We recently got together with Chris Anderson who is a the founding pastor of Tri-County Bible Church in Madison, Ohio. In addition to being a pastor, Chris is a song writer. His ministry, Church Works Media provides “doctrinally-rich, Christ-centered hymns and psalms for corporate worship.” Their music is free of charge, and you can download both the sheet music and MP3s from their site. We wanted to find out more about the ministry of Church Works Media and learn a little bit about song writing from a pastor’s perspective.
So, can you tell us briefly what Church Works Media is and does ?
ChurchWorksMedia.com provides resources for local church ministry. Our main focus is writing modern hymns and psalms, but we’ve also begun to do some choral arrangements and devotional books.
What would you say is one of the biggest shortcomings in Christian music these days? What is the correction?
I think the problem in our day—and others, for that matter—starts with weak texts. The best hymns are intentionally doctrinal and Christ-focused. They need to be artistic, both textually and musically, but if they’re not focused on robust biblical doctrine, what’s the point? And I think much that is in common use in most churches, both more and less conservative, falls short from the very beginning, the text.
Tell us, briefly, your philosophy of Christian music.
Well, we’ve addressed our philosophy for worship music on our site, but I’ll summarize it here. We believe worship music should be intentionally scriptural, God-glorifying, Christ-centered, congregational, fervent, and distinct.
You’re a pastor and a song writer. How do the two mesh? Do you wish you could be totally one or the other?
Actually, I think it’s an ideal combination, and one that has historical precedent. We need more hymn writers whose first qualification is that they’re students and teachers of Scripture, not just musical ability. My pastoral ministry is my main focus, obviously. But what I’m doing at Tri-County Bible Church—what I’m teaching, what we’re praying for, etc.—has a huge influence on the hymns and devotionals I write. And that’s true for Joe Tyrpak and Greg Habegger, as well. If we were to leave our “day jobs,” our writing would suffer. For the most part, what is blessing people via CWM has been a blessing to the churches we pastor first.
Where do you get inspiration for your songs? How do the lyrics, melody, harmony, meter, and subject matter all come together?
Joe Tyrpak describes hymnwriting as “meditation on steroids.” That’s what it is. It’s the result of thinking deeply about biblical themes. Often this starts with a sermon or series. The best songs, however, come from years of personal study and worship, not just a few hours. So what I write about is basically what I think about.
For CWM, I usually write a text, then Greg (or another of the composers we work with, like Molly Ijames) write a tune to fit it. I’ve tried composing, and it’s definitely not something I’m gifted to do.
Interestingly, I’ve actually written several songs to existing hymn tunes, then had them set to new tunes later. So “My Jesus, Fair” was written using the tune associated with “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” and “His Robes for Mine” was written using the tune associated with “Abide with Me.” That’s a great way for aspiring poets to start, by the way. It was correspondence with Bob Kauflin that convinced me to look for a unique tune for “His Robes for Mine.” And Greg nailed it, praise the Lord.
Finally, I get a lot of input on my hymn texts. I run them by friends that are gifted Bible scholars or poets. (For example, Dr. Michael Barrett suggested I add a verse on Christ’s active obedience to “His Robes for Mine,” resulting in verse 2). And when that process is over, I still have a lot of back and forth with the composer. The end result certainly is improved by such scrutiny.
Do you have a favorite song…or maybe a few? A favorite songwriter or two?
I like songs about Christ and redemption, whether old or new: “And Can It Be?” “Hallelujah! What a Savior,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “In Christ Alone,” etc. My favorite writers are Watts and Wesley, but I’m excited about the texts men like Stuart Townend are putting out, as well. I’m far more concerned about what a hymn says than when or by whom it was written.
Can you provide any tips for would-be song writers?
I write best when driving, I think. (It can be dangerous.) Seriously, a major thing is this: be relentless. Don’t settle on a word just because it makes the rhyme work. Keep working. Don’t just settle for truth; labor for unforgettable, inspiring truth. And be patient. If you wrote it in one sitting, it’s probably not that good. Let it mature. Come back to it. Give it time. And be thick-skinned enough to seek advice. Get a lot of advice; take some of it.
I think much on Psalm 115:1. (Editor’s note: Chris recently composed a rendition of Psalm 115:1. It is located at the bottom of this page.) God deserves glory for anything we do, not us. I’m a trophy of God’s grace, used in spite of me, not because of me. And it’s a great joy to experience such grace. Soli Deo Gloria!
About Chris Anderson
Chris runs marathons, cheers for the Denver Broncos, and laughs at Steven Wright, but that’s not what primarily characterizes him. He is a Gospel-centered man who faithfully ministers as an under-shepherd in his local church. He has four daughters. Chris is passionate about genuine, Christ-exalting worship, and his songs and writing reflect that passion. You can follow Church Works Media on Twitter and Facebook, or keep up with Chris’s blog. Be sure to visit the website of Church Works Media for free worship resources.