Facing the Music, Finding the Mission

There was something unfinished causing a splinter in my mind.

I began sensing it last year after I finished rewriting the song Facing a Task Unfinished,
but it came back to me in January Over the last five years, we’ve started a new family and enjoyed incredible opportunities in music we never could’ve dreamed of – and, of course, don’t deserve. All of this came out of writing music for the church. Even so, something was just not right.

Then it arrived: the torturous day when I finally admitted that we’d been moving away from what we set out to do – write hymns. It was time to face the music. Little did I know, I was about to find so much more.

As the clouds broke, our focus shifted and sharpened, so we began putting pen and melody to a new album project, Facing a Task Unfinished. Normally, we only manage to write a couple of songs each year we are really pleased with.
But, in the first three months of this year, we’d written eight new songs, a testament to the new perspective.

In coming back to our calling, I began to realise four things that reinvigorated our cause.

1. Singing Needs Mission

Never have we seen so many songs written than in this last generation, yet so few of them have a passion for mission in them. Few worship songs speak directly about sharing our faith. As we’ve engaged with this project and mission organisations, we’ve heard a desperate cry for more songs about mission.

We rarely sing, We’ve a Story to Tell To the Nations or Go Forth and Tell, Oh Church of God, Awake! Perhaps there’s a perception of offense or militant overtones, or any number of other excuses. But if we’re not singing about these things, there’s a good chance we’re not thinking about them. We’re less likely to discuss them, less likely to pray about them. Or weep for them.

What we sing affects how we live. It shapes the moment-by-moment decisions we make that forge our character and our witness. When I first sang, Facing a Task Unfinished, I was deeply involved in student evangelism. Recently, when I reconnected with the song, I found it uncomfortable to sing. It reminded me of when I was more excited to share my faith. That was a hard pill to swallow.

Our songs must be missional. So many church choirs and music departments have died because they’re more excited about the music than the mission. Our music should fire us to mission.

2. Mission Needs Singing

Kristyn and I lived in the Swiss Alps during our first year of marriage, during which MedAir asked us to lead the singing at their retreat held there. It was intended to be a time of rest and refreshment for these workers in what had been a particularly difficult year. So naively, I asked if they wanted us to do something fun, maybe even a concert. They said no; they wanted to spend their time studying Scripture and singing hymns. They longed to sing from their deepest recesses.

One of the ways we can become more missional is by singing together passionately. From leading our families in our homes to planting churches, we need to be building singing communities that will fire us to mission.

3. Global Music Revitalises my Artistic Soul

Writing for the church is a curious thing since there are so many options. CCLI alone has more than 300,000 songs to choose from. Thus you aim to write songs that are unique but also simple enough for people to grasp and sing. It’s a distinctive niche; after a while, what you write can begin to sound the same. I have struggled with that challenge a lot.

The Facing a Task Unfinished project opened my ears to new sounds from a global perspective. I felt like a painter witnessing something new, as if I’d always been painting the coast of Ireland but was now exposed to the breath-taking contours of the Grand Canyon.

We worked with the incredible jazz bassist John Patitucci. We were introduced to Scandinavian and Eastern European folk music, and played with Middle Eastern and Indian sounds. We worked with Chinese folk musicians. We experimented with African and Latin American rhythms, even having the privilege of working with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and with a number of new relationships in Nashville. We also collaborated with contemporary worship writers like Chris Tomlin, Jonas Myrin, and Nathan Nockels.

World music gave us a new sound—a fresh palate with which to paint, the ability to try different things.

4. Global Music Revitalises My Spiritual Soul

If these things are true artistically, they’re even truer spiritually. This project allowed me to engage with God’s global Church. It’s sobering to receive letters from believers around the world who desire to simply sing a hymn with us. More sobering, the Facing a Task Unfinished hymn was birthed out of a call for missionaries to give up their lives and serve God in uncertain and uncomfortable ways.

Such global awareness is inspirational. We can sing a shared song of mission with Christ followers of every nation and language, every talent and trade. Kristyn and I celebrate with them, and with you, as we endeavour to sing about the task unfinished before us – the invitation to all people to experience the incomprehensible grace of our incomparable Saviour.