If you’re a worship leader or music minister there’s a good chance you’ve heard another leader talking about the new song they just introduced. They describe it as the most “incredible, life-changing, awesome, heaven-releasing, God-calling-down, what-you-haven’t-heard-it-yet” song they’ve ever done. You heart sinks as you realize that not only have you not heard the song, you didn’t even know the CD was out. When you think of the 80 CD’s on your desk you still haven’t listened to, you really feel like a loser. “How can anyone in my church even worship?”
If you’ve ever had those thoughts, you’re not alone. The problem lies mainly in our sinful hearts. We don’t want to be out of the loop when it comes to what’s happening in the worship world. We don’t want to look like we have our heads stuck in the sand. After all, we only have to spend a few minutes on the web to know what’s going on. It’s not like you have to go to a record store…But somehow we fall behind in our new song awareness, and start to panic. That’s our pride showing.
The worship song industry doesn’t always help us. Recently I received this advertisement for a new CD in my in-box:
51 Must Have Modern Worship Hits
Few music collections capture the very best moments of an entire genre of music, but 51 Must Have Modern Worship Hits does just that. Packed with the best of the best songs that have shaped modern worship as we know it, this essential 3-CD set includes…”
I realize that this is simply a company trying to package and promote songs that God seems to have used in the church. I have no doubt there are some great songs being offered. But I think it reveals a flaw in the way many of us think about worship songs. I wanted to draw attention to how the way these songs are described might tempt us as we seek to serve our churches.
Must have… Are there really any worship songs that we “must have?” I don’t think so. I can think of hundreds of songs that are God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, biblically rooted, singable, memorable, and useful for praising God. But none of them are indispensable or irreplaceable. Only the Song of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3) fits into that category, and we won’t hear that until we’re around the throne. Hopefully, I can still praise God passionately, biblically, and effectively with the songs I already have.
Modern… I thank God for the fresh energy, perspectives, and expressions that new songs can breathe into congregational worship. But some of us can be gripped by fear that our song list or services might be outdated, out of touch, or irrelevant. That’s certainly a valid consideration, but not if by “outdated” we mean anything older than 6 months. “Modern” may describe a musical style, but isn’t a great way to describe worship itself. God has given us one way to worship him in the new covenant – through faith in the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. There’s no requirement that our music be modern, ancient, traditional, contemporary, new, old, amplified or acoustic. And rather than simply satisfy the musical preferences of our church or non-Christians, shouldn’t we teach them that God’s glory can’t be contained in one musical style, including what they happen to have on their iPod? We need to be freed from the mentality that “modern” means “better” or that “new” means “true.” The unchanging Gospel frees us from a temporal arrogance that ignores how God has worked in the church throughout history. We lose something precious if we never sing the songs that have ministered to Christians for centuries.
Hits… What makes a worship song a “hit?” It could be any one of a number of factors. A catchy melody. A strong musical hook. A great performance. Association with a well-known artist, ministry, or church. Good promotion. It could be an advertiser trying to persuade us that we’re missing out if we don’t buy their CD. Or it could be a song that expresses God’s truth in a way that has affected hundreds of thousands of people. A “hit” is simply a song that a lot of people like. But there’s no guarantee it’s liked for the right reasons. Given a choice, I’d rather lead a lesser known song that says exactly what I think will feed the church than a popular song that may produce a more worshipful “experience,” but whose lyrics are less clear. Restricting our song list to “hits” means we’re allowing an industry or an undefined majority to determine the song diet of our church. That isn’t wise or necessary.
Of course, there are many “worship hits” characterized by biblical truth, sincere passion, and musical appeal. Songs come to mind like “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “In Christ Alone,” and “Blessed Be Your Name.” There are many more. And there are many Christ-exalting, God-glorifying songs yet to be written. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be writing songs, training songwriters, or helping to produce CD’s for Sovereign Grace Ministries.
But it’s humbling to remember that many of the best songs for congregational worship have already been written by folks like Isaac Watts, John Newton, Fanny Crosby, and Charles Wesley. Let’s make sure that we’re not so enamored with the present and future that we miss out on what God’s given us in the past.
And next time you feel like you’ve missed out on teaching the latest worship hit—relax. If it’s really that great, it will still be worth learning a few years from now.
I think for me, as a worship leader, I trust the older songs more than the modern. Don’t get me wrong. I bring in the modern a lot and I think that there’s a lot of lyrics that get to the core of the truth. But the things like the Hymns that the newest generation doesn’t even know the tune to speaks it the best because they don’t mince words and they let your heart worship rather than enjoying the beat.
That’s possible these days, but even as a “younger” leader, I’ve found we’ve forgotten the words that we’re singing.
