Just started writing the hymns of your congregation? Been doing it for years? Either way, here are some words of encouragement and insight.

  1. Worship begins and ends with listening prayer.
  2. Hymn writing is a calling for all and a vocation for some.
  3. Always remember who your audience is … God.
  4. All hymns to God have worth, but not all will be widely sung.
  5. Acknowledge and expand your radius of creativity. When you write, you draw from everyone and everything you’ve known and experienced. Your church, pastor, family are all part of your process. They may have inadvertently offered one of the lines in a song you’ve written without even knowing it. Thank them. Expand your radius of creativity, by taking in, thinking on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about [pursue and cultivate] such things” (Phil 4:7-9). Mine the past and find the gold there.
  6. Simple is different than shallow. Using simple language can convey profound truth, but using lazy rhymes, formulaic phrasing and confused metaphors, and the same Scriptural phrase in the same way with the same arrangement won’t communicate the freshness of God.
  7. Comparison narrows the flow of creativity. When you compare yourself with others your focus moves from God to you. There is a difference between learning from others and comparing yourselves to them. Your gift is your gift. God gives you a measure. It may be a bushel or a teaspoonful, but use it in the context you are given, whether it’s you and God, a home group or house church, a small, large or megachurch, a global missional ministry, and he’ll bless and multiply it.
  8. Worship encompasses the whole of who we are: spirit, soul (mind and emotions), and body. Write so all parts know they are included.
  9. It’s never too late (or too early) to begin writing hymns of praise and adoration to God.
  10. Inspired and downloaded are two different things: Although some songs are born full grown, most are not and need careful nurturing, rewrites, collaborations, and biblical fact-checking to grow up.
  11. Jesus spoke the language of his day—not King James English—and when you write a hymn to him, you might want to follow his example.
  12. Use different lenses to shine new light on an old or new song. Whether Hughes Oliphant Old’s exegesis of Scripture’s doxologies, Fulton’s Functions of Music in Worship, Chuck Fromm’s Five Words of Worship, or the myriad of perspectives available. Your songs will be enriched and deepened.
  13. Your voice is an instrument; don’t let your lack of playing another one curtail your calling.
  14. Hymn writing for the larger Church may last for a season or for a lifetime.
  15. Don’t leave little ones out of your hymning. Write hymns profound enough to challenge a theologian and simple enough to convert a child.
  16. The heavenly formula for writing great hymns of worship is “There is no formula.” That is not to say that great hymns don’t share certain attributes: Inspiration from God, melodies that are readily singable, revelation of God’s character, and biblically congruent language that is accessible, passionate, fresh, and true, and most importantly, kissed by the Holy Spirit.
  17. Raise your level of awareness, so you can pick up the signals. There are songs hidden in your Bible, your prayer time, a friend’s words or their silence, a landscape, a book or movie, a newscast, a sermon, a meal. Keep your antennae tuned to where God’s Spirit is hovering.
  18. Have the heart of an amateur—doing what you do because of love—even if you are a professional.
  19. Sometimes even your family won’t like your songs. Be encouraged, you have a friend who listens to and appreciates every one, even the not so good and biblically skewed, simply because he recognizes you want to offer your worship to him.
  20. Have a trusted network that speaks into your life and your songs. Listen to them and then take your questions to God.
  21. Know when to hold the line on your creativity. Sometimes you know that you know that something is right, even if it seems a little odd. You know it’s supposed to be that way. Don’t back down.
  22. Hymns are adaptable and changeable, reverence God, not form.
  23. Don’t be afraid to be risky and go out on a limb. You can always reel it in.
  24. Make sure that style serves substance and both serve God.
  25. Worship begins and ends with listening prayer.