Collaboration and Community in Worship Songwriting
I always feel a bit odd talking on the issue of songwriting. I’ve been writing songs for many years now and the process of starting with nothing and ending with something is still a big mystery to me. It can only be that our creator has made us in his likeness, and he receives glory in our expression of creativity. To that same end, just as it is his character to be creative, it is also his character to be in community (Father, Spirit, and Son). It shouldn’t really be surprising then, as we related the expression of creativity back to the triune God, that working as a community serves the songwriting process better than we ever could working as an individual.
Looking back over the years, we have always seen God pour out an abundance of songs for his Church in the context of community; we usually call them movements. Some examples that come to mind are Vineyard, Soul Survivor, Passion, Hillsong, Jesus Culture, New Life/Desperation—all are communities, and the list goes on. Though these are some of the larger writing communities, there are communities that are just as significant all around the world that serve in the local expression of the Church. The moral of this story is that if you are writing songs for the Church then don’t ignore the importance of being in community.
Seek It Out
I lead worship at a church in Nashville called Fellowship Bible Church where there are four of us that write songs and lead our body in the praises of God. I think all four of us would say that we have benefited tremendously from our community. Even though we don’t always write songs together we are leading each other’s songs and growing as a writing community. If you are the only one at your church interested in writing songs, maybe an idea could be to pull together a few writers from a few different churches in your area and write songs for the churches in your city. There’s power in community and unity. I lead a band called One Sonic Society and our name exists because after our collective years involving Delirious?, Hillsong, and CCM, we are convinced, more than ever, that community and unity will have to surround any sonic expression we make.
The word community in songwriting speaks to the bigger picture, and the more personal and practical expression of that is found in collaboration. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to do in my years as a songwriter it’s collaborate. I still remember when I signed my first publishing deal; I told my publisher that I had always written by myself and that was how I planned to continue. That was nine years ago, and now I can’t think of the last time I wrote a song by myself.
Practically speaking, it’s always great to get in a room with someone who may have different strengths. One person may be a bit stronger with lyric while someone else may be a bit stronger with melody or music. Either way, the collective voice is so much stronger and far broader in reach than the individual voice. Collaboration teaches us to hold loosely to our ideas and let others speak into our songs. Songs for the corporate body aren’t about us anyway. They are for us but they are just as much for everyone else who walks into the back door of a church desperately needing to connect with God and know his presence.
Whose Is It?
That brings me to an interesting benefit of collaboration. It really helps water down the credit. It’s in our nature to want the credit, and our pride can get in the way of us being positioned for God’s use. I found that in the way that having multiple names on a song really helps make the song less about the individual who wrote it and more about the God of the song. I’ve found that if I’m leading a song I’ve written with someone else that I’m able to think about that person and smile at how God is using them in that moment. Keeps it from being about me.
Lastly, I know this can sound glib but I mean this with all my heart: I’m convinced the most important collaboration available to each of us in our writing session is the Holy Spirit. We have to invite him into our writing sessions and our songs and ask Him to give us songs that he will inhabit. Only God can give us songs through which people will encounter him in a transcendent way to his end and his glory.
Jason Ingram is a producer and songwriter and part of the worship band One Sonic Society. He has served as a songwriter for many Christian artists, including Sonicflood, Rebecca St. James, Bebo Norman, Kari Jobe, Brandon Heath, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong United, and Matt Redman, amongst others.