Creating Worship that Inspires By inSpire with Scott Arany

Photo by: Leslie Foster
We asked Scott Arany about his passion for leading worship and about the creative process he uses to write songs.

inSpire - Tell us about your background and how you ended up working as a worship leader.

Arany - I've been an Adventist since childhood and a singer since I was a toddler. My parents have a photo of me singing in my crib. I've always been musically and visually artistic, and now I am a singer, songwriter, liturgical artist, poet, graphic designer, pastor and photographer.

In high school (Loma Linda Academy) and college (La Sierra University) I noticed that combining certain worship songs with other ones could create a more powerful experience for worshipers than random selections. I started to think about the drama, poetry and flow of worship when I encountered Episcopalian and Greek Orthodox liturgy for the first time. Also significant was a liturgy I experienced on a retreat with Walla Walla theology students. The artistry and beautiful forms of these liturgies provided space for me to rest and worship, showing me that the form of worship could be art just as much as the content. At the same time I was discerning a call to pastoral ministry. Liturgical artistry and worship leading are two of the primary ways I currently live out this pastoral call. I find worship artistry to be highly integrative for my passions, gifts and call.

While attending Fuller Theological Seminary in 2007, I met Ryan Bell who invited me to visit the Hollywood Adventist Church. I fell in love with this eclectic, innovative and purple church. Eventually I served that congregation as the assistant pastor for worship and liturgical arts. My time serving in urban Hollywood pushed me to study the integration of mission and worship.

inSpire - So you embrace the arts broadly. Which art form do you gravitate to most? What do you enjoy doing most?

Arany - Music—singing, playing, composing, listening—is the closest to my core and calling. It certainly takes up most of my time! If I'm not doing musical play on a regular basis, then something is probably "off" in my life: be it spiritual, emotional, or situational.

Photography brings me a great amount of satisfaction and pleasure. There's a sense of contemplative spiritual practice, when I go for a walk with my camera. So far, photography is the one art form that remains personal and even private—or at least un-monetized. Both music and graphic design are central to my career, call and income, but photography is just an enjoyable hobby for now.

Music is processing and expression. Photography is contemplation and input. One's not more enjoyable than the other, but each are joy in a different way.

inSpire - That's interesting. As a songwriter, tell us a little about the mechanical process that you use to write your lyrics and music. Do you have a process?

Arany - My songwriting comes out of a few different practices, a mix of the contemplative, intuitive and methodical:

Regular prayer and dwelling in scripture. One song came from a dwelling in scripture on Ephesians 3 with my church; I felt a nudge in prayer that a song was in the text. I found that song a week later—again, in prayer with my church. A couple months ago that nudge, "There's a song here," came when preaching on 1 Kings 8:12. A couple weeks ago the nudge showed up in prayer as I prepped for leading worship, "Joy. Focus on joy." There was a song in that. When that happens, I start writing then humming what I've written. Putting myself into a listening space helps with hearing new songs.

Playfulness. Exploratory, recreational play. Sitting down with my dulcimers and exploring. I find an interesting chord progression and wonder what might fit those chords. Most recently that approach led me to satisfying arrangements of "Let Us Break Bread Together" and "What Wondrous Love Is This?" (Listen to recording at the bottom of the page)

Exploring. It's good to be regularly immersed in other artists' creations. Trawl YouTube. Pick up old hymnals. Read good poetry. I found one song while listening to Gungor's Creation Liturgy album on a long drive. Click here to listen

Tinkering. Don't be afraid to tinker with classics or someone else's songs. I've added additional verses to many praise songs and hymns as needed by the worship service's theme or the life of the congregation. This is a good way to add a missional bent to an otherwise personal song.

Listening to simple recordings of a newly written song is immensely helpful with refining and arranging.

Collaborating with others.

And keep a notebook or voice recorder on hand at all times!

inSpire - Some great practical pointers here. What is your ultimate goal as a worship leader and songwriter?

Arany - As a worship leader, my goal is to create sacred, sabbath and safe space for others to meet God. I believe that our worship and invocations are less about calling down God, and more about recognizing God's extant presence in our midst. He's been there all along.

I think of it in restaurant/hospitality language: My job is to create the space, curate and create the food, light candles, provide wine and bread, and invite people to sit down at the table with each other and God, letting beautiful and healing things happen.

As a songwriter, sometimes I write to process my own life, sometimes I write to be faithful to God's calling, sometimes I write because the music and the muse demand it. Now and then, some of what I write shows up in communal worship spaces.

inSpire - We want to affirm you in your music ministry and trust that God will continue to inspire you to write songs that feed hungry ears with hopeful sounds.

  Click to listen

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2013 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.