MWM: A Past-Blast Worship Music Review (7)

This is an installment in the periodic Monday Worship Music series which looks at hymns and other topics related to worship music of the church.  Here, I’m offering another of my published reviews of worship music—music that was then being released and is still “contemporary” in broad perspective.  Here is the last post of this specific type, in case you want to see another.  There will be one more.

This review treats three separate albums that attempted to focus on young people.  At the time, I was working regularly with teenagers and enjoyed a close relationship with several of them.  I don’t know that I had a good finger on the pulse of their tastes even then, and whatever I had then is mostly lost now, but I still think it’s worthwhile to aim for “Real and Natural.”

Magazine
Magazine

Published 1998
by Brian Casey

Youth-Oriented Recordings

WorshipTogether’s Revival Generation
Matt Redman’s Intimacy
Hillsongs Australia’s The Plan

I was recently surprised when three spiritually minded teenagers, in unison, disparaged Rebecca St. James’s “God” album. “I just don’t like that kind of music,” one said, neglecting to define “type.”

What makes a young person gravitate toward a certain type of music?  The instrumentation?  The beat?  What attracts a teenager to an artist?  Popularity?  Something even less tangible?

Many are drawn to the ministry of connecting teenagers with God:

  • A shepherd becomes emotional when the topic of conversation turns to the number of teenagers that just aren’t “connecting” at church.
  • When churches consider hiring a second staff minister, they often seek someone to work closely with youth.
  • Nearly as many adults as teenagers turn out for an annual youth retreat at our church. They are impelled by the love of teenage hearts and are thrilled to be used by God in bringing high-impact worship experiences to the young.

Teens are predisposed to accept practically anything if it’s written and/or performed by someone near their age. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, Hillsongs Australia’s The Plan (Integrity) comprises songs “by young people for young people,” so its appeal is virtually guaranteed though some of the lyrical/musical material is immature.  This album is a somewhat forced amalgam of styles and represents more of an evangelistic plea than a worship thrust.  However, “Anything (for You),” “U.R.Y.” and “Fill My Heart” indeed are brimming with impassioned devotion.  While I could tap into the youngish, rap energy of “Serve the Man” and the grunge praise of “God Made the World,” some of the techno-dabble found here left me wondering if a preteen was manning the effects board without guidance.  But will this music attract teenagers?  At least on one level, yes.    But let’s go deeper….

Matt Redman, a patently gifted British worship leader in his early twenties, is a wellspring of songs that are real, well crafted, and undeniably God-focused.  His latest album, Intimacy, is a worthy successor to The Friendship and the Fear. Singular pronouns—indicating intensely personal, relational worship—abound in Redman’s lyrics; “What I Have Vowed,” “Hear the Music of My Heart,” “I Am Yours,” and others are eminently believable expressions of surrendered worship … giving it all up for God.  Stylistically, Intimacy incorporates everything from retro rock organ to unplugged, contemplative love song, but Redman does it all more convincingly.  Frankly, I would much prefer that teens spend time with anything of Redman’s than with Hillsongs’ The Plan.

WorshipTogether’s Revival Generation, featuring large-group worship content, is a compilation of works of Redman, Deliriou5?, and others whose songs play roles in the current worship revival in England.  Here is a wealth of indirect praise; leader-congregation interplay and responsorial structures are plentiful.  Redman’s “There is a Louder Shout to Come” provides an anticipatory glimpse into the praise of eternity, and the Beatle-esque “Oh Our Lord and King” centers on God because of who He is. Southern rock surfaces in Stuart Townend’s“There’s a Place.”  Revival Generation has almost as many high points as Redman’s Intimacy.  It is even more packed with church-friendly tunes and will also appeal to both teens and young adults.

Musical style does matter—perhaps more for teens than for other age groups. But more significant in connecting with the younger generation is the R&N (Real & Natural) Quotient.  If the expressions of worship are heard as “real” and are poured out in spontaneous overflow of the heart—as so many of these songs are—they are destined to connect with entire congregations as well as with youth.

– Brian Casey, November 1998

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Worship materials: books

Several weeks ago,¹ I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and core concepts.  Then on Sunday I shared a bit about songs, articles, and periodicals that have been formative in the worship realm.  Now to a few influential books. . . .

Books
At first blush, it might seem ironic that one reads about worship instead of spending wpid-img_20151024_203516_727.jpgthat reading time worshipping.  Not so.  Taken in balance with experience, dialogue, and scripture study, the reading of books about worship is also important.  Through the years, I have discarded or traded in some books that seemed mute or otherwise less than worthy; others, less likely to be referred to, now reside in a box.  Below are descriptions of some standout books that have had clear influence at points along the way.

