I recently had a brief discussion with a family member about the romantic, or maybe even sensual, language that pervades contemporary worship songs. After our talk, she paused for a moment and said, “You know, you’re very critical about worship music.” I think she said it more as observation than as insult. I smiled and said, “Yes I am!” Really, more of us ought to be critical about what we sing and say and do in corporate worship. After all, doesn’t God want us to offer our hearts, souls, and minds to him? Critique is vital if done with good intentions and a perspective of pastoral care.
Still, she has a point. So, lest I become known as a 30-year-old curmudgeon who has a shed full of axes to grind, I want to share with you a few congregational songs that recently have caught my attention in a good way. Most of these are on my “helpful” list due to thoughtfully-presented theology, well-constructed lyricism, and music that is memorable, singable, and beautiful. Here they are.
First, there are songs popularized by the Contemporary Christian Music industry (in other words, controlled in the United States by Capitol Christian Music Group):
- Christ is Risen by Matt Maher
- Indescribable by Laura Story
- Praise the Father, Praise the Son by Chris Tomlin
- I Will Praise Him Still by Fernando Ortega
- By Our Love by Christy Knockels
- Man of Sorrows by Hillsong
- Come As You Are by David Crowder
I’ve found several great songs by an organization called Cardiphonia – “an ongoing collaboration of artists and musicians giving their first fruits to the church.” These folks tend to be thoughtful and creative. You can find their music here. The following are some good selections from their “Songs for the Supper.”
- In the Name of God the Father by The Ironsides
- The Feast by Karl Digerness and City Hymns
- The King of Love My Shepherd is by Redeemer Knoxville
- Lord, I Believe by Zac Hicks and Cherry Creek Worship
- We Sing His Name by Melanie Penn
- Until He Come by Gina Tuck
- The Lamb Has Overcome by Luke Morton
The last several years has seen a growing movement, often referred to as the “retuned hymn movement” or “rehymn movement“, that sets previously written hymn texts to new music. Here are a few personal favorites:
- O God of Mine by Rita Springer
- I Surrender All by Jadon Lavik
- In the Hours arranged by Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace)
- Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul arranged by Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace)
- Arise My Soul Arise arranged by Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace)
- On Jordan’s Stormy Banks arranged by Christopher Miner (Indelible Grace)
- Abide With Me arranged by Justin Smith (Indelible Grace)
- All Must Be Well arranged by Matthew Smith (Indelible Grace)
Finally, one of my favorite modern hymnwriters is Keith Getty, who often co-writes with his wife Kristyn and their friend Stuart Townend. Their texts marry head with heart, using beautiful language to poignantly express solid theology. And they write music for the congregation to sing! A few that top my congregational songs playlist:
- By Faith
- My Worth Is Not In What I Own
- Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed
- The Perfect Wisdom of Our God
- My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness
- Holy Spirit
- In Christ Alone
- Simple Living
This list is by no means comprehensive, and I regularly listen to new music. Also keep in mind that my iTunes has 161 church music songs that I’ve rated four or five stars. The thing is that there is so much new worship music available. It’s impossible to keep up with it all. There’s the stuff that’s played on Christian radio stations, new hymns written by modern hymnwriters, and an increasing number of churches and coalitions that are sharing the music they are making.
With the abundance of new music, I have abandoned the practice of finding songs that are acceptable for congregational singing. Instead I now search for songs that the congregation needs to sing. Why sing a song that is only tolerable if there is better song that conveys the same theme or theology?
What tops your congregational playlist these days?