Sovereign Grace Music has been producing albums for over 30 years and has a catalog of over 550 songs. Did you ever wonder where all those songs come from? A primary source is the annual Sovereign Grace songwriters retreat, an invitation-only event that usually takes place at the start of each year. The attendees are primarily members of Sovereign Grace churches, but we also invite some writers who share a similar vision for writing theologically informed, gospel-centered, emotionally engaging songs for local churches.
This year, we held the retreat on January 8-11, in Louisville, KY. About 15 people came from Canada and the U.S. for our 20th songwriting retreat. Our focus was writing songs for an Advent/Christmas album to be released later this year. Our first Christmas album, Savior, came out in 2006, and our most recent, Prepare Him Room, was released in 2014. We’ve been encouraged by the way Prepare Him Room has been received but thought it was time to try our hand again at writing songs that help us appreciate the beauty, wonder, power, and relevance of the Incarnation.
As you might imagine, writing songs for a Christmas album is a significant undertaking. It’s not like no one is putting out Christmas albums anymore! But it became evident early in the retreat that the Spirit was helping us. One group worked on a version of “Away in the Manger” with a new melody and lyrics that help us see what the baby in a manger grew up to do. Another song, “O Come, All You Unfaithful,” reminds those who struggle at Christmas that Jesus was born for the lost, broken, alone, and rebellious. Other songs included a revision of “The First Noel” and different takes on “Emmanuel.” Overall we had 60 songs by the time the retreat was over.
This turned out to be one of our best retreats, not only due to the songs that written but because of the camaraderie, fellowship, and encouragement that was pervasive. We began with dinner on Wednesday night, taking time to reconnect, share the vision, and pray for our time together. We spent the next 2½ days writing, eating, praying, laughing, evaluating, discussing, drinking coffee, and worshiping the Lord in song.
Each morning began with a 15-minute devotional that helped us remember God was working through us for his glory. Then we spent about an hour listening to songs people were working on. The rest of the day was spent writing. Most of the time, people wrote in groups of 2, 3, or even 4, challenging and encouraging each other. That kind of interaction could never happen apart from writers who were eager to give credit and slow to take it. And that was due to an awareness that there’s nothing we have that we don’t receive – including lyrics and melodies (1 Cor. 4:7).
God was so kind to give us this time together, and we’re eager to hear the church singing and listening to these songs. Please pray for us as we continue the process of writing, editing, and recording. Lord willing, we’ll release the album sometime in October.