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Even When I Can’t See It You’re Working: The Overlooked Authorship of “Way Maker” by Sinach

Guest blogger Anneli Loepp Thiessen is an active song leader, researcher, classical musician, and music educator. She is set to begin her PhD in Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Ottawa in September, 2020, where she received her Masters of Music in Piano Performance.

 

 

The Rise of “Way Maker”

On February 17, 2020, the massively popular megachurch and conference Passion released a YouTube video of their worship leaders singing the song “Way Maker.” In this video, white worship leaders move around a large stage, energetically leading thousands of worshippers in an impactful anthem. In their description of the video, Passion wrote: “Official Live video for “Way Maker” by Passion ft. Kristian Stanfill, Kari Jobe, & Cody Carnes.” If the 3 million people who’ve watched that video don’t know better they would likely assume it was written by the leaders of Passion. They might be surprised when they find out who really wrote it.

Over the past few months, “Way Maker” has become an anthem for white, North American evangelicals. In that time, the song has received many accolades: it reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart, it appeared twice in the top 10 of the Christian Airplay chart for two different recordings (one by the band Leeland and one by Michael W. Smith featuring Vanessa Campagna and Madelyn Berry, which has ranked at #1), and it peaked at #2 on Praise Charts list of songs most downloaded since COVID-19. The song is sung in contemporary worship services across the continent, with covers routinely emerging from mega-churches. In many ways, its success is comparable to other hit anthems that have taken the church by storm. And yet this one is different.

 

Representation

If you, like me, have paid even a small amount of attention to who is writing the evangelical church’s song, you will have noticed that it is mostly white men. My recent study of Christian Copyright Licensing International’s Top 25 charts from the past 30 years revealed that the majority of songs sung by the American evangelical church today are written by collaborations among men. Big names produce top songs, which are marketed by publishing companies to make a large impact. The Billboard Top Christian Songwriter charts reflect this: names of white men routinely make the list, with a small number of women and people of colour appearing alongside them. In a blog post for the Center for Congregational song, David Bjorlin argues that consumerism has marked congregational song: only two companies, Capitol and Bethel, are responsible for administering the majority of the CCLI Top 100 lists. Congregational song is curated to promote only certain voices.

Here’s where “Way Maker” stands out: rather than being composed by a group of white Americans, “Way Maker” was written by Nigerian female songwriter Osinachi Okoro, stage name Sinach. She is an award winning songwriter and vocalist, has recorded 9 albums, and serves as an international worship leader at her home church, Christ Embassy (Loveworld). She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, with her husband and child. In addition to “Way Maker,” she has written many other hit worship songs that are sung around the world.

 

Grassroots

 

Rather than rising to popularity through sponsored advertisements, “Way Maker” emerged in the most grassroots way a song can these days: a YouTube video. Sinach’s original YouTube video of “Way Maker” (video above) has over 150 million views, and in May 2020 she made history as the first African to top Billboard’s Christian Songwriter chart. It is also important to note that while white evangelicals are just adopting the song now, it has been loved by black churches for several years, as evidenced in a 2017 video of Benita Jones leading it (video below). Sinach’s ministry was meaningful long before the white North American church sang her songs, and her music is powerful with or without its affirmation.

 

The reception of “Way Maker” by American evangelicals is an outlier on all accounts. For a church that has thrived on predictably produced music, it is surprising that the song speaking to us the most during a global crisis is not from our most familiar sources, but from a Nigerian songwriter in a moving music video. In an interview with Medina Pullings on May 22, 2020, Sinach addressed her rise to the top of Billboard’s Christian Songwriter chart. She said: “I didn’t lobby for it, I didn’t promote it to be like that. It was the Lord that put it there. So He wants to make a statement, and let him make it.”

I draw your attention to the story of “Way Maker” because I believe it represents a significant moment in evangelical church history. For hundreds of years Europeans and Euro-Americans have been at work colonizing other parts of the world. We have forced or cajoled the world to adopt our religion, infrastructure, cultural traditions, and practices. Our way of relating to others has been informed by the idea that we have all of the answers, and it is our job to share them with the world.

Our worship has not been immune to this practice. North American worship language has been globally adopted: top worship hits from Euro-American songwriters have been translated into countless languages and are sung all over the world. We are so comfortable with our own voice that our worship rarely brings in music from other cultures. But now, we need language that is not our own. We need the voice of a woman in Nigeria who is able to talk about a miracle-working God in a way that we will not. The tables have turned: instead of offering our voice to the world, we are gratefully receiving.

 

A Beautiful Moment

We are witnessing a beautiful moment: the American evangelical church has received a song that it desperately needs, but I’m afraid the way we have received it has caused harm. I fear that most of our pastors, worship leaders and congregants assume that “Way Maker” was written by Euro-Americans. The vigour with which the song has been covered by big name artists like Passion has meant that the identity of the song’s original writer has been lost in translation.