Jack R. Taylor:  The Hallelujah Factor (1983)   This little volume came along at just the right time for me, and I always wished I could have experienced what Taylor experienced. He was asked to be interim pastor at a church in Texas and agreed to do so, on the condition that the church would study and practice worship exclusively during his tenure.  This book relates the fruit of such a concentration on worship, and I suspect that many churches, if bold enough to venture forth like this, would realize they hadn’t previously been worshipping much at all.

Matt Redman:  The Unquenchable Worshipper (2001)  Although I only read this once, I feel a fondness and a yearning every time I spy it on my shelf.  I remember thinking that this leader of contemporary worship knew God and understood more deeply most people of this era.

Gene Edwards:  The Divine Romance (1984)   A poorly proofread book by a less-than-polished but highly poetic writer, this is an unusual one.  It is a work of fiction, but one based to a degree on scriptural truth and insight.  It’s not that this book taught me about worship per se, but it uniquely stirred my spiritual imaginings of the One Who is the Object of worship.  One could say that awestruck wonder resides in the background of every page.

Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.:  Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God (1969)  My parents edited and typed the final manuscript of this book authored by my mother’s father.  Their work was accompanied by “a rare kind of empathy,” according to the inscription.  Through the years, I have returned to this book—a section here, a richly poetic prayer there.  At this point, the influence comes largely indirectly—from remembrances of the man who, by so many accounts, allowed deeply adoring words of worship to flow through him as he led and taught.  The brief, written prayers that conclude each chapter of this book are the best of this “genre” that I’ve ever read.

Steven Mosley:  God—A Biography (1988)   How could one resist this title?!  I think I picked it out of a CBD magazine with no knowledge of the author, but I was stimulated to ponder the historical and spiritual realities of God’s activity through Mosley’s writing.  The book alternates the telling of biblical history with other stories in which Mosely observes the work of the great God of All.  All this spurs the reader to worship from a posture of admiring awe.

Max Lucado:  He Chose the Nails (2000)   At an especially fragile time in my life, I sat on a plane and opened my new copy of this Lucado book.  It was my 5th or 6th Lucado book, I think; No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and God Came Near had almost as much impact on me.  These days, I don’t gravitate to Lucado as much (so I didn’t join the “Max Lucado addicts” Facebook group).  However, there were words in this book about my Savior that moved me deeply, leading to joy-filled worship.  Yes, on a plane.  Quietly and with full eyes.

The above captions aren’t necessarily representative of the whole (and neither were the mentions of a few song titles in the last post).  I would also point to the writings of of A.W. Tozer, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Philip Yancey, and others² who have offered various inspirations in their books . . . along with the witness of lives of friends committed to the worship of God.

B. Casey, Sept. 2015


¹ I left the academically important pursuits around worship words/concepts several weeks ago, picking up with a few other aspects before letting this topic rest.  Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

² The influential “others” have not, for one reason or another, included the exemplary-yet-Calvinistic 🙂 theologian J.I. Packer (Knowing God, 1973/93), the late guru Robert Webber (Ancient Future Worship, 2008; Planning Blended Worship, 1998), or any CofC writers who expend significant effort dealing with mechanical instruments vs. the voice.  Although some of these do have something respectable to say, what I’ve read simply didn’t meet me where I was living at the time I encountered the writing.

MWM: Adolphe’s discovery

[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

Some discoveries are more significant than others.  Three years ago, I wrote about a more important one — Jim Woodroof’s, actually — that philosophically and practically places the gospels at the center of Christian understanding and practice.  But other discoveries merit a bit of attention now and then, too.

Again and again this simply poetic truth comes to my consciousness, from author/musician Bruce Adolphe:

A good tempo is a discovery.

Adolphe writes rather inclusively of music and life, but I suppose he is read and quoted more by musicians than by philosophers or sociologists.  For my part, in re-appropriating the above quotation, I would like merely to suggest that music in Christian gatherings should be considered in the light of tempo.  There is no one perfect tempo for a song; tempi for each scenario and venue should be discovered individually.  As an example, let me take the relatively contemporary song “10,000 Reasons” by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman.  metronome

The metronome markings below, semi-paradoxically offered as predetermined, acceptable ranges, are by no means to be taken as absolutes.

