Write and Sing, The Gospel Logo

Penny Ferguson Picture

   I submitted to God’s call on my life to write gospel songs in 2002. In 2006, my husband, Paul, and I went to the National Quartet Convention for the first time. New to the experience of pitching songs at the NQC, and somewhat overwhelmed by it all, we went booth to booth in the exhibit hall, talking to gospel artists and those who provide services to them. At one booth of a very well-known service provider, the gentleman told me he wrote gospel songs too. He asked me a question that caught me completely off guard: “What do you say to people when they ask you what kind of gospel songs you write?” I presumed he wasn’t asking about the style of music—Southern gospel, country, progressive, etc.

   Taking a moment to quickly pray about how I would answer, I said, “I write gospel songs that call the lost to Christ and that call Christians to lead lives of holiness

and obedience to the Lord.” He said that was a good answer and from then on, that is what he would say to people when they asked them the same question. I have allowed this creed to govern my gospel song writing and song choice as a gospel singer and gospel song writer for my entire involvement in both ministries. I am a purist in this respect. I feel in churches, in  gospel concerts, at gospel coffee houses, on gospel radio stations and so forth, that only that which speaks of the gospel should be sung.

   Sadly, we are living in a day an age when the term “gospel” has to be defined for some people. Dictionary.com offers eleven definitions of the word—eight as a noun and three as an adjective. These definitions include:  “the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; the Christian revelation,” “the story of Christ's life and teachings, especially as contained in the first four books of the New Testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” and “glad tidings, especially concerning salvation and the kingdom of God as announced to the world by Christ.” These elements should be the basis for all of the gospel songs we, as gospel song writers, write and all of the songs we, as gospel singers, select to sing.

   In our area, there are a lot of Gospel Coffee Houses. At some, the artists perform by invitation only. At others, there is an open mike format. It has been our experience that performers at these fall into four basic categories—committed Christians who are well-versed in the Scriptures, nominal Christians who have a poor working knowledge of the Scriptures, people from denominations who don’t really know what it means to be saved, and unsaved people who are just looking for a place to sing. Every song that mentions “God,” “heaven” or “angel” is not a gospel song. Some even speak against Christian values. Still we hear many of these types of songs being sung at gospel venues simply because people don’t know any better. Songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “You Must Be an Angel” are not gospel songs. Not all inspirational songs, songs with a “good” message or songs about mothers contain gospel elements either. Artists need to closely examine the lyrics of the songs they are singing in gospel venues.

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