6 Principles for Preparing an Effective Songlist

Hymbook

The first time I led worship was when I was 14 years old. I was in a small youth group with 6 guys and a token girl. The girl didn’t hang around for too long because all the guys ever wanted to do was play basketball.

Back in those days, worship cassettes were getting really popular. I had my copy of The Lord Reigns by Bob Fitts. It was my only worship cassette, so I learned every song on it.

One day, the youth leader asked me to lead worship. I was secretly thrilled, whilst maintaining all the air of humility expected of a good Christian.

The guys used to carpool (actually, van pool) to youth group and so I had my first and only rehearsal with the guitarist on the ride to the old Perth City Mission building, where the youth group met.   I gave him a list of 10 songs (all extracted from The Lord Reigns). I didn’t realise he didn’t know about six of those songs.

When I got up to lead, it didn’t turn out like anything on the cassette. We did a song a couple of times each, sometimes acapella because the guitarist didn’t know the song. I couldn’t even remember which song came next. It was a disaster, but it was a learning experience.

It’s been awhile since that first worship leading experience when I was 14 and with the 20 or so years that I have had the privilege to lead worship, once in a while I get the opportunity to teach on worship. One of the most common questions I am invariably asked is: “how do you choose the songs?”

I think a lot of people presume that the songs are found in a special room in my apartment called “the secret place” where I go “beyond the veil” to “download” the “songs from heaven”. Some people think that worship leaders only come up with songs after an extended time of prayer and fasting.

I hate to burst bubbles, but the process of song selection is not as mystical as some people think. In fact, it is quite a natural process.

Sometimes, I might come across a song that really speaks to me and I feel that it is the right song to be sung for a worship set and then I just start constructing a song list around it. Other times, I am worshipping at home on my guitar and a flow of songs just comes to me and that becomes my song list. On occasion, the worship session is rolling around and I’ve got nothing. So I just cobble a few songs together in faith and hope for the best! If I’m really desperate, I might pick up a songbook and skim through it to see what appeals to me.

At the end of the day, there is no “hard and fast” rule.

In this article, I want to share with you some of the parameters that I use to help me choose songs for a worship set, whether it’s for a Sunday service or for a cell group. The important thing to note is that half of the work of a worship leader is already done well before the actual worship set itself.

A well-constructed songlist can often “work itself out” so that the worship leader can almost step into the set and go on “autopilot”. That way, when the worship leader is actually leading, far less concentration is required to make sure the songlist is executed properly to more importantly focus on what the Holy Spirit might want to do during a meeting.

So here are some guiding principles to choosing good songlists:

1. Pray!

It might sound like a given, but so often, we take the process for granted. I remember when I first started worship leading, I used to put a lot of effort into praying and seeking God and worshipping before I could come up with a songlist. Looking back, I realised that I was being overly religious: going through particular motions in the hope of getting a particular result. My notions of God have changed since those days: now I believe that God wants to speak to me in every moment and in any place, so I don’t really need to go through a convoluted ritual to somehow “birth” a songlist. The risk in this approach, however, is to become so blasé that you don’t even involve God in the process.

A friend of mine utters a very simple prayer as he prepares: “Lord, what is it that you want your church to express to you this Sunday that will really bless your heart?” I love that childlikeness and I believe that God honours our approaching Him with boldness and simplicity.

Such a prayer also makes us think about the congregation or cell group and how to pastor them into God’s presence: something we need to remind ourselves of more and more as worship continues to risk crossing the line into consumerism, entertainment and a musical showcase.

2. It’s Not About Me! Sacrifice Personal Preferences

Quite often, we can construct a songlist around our preferences. We can become so conceited that we start thinking: “does this song suit my vocal range?”, “I don’t really like that song” or “this song will really show off my beautiful voice”.

We need to set aside those preferences. Often, I will do a song because I feel that it captures the heart of the people towards God in a particular season even if I personally don’t like the song or I don’t sound good singing it. My job is to capture the church’s expression of praise to God, not to show off or pander to my own likes and dislikes. In fact, worship shouldn’t be about me at all! That’s the furthest point we can be from the throne of God.

3. Focus on Flow

This is a lost art! When I started learning about leading worship, Hosanna! Music put out lots of worship cassettes which captured the flow of a worship meeting. Kent Henry used to record albums where the starting song flowed seamlessly through free worship, prayer, Scripture reading all the way through to high praise without interruption.

These days, worship albums are more about showcasing artists than capturing the atmosphere of worship.

We should approach a worship set like a seamless journey that tells a story of our approach to God. So for example, there should be thematic unity. God is so infinite and varied that we could never sing about every aspect of His nature in 30 minutes. So choose one or two thoughts to centre around, e.g. the love of God, intimacy, His power and might, His presence, comfort, healing etc. Just make sure that the themes aren’t diametric opposites because a sure way to kill the atmosphere is to go from “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” to “Mighty Warrior”.

Key selection is also important. Choosing songs in the same key allows you to move seamlessly into the next song without having to rely heavily on clever musical interludes. It allows the worship leader to have various entry points into the next song and to even move back and forth between two songs if necessary.

Once you have chosen the songs, you should be able to pretty much visualise the flow of the worship session from start to end. This also helps you to communicate better with your musician(s) during rehearsals so that you can plan your transitions well.

4. Create Tension and Release

Our culture is one of story and narrative. A good story starts with an introduction, followed by a complication, climax and denouement.

Similarly, a worship setlist should bring the congregation on a narrative journey. The songs should tell a story with increasing intensity before giving way to encounter and resolution.

