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    Visionary Songwriters

    Posted on June 10, 2009 by Paul | 2 Comments | Jump to Comments Box Below

    Visionary Songwriters

    by Paul Baloche

    There have always been visionaries—those who catch sight of a new move of God before others see it. The visionary feels a great urge to DO that thing the Lord has shown him—and do it RIGHT NOW. So he starts out boldly and soon finds himself the target of sticks and stones hurled by those who don’t understand. Stories abound about the church’s resistance to new music forms:

    The first monk who experimented with part-singing was excommunicated. J.S. Bach almost lost his job as a church musician because some thought his music was unsuitable.

    In 19th Century Scotland, Ira Sankey, Evangelist D.L. Moody’s great song leader, was vilified by some for writing “human hymns” with newly composed lyrics instead of new tunes for the Psalms of the Bible, and for having the audacity to draw attention to himself by singing them as solos.

    Want some more? Take a look at this:

    Top Ten reasons for Opposing the New Music Trend Adapted from a statement directing against the use of hymns, in 1723:

    1.   It is too new, like an unknown language.
    2.   It is not as melodious as the more established style.
    3.   There are so many songs that it is impossible to learn them all.
    4.   It creates disturbances and causes people to act in an indecent and disorderly manner.
    5.   It places too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics.
    6.   The lyrics are often worldly, even blasphemous.
    7.   It is not needed, since preceding generations have gone to heaven without it.
    8.   It monopolizes the Christian’s time and encourages them to stay out late.
    9.   These new musicians are young upstarts, and some of them are lewd and loose persons.

    This is what was being said in 1723!!!

    Even in our own time, those of us who have tried to change church music have often been misunderstood. The way of the innovator has not always been easy. Of course, willingness to persevere in the face of criticism sometimes is laudable. Criticism does have some value as a gauge: if we’re getting no criticism at all, we probably aren’t accomplishing much that’s fresh and new and powerful.

    On the other hand, if we’re getting a lot—especially from those who have walked with the Lord much longer than we have—maybe we need to back up a bit and listen. There’s always the possibility we’ve gone too far too fast and we’re over the line. I remember when I first started leading worship at my church there were some who complained that it sounded too much like a nightclub!

    The Lone Ranger Bites the Dust

    The secret to being a successful innovator in Christian music lies largely in attitude. (We’re talking now about true Spirit-led innovation, which means doing something new, not just blindly copying the latest rebellious fad and putting a Christian label on it, as some have done. The scripture tells us to “reprove the unfruitful works of darkness,” not imitate them.) If the visionary says to himself, “I’m gonna do my kind of music my way (for the Lord, of course) and if the church doesn’t ‘understand’ my music, I’ll do it without them; I don’t need anyone but Jesus, anyway” – he will fail. He will be perceived as a maverick and his attempts won’t be supported. The Lone Ranger will bite the dust. (Eph. 5:11).

    The truth is, he does need the church. Whatever we do in ministry must not be on our own. This doesn’t mean we have to ask permission from some church authority every time we write a song, but it does imply an accountability and a willingness to accept correction on matters of doctrine and practice. Carol Owens once said “As Christians, we are all parts of the Body of Christ, and what we do in his name affects the world’s perception of Christianity, reflects on the church and has implications wider than our own careers. A detached body part moving around by itself is the stuff of horror movies.” On the other hand, if one goes about it in the right spirit, the visionary has the opportunity to bring the church along with him into an understanding of what God has shown him.

    Of course, this takes patience. He’ll need to slow down at times and wait for the church to catch up. Occasionally he’ll take a leap that’s just too broad for those without his vision to follow. When this happens, he will have to retrace his steps, rejoin his followers, maybe even apologize, do some explaining and teaching and then coax them along step by step until they, too, see his vision. Besides patience he’ll need love – a genuine love and respect for the church. He’ll need to listen to wise counsel. He’ll need forbearance – the Bible tells us to forbear one another (this could be translated “put up with one another”). And he will need faith – faith that if God has shown him something, God can also show it to others; and faith in the others, that they’ll be able to see it when it’s shown to them.

    Thank God for the visionaries – the people who strive to see and hear and do the will of God even at the cost of being misunderstood, who put ministry first and are not corrupted by commercialism. They are on the cutting edge, and without them no real progress is ever made.

    Write on!

    This is an excerpt from the book “God Songs” written by Paul Baloche and Jimmy and Carol Owens.  Available at

    Bill Mahn 09/07/09

    Hey Paul,

    I attended the Thriving Musician Summit last fall and got to speak with you for a few moments. I really appreciated your heart and how it carries through in the songs you write and how you lead.

    Our Worship Pastor and I (I lead a few times a month) have been discussing putting new wine in old wineskins. It seems that there are those who are perfectly content with things staying the same and not moving when the Spirit is leading and inviting them to more. It is frustrating to lead a song and see a number of people with arms crossed and really just there to feel good, hear a nice message and go home. I have lead a few of your songs and definitely want more. That the hearts of the people are turned towards the Lord and they are truly seeking His presence.

    I have a vision how I would like it to be but feel that the atmosphere is not right for change. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for listening !

    Bill Mahn

    Mark Boucot 06/06/13

    Thanks for sharing the thoughts, Paul. We sing several of your songs in our services and that has to be a blessing. Great advice and thoughts about songwriting and introducing original music to the congregation.
    I’m very blessed to be in a congregation that is appreciative of my original songs, but it’s not always easy and people don’t naturally accept the thought of including original music right away. It takes strength in knowing that you are following God’s direction as He gave to us through David in Psalm 96. Another approach that has been helpful is to write songs specifically with other singers on the worship team to sing. I especially like the advice that the songs need to focus people on God and not the song or the singer. Thanks for sharing this, I look forward to the book.

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