I am an avid student of the history of the so-called “praise and worship” movement. I believe that if we are going to revolutionise the way we “do” church and worship, we have a lot to learn from the past so that at the very least, we don’t repeat its mistakes.
So when I first started this blog, one of the earlier posts which I wrote in January of this year was what I called The Epochal Songs of the Praise and Worship Movement, being a catalogue of songs which have either captured the heartbeat of the church in a particular season or songs which have propelled the church in a new prophetic direction.
Last week, my wonderful wife bought me an iPad for my birthday. One of the first things I did was to subscribe to the online version of Worship Leader magazine.
Years ago, my old church used to receive hard copies of Worship Leader magazine, and we used to circulate it amongst the various worship leaders in the ministry. Sometimes, the hard copy made its way to everyone; many times, it’d get lost in someone’s pile of papers and disappear into the abyss of their (my) study. But whenever the magazine would get to me, I would love reading the thoughts and insights of some of the leading voices of the worship movement. It was a gateway into the wider body of Christ (more correctly, the body of Christ in North America!) and how it was “doing” worship.
So I quickly devoured my May 2012 online back-copy in a couple of days.
Two things struck me. First, it dawned on me just how commercialised the worship leading industry (I mean, ministry) had become. Reading through the magazine (after such a long hiatus), I was confronted with the Job Board (“looking for the right fit for your worship ministry?”), ExaltNow worship software (“use PowerPoint in worship like never before! Now also for Mac”) and worshipplanning.com (“let worshipplanning.com shoulder the administrative stress of planning, communicating and coordinating with your ministry teams and volunteers”).
This commercialism, whilst it grates on my orthodox sentiments of keeping worship ministry holy and pure, also has an upside. It is probably one of the most significant factors that has increased the reach and influence of worship ministry around the world, not only in church circles, but also in secular cross-overs. So in that sense, we should celebrate the good that has come from that phenomenon.
Second, what Worship Leader magazine does is to keep worship ministers on the pulse of the new things God is doing. New personalities, new music, new technology, new theologies and thoughts on worship. It helps keep our ministries fresh. And for that, the publication should also be applauded.
Anyway, I digress.
What was really interesting was that I found out that in March, Worship Leader celebrated its 20th anniversary. And quite unbeknownst to me, it had also constructed its own list of top songs called the “Top 20 Worship Songs of the Past 20 Years”. I was immediately inspired to get back to finishing my series on the Epochal Songs (whilst I have already catalogued my list of 20, I haven’t yet finished explaining why I chose them, which I hope to do really soon), but I was curious to see how Worship Leader‘s list compared to mine.
So here is Worship Leader magazine’s top 20 worship songs of the past 20 years:
20. Days of Elijah (Robin Mark)
19. Heart of Worship (Matt Redman)*
18. Revelation Song (Jenny Lee Riddle)
17. He Knows My Name (Tommy Walker)
16. Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble (Delirious)*
15. Holy is the Lord (Chris Tomlin)
14. How He Loves (John Mark McMillan)*
13. O Praise Him (All This For A King) (David Crowder)
12. Breathe (Marie Barnett)*
11. Everlasting God
10. Friend of God (Israel Houghton/Michael Gungor)
09. Majesty (Delirious)
08. In Christ Alone (Stuart Townend/Keith Getty)
07. Open the Eyes of My Heart (Paul Baloche)
06. Blessed Be Your Name (Matt and Beth Redman)
05. Beautiful Things (Michael Gungor)
04. Here I Am to Worship (Tim Hughes)
03. Shout to the Lord (Darlene Zschech)*
02. How Great is Our God (Chris Tomlin)*
01. Mighty to Save (Reuben Morgan/Ben Fielding)
I have put asterisks where my list and Worship Leader‘s list intersect. Granted, their list is based on songs which the editors considered their favourites; my list is based on what I believe to have been significant songs in the worship landscape, not merely popular songs. Their list is presumably centred on the North American scene; mine is based on my experiences in the church in Australia. Their list covers the last 20 years; my list goes back the last 40 years.
But it’s been interesting to see the similarities. On reflection, there are certainly many important songs which I’m sure I’ve missed out. “Open the Eyes of My Heart” was one clear omission from my list.
So there you have it. What do you think of this list? What do you think of my list? What other songs should go down into the annals of praise and worship history as groundbreaking or a favourite?