By removing Sinach’s name and story from the song, we are claiming it as our own without crediting the vibrant context it comes from. Unfortunately, this is a common theme throughout history: white artists have long been covering songs written by black artists without giving them credit. This is a systemic problem that is much larger than just the worship music industry, although it is clearly evident here. This occurrence is not only a missed opportunity to embrace our global church, but it overlooks and disrespects the few, brave intercultural voices that have found their way into our worship. When we sing Sinach’s song without crediting her properly, we are bypassing the opportunity for our worship to dismantle oppression, and are perpetuating racism by erasing a black voice.

In light of the global dialogue around anti-racism that has developed since the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police, many churches are engaging conversations on racial justice in a new way. Megachurches like Passion preached on the topic and posted for #blackouttuesday. But worship and justice are deeply intertwined, and good intentions are lost if our worship continues to drown out black voices. In the first week of June, a video emerged of black protesters singing “Way Maker” as they marched. Rather than ignoring the origins of this song, can we use it to amplify black voices? Can we hold it as an anthem for racial justice?

 

Embrace the Global Church

By experiencing “Way Maker” as a song written by a woman from Nigeria, we embrace the global church to which we belong. We acknowledge that we need voices that are not our own, and we celebrate that all are invited into the church’s song.

The widespread adoption of a worship anthem from another culture represents a rare moment for the evangelical church, and we have the opportunity to acknowledge it in the right way. This song is not ours to own, we are receiving it as a gift. So say thank-you. Subscribe to Sinach’s YouTube channel. Follow her on social media. Tell your church the story behind this song. Credit her as the songwriter in your covers. Watch her original music video – the one with 150 million views – I can assure you it’s worth it.  Sinach’s song has brought Christians from around the world together, we must credit her with leading the way and sharing her gift.

 

Guest Blogger – Anneli Loepp Thiessen

 

23 thoughts on “Even When I Can’t See It You’re Working: The Overlooked Authorship of “Way Maker” by Sinach”

  1. Sam Olu says:

    Thanks Anneli for you great input and analysis. I pray we all live as a one holy body to appreciate the Lord for His blessings on the church, as well as the gift of songs to the church. God bless Sinach and all our composers and songkeaders. Amen, to the Way Maker!

  2. Great message. Thank you Sir. More blessing to you
    Morris Makafui Gospel musician/worship leader/songwriter Ghana

  3. Andrew Mak says:

    Wow. True. This is a song that we have been singing for the past 4 years here in Uganda. A great worship anthem. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this .

  4. Kylie says:

    Thank you for bringing the truth into light! I love this song! I sing it all the time and so does my 5 year old. I had no idea it was a Nigerian woman who wrote it! That’s awesome ❤️ I will spread the revelation to my church.

  5. Thank you for such a remarkable gift to the church. We have sung this song many times at my church! Thank you for sharing the truth.

  6. Blessing says:

    You are right. I have heard the song in churches in Australia and have spoken to song leaders who don’t even know it was Sinach that wrote and sang the song. Many think it is a Michael Smith song etc.

  7. Pauline Sah says:

    Thank you for shedding light on TRUTH!
    God bless you!

  8. Paul Ellison says:

    Thank you for this article but while I’m encouraged I’m also saddened after reading it. When our church first sang this song I went to the internet and found out very quickly it was written by Sinach. Her colour neither added or detracted from the way I viewed the song. While I do love this song and am thankful Sinach wrote it I can’t help but feel the article is just another attempt to jump on the latest media bandwagon. Maybe I am missing the point here but the idea of mentioning who wrote it before we sing it would have a negative affect in our worship service. Surely the only person to be lifted up is Jesus. How about we stop complaining about the church and start believing in it, work to unite it and not try to divide it.
    If we were at a wedding it would be extremely bad form for someone to start complaining the brides dress manufacturer wasn’t credited for making it – white or black.
    Thank you Sinach for writing this song, it is beautiful and anointed. But I cannot agree to this article that only serves to fragment the church and point out its imperfections to the whole world.
    Let him who has no sin throw the first stone.

    1. admtcfcs says:

      The Director of The Center for Congregational Song is planning on addressing a few of the points you have brought up. Until then, we will note that as of posting this comment the only negative reactions that we have received about the blog (via Facebook, Twitter, and on our site here) have echoed many of your points and have also come exclusively from white males. While that fact alone does not discredit anything you’re saying or you in particular, we wanted you to be aware of that fact so that it hopefully gives you pause. We invite you into a deeper reflection of the history of and the current realities of systemic/structural racism, specifically in the church and para-church organizations.

  9. Naa Opoku says:

    Thanks Paul your response is spot on. I can understand the sentiment in the article but we need to rise above this and not be like the world. What is the overall point – that Jesus is Lord, the way maker and miracle worker!! In the house of God it doesn’t matter who you are. This song has been a blessing to many similar to the song “the blessing” why can’t we just focus on the end game – a song, a message that inspires others about the God we serve.

  10. Not Paul Ellison. says:

    As a white male you are not allowed to have an opinion that disagrees with the author. Her comment is, essentially, that if you were better educated you would obviously agree with her. You need to study. How incredibly insulting. And I’m sure this comment will be deleted.

    1. admtcfcs says:

      Nah. We’ll keep it!

