Pre-Fabricated Worship-Nashville’s Songwriting Formula

We wanted to pose the question to what many of you think about about Songwriting in Worship. Much of what we think about is the Pre-Fabrication of Worship Music, much of what happens in Nashville, Tennessee and around the world. 

Confessions of a Worship Leader stated a few months ago:

“I say all that to say, I understand what the songwriter goes through. I also know, however, that a lot of what gets used in church comes from songwriters with the “Nashville Songwriting Formula” that no one knows about but those who are privy to it’s use. They go into the studio on Monday morning and bang out a song by mid-afternoon and a few months of production later, it’s in a church near you.”

It seems that so many artists and worship leaders go around today, writing with random writers just to get the next hit song to sell to the church. Not all artists are involved with this, and the ones we find that do write the majority of their songs usually have the most creativity.

Where is the heart? Where is the truth? Where is the originality? 

Do you truly think God blesses a song that was written for the motive just to sell? 

These are questions that we ponder. Lets hear some of your thoughts. 

Team IML


9 responses to “Pre-Fabricated Worship-Nashville’s Songwriting Formula

  1. Hi Sean–hope I’m not talking too much here. You’ll have to tell me if I am. And btw, I’d love to have your input at my place anytime you feel like it–whether you agree or disagree.

    I think God does bless music written for profit. Check out Philippians 1:15-18. Verse 18 says: “What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.”

    I’m pretty sure that God uses money given from the motivation of showing off to bless the poor and further the gospel, but the “shower offer” has his reward, hasn’t he? And if the writer/singer gets the next hit song (or doesn’t), well, he has his reward as well.

    I don’t see why God would refuse to use a piece of music that glorified and truly portrayed Him unless it might be out of mercy toward the writer/performer to let him realize something was wrong and give him a heads up to get his heart right.

    Not to say you couldn’t convince me otherwise–you know a lot more about the contemporary Christian music market than I do–but this is my immediate reaction. God uses anything and everything to save those who will be saved–that doesn’t necessarily mean He gives permission to us to use dubious means and/or motivation. And how much more would/could He bless music and ministry done according to His instruction?

    Grace and Peace


  2. Hey Cindy, Of course we love your input. Thanks for writing so much, you always give insight that is biblically founded and appreciate that so much.

    I do agree with much of what you are saying. Just sometimes it bothers me being in the Nashville area and seeing how songwriters are putting together material just to sell.

    It just doesn’t seem like David, when writing the psalms said, “Okay on Tuesday I am going to go to Franklin, TN, hook up with Billy Joe Writer, write a new Psalm, call my publishing company, have it copyrighted, pitch it to the label, have CCLI stamp it, then let the church have a chance to pay for it to worship God, OR if they use it with out my permission, they will be punished on a Federal Level.” Wow that was a rough overview of how things work here.

    However I do feel God can bless lyrics and music to communicate with him. I think it truly comes down to what the artists does with the money from the song, and how people are impacted by the Worship of that song.

  3. Also, we know that God uses all things for His glory. Just because the artist has no heart in it does not mean that all who sing/play it also have no heart in it.

  4. I don’t blame you, Sean. I think it’s wrong, and when I say God may bless the song, I don’t mean that the song will bless the songwriter/owner in any lasting way (unless God chooses to somehow bless him/her through the song by speaking to his heart, waking him up). It’s got to be irritating to see this. I think it was irritating to Paul, too, just from his tone. He chose not to allow himself to react and he was glad the Gospel was being preached, but it had to have been at least a small struggle for him.

    I believe God will give you songs to sing, too. If He’ll give them to someone who’s writing them for profit, how much more to someone who desires only His glory. When/if He does, don’t you dare sell them ;). The inspiration of God is His, not ours, and while He may allow us to support ourselves and our families, I don’t believe He intends for people to have to pay (particularly a specified, non-voluntary amount) for the privilege of worshiping Him with the very music He freely gave. Do you? Really?

    This doesn’t mean musicians who are signed on with some label are out of God’s grace or that they won’t be spending eternity with us. We all have our blind spots, and we can’t go around judging each other over gray areas like this. It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong to support them by buying their albums or attending their concerts.

