Last May 50 folks took me up on my offer to receive a WorshipGod Live CD and post a review on their blog. Thanks so much for participating! The comments were overwhelmingly encouraging, but I was even more grateful for the constructive feedback you gave us. Here are some of the comments, along with my thoughts.
Most reviewers seems to think the songs were singable and easy to pick up. Dan wrote, “My personal opinion is that a strong song stands on its own even if stripped down to a solo instrument and a single voice…These are all strong songs, in my opinion.” Brian agreed. “No melody was too complex for any congregation to learn quickly.” Chris didn’t think so. “My chief difficulty with the album comes from the musical part of the songs…I found myself wishing that this album’s songwriters had taken the little guys into account on at least some of the songs.” Caleb thought that ”some of the songs are not very corporate [and] don’t lend themselves to congregational singing.” We actually do think about the “little guy,” as most of our churches are 250 people or less. But we want to grow in this area. Part of the difference in perspective stems from the songs people are used to singing. We’ve encouraged our church to be aggressive in the variety of songs they’re willing to learn, from hymns to more syncopated songs. But as numerous reviewers said, if a CD contains more than three or four songs that can actually be used congregationally, it’s a real find.
Patrick initially struggled with the repetition in the song, Jesus Thank You. “As much as I love this song, I found it a bit repetitive. I had to remind myself this song was recorded at a live concert. But after listening carefully to the lyrics, why wouldn’t I want to repeat singing these words? Once the enemy of God, now reconciled through the Son!” Repetition itself isn’t wrong, as Psalm 136 shows us. But we want repeat words that are worth saying more than once, and be careful to use repetition wisely and purposefully, so that God’s truth is sown into our hearts.
Richard gave us an overall encouraging review but “kept waiting for one of the songs to be a ‘home run’ like I Will Glory in My Redeemer, Before the Throne of God Above or Alas and Did My Savior Bleed.” Me, too, Richard. Actually, I think His Forever and Jesus Thank You may fall under that category. But then he humbly acknowledged, “Most of the songs and hymns that we sing today from beloved hymn writers are only a small portion that those writers actually wrote. The best songs will always rise to the top and time will tell how accurate this ‘critique’ is.”
We put a good deal of thought into our words because songs teach whether we’re aware of it or not. Many of you noticed. Billy kindly described our songs as “God-exalting, Cross-centered, celebratory and humble, corporate and personal.” Dan from the UK, commented, "Sovereign Grace Music is first and foremost about biblical praise, theologically worthwhile lyrics and Christ-centred music. So there’s really nothing on this album that you can point to and roll your eyes at the dodgy lyrics or loose theology."
A few people commented on the extended times of spontaneous praise at the end of two of the songs. Amy was very encouraging overall, but wrote, “I have no doubt [the extended ad-libbing] probably worked live–moved by the greatness of the God they are singing about and to, the congregation is clapping, perhaps, and no one wants to end the song. If you were there, I’m sure it flowed smoothly and you wouldn’t even notice. But on a CD, it doesn’t quite work.” Dwayne, in a thorough and kind review, agreed with Amy. “Ecstatic endings” are not something he is “condemning, theologically…just not in agreement with pragmatically. It does not evoke in me any “extra” or ‘less’ worship.” People in Sovereign Grace churches, and elsewhere, often find there is an overflow of praise to God in their hearts when a song is done. We often give them opportunity to further proclaim in their own words God’s attributes and works. Shawn, who doesn’t seem to come from a church that practices this kind of spontaneous praise, made the connection. “At the close of several songs there are periods of what I might call ‘vocal riffing’ on God’s goodness. If doing this on instruments is legitimate, then why not riff on God’s attributes and glory which we can’t fully exhaust through syllogism or exposition. Sometimes only a shout will do! Failure to do so might stem more from fear of man or sociological pressure rather than strong, biblical grounding. For as much as we trot out our Regulative Principle, it can never substitute for the biblical worship that is regulated by the joy of the Gospel!! These ‘charismatic Calvinists’ have something to teach us ‘catatonic Calvinists!’”
Finally, one of my favorite reviews was called, “Obligatory Worship God Live Review” by Russell (for some reason, this link doesn’t work on a Mac running Firefox). The title didn’t exactly raise my hopes. He began with positive comments (the CD was free, lyrics/chord charts/ lead sheets are free at the website, energetic sounding). Then he listed his critiques. He wasn’t impressed with the cover art. It sounded like a well-rehearsed praise band. Too much repetition (see above).
He decided he needed to give the CD a fair shot and left it in his car CD player. He concluded, “Essentially (I reasoned) the only thing "Worship God Live" offers is biblically-based, theologically-sound, God-honoring lyrics. Slowly it began to occur to me how earth-shattering that really is.” He then highlights our attempt to bring depth and substance to our corporate worship in song. He finishes, “Worship God Live at its very worst, mines the depths of Scripture to force gospel-laden lyrics into somewhat banal music. At its best, it evokes my response to the character, words and actions of God, initiated by His revelation and enabled by His redemption, whereby my mind is transformed, my heart is renewed, and my actions are surrendered, all in accordance with His will and in order to declare His infinite worthiness. I think that’s called worship.”
Obviously, we’re going to continue to work on composing more creative, moving, and accessible melodies. But at the end of the day, whatever people may think about the music we write for congregational worship, we pray that they won’t be able to miss the beauty, worth, and greatness of our Savior, Whose glory will always be infinitely greater.
I am enlightened as I finish reading this entry. Indeed, different kinds of people have different opinions and thoughts about worship. The opinions vary depending on the background and orientation of the person. But the ultimate issue is pointing to the Cross.. less of self and more of Christ (which I think is what a Christian desires, above anything else). Thanks for this post, I am definitely benefited.
By the way, Grace Unmeasured is a truly humbling song.. and it brings me back to the amazing work that the Lord did when He picked me up from the mire where I came from.
You are a brave and humble man! Not many people will hold their hand in front of their face and say, “Hit my hand!” Not only did you do it, but then you wrote and published a nice article about it! Very helpful and entertaining. Forever your friend…
Loved the CD! I did not find the music “banal” in the least, but rich and worshipful.
“Grace Unmeasured” is by far my favorite (maybe even my favorite Sovereign Grace song). I hope our church can learn it, if the part where the men and the women split (“Grace, grace, grace”) is doable with a small congregation. The song has led me to deep gratitude for the Saviour’s abundant, active, wonderful grace that He lavished on a poor sinner like me.
I, too, struggled with the cacophany at the end of a couple of songs. It sounded kind of chaotic, and makes playing the song before the elders of our church result in a few raised eyebrows (they’re not used to it). But, I suppose if you do that normally during worship, being asked to put a cap on it just for the CD may be restricting the Spirit’s work during the worship time from which it was recorded.
I hope many of these songs enjoy the longevity that our richest hymns have seen! Keep up the good work! In Christ,
My vote for “home run” song is God Moves. I could (and do) listen to it over and over. We’re planning to do it for our church in September.