The Movement Is Strong So the Music Is Strong
“When the music is strong, the movement is strong.” Harry Belafonte
I love this quote! However, I believe it’s the strong movement that produces the strong music. There has been no greater movement and no greater passion than Jesus’ gospel, the power of God to save. The music of the redeemed should pack passion, creativity, intensity, and be sung loudly. It should be full of stomping and clapping, tears and laughter, lament and rejoicing, all revealing the story of God and that story colliding with our lives. There are so many amazing songs and hymns given to the Church, and I want to invite you to join in and offer the world another song of the redeemed. This is a call to songwriters to unite, collaborate, and create the music of gospel movement.
I began writing songs (and raps, which is a whole other story) when I was 12 years old. In my early teens I played the guitar, wrote love songs, and tried to start bands. When God saved me at 17, writing prayers, desires, and angsty hopes for Jesus was like fire in my bones. From 18 to 35 I was writing songs and learning to co-write, and as I matured, I learned to lean deeply on people who had strengths and skills I did not have. In the most recent decade God spoke clearly to me and invited me to move into a fathering role in music. This meant laying down my desires of being an artist and turning to those around me to help them move to engage gospel songwriting. This was a deeper dive into collaboration, which is one of the most profound and beautiful processes we can be a part of. Collaboration means constantly laying yourself aside to participate in something greater along with others who are gifted in order to create something much larger than one person can do alone.
Liturgy is generally defined as "the work of the people,” but it can also include “the work of God that benefits the world.” In this sense we co-labor with God as a prophetic symbol of life that glorifies God in the world around us. When we apply that profound truth of “the work of God and the people that benefits the world” in our art, song, and performance, we display a big vision that engages not only the Church, but also the world around us. We offer flourishing like none other as we speak of a world that is not quite here yet, but which is abundant with life from Jesus.
Our Christ-centered, communal, collaborative art projects reveal the soul of our community, the desire of the people, and point them to Jesus. Whether the art or music is sung in the church or the bar, it has the fingerprints of God on it. Though it may never be seen or heard outside your community, you have just borne the image of God, reflecting all he’s given you and your community.
So how do we unite a community to collaborate in songwriting that is full of the passion of the gospel? How do we gather for something far bigger than ourselves? Vision, work, and humility are key elements to this endeavor. Consider these suggestions for communal collaboration:
Let people know where you’re going and set up a platform to jump
When people see a vision for something beautiful that interrupts the the mundane, they will reach for it with you. Don’t give them an undoable vision. Give them a vision that is attainable with God and the togetherness of a group. Once vision has been set, provide an opportunity to get everyone on the same page. This may be a a weekly gathering for a set amount of time. Create learning communities that focus the people around the subject of the project to empower their thinking, feeling, and lyrics.
Give them the big “why” and a roadmap with resting places
The “why” of a vision call is key to keep pointing back to the heart of the collaboration. For example, I tell songwriters that they write because they emulate a Creator—they’re made for it —and communal songwriting is beautiful and an amazing way to hone your art! If something transpires from the risk of writing and it is heard by one or many others, it’s a gift! Typically, doing projects in sprints instead of marathons serves the cause. To take 3-4 months with due dates and goals lets people know where they are in the process, keeps them working and resting, and uses their energy and momentum to create something amazing.
Create feedback loops and set expectations for curation
Feedback loops need to be really encouraging, but lovingly honest. There’s a beauty in accepting something as it is, but power is added to that beauty when someone allows their art to run through a refining process. In our community we use “write nights” to create feedback. Writers can offer songs in small, safe groups and get instant feedback. It’s helpful for everyone involved in a collaborative project to understand that the process by itself is enjoyable and full of growth, but that the project is being curated at some level so not all offerings can be received for the final work. The bar of curation can be set anywhere a leader wants to set it for their specific community and project.
Follow through with expectations and finish strong
As leaders and visionaries of projects, we have to own what’s been dropped or changed from what was said before. This actually creates trust. When you don’t own adjustments or changes, you will have a difficult time ever doing a similar project because trust gets lost. Some projects may nip at you for so long that they lose steam. All along the way find ways to re-establish the vision and energy so you can reach the finish line strong, even if that means deep cuts and adjustments along the way.
Celebrate the moment and lift the hands of the weary
Once the project is complete, invite everyone who was a part to celebrate it. This can be a gathering where you watch or listen to the work, pray, feast, celebrate each contributor, laugh, and thank God. You may even consider creating a gift that commemorates the achievement of the project. Lastly, make your way back around to some of the individuals who dropped off along the way for any reason. It could be that life season stopped them from contributing or they were bummed at their lack of being used. Either way come back to these friends and lift their hands to encourage them.
The strong movement produces strong music. There is no greater movement and no greater passion than Jesus’ gospel, the power of God to save. The songs of the redeemed should pack passion, creativity, intensity, and be sung loudly to reveal the story of God and how that story collides with our lives. This is a call to unite, collaborate, and fill the Church, the bars, the slums, and palaces with the songs of Jesus and the echoes of a world that is both here already and on its way. Peace and power of Christ to each of you.
Charlie Hall (@charliehallband) is a songwriter/pastor based in Oklahoma City, where he is the Pastor of Worship Arts and Liturgy at Frontline Church.