    But . . . I’d rather attend a small group of believers who’ve put together some homegrown, heart-felt absolute worship. An “absolute” or “absolut” is an essential oil made in the most exacting way we know, to obtain only the purest essence of the plant. I’m sure you can see the metaphor here. Steam distilled oils are very nice and will usually suit the purpose, but you can tell the difference. The steam-distilled rose oil has an immediate, showy, strong fragrance. It lasts pretty well, but not an exceptional length of time. Rose otto or rose absolut has a low-toned fragrance that starts under the radar and in a few moments, fills the whole of your senses. It’s not to be described.

    God’s love, and mine in Him


  5. Cindy, Good insight, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  6. Such a great discussion, Sean.

    Cindy, I love your heart and totally agree. God will be glorified no matter what the motivation. It’s his people who might struggle and/or suffer in the process. In “writing to sell” many of these artists are missing out on living up to their God-given potential to speak profound truth, to teach the life of Jesus in song, to say something fresh and to inspire deep change. Worship should be our response to God and his love for us, but it should also the place where we connect with God’s heart for the lost, the poor, the suffering and those in need. Worship should move us to action, and to be honest I think a lot of these “formula” songs actually just lull us into comfort and act as a spiritual “fix.”

    So many of the songs I hear coming out of the Nashville industry not only sound the same but they say the same thing! We get numb to something when we hear it over and over again. Our job is to make the truth of God fresh and new. “Make a new song to the Lord,” right?

    I’m never more irritated than when I hear a worship song with a great hook and meaningless or hollow lyrics. The songwriter has compromised a powerful opportunity and the church has missed out on being moved to a deeper relationship with Jesus. God forbid that the worship industry would produce a church of watered-down faith by focusing on selling music rather than using music to move people towards a deeper, more thoughtful relationship with God. Sometimes that means being willing to say things that haven’t been said. It certainly means being willing to step outside of formulas.

    Here’s a thought for discussion: Is it possible for an artist to write songs for the church when they are not regularly plugged into their own community? In living the life of a “worship superstar” traveling from church to church, when do they get fed? Where does their theological accountability come from? How do they understand the needs of the church if they are not involved at a grassroots, rubbing shoulders, day-to-day level?

    Sorry, I’m really responding to your question with more questions, aren’t I? Hopefully they provide further food for thought.


  7. Post Script: Cindy, do you really think that if God gives someone a song to sing that they should never list it with CCLI to be sung by the wider church community? Never record it to be heard by more than just their congregation? Could this possibly be swinging too far in the opposite direction? After all, if it IS in fact a song that draws people’s hearts to a deeper relationship with God, shouldn’t it be heard? Shouldn’t it bless the church at large?

    I don’t think it’s the act of selling the music (or getting it out there) that is the problem. What do you think?

  8. I agree that motive is a key indicator of the person who produces something. But I also think it is valuable to look deeper at a motive that neither you nor I can truly judge!

    For example, I am a pastor in my church, not the lead pastor, but one of them. I am responsible to grow my scope of ministry. So I will have a meeting, discuss strategies, marketing, plan programming, pray, fast, etc to accomplish that goal. Sounds prety tacky for a pastor, doesn’t it?

    But what you don’t see is the motivation for all the business end. My motivation is to see the people there grow in their Christian walk, and to see new believers come to know Christ! I want to see Jesus glorified!

    It is conceivable that some of those Nashville producers and song-writers are truly trying to resource other Christians. The methods may be something that you judge as immoral, but it is not for you to judge that.

    The one way we are to judge, according to Jesus, is to judge by one’s fruit. And I don’t believe we can judge by one bad piece of fruit. Let’s be honest, all of us have bad fruit in our lives on occasion. But the crux of this issue in my heart is that we be careful how we judge as we will be judged to the same standards! And while I do my best as a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I do not need any more judgment than I already receive.

    I pray you hear my heart as I do agree with your thoughts about wrong motives in the industry. However, making observations can cross to judgments and conclusions quickly if we are not careful. And to borrow a concept from “The Phantom Tollbooth”, once you have jumped to the island of conclusions, it is a long swim back to the shores of reality.

    God bless all of you!

  9. Sarah good insight, thanks for posing some questions.
    Judson thanks so much for your comments, they are right on the money, I strongly believe that there are some truly authentic writers that are really making a difference, but as you mention it is not for us to judge.

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