Yeah, funny that I have had to force feed one of the best written songs of the last 20 years, which you mentioned (How Deep the Father’s Love for Us). Not an easy sing, but a rich substance. We tried several things to set-up the content and finally I ended up exegeting it in a sermon, which really helped. To plan worship based on “ooo, they really like this one” is almost as goofy as having a church bumper sticker, notice i said almost (but i digress…HA!)
Hi Bob … I hope you don’t mind if I respectively offer a different perspective for you and your readers to consider. You have some good points, but I kind of wish you didn’t have to find your inspiration for them by knocking a Christian Worship CD title. We all know that Christians and non-Christians are involved in sales – that is just a reality. There is an entire industry built around the sale and promotion of worship music. That’s another reality. I believe that Marketing, Christianity, and Worship Music can all mix together. It’s called “life.” Jesus was a carpenter. He didn’t use a Christian hammer. He just used a hammer. Marketing has tools that Christians and non-Christians use. In marketing, you have to communicate to your audience in a language that they understand. It doesn’t matter what you think “modern worship” is. We all know that it identifies a certain genre of worship. It’s not worth over-analysing what “modern worship” means, any more than what “traditional worship” means. If you and I were having a conversation, and I used the terms modern worship and traditional worship, I don’t think we would need to enter a big debate over what those terms meant. So, neither do you need to harp on this CD collection title. We all know what it is, and the title is attractive and engaging. Its a marketing pitch. That is not bad or wrong. We also know that most churches generally create song lists that involve a mix of world-wide classics plus local unique mixes. How many of us do not have “How Great Is Our God” in our repertoires. How many of us would like to find another “How Great Is Our God?” Of coarse, we all would. 20 years ago, it was Shine Jesus Shine, then Lord I Lift Your Name On High, then Shout To the Lord, then Here I Am To Worship, and then How Great Is Our God. These are all great songs that most of the church at large has shared in. They are, in fact, just as great songs as Amazing Grace. If you think different, that’s only your opinion. So, why not acknowledge the blessing of these great songs that the world participates in singing. Why pose skepticism on those songs? Just because How Great Is Our God has a simple message, it doesn’t make it any worse that How Deep The Father’s Love is. Those are different songs, different genres, used for different purposes. Both are great songs, and can be used effectively in the right context. Worship Hits have become hits because they have been tried and tested by 1000’s of congregations around the world. There is something that sets those songs apart, giving them such wide appeal. The melodies work, the lyrics work, the message is clear, and people respond to them. You can’t say that about every song. I’m always interested in new songs that have been tested. I don’t want to sing any song, just because I find it in a book. At PraiseCharts, we post a Top 25 list that updates every day, based on what songs people are singing that week, that month, and that year. You can keep an eye on the list at http://www.praisecharts.com/top25. It is always very interesting to watch the new songs rise to the top. Generally, they are REALLY good songs. At several times this year, there were up to 5 hymns in the top 10! Go figure!
Thanks for the helpful clarification. I didn’t write this post to slam this CD, or modern worship songs, or any other kind of worship song. I could just as easily have written about a CD hypothetically called “51 Indispensable Traditional Worship Classics.” But I didn’t get an ad for that one.
I resonate with much of what you said, but do think that companies should strive to be honest and clear in their marketing. The phrase that stood out to me in the title of the CD is “must have.” Yes the songs are modern, yes they are what might be called “hits,” but “must have?” Well, I already expressed my thoughts on that one. And besides, my focus was not so much what companies are doing but what our hearts are doing when we read or hear those kinds of phrases.
My point was simply that we shouldn’t allow what “everyone is doing” to be the main reason we choose the songs we sing. It certainly can give us a place to start, but it’s not the final determiner. I agree that many well known worship songs are REALLY good songs. But not all of them are. A song’s popularity can sometimes be a result of lowest-common-denominator theology that may or may not serve a particular congregation. The fact that something is well known today doesn’t mean I should feel pressure to teach it to my church this Sunday.
So may there be many more worship “hits” in the days to come—songs that God uses for the building up of his Church for the Savior’s glory! But may we be free from the thought that we’re not serving our churches faithfully if we don’t sing them tomorrow, this year, or at all.
Some great points here, Bob. I do get a little weary of the rush to be “relevant” and how quickly so many by-pass the truly great hymns of the past that have served the body of Christ so well for so many years.
And just an opinion…I agree with your assessment on some great “modern” songs like “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love,” but it seems that “Blessed Be Your Name” is in a much different category alltogether.
Overall, thanks for the great post!