  1. on original Redman recording:  70-74 bpm
  2. in an average, medium sized contemporary church with worship band:  74-78 bpm
  3. in small group in a home:  76-84 bpm
  4. in an a cappella congregation:  76-96 bpm

Brief explanations of the above:

  1. The original “is what it is” (In this case, I’d say it’s a bit on the slow side, but it works fine for Redman, with all the originally planned sonic trappings.)  Unless all the tracks are recorded in the studio with a click track, you can expect some human tempo variation; here, there is just a small range.
  2. Given relatively slow originally performed tempos — i.e., slower than average walking pace, for sake of discussion — I would  typically recommend a slight tempo increase for non-professionals.  If any big-name “artists” ever read this, don’t get all high and mighty and say your specific tempo should absolutely be used.  Remember, “a good tempo is a discovery.”
  3. In a living room or family room with a small group of less practiced singers, the pacing will generally be better, for these types of songs, if it’s yet a bit faster than in a #2-type group.  (In a larger hall, the tones have time and space to dissipate, but in a small room, music that’s too slow can seem dry, if not dead.)
  4. When the slower, contemporary songs originally had a good number of rests and/or sustained tone in the vocal line, as a rule, the tempo should be boosted fairly substantially, in order to avoid too much discomfort with the waiting.

It’s not important that our sensitivities to tempo grow a) because of musical accuracy or even because of aesthetics.  It’s not b) because this or that tempo is right or wrong.  It’s c) because pacing matters in the human experience of so many things — including, but not limited to, automobile travel, conversation, reading, life in general, and music in church gatherings.  Sometimes, giving thought to discovering the right tempo for your group, in your setting, may just enhance worship.

Speaking of worship, I’ve shared the song “10,000 Reasons” with friends on several occasions recently, and it is clear to me that it touches many hearts.  In fact, it is currently #1 on CCLI’s most requested list.  I’ll close with a few of the lyrics.

Verse 2:

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger.
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing — 
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.

Excerpt from chorus:

Sing like never before, O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

Words and Music by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman

© 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing).

MWM: anyway

“Anyway.”

“Praising God anyway” is a believer’s theme that resists obsolescence.  Nevermind the ubiquity of Osteenist suggestions that God supposedly just wants me to be happy and successful, or of Robertsonesque calls to take back the U.S.A. for Christendom, the theme of praising anyway, despite life’s events, is compelling.

Spontaneously, last night, our living room was the scene as 7 committed believers sang together before beginning a study of 1 Thessalonians.

  1. Fernando Ortega’s “I Will Praise Him Still” was actually bypassed last night — in part, because it was just too obviously a fit for various circumstances in our lives.  I don’t think many of us wanted to dwell too much in thoughts such as “the Lord our God is strong to save from the arms of death, from the deepest grave.”
  2. The very next song suggested was Beth and Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name,” which is perpetually on CCLI’s favorites list (#4 on the list most recently tabulated).  The following excerpted words ring clear and true, not to mention calling us to faithfulness and worship “anyway”:

When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

. . .

When the darkness closes in
Lord still I will say,
“Blessed be the name of the Lord” …

. . .

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

. . .

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

“Blessed be Your name.”  Has there ever been a more biblically based, Job-like thing to say to God in the throes of disappointment,  uncertainty, and anxiety?

  1. We also sang another Redman song — “10,000 Reasons,” which is also up there on the CCLI list these days.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

I’ve recently learned of a development in the life of someone I know that could have far-reaching, negative effects.  During hard times, we stand together in the resolve to “praise Him still.”

Some news tends to remind me of other gut-punches from posses of the past.  There was a little one in the Heartland, and an envious, downright dishonest one in the mid-Atlantic.  One in Arkansas that might have initially had reasonably good intent but that ran roughly over a missionary family’s life years ago.  Another one in NH has in some ways coursed through an entire, extended family for years.  Long after the fact, I learned of another posse in Texas that involved a shotgun meeting with top-level administrators.  Some of these occurrences prove reminiscent, in hindsight, of posses from biblical times.

The Psalms,collectively Israel’s and the early church’s song book, are full of “anyway” resolve and exhortation.  Something within the in-tune human soul is drawn to the faith-filled response that soulfully sings, “Knowing that this life is temporal, I will worship You anyway, my eternal Lord.”

We humans are unable consistently to manifest this kind of faith, in our ocean of “anyways,” but it is a consuming, familiar call, and one whose echoes are heard through the millennia.

[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

From a packrat’s nest

I’m something of a packrat, and I don’t think I should apologize for the trait.  While most of my friends and acquaintances, including my wife, prefer good-natured chiding of my resourcefulness to mouths-agape awe at the sheer volume of information at my fingertips, I maintain habits related to e-data storage and retrieval.

Although these habits amuse or even annoy others, I often enjoy getting into some old files and retracing some steps.  Just today, my eyes happened on a reply I’d written to a Christian acquaintance about ten years ago, and I was pleased to feel that I would write essentially the same things today.  Today I’d like to share this background question, “fresh” from the corner of my e-attic where my little nest is found . . . followed by my reply, with only minor alterations to broaden the applicability and to avoid annoying extraneousness.

Here’s the question:

Suppose you were part of a group forming a new church, a community church, leaving you free from restrictions so to speak, what would you do musically?  I’m speaking directly here of the worship assembly. We would love to get your feedback.

