In Life - Debriefed, Random Neural Firings, Thoughts on Writing

Every so often, I think it’s important to ask the question “why?” –  especially as it relates to my work. As in, “Why do I write church music?” A lot of my readers could ask themselves the same question, or a variation of it: “Why do I work in church music?”

In a time when church music is in great upheaval, when theological debates abound over the very nature of music in the church, and the financial rewards for our efforts continue to diminish, it’s not a bad idea to check one’s motivations. So, why do I continue to create music for the church?

When I exited college, I chose to write radio and TV jingles because the opportunity sort of fell into my lap. It was fun work and it paid pretty well for the effort. I stopped writing jingles when the work became mundane, repetitive, and increasingly scarce. I changed course to focus on music for the church, both in the choral world and the recording artist world.

To be honest, I chose this partly for financial reasons. Back then one could earn a decent living writing Contemporary Christian music for artists and for the church.  But I also chose church music because of who I am and what is important to me as a creative person.

Not to put a metaphysical twist on it – but in a way, church music chose me. My particular skill set, along with my faith, and my raising up, made for a solid match with church music. It was almost as if church music beckoned me.  And for a long time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to write all sorts of church music, in a high-quality Christian publishing culture, and was rewarded well for my work.

Things changed. (And that comes as a surprise to no one in the church music.) I wrote in a previous blog that the era of commercial success in church music might well have been an outlier, an aberration from the norm, and perhaps we are returning to the old Patronage System.  (You can read it here.) Regardless, not that long ago, I had to ask myself again, “Why church music?” And the answer was certainly not “for the money.”

No, I continue to create church music because of who I am, and Whose I am. It’s because it’s what I was made to do. It’s because until the Lord shows me another way (and He well may), this is the best use of my talents. It ain’t for the money, but yet it sort of has to be for the money. Because without money, nobody can continue to work a trade forever.

So I have taken a new tack in my course.  Like the Magi, I am trying to get “home by another way.” Like others before me, I have undertaken to publish my own music here at the website. It is a daunting thing to be the creator and publisher, the writer and the editor, the artist and the engineer. But this is the work that chose me. So I’ll do it till I can no longer.

That’s my WHY. What’s yours?

Showing 7 comments
  • Nancy L Middlemas

    Yes, why, when my choir suddenly shrank from 20 to 14 due to many reasons. Some will return after the problem(s) are over, others may not. But the golden age of singing and singing music in the church has passed. This may or may not be a good thing. Perhaps we are meant to fit better into the overall service strictly as an aid to worship, NOT as “the choir stands up to perform.” But I keep directing my smaller choirs, and still trying to write my anthem attempts to fit smaller choirs BECAUSE I HAVE TOO. The mysterious pull to be creative for the Lord of Creation is just too strong.

  • John Parker

    What an excellent article and a timely word for us all. Thank you, Robert for leading out with vision, tenacity and excellence. God bless you in every endeavor!

    • Robert Sterling

      Thx for the support, JP! And to you as well.

  • Kaylar Page

    Thankful for you and your calling. Your arrangement of Jesus Paid It All – with the dedication listed at the top – “For my Mother” (yes, all those years ago at FBC Richardson, is STILL my favorite arrangement. So beautiful. Much success hoped and prayed for your new endeavor.

  • Wes Ramsay

    Thanks for the good words…you inspire more of us than you know.

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