Good stuff… I agree with the frustration that advertisers can inundate our ministries with the “THIS WILL CHANGE EVERYONE IN YOUR CHURCH OR YOUR MONEY BACK”…. Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than seeing these mailers is the three -five phone calls per day that our part time secretary has to deflect from telemarketers selling “JESUS STUFF.”
Ryan – I know you have a product and a service to sell. But please, realize the hype that is actually desensitizing us to the very ads that are intended to inform us.
I have been reading your blog for a while now, and today’s entry prompted me to comment.
In looking through your list of authors/composers of “the best songs for congregational worship” I noticed that David, Solomon and Asaph were missing.
I certainly appreciate the songs we can enjoy from composers today, but I honestly wonder why we are all chasing something so new, when God has provided us some of His own songs to sing. Yes, we need to translate them, but I believe we too often neglect the beauty and richness they contain.
Interested to hear from you on the topic of using the Psalms in their fulness in worship.
Don from Oz.
all that “CD worship” that you refer to has done is standardize worship in congregations all over the world.
is that a good thing?
Is it a good thing that worship is being standardized in congregations all over the world?
Churches throughout the world singing the same songs isn’t necessarily good or bad. It depends on what those songs say and what a specific congregation needs to be singing.
The benefits of standardization are obvious. Saints from different countries can join together to sing God’s praise. It demonstrates the unity the Gospel has made possible. Congregations have quick and easy access to songs being written across the world.
But the unity God desires for the universal church isn’t so much a matter of singing the same songs as it is believing the same Gospel, preaching the same Word of God, and obeying the same Savior. It’s also important for every country to have songs that communicate God’s praise in ways unique to their culture. When I taught pastors in India on worship, my main concern was not to get them singing our songs, but to help them understand what kinds of songs they should be writing. Of course, they weren’t singing in English…
So we can enjoy the fact that Christians throughout the world sing the same songs, but not make that our ultimate goal or the primary factor in choosing whether or not we sing them.
Outstanding insights into the idols of new and worldwide against the true and helpful. I have been increasingly motivated to consider the overall song-diet of the church–a perspective that the “hit song” mentality often displaces. I want our church to “sing” a right perspective of God…and if that means we sing some “boring/old/irrelevant/weaker” songs simply because they teach forgotten but glorious truths about God than I’m eager for the trade-off. Sometimes my temptation is also to be so aware of a particular Sunday that I forget to consider this big picture song diet. Could this be something that the “modern worship song hits/emphasis on unique one-time experiences” could undermine as well–a lack of year in-year out perspective of what the church is singing? Sometimes I fear that I am so focused on the individual meal that I neglect to evaluate the overall spiritual health that our singing produces–in our perspective on God, the church, the Christian life, eternity, and a host of other topics. It can seem dangerous to me to sing exclusively on some good topics and never sing on others. This also brings to mind the danger of thinking uni-generationally as I pick my songs. If our songs are consistently a “flash in the pan” favorite–do we build up song memories for the youth in our congregation? Are we concerned at all that we sing new songs frequently for three years and then rarely ever again? What will this do for handing down a song legacy to our children of truths that they have sung many years in a row and therefore will remember into the latest years of their life?
All of these thoughts motivate me to do exactly according to your advice–consider carefully and soberly the songs we introduce to our congregation. I want to be a skillful dietitian of their souls.
Thanks for your help as I lead our local church in song.
I once heard John Piper suggest Christians should labor to get rid of the concept of Christian “celebrity” and stop using the words “rising star” of evangelicalism. I think in the same vein we could do without the concept of “hit”, or “must have” etc.
But I do think we can say some songs are full of language that helps sinners “celebrate” their Savior, “rise up from their pride and unbelief to exalt HIM”, and teach us why our “sin and depravity” must find it’s answer in the all sufficient grace of our Lord.
And from my vantage point as a pastor, no ministry has served our church better than Sovereign Grace’s music. Truly, a means of great refreshment and grace!
As far as modern music goes I think music does need to be updated to suit today’s musical ideals. For example, I feel that the old ‘rock of ages’ doesn’t emphasise the lyrics well enough by today’s standards. The new composition fits in well with our ideas of what key or style emphasises whatever point. If an old hymn were to stay in it’s original format I feel that it may not be as effective than if ‘modern’ music were applied to it.
