Self-promotion vs. Humility: Asking Your Church to Use Your Creative Works

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This blog post began as a response to a discussion topic by Adom Postma. Please read his original post here: http://network.crcna.org/worship/self-promotion-humility

Whenever we create something, be it a song, poem, or artistic work, we naturally want to share it with others. Usually the only difficulty in sharing is the vulnerability that comes with opening yourself up to criticism. But when it comes to worship songs, there's an additional aspect that can make it tough to offer your creation for others to use. How do you bring something you're proud of, remain humble, and avoid falling into self-promotion? It's a difficult issue. As someone who's done this, I'll share my perspective.

First of all, if you've written a song, and you'd like to ask your praise team or congregation to consider singing it, you should show it to someone. Do not be worried that this is self-promotion. All songs written for worship are sung in worship somewhere before they become more than that. That doesn't seem true because we hear almost every song in recorded form first. But rest assured, before that song was recorded and sung in thousands of churches, it was sung in one church. Yes, that one church might have been Hillsong, but the model is the same. So don't be afraid to bring your new song to the worship team.

After you present your first song for consideration, though, self-promotion could become an issue. If your song is well received, for example, you may be inclined to submit more and more songs. Take it slow. Wait at least four months before you bring another song. This gives you time to be sure the songs are good, and to let God clear your heart and mind of the excitement of having others enjoy your song. This is a somewhat arbitrary length of time, but if waiting that long is a struggle, you should wait longer while you examine your motivations.

You may also have a burning desire for your church to sing your song(s) with exceptional regularity. Keep in mind there are thousands of worship songs out there, and your song is just one of them. There's no good reason for your song(s) to be sung more than any other songs, so be content with that. Speaking from personal experience, it takes patience and it can be discouraging. Over the years, our congregation has sung four of my songs. I always got positive feedback. Yet three of those songs have been sung only once; I doubt anyone even remembers them. The other song has been used a few times; people might vaguely remember that one. The fact is, if you've presented your creation to the church and people have had a chance to use it, then it's out of your hands. It's a lot like giving someone a gift. You so want the recipient to wear that cool shirt, but even if you never see it in action, you have to let it go. If you can't, you might be dealing with a case of self-promotion.

Of course, your first song may be met with apathy, or even opposition. This is a tough situation. You might never know whether the song is just not that good or people just don't like the idea of singing your song. Remember, they don't think of you as a professional songwriter (because you're not), so it's hard for them to imagine your composition being as good as that of a professional. Someday, if you want a better idea of the quality of your song, get an outside opinion, from a professional. Right now, though, the important thing is how you react. Does it make you mad? Hurt? Do you feel these people don't know a good thing when they see it? If you find yourself feeling extremely hurt or upset, you are probably focusing too much on the wrong outcomes. You wanted people to like your song, which is understandable, but it's not the most important thing. It's hard not to feel at least a little disappointed, but think of it like this: your true goal was to create a song for the congregation to use in worshiping God. If they don't really warm up to this song, then you did not meet your goal. That's okay. You can write another song. And if your attitude is centered on pleasing God, those around you will be willing to consider that song, too. They may not like it any better, but they won't mind trying it. True joy and praise is infectious, and if that's what motivates your writing, others will feel it.

All of the above assumes you are not the worship leader, i.e you do not have the final say on which songs the church sings. If you are the one picking the songs, the situation is much stickier. The biggest problem, I think, is that few people will give you honest feedback on your song. And if one or two do tell you they don't really like your song, you might be inclined to ignore it. After all, no song is liked by everyone. So the entire church is subject to your natural bias toward your own work. Here is a good blog post by Jamie Brown on this issue. It's still okay to sing some of your own songs, but you have to keep it limited.

One other thing I would recommend is collaborating. Find someone else who can work with you in writing. It doesn't have to be a member of your church, but that would be great. By working with another writer, your songs will be better and I think others will be more supportive of your efforts. There was a short article on this in Worship Leader magazine a few months ago.

If any of you have gone through the process of presenting your own songs (or other creative works) to your church, tell us how it went. How did you ask others to consider your works, without letting it become self-promotional? Was it difficult to remain humble, especially if your songs were well received? Ultimately, God is the only one who truly knows our hearts. Ask him to reveal and guide your inmost self, so that you can enrich our worship resources, without detracting from the experience.

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I am one of four worship leaders in our church, and have tried a few of my songs when they seemed to be the best fit for a service. The challenge of pride is considerable, as well as the related one of false humility. The other worship leaders usually don't think of using my songs, even though they do affirm the value. I once heard Stuart Townend say (in a song-writing class) that there are three kinds of worship song: those written for a single occasion, those written for a single local church setting, and those written for the church community as a whole. We often don't know at the time of writing which is which. So to sing a song once may be just fine. To have it limited to our local setting is fine too.

For me, the key in planning worship is to ask firstly why I am including one of my own songs (and what others' perception will be, since that matters even if it isn't the final arbiter), and then to ask secondly why it is that this particular song is the best "fit" for the flow of worship, style and congregational participation. Although my songs may not be as "good" musically or poetically as many others out there, they were written in the specific context of our local church, and were written to address a hole in the currently available list of songs. For example, I was really struggling to find a song on confession and forgiveness that was in a style consistent with the flow of worship, so I wrote one. It fit, and it filled a need, and it was reasonably singable for the congregation. As a result, we've used it more.

I do appreciate the point about having a second person involved in the song-writing process. I've done it very little, but more because others are convinced they can't write. We who are worship leaders should encourage the writing of songs from our congregation, helping when needed (especially with arrangements), particularly when they arise out of our local church commuity's culture and experience.