  11. Meheytab’el says:

    Mr. Paul Ellison, I am saddened by the latter part of your response in that it is another example of how black lives and black achievement is relegated to the pettiness corner just because it forces white men, in particular, to look at themselves in the mirror and see the ugliness their actions reveal. Newsflash, sir, racism Is alive and well in the church! I have been in congregations where I was treated with condescension until they got to know that I was a highly skilled and intelligent professional with many years training under my belt, after which I would suddenly assume a status that was not previously accorded to me. Needless to say, I am no longer a part of that congregation. Needless to say, I am no longer a member of that congregation. How would you feel if you had an experience with God that produced a great body of work that became a blessing of massive proportions to the body of Christ and another child of God who happened to be black plagiarized your work and passed it off as their own? Would you still have the same reaction? The first and only law of God is “thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart with all my might and with all my strength and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself“ if this is true then not attributing this song to Sinach constitutes coveting our neighbor’s property, which violates the law of God. Please step down from your privileged high horse (I say that very respectfully) and hear what the Spirit of God is saying to the churches. Maranatha.

  12. Chudi says:

    Thanks for this article. I am Nigerian and did not know the song has become this big globally though in Africa, it has always had a place. It has a home in our worship as always lifts our souls whenever it is sung.
    Sinach is an awesome worship leader all over Africa and we believe God has pushed her music to the global stage. This is one of many that blesses us.
    Hopefully, other Nigerian worship songs would penetrate the global church and be a blessing to many in months and weeks to come.
    Thanks congregational song for using this medium to propagate oneness according to the mind of God. We hope we appreciate more the gift of whom God has created us all to be.

  13. Irene Akaluogbo says:

    Thank you fir raising this and writing to impress it on hearts of worshippers. I had concerns about emerging adaptations of this song and some others with no credit to the actual composer – Sinach, and feared it won’t be long before she is clearly erased as the copyright owner. We have seen this happen in many spheres, but as Christians who promote truth and godly living it would be a shame. So thank you so much for this and much love to Sinach, a rear gift of this time.

  14. Afoke Oghene Joshua says:

    Sinach gets her songs from the throne room. Nobody can discredit her. Way Maker is one song out of the many blessed songs she has authored. The first time I heard Sinach ministered, the lame walked, crutches were thrown away. I mean, how can anybody discredit her when the Anointing goes with and before her.?She does not sing just to be on top, but she ministers the Anointing in a way that only she can.

  15. Michael says:

    This article is a bit racist. The authorship of most songs we have no idea. We only know the person who sung it last. In all honesty it’s to the Lord God all mighty. He gave it to them to share with the world and they did. Let’s not get caught up in this. They just performed the song they didn’t say they wrote it. And there are black evangelicals as well.

    1. admtcfcs says:

      Dear Michael, claims of reverse racism are often brought up when arguments are made to reveal, undermine, or dismantle white supremacy in its various forms. We reject that allegation but are allowing your comment to stay public so that we can all continue to engage each other in good faith. For more information about reverse racism and how it is used to perpetuate unjust systems, this article is a good place to start reading: http://www.aclrc.com/myth-of-reverse-racism

  16. Thank you for sharing your rich and deeply refreshing perspective on this matter. It takes nothing away from those redoing Sinach’s ‘Way Maker’ song to give her due credit.

  17. Temitope B says:

    Thank you for sharing and I hope this will ring in the ears of some artists singing this song without giving due credit to Sinach.I was there when she sang this song the first time in church back home in Nigeria and the atmosphere was an atmosphere for miracles.I have listened to some other gospel ministers sing this song in US and not giving credit to the writer of the song.Some radio stations will even mention a popular minister as the writer of the song while they play the song on their radio station.Truth needs to be told.Something good has come out from Africa and it’s for the church and blessing millions of lives around the world.I would encourage you as ministers not to reap from where you did not sow.Its stealing.Bible says there is a way that looks right in the eyes of a man but the end of it leads to destruction.Stop taking credit for what you didn’t do rather thank God for the writer of the song and keep praying for her.She has so many songs that are very spirit filled that would change your mode of worship if you listen.Humble yourself before God and not man.If God has given her grace for her song to go around the world,then appreciate it as another minister and give thanks to God as you sing the song and you acknowledge the writer of the song before those you are ministering to.Dont try to take credit for what God didn’t give you and make it yours.Thats quick destruction.A word is enough for the wise.

  18. Paxton Knap says:

    I’m glad someone with a platform shared this because i’ve been saying it for years now. I first heard of Way Maker through gospel feeds on youtube and easily looked it up. This is a case of how unconnected mainstream white churches are to historically black churches and international churches not from AU, NZ, Canada or UK. Sad. When i played worship at a COGIC church in Compton, I shared how “Break Every Chain” and “Fill Me Up/Overflow” were written by Will Reagan and United Pursuit, white worship leaders. Thank God this is changing with collaboration between people of color at Bethel, Maverick City Music, and The House Fires. We miss out on the musical potluck that the worshiping body of Christ was meant to be when we stay in our neutral corners and don’t take 2 minutes to use the internet to look up who wrote a song we like.

  19. Lowell says:

    Beautiful & from the heart 💝☝️

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