Pacific Union Conference Hopes to Attract Top Musicians with inSpire Songwriting Contest

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, generally speaking, has had a problem with art. To be more specific, the Adventist Church has struggled in knowing what to do with creatives. Because art, in its many forms, can be evocative, imaginative, emotive and often fictive, it doesn’t always fit nicely within the modernist worldview that birthed Adventism and continues to drive so much of what the church does. Sure there have been the Harry Andersons and the Jaime Jorges (whose art has sometimes felt like precious metal forged into ladles for dishing up doctrinal soup), but the shelving of The Record Keeper is the classic example of how art outside boxes freaks out some church leaders.

The North American Division’s SONscreen Film Festival is one way that Adventists are trying to make space for young creatives in film.

Another is the Pacific Union Conference Church Support Service’s inSpire, launched in 2012. Here’s how the inSpire website describes the project:

inSpire is one of several projects being sponsored by Church Support Services, a research and development entity for creative ministry in the Pacific Union Conference. inSpire is a web community where Seventh-day Adventist members gifted in, and passionate about the creative arts, can share their ideas and creations in a collaborative way. Songwriting, drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, poetry, videography and more can be used in powerful ways to convey God's stories of hope and healing to our churches and surrounding communities.

There's still a sense in which the project sounds more Hope Channel than LA Philharmonic—still art in service of the goals of the Adventist Church as much as the Adventist Church in service of the arts (one could make the case that art for art's own sake could—even should—be considered integral to the mission of the church, but that's a topic for a different article). Nevertheless, efforts like inSpire are crucial steps toward fostering a more creative, artistically-oriented Adventist community. The Pacific Union Conference is serious about encouraging an array of arts, and is throwing resources into promoting creativity.

One way they’re doing that is with the inSpire 2016 Songwriting Contest. With an open call to all Adventist songwriters, inSpire plans to record and release an album of original worship, featuring winners of the contest. Here’s the fine print:

Each song should be an original worship song written and recorded acoustically that conveys a spiritual message. The top 10 songs will be included on an unplugged inSpire CD that inSpire will produce and distribute. The collection will be offered free to anyone who wishes to download it, but a physical CD will also be produced and sold at cost.

Execution - Each song should be submitted as an MP3 recording. We're asking that the recording quality be as best as you can get (preferably in a studio, but if not, with quality equipment in your home). We prefer an acoustic guitar, or piano, singer/songwriter style recording that clearly features the lyrics and allows the construction of the song to shine.

Works submitted must be created by you and not entered into a previous inSpire songwriting contest. Neither should they be derivatives of other copyrighted works. For example, do not submitted modified hymns.

Song Limit - Each songwriter may submit up to 2 songs

Submission Fee: $15 for one song, or $25 for two.

Submission Dates - January 7 - March 24, 2016

To submit an original piece to the contest, visit the inSpire 2016 Songwriting Contest website.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Why only “worship” music? I usually cringe when I hear this genre, and would rather listen to Pentatonix doing spirituals, or religious R&B, or message-based folk ballads.


It is sponsored by the Adventist church??

The contest is being held by inSpire, which is a project by Church Support Services in partnership with the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. -Website Editor


Music to simply be enjoyed by the listener is seldom given recognition.
But lyrics must always be part of the score for “worship.” Listening to instrumental music as worship is seen as lacking in meaning without words.

Pastors rarely have any education in the arts and yet must approve their use in the church. Visual art must always be representative just as the auditory arts must convey an easily understood message. Years ago a pastor of a large church would not allow instrumental music to be played in the church if it had no lyrics: IOW, a hymn. Ava Maria was banned because it was “Catholic.”

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The TYPES of Instruments must also be censored!
It doesnt matter if they sound nice or not. Take Guitars, and especially ELECTRIC Guitars.
Drums, even if they accent nicely the performers.
Everyone QUOTES what Ellen says about drums — Satanic!
Any type of “body movement” is frowned upon.
You’re correct. Preachers and lay persons both have very little information about music most of the time.
And very few, if any, like to learn “new songs” in the SDA Hymnal.

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The trouble with this is that many musicians are not lyricists and many lyricists are not musicians. The Adventist church needs to make Marva Dawn’s “Reaching out without Dumbing Down” required reading of every worship leader, including musicians.

Come on, Guys. Take a deep breath and relax. In the Adventist church where my wife attends the teen-agers and young adults have been given a true leadership role in being responsible for and performing the church music. This means, as you might guess, there is a lot of music with repeated phrases augmented most weeks with electric guitar and drums. Some of it, to my ears, is what my Aunt Edna would call “God-awful”, but what is evident is that their participation is very important to them and that many older members enjoy and are “blessed” by this participation. It seems to have drawn members of various age groups closer together. On my refrigerator there are a number of works of art produced by my grandchildren. You might say that as art they don’t compare with the output of Picasso or Degas, but to me they are beautiful, none-the-less. They are all the more significant because they were products of people near and dear to me and they were produced with pride. Don’t let me catch you criticizing them, either. :smile:


Or expand it further to include metal, rock, folk, jazz etc.

That would be rather nice, but I can see why they wouldn’t considering how angry those paying the bills can get over such things. Though I would certainly argue they need to buck that trend.

So, I’ve recorded with a band songs that I’ve written, and plan to record more in a home studio with a musician friend of mine…but they would be ineligible to submit because they have electric instruments, and…may it never be…drums??? And, they are not overt worship songs, even though it is clear that there is a spiritual theme in each of them…meant more to speak about life, raise some existential questions at times, and speak to people trying to parse meaning out of their day to day experiences, than it is to get people in the pews praising the Lord.

I guess all this simply wouldn’t fit the pre-packaged expectations, or would make too many people too uncomfortable. Art and creativity, in Adventism, seems to have very narrow parameters.




I grew up in the SDA church in South Africa in the 60’ and 70’s. There were many lovely pastors - just the same as elsewhere I suppose. But one observation I can make for sure - the majority were totally ignorant of the meaning of art - in fact many knew absolutely nothing about it - it was not their ‘thing’. They were trained to cure illnesses of the soul - if one may put it that way - but perhaps not always the illnesses found in artistic/creative souls. I would hate to write that many pastors lack culture where it comes to the arts, but I do wonder whether I am not right on that account.
For an artist with a deep urge to express oneself creatively the church was sometimes no home and some artists of any consequence moved on elsewhere - and I suppose that was mostly outside of organised religion anyway. It was Dr Francis Schaefer and the L’Abri art critic H R Rookmaker who often saved the day for those who felt left out in the cold.
At the end of it all it is far better not to condemn the artist if he creates outside the church’s theological parameters; just try to understand why he does so. Perhaps a good example would be to try and understand John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ not as a diatribe against God so much as a compassionate urge to find a way out of the ghastly milieu which organised religion has often corralled men and women. But then I don’t suppose you would find John singing ‘imagine’ in church.


It’s not really about songwriting as art or musicianship. It’s about writing worship songs for congregational singing.

So we want to attract top musicians, but we want to completely limit you to our format. As it’s their contest, I have no problem with that. I won’t enter.

The headline had me hoping for more.