(Abridged and adapted)
“And the whole point of a worship song is it’s a gift you give to someone… and then you disappear…”
WL: Has your approach to songwriting changed over time? I know you did some collaborating on your album God of Every Story: Is God writing a new story in that area? Or is writing songs pretty much a fixed process for you?
LS: That is a great question. ‘Cause I’ve never done it the same way twice. And planning God of Every Story] was complicated a bit with the birth of our sweet little daughter. She’s about to turn a year old. I had no idea how hard it would be to find time to write between my two jobs: being a wife and a mom. It took a longer time for me to write than any other project before. And it was me being disciplined to set aside the time to do it. But even in the midst of that, I feel like God really honored the time that I set aside. I found myself continuing to write about new insights that God has given me as a mom. I wrote some songs about God’s love,—which there’s a thousand different songs out there about God’s love. (laugh) There’s thousands upon thousands. But I was writing from a new place of being a parent.
WL: How did that impact things?
LS: I remember writing a song this past Easter—one of the songs on the CD. And it was the first Easter I had ever been a mom. And so when I read that story about God the father giving his only son for me, it just struck a chord in a way that I’d never really understood the sacrifice as deeply as I did. I did this worship song called “Who But Jesus.” And I think about, “Who would willingly give their life for not just for others, but for enemies, for people that betrayed him?” Only Jesus would do that. And, I thought about those things in a new and fresh way, having one child that I just adore.
WL: So when you are in that space of writing, rather than having a focus of “I’m going to write this song,” Is it letting your life into the place of writing, making sure that you’re present with all of who you are?
LS: Yes. And I write with some fantastic writers–they could write songs far better than mine by themselves probably. (laugh) But they’re also writers that know how to draw out of me what God wants to say through me. And that’s a huge treasure. Jason Ingram and Ed Cash, both of those guys, they’re great writers and they are great at helping artists tell their story well. And, also as worship leaders, a lot of our writing comes from thinking through what our own local church congregations need to be singing in this season of our church. And so, so that’s a neat thing as well. I’m always thinking, “God, what do you want to be on the lips of the people of Perimeter?”
WL: When you write a song do you look at it afterwards and ask, “Is what I’ve written here true?”
LS: Oh gosh, yes. I, I’d say that there have even been moments where we have looked at a song that is really catchy and then I realize, hmmm? Or there’s a worship song that I have to explain the background in order for it to be something that people really latch onto. That’s usually a bad sign. The problem is you’re required to have that a third party present to explain it to you. And the whole point of a worship song is it’s a gift you give to someone… and then you disappear. It’s writing a song that allows someone to have a moment just between them and the Lord. Or just between a congregation and the Lord. I don’t think it’s just individualistic. God designed us to worship corporately as well as individuals. I have to do my best to come up with this craft that never really requires any sort of explanation from me. Although I love the moments when I do talk about when I wrote a song and, and what I was walking through. And I find that it really enhances a listener’s appreciation for it. But it can’t be a requirement, ’cause, it makes me too much of the focal point, when God is supposed to be the focal point.
WL: Can you be more specific about that?
LS: Yeah. This is something I love to encourage worship songwriters with. A lot of times, we write songs, and I wrote probably 20 or 30 songs [for the latest album], and a good 20 of ‘em didn’t even make it. And sometimes that can feel like a waste; except it really never is. Because a worship song isn’t necessarily a song that is sung by churches all over the nation; a worship song is a song, between you and the Lord, where he shows you something new about himself. Or he shows you something new about yourself. Our job as worship songwriters is, is just to come before the Lord and say, “God how might you want to use my gifts today?” and “What are the words that you want to put to music…that you want to put in me today?” And you write the song; it’s a collaborative effort between you and the Lord. And then you give it back to God and say, “This is my offering, and the scope is up to you to decide.” And that’s something I always encourage worship leaders with is that, that God is the one that’s responsible for the scope. And yes, we have the responsibility of sharing that song with people, just as, as we’d share anything that God had done in our lives. But he really is the one that decides whether tens-of-people, or tens-of-thousands of people hear it.
I feel like people that are worship leaders that don’t have local churches it’s just like going on a thousand first dates and never really committing to marriage.
WL: What would you do to encourage people to keep the motivation clear as to why they write and who they’re writing to, and what it’s about?
LS: I think one thing–and I hope I’m not jumping on a soapbox here (but just as a reminder)—that worship is something that begins and ends with the Church. And for us in this day, that is the local church. And in the days to come it will be the Church, Christ’s bride worshipping in heaven (laugh), the universal Church, all of us together there. But right now, worship is something that happens with the church. And that doesn’t, that there’s not manifestations of that with me meeting with the Lord and a sweet moment in my car and that’s worship as well. But a lot of times people try to–how do I say it nicely?–write worship songs apart from the local church. And they’re missing the sweetness of worship. I feel like that the church is God’s plan A. I feel like people that are worship leaders that don’t have local churches it’s just like going on a thousand first dates and never really committing to marriage. The great thing about a first date is they’re probably not going to tell you all your faults right then and there over coffee. But that’s both the bitter and sweet thing about marriage. You get to hear who you really are…and that’s where the vacations happen. Personally, I think that that worship leaders that commit to a local church audience don’t have to write worship songs in writer’s rooms and then wonder whether God will use it in a church. Some of the sweetest worship songs I’ve seen are volunteer worship leaders writing a song for their church, and people hearing about the song because they hear about what God’s doing at that local church. Our worship songs are supposed to be manifestations of what God’s doing in our local bodies. And so it’s a sweet thing to see that when it’s working, rather than seeing it the other way around: seeing people really latching onto the worship music industry. Yes, it’s there, but it’s there to be a resource to churches. It’s not there to be a required playlist. That’s like I love Hillsong United. Their goal is not that I would take their new CD and plug it into my church and say, “Okay, now these are the songs that I sing.”
Their goal is to be resources for the church: that the local worship leaders at a church would be praying and deciphering what is the voice that God desires. Asking, “What’s the soundtrack of our church? And how might we find songs and resources to fit into that?” Because the voice in my church is going to sound different than Passion City Church. It’s going to look different than Hillsong Church. It’s going to look different than Bethel. And, you’re missing out on the blessing of experiencing God in worship at your local church, if you’re taking the latest Christian CD and just plugging it into your planning session. (laugh)