Songwriting Q&A with Krissy Nordhoff

How do we best address divisions in the community of worship and prayer in the things we write?

It’s amazing and mysterious how certain songs can tear down walls and bring such unity in times when we need it most. But how does that happen? How can we write songs like that for our time? 

Using the Word of God to guide us as songwriters is key, and so is listening in the moment to the Holy Spirit as we write. But the way we deliver what we feel God is saying also has a major impact on how it’s received.

Know your words. Yes, the Word. But also, know the definitions, the nuances, the connotations. Because as words string together into lyric, these things matter. They create the language of the song, but beyond that, they set a tone.

Two songs may have the exact same message yet have entirely different tones. For instance, let’s say song 1 has a message of unity that has a slightly corrective undertone. There are small inferences of judgement, blame and accusation. Song 2 also has a message of unity, but it has a hint of loving undertone. It has flavors of grace and openness, and it almost feels like an invitation. Which do you think would move you?

I’ve seen time and time again how songs with a tone of love ready hearts for unity and response. May that be true of the songs you write, and may they have a great impact on your church!

Are there ways of writing songs that can bring peace to a congregation in the middle of conflict?

I believe the best songwriting examples of finding peace during conflict can be found in Psalms. David faced conflict time and time again, yet he somehow always circled around to finding peace in trusting in God.  

He shows us this pattern

  1. David shares honestly about where he is.
  2. He cries out to God.
  3. He waits.
  4. God responds.
  5. He worships.

What an amazing pattern to follow for songwriters.

There is something beautiful about being honest (in a real yet tactful way) about where we are. We can express a common cry to God, especially in the unknown. Looking to Him and hearing His response will ALWAYS bring peace, even when there is no resolution. His presence heals. His presence redeems. His presence unifies. And suddenly we remember that worship is something we agree on.

But what I really love about this pattern is hearing the story behind the worship. Every church has a unique story and can relate to different things.  If fear is part of your story, don’t avoid it.  If depression is part of your story, don’t avoid it. If conflict is part of your story, don’t avoid it.  Lean into it. Sing about it (again, tactfully). Teach people to cry out to God for help, to wait, and to respond through song. Teach people to worship through the unknowns. Through the questions. Through the conflict. Teach people that our hope is greater than our current situation. Our peace, and for that sake our faith, does not depend on the circumstances. We know how the story ends. Make sure they remember.

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Glenn Packiam (Doctor of Theology and Ministry, Durham) is the associate senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the songwriter of more than fifty worship songs, including “Your Name” and “Mystery of Faith,” and the author of several books, including Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus and Discover the Mystery of Faith: How Worship Shapes Believing. He is also a visiting fellow at St. John’s College at Durham University and an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary.
Packiam preaches at conferences for pastors and worship leaders and has spoken at Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University, Biola University, Asbury Seminary, Calvin College, and Trinity School for Ministry. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife, Holly, and their four children.

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