And here’s my reply:

I’d say that my first concerns would be variety, meaningfulness, and not getting stuck in a rut in any way.

In the area of variety, I would say it’s important to include both music that any given assembled group can relate to already AND music that perhaps stretches the preferred genres a bit.  In other words, if I had a typical group of teenagers I would probably resist confining myself to pop and rock.  I would incorporate a bit of New Age, jazz, and, in the church context, some hymns and more traditional, time-tested music. And, within a given genre such as rock, I would make sure that of variety of tempos, moods, and keys existed, for instance.

Meaningfulness? That probably speaks for itself, but let me just say that I think any music used in a Christian setting should be subjected to a test of meaning.  Does it have any?  Not that there can’t be some music “just for fun,” but I would think even “fun” music should have some meaning for the group.

When I say I would watch out for getting stuck in a rut, I mean more than one thing.  Certainly the stylistic variety has something to do with it.  I would also absolutely include thematically appropriate “special music” that allowed the more musically gifted in the group to use their talents.  I would, however, steadfastly avoid becoming slave to a program that said, for example, every Sunday assembly must include four worship choruses and one piece of “special music.”

Some of my leanings include “blended worship” and worship music itself.  I find that Christians need to emphasize vertical worship more, with deeper, more authentic, and more heartfelt expressions; some others seem to find that Christians should deal more with each other than with God on Sundays.  Some emphasize Romans 12 service, whereas I emphasize the worship of the Psalms, Heb. 13:15, etc. I have certainly seen abuses of the assembly that essentially left all Christian interrelating out in left field, but I am still led to work along the line of fostering the vertical priority.  I tend to think that the horizontal goals are met when the vertical ones are placed first.

I spend quite a bit of time reviewing contemporary praise and worship music and have composed a fair amount myself.  You probably are aware that I also have a family heritage that appreciates and capitalizes on hymnody of the 1st through the mid-19th centuries.  There are pros and cons, of course, with both the “ancient” hymns and with modern praise choruses, to name a couple of prominent genres.  Personally, I believe in exploiting the best of all types of music.  At Cedars, I think I do a fairly good job balancing styles as a song leader — not always leading only the new stuff, for instance. In a contemporary church with very few Christian musical traditions, I might put even more effort into drawing from the rich history of the past. In a church more staid and stuffy than Cedars, I would be looking even more for ways to incorporate fresh expressions of the current day into the worship assembly.

On the pragmatic side, I would seek to involve as large a proportion of the group as feasible and would try to emphasize group participation to the greatest degree possible (I do retain some Restoration Movement ideals!).  I do, however, find both biblical and common-sense support for the use of individual gifts, i.e., sharing special, non-congregational songs.  I would de-emphasize formality and ritual, trying to foster a “natural” atmosphere for the music of the assembly, as well as other aspects.  Though I still do it, I have come to be annoyed by the Church of Christ “song leader” paradigm.  I doubt that model would have a valid place at all in a newly begun community church.  I subscribe to an “open church” model (there’s a book by the title that espouses some really great concepts) in which the predominant “feel” is one of mutual involvement and not formal leadership vs. audience, if you know what I mean.

I would not introduce an instrument in a typical Church of Christ setting, given the way things are now in our denomination.  I do think instruments can quickly and easily take control of things during an assembly; I would tend to use more acoustic, “low-key” instrumentation such as a single piano and/or guitar, adding perhaps a flute or something like that, from time to time.  Full, amplified bands with drums and the works have their place in larger settings, and I get into all that when I experience it, but my ideal church is a smaller, more intimate group, and it seems to me that the application for large instrumentations groups is limited in small groups.

These reflections give me pause even today, as I continue to dream of a church more closely aligned with New Covenant ideals and less tied to human tradition.  Music, I suppose, will always be a significant part of group worship.  For me, even private, individual worship has been fostered primarily within the context of musical sounds–both as I heard and as I made the sounds.  Music is not, however, necessary, and I would like to see more worship occurring in Christian gatherings apart from whatever styles and extents of music are employed.  For instance, I think spiritual drama is a very important direction for a new church to pursue in its assemblies, and well-conceived drama can well contribute to worship in the hearts of a gathered group of Christians.

It seems appropriate here useful to remind readers of the Soul Survivor church in England where Matt Redman led worship through most of 2002. Apparently, at some point, the “senior pastor” decided that there was too much fluff or periphery or something, and the leadership decided basically to fast from music. They had no singing or other music of any kind in their church assembly for a period of weeks, believe it or not. (Paradoxically, it was during this time that Matt wrote the song “The Heart of Worship,” in which he reminded that church and the world that “it’s all about You, Jesus.”)  Truly, worship is about reverent adoration of the Father and Son; music is peripheral, although clearly a gift, and frequently a likely vehicle for worship.