When worship music became popular or hip and everyone got on the band wagon, singing it, well to me that was the day when what was sacred became cheapened. Todays worship music has become yesterdays Christian concert. Todays worship music lacks depth, theology and is mostly man centered as opposed to being God centered, cross centered. Bottom line, we need to be discerning with what songs we bring into the church. We need songs that exalt Christ and His work on the cross. Not all worship songs really do that. There is way too much “fluff” that talks about what I’m going to do for God, or me this, me that,I lift my hands, I worship. Man! Lets take ourselves out of the picture! We need to see God! When I sing songs with great theology in them, I can’t help but worship. Be it modern or traditional. For years I sang the popular shallow worship songs. But when my heart was moved by understanding God’s grace, the doctrine of substitution, and other doctrines of the faith, I longed to sing about it! So in conclusion, we need to find songs that are deep, God centered, Biblical and not settle for the status quo. Be discerning! “They that compare themselves among themselves are not wise”. Don’t be a clone of every other church.
Bob, I am interested in Sovereign Grace’s music. Without having to yet buy a CD, where can I listen to some of your churches who are singing them on a live stream or archived service? I’ve been trying awhile now to find them.
I was just wondering what would you recommend with regards to evangelistic worship songs?
Here’s my situation: I co-lead a small-group primarily targeting University students. Usually my duties include being MC for the night, or leading the Bible lesson. But occassionally, i’m asked to lead worship.
Now, every week, there is the possibility that via campus evangelism a non-christian visitor could come in. This has been a bit difficult when usually the rostered worship leader has selected songs that tend to be a bit “deep” to the point that an unbeliever gets confused and just sits there stumped. Other times the songs are so simple that the visitor gets involved but the saints don’t get a chance to worship fully.
So how do you do both?
My immediate answer was to have a selection that essentially brings everyone – both believer and non-believer together – to the foot of the cross. So what songs do you think achieve this in terms of lyrical content?
maybe it’s less about a song being “a hit” or “modern”, but what spirit you are playing it in, as a worship leader/band. if the heart attitude is right, God can anoint any song, even just one chord strummed over and over in that context/situation when God’s fire falls, could change your life. imagine a CD with tracks that were just ONE CHORD over and over?!
Bob, thank you for graciously communicating a balanced approach to music and worship.We all need to be cautioned about jumping on the bandwagon for the supposed latest and greatest. Having worked in the “Christian Music Industry,” my self for many years I find it mildly entertaining that the only person that posted a negative comment was a Christian Music Marketeer. We could really use the creativity and character of a Isaac Watts, David, or Apostle Paul in Christian Commerce. Alas that is a whole other post.
Thanks for your words, they were blessing to me. Sometimes I get caught up looking for “new” songs, when there are so many wonderful songs that I already use, and some great songs that the people are familiar with. In the African American church, sometimes we are very “recording artist” conscious. I can all be bewildering. It is best to stay in prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to choose songs; new or old, hymn or chorus, introduced by a recording artist or found in a book store. This is a challenge because we want to be in control, but it is best to allow Jesus to allow us to walk on the water toward Him
Bob, I laugh when I get the marketing flyers across my desk often. (I spent 20 years in secular life doing that). You singled out music, but what about Bibles?
They are as guilty as anyone in overselling.
Having recently had to assume responsibility for choosing worship music at our church, it was much more difficult than I had thought. As a pastor, I never really knew that. To choose songs for worship that are singable, memorable, theologically sound, and that a volunteer worship team can play is tough.
Praisecharts is actually one of the sources we draw from (their hymnchartsLite mostly) to get good lyrics that we can use to glorify God. (Thanks Ryan!)
I’ve made a committment here to congregational worship – not performance. So some of the “worship hits” that require a soloist of unusual gifts are out. There’s nothing like being in a congregation as many lift Jesus high.
It is really amazing that this topic has come across my path as it has been something I have really been struggling with lately. It has just been in the last two years that I have even cared about having sound theology and doing all things in refelection of Biblical truth, instead of what I “feel like God wants”. Hearing John Piper at the Passion conference two years ago has impacted my view of this Holy awesome God and I have felt a new sense of awe. So… I am doing an internship under the worship pastor at my church. The worship pastor is a man, he is incredibly gifted and anointed, but we really disagree A LOT when it comes to theology and what we should sing. I have even heard him say, “yeah, I don’t really like the song either, but it is on the radio, so the congregation will really connect”. He doesn’t know how much I disagree with him, because as a woman I don’t feel that it is my place to correct him theologically. He has placed me in charge of the vocalists on the praise team and even to lead them in devotions. When does exhortation lead to teaching doctrine? I love our church, I love the people. I know my husband and I have been put there by God, but maybe it is sinful for me to continue contributing to a ministry that’s chief end is often man-centered and not God-centered. Please pray for God’s wisdom for us, and for our wonderful worship pastor- to know the truth about God’s sovereign grace.
