Lessons learned in the art of collaboration
Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ten years ago I had the pleasure of meeting songwriter Stuart Townend. Stuart had written the beautiful hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love,” which inspired me to try my hand at hymnwriting. Our publishers, John Pac and Stephen Doherty, introduced us. I felt both excited and privileged to meet him.
Stuart agreed to write one song in collaboration with me. The song became “In Christ Alone.” We’ve written together regularly since then and it’s been one of the most beneficial experiences in my life. Here’s a few reasons why:
- Successful collaboration weaves together individual strengths. While I often focus on the melody first, Stuart is a phenomenal lyricist. True poets and lyricists can agonize over single words and phrases for months while composers feel equally passionately about melody. While I have strong convictions about lyrical direction, I’m not a wordsmith like Stuart. But we each have complemented the others’ strengths.
- Successful collaboration enables you to reach higher. More than a century ago Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The lightning spark of thought generated in a solitary mind awakens its likeness in another mind”. Whether it’s by raising your standards, sharpening your focus, or inspiring you to move in a new direction, collaboration brings mutual encouragement. Very few creative people live in a vacuum. We need community.
- Successful collaboration brings different opinions to the table. Good collaborators don’t always agree with you. In my world of square boxes, everything has a neat space–people, places, ideas, events, plans (including what I’m having for lunch as soon as I finish this blog!). Stuart is very different and brings to the mix his own personality, ideas, life experiences and artistic influences. So my viewpoint is constantly challenged.
- Successful collaboration shares common goals. Each of us ultimately should share the same goals in what we’re trying to achieve. Then, when we encounter roadblocks along the way–whether they’re the tendency to run off in tangents, reveal our annoying habits, expose mixed motivations or discover the need to keep our egos in check–we go back to the goals and remember why we’re here. Everything is on the table and there’s nothing that can’t be said.
The body of Christ as a whole functions at its best when it operates in collaborative effort.
The creative relationship between musicians and pastors, for example, is critical. Most of the great hymnwriters were (and still are) either pastors or musicians with close relationships to one another.
Additionally, worship pastors and their fellow musicians can experience the joy of creativity when the entire team shares ideas for worship, encouraging each other’s strengths while also lovingly challenging each other to be better. Sadly, this model of interaction often is emulated more by film studios such as Pixar than the local church.
Most importantly, honest collaboration is something we should experience in our closest relationships. During the past few weeks our personal circumstances have changed considerably, and I’ve had to learn collaboration as a husband in new ways. Realizing that I don’t always practice what I preached in the most important of circumstances is always a sad indictment. But that’s why we’re linked together in this life–to realize we don’t exist for ourselves, but to serve each other and in turn to serve God. And to see we can often be more creative, fruitful and excellent as a team than as individuals. Those are some of the best gifts collaboration can bring.
Watch Stuart live on our website here