Are You Called to Be a Songwriter?
Here Are Three Ways to Find Out Now
Almost every songwriter I talk to describes songwriting as their “passion” or their “calling.” But are we really called to songwriting like a preacher to the pulpit or a missionary to Madagascar?
What is the evidence of a calling to write songs and how do you fulfill it?
While it might seem to some that a calling is little more than a serious hobby, I believe there are ways we can know we’re supposed to be dedicating ourselves to songwriting more seriously and even understand the deeper spiritual motivations behind this call.
Let me start with my story and then point out three ways I think we can begin to discern if we’re really called to write songs as a ministry in the Kingdom of God.
My story in hindsight…
I moved to Nashville in 1983 for a position that ultimately fell through. My wife and I had only $40.00 and no place to live. We were homeless. God provided, of course, and we managed. After a few months, I met someone associated with Bill Gaither and somehow got signed to a publishing deal on the basis of a few simple (and probably quite mediocre) songs I had written.
Miraculously, I had about nineteen songs recorded my first year. I worked my way up to become VP of Publishing with the Gaithers and then went on to Integrity Music to manage songwriters and products. Today, I have the privilege of encouraging songwriters all over the world through Nashville Christian Songwriters.
I could never have imagined where my calling would take me, of course. But, then again, I didn’t have to know from the beginning where He wanted it all to go. That was up to Him. I believe now that a calling has a lot more to do with following the Lord one step at a time than having the whole thing figured out beforehand.
Ironically, the proof of my calling, and yours, isn’t found in whether or not we’re successful as people would measure success. Turns out it has a whole lot more to do with surrender, obedience, and stewardship.
Here are three ways I believe you can know if you’re called to write songs.
1. Songwriting for you is more about stewardship than self-gratification.
A true calling from the Lord carries a deep sense of stewardship beyond self-gratification. While writing can be fulfilling on a creative level, if emotional neediness or achievement are our primary motivators, any success we achieve will feel self-serving and empty.
But when we create out of the overflow of our relationship with Christ and from an attitude of worshipful obedience and stewardship, we can trust Him to meet our emotional needs completely apart from the accolades of our audience.
A true calling is a lot more about obedience to what God wants for our lives, our spiritual vocation and stewardship, than about being recognized for our talents. Should that recognition come, we offer it back to God with love and thanksgiving.
2. Songwriting is a serious priority for you.
When I came to Christ as a teenager, the first thing I wanted to do was write a song about Jesus and this amazing new love in my heart. Writing songs has remained a priority for over 30 years and I still make regular time to exercise this gift.
When a writer tells me they don’t have time to write, I often think of my triathlete friend who, despite working 60+ hours a week, manages to run, bike, or swim almost every day. When I asked him how he manages to find time to train, he simply answered, “Well, John, we all make time for the things we really want to do.”
A true calling to write songs will inspire you to effectively prioritize your time, even if it requires sacrificing other “good” things to do it.
3. Your success is measured only by the pleasure of God.
The Apostle Paul said to do everything “as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23).
Yet, for songwriters, it’s often tempting to measure our success by the approval of others instead of by His alone. We long to express our hearts, our deepest worship, and to have other people respond positively. If they don’t, it’s easy to get discouraged and even quit writing altogether.
But if we truly believe we’re called, we want to please the Lord first and foremost. We write for an audience of One.
Admittedly, seeking to please God alone is a spiritual attitude that must be cultivated, but focusing on Him first actually frees us to be even more effective in our calling as we lose the worry about what people are thinking or saying about us or our songs.
We learn to trust Him with all outcomes, all the results from our songwriting, believing that our “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) is more important to Him than what happens with our songs.
Is “songwriting” a true ministry gift?
While “songwriting” isn’t listed as one of the “fivefold ministry gifts” in Ephesians 4, per se, we can safely say that worship songs and hymns often have a lot of ministry in them as they point to biblical themes and encourage us to draw closer to God.
Groups like the Newsboys have used their songs as evangelistic tools for years, winning souls to Christ, and that fits well into the description of those called to be “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:10-12).
If you wonder if you’re truly called to write songs, ask yourself about your spiritual motivations and what’s behind them.
Is there a spiritual leadership gift motivating you to write? Is it possible that you love to teach or exhort others to deeper devotion and worship? Could it be a nurturing heart like that of a pastor that is reaching through your songs to help others in their faith journey?
Like the Newsboys, knowing the why behind your songwriting goes a long way towards identifying your true calling and what “kingdom fruit” you desire to come from it.
About John Chisum
John Chisum is a veteran songwriter, publisher, and worship leader. He was VP of Publishing for Star Song Media and Director of Song Development & Copyright for Integrity Music. He is currently Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters. He has been married to Donna for 39 years and they have one daughter, Aly.