I just came across this and it was a very timely encouragement, prodding me to go in the right direction. Thank you. I thank God for you and the insight He gives you!
i see you’ve got your fair share of comments on this subject. browsing through it, i find comparisons to what is on my heart.
I’ve been leading worship for almost ten years and convinced myself – with merit – that i needed to bring in balance to the worship; example – to bring in old songs and new songs, hip songs and slow songs – as well as two languages to take in consideration.
Were I am today things truly turned out differently. When my focus is on what would God want for THIS service, i sometimes don’t get close to the ‘balance’ which I wanted. BUT now our worship flows with a GOD ANOINTING as supposed to a “PEOPLE PLEASING’ anointing (and our congregation has grown spiritually).
I’m still keeping my ear to the ground to what is new on the market, as before, but the other one is now poin ted upwards to what God whats to tell me.
I found this post under the “worth a look” section and thought that you made many good points about “new” songs. There’s no doubt that the most important thing one can do when selecting worship songs is evaluating its content. If is biblical in content and helps lead people to the throne of God, then it is probably worth using. That should be considered before musical factors in many manners.
However, that doesn’t mean new songs should never be immediately incorporated, and that older songs should never be immediately discarded. If there are two songs which talk about the same thing (ex. the sacrifice of Christ), then the musicality aspect becomes a little more important. What the previous commenter said is exactly the principle to remember in this issue: balance is key.
I think getting the right balance of songs is very important. A balance of new and old, theology packed songs and yet songs with a lighter content are fine too, just as long as the more lighter songs don’t dominate your song list for services. That’s where I see is one of the real problems in churches today. They open with a cheery song but never progress onto deeper worship in the content. The style seems to be the only thing that changes but it’s still shallow. What I am learning is that it’s ok to have a blend of subjective songs and objective songs but what we see mostly is subjective songs. I hope I am making myself clear.
Wow, you guys continue to have an ax to grind against Integrity music and Integrity Product. The 51 Must Have songs are songs that have been given from God to Shape our modern worship music era. I have no doubt these are songs you don’t need. I pray God will help mend your heart. Integrity is a great ministry that has produced some of the leading songs of our age, with God’s leading, and has helped churches world wide create worship environments that have brought people to know the Lord. Guess what???? They have to sell it to get it in the hands of those who will use it… to sell it, you market it. This post is highly disappointing.
who are you?
I’m a self-centered rebel who has been redeemed and reconciled to God through the substitutionary sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what’s most important. You can find out more about me by clicking the About tab above. Thanks for asking.
Thanks for stopping by. We have no ax to grind against Integrity. I have many friends there and with whom I’ve discussed various concerns and questions. I thank God for how He’s used them to spread great worship songs throughout the world. My greater concern is the methods we use to persuade music ministers to buy our product.
I hope it’s obvious that I don’t think Sovereign Grace songs are “must have” songs, either. The reason I wrote this post was not so much to critique a company as to relieve worship leaders from that guilty feeling that they’re not serving their churches well if they don’t have the “latest and greatest” worship songs.
Hope that’s helpful.
Good thoughts, Bob. I’m enjoying your blog very much.
I smiled when I saw the “Must Read” tab on the side of your blog. I feel really guilty now because I’ve got to go to sleep, but I haven’t finished reading all those “must read” blog entries. Arrggg!
Be blessed and have a happy Thanksgiving!
Hi Bob, I was wondering if you had a post (or are going to do one) about drums in the context of worshiping. I have friends with mixed views about that, and wondered if you could pull ouot some verses and thoughts about whether or not it’s even “right” to use drums in worship. Thanks!
Adam, I think Psalm 150 is about as far as you need to go to justify the use of drums in worshiping God in song. There are quite a few wisdom issues to talk about after that, though. Who loud? How much? What styles? Are they needed on every song? How dependent are we on them? Etc. I’ll think about doing a post. Thanks for the idea.
Twila Paris has a song on her “For Every Heart” album called “You have been good”. This song is one of the most powerful songs to me, pure worship and thanksgiving to God. I have to restrict when I play it, or else be ready to break down emotionally.
And yet, now 20 years later, and Twila didn’t include the song on her greatest hits! It is my number 1 of all her songs, essential music in my worship, but it didn’t make the cut.
The merit of a song cannot be how popular it is, but rather how does the song take you to the Lord? Chasing after hit-status will land you many great songs, but a content-based criteria will keep you on Holy ground :)
Last thoughts. Maranatha! Music was extremely popular for years, and so much of their music is simply scripture put to beautiful music. The farther our content gets from scripture, the weaker our msic must be. After all, if I want God-centered music, how can I improve on the written Word as source material?
Ok, thanks for the enjoyable blog!