom.

    The belief of many Christians that this kind of humor is not appropriate when applied to the Church or the Holy Spirit is also interesting when one considers the subject of the two most famous works of satire – Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Their barbs are aimed at Church corruption, institutional racism, genocide, sexual deviance, the oppression of the poor, etc, etc. Not exactly fluff pieces. It would seem that serious matters (spiritual or otherwise) are not only acceptable targets for satire, they are what satire was intended for. Just because something is funny, doesn’t mean it can’t be deadly serious.

    I recognize the beauty of sincere, heartfelt worship, and that is not something I would ever make light of. I have nothing but respect for those who are able to lose themselves in their earnest worship. What I don’t respect is the superficial, sentimentalized, mass-produced drivel that passes for worship music these days. That is what the article was mocking.

    Might some of my Christian brothers in the worship industry take offense to this article? Possibly. But, to borrow from Christian pastor and author Doug Wilson, “Perhaps they ought to have taken offense, and perhaps someone ought to have endeavored to give it.”

  • Don

    Quite right, Kent.

    As one who came from a more, erm, “emotionally-charged” worship life in the nineties (I was a misguided teen for much of that period, you see) before stumbling back into the mainline scene with hymnal in tow, I can look back on it and let out a chuckle without ridicule.

    Why is contemporary Christian music so much a sacred cow these days? I don’t know. I cannot give an answer other than that, IMO, it is hip and is supposed to draw the crowds in.

    If it’s hard to write (i.e. compose music and pen lyrics) worship songs, it certainly was harder for the hymnodists and melodists from the last 1600 years to put hallowed words to sacred music, and yet our generation should marvel at their prolific output and the pains they took to keep their hymns theologically sound lest they fall into grave error and sin. Unless, of course, if theological orthodoxy is no longer required for those writing church music.

    Still, fun post and I give it two thumbs up.

  • Don

    Quite right, Kent.

    As one who came from a more, erm, “emotionally-charged” worship life in the nineties (I was a misguided teen for much of that period, you see) before stumbling back into the mainline scene with hymnal in tow, I can look back on it and let out a chuckle without ridicule.

    Why is contemporary Christian music so much a sacred cow these days? I don’t know. I cannot give an answer other than that, IMO, it is hip and is supposed to draw the crowds in.

    If it’s hard to write (i.e. compose music and pen lyrics) worship songs, it certainly was harder for the hymnodists and melodists from the last 1600 years to put hallowed words to sacred music, and yet our generation should marvel at their prolific output and the pains they took to keep their hymns theologically sound lest they fall into grave error and sin. Unless, of course, if theological orthodoxy is no longer required for those writing church music.

    Still, fun post and I give it two thumbs up.

  • John

    Oh. My. Gosh.
    I laughed SO very hard at this.

  • John

    Oh. My. Gosh.
    I laughed SO very hard at this.

  • http://hotbeans.wordpress.com HotBeans

    Did someone say DRAMATIC CHORD? http://www.dramabutton.com/

  • http://hotbeans.wordpress.com HotBeans

    Did someone say DRAMATIC CHORD? http://www.dramabutton.com/

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