  • Long, wordy songs (such as hymns) create tension. Short, simple songs bring release.
  • A new song brings tension as the congregants concentrate to learn it. A familiar song brings release as they close their eyes and sing without concentration.
  • Songs in a minor key create tension. Songs in a major key bring release.
  • A lot of structure creates tension, but creates a springboard for the release of free, open worship.

Too much tension creates stress; too much release leads to disorder. A right balance of tension and release in a worship set will engage and lead the congregation into a spiritual journey of encountering God.

5. Make Room for the Holy Spirit

We can be clinical and plan everything to a tee and then hope for the Holy Spirit to move. Or we can “plan to be spontaneous” by not overloading the set so that there is some inbuilt time buffer within which we can allow and expect the Holy Spirit to move.

When I first started leading worship, I thought that on average a song might last 3 to 4 minutes, so, for a half-an-hour set, I could probably fit about 7 songs in there easily. Boy, was that a mistake! I just ended up rushing through everything without giving anyone (let alone the Holy Spirit) any chance to breathe.

For a 25 minute set, I recommend about 3 to 4 songs (or at most 4 songs plus one short chorus to finish). Within that, allow for free worship; allow for times for the music to play; allow for the Holy Spirit to inspire you to give a word, exhortation or prayer.

6. Include Various Expressions of Worship

When I first led worship on a Sunday, I had a disdain for fast songs. I thought they were shallow and emotional. No, the real spiritual songs are the slow songs. That is when you really pour your heart out to God.

I have since realised that, in fact, all songs directed to God in worship are spiritual! The Psalms indicate that it is just as valid to worship God with dance, shouts and celebration as with intimate cries of the heart.

So now, I don’t shun fast songs. In fact, I think they are necessary and to not do them is to deprive the church of a very real expression of praise.

Further, fast songs are an important tool to engage and bring people with you, especially because when people first come to a meeting, they are not emotionally prepared to engage with God. A fast song will often help get them onto the same page before releasing them to express worship to God in their own way!

Of course, there may be times when you might feel God doesn’t want you to do a fast song, but I have the fast song on as a default setting unless directed otherwise.

So those are some of the parameters that guide me when I choose songs for a worship set. I hope they have been helpful! Remember, if you can put together a good songlist, half of the work is already done!

Set List: Faith Community Church Sunday Service (28 April 2013)

I had the privilege of leading worship with Faith Community Church’s Team 4 recently. The theme of the set was “Transcendence”. In Exodus 33, Moses asked God a rhetorical question: “what would distinguish God’s people from the rest of the nations if it were not His presence?” God has set eternity in the hearts of men. We long for transcendence – for something that is beyond ourselves. God’s provision for that longing is His glory!

Here is the songlist:

// Today is the Day (C)

// I Am Free (C)

// Magnificent (Darlene Zschech’s version) (G)

// I Stand in Awe (A)

// The Stand (chorus only) (A)

Thanks to Joe Wee Chuah our music director for the awesome arrangements!

Reference

Check out Darlene Zschech’s version of Magnificent from her new album Revealing Jesus.

Epochal Song 6: Power of Your Love (Geoff Bullock, 1992)

I’ve been inspired since reading Worship Leader magazine’s Top 20 Songs in the Last 20 Years to continue my series on the Epochal Songs of the Praise and Worship Movement.

So we go to the year 1992…

Geoff Bullock’s “Power of Your Love” in my opinion, was one of the defining songs for the Australian praise and worship scene. Even though there had already been some notable contributors from Australia on the worldwide stage (Phil Pringle and Mal Fletcher come to mind), this song put Hillsong (then Hills Christian Life Centre) on the map. Within a short number of years, Hillsong would not only greatly impact the praise and worship movement, it would also be one of the leading shapers of the movement.

In fact, I remember in 1992 at the age of 15 going to a powerful youth camp where “Power of Your Love” was sung as the theme song. I think my friend Daryl Tan and some others led the worship each session. And each session, we sang “Power of Your Love”. On the last night, Russell Sage described in gruesome detail how Christ suffered on the cross. Before the days of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, you’d be surprised how powerfully words can paint a picture when coupled with a fertile imagination! As we sang this song to close the meeting, tears just streamed down my face as I was captured by the agony of Christ’s sacrifice. I was being changed by the power of His love.

That camp was a milestone in my Christian walk. I came away deeply impacted knowing that I would serve and love God the best I could no matter what.


Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Have you ever had that scary moment when your pastor comes up to you and says “Can we have a quick chat?” You hesitate but then say, “uh, okay” and then you both translate five steps towards the side of the room where he clears his throat a little, narrows his eyes ever so slightly and then says to you in a hushed tone: “Do you think we can do more hymns?”

This happened to a friend of mine lately. And I could sympathise with the dread he (my friend) felt.

Not because I don’t like hymns, mind you. By hymns, I assume that this pastor was talking about some of the older songs like “Amazing Grace”, “I Surrender All” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. I love those songs. I love their richness and their theological depth. But as an unskilled musician (should I even admit that?), I find these types of songs incredibly difficult to arrange successfully.

Even when skilled musicians do them, I don’t always like them. An example a few years back was the Passion album, Hymns Ancient and Modern. I felt that all the use of electric guitars and simplified power chords really took away some of the beauty and majesty of those “hymns”.

And actually, what are “hymns” anyway?

So this got me thinking and today, I want to begin a series on “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” using as my texts the following key verses.

Firstly, Ephesians 5:18-20:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second passage is Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

These passages seem to characterise the songs of the church into three distinct types: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

In this series, I want to explore this triptych and ask some of the following questions: are these three different types of songs or is Paul just using telescopic language to describe the same type of song expressed in three ways? Can we read these songs (as some often do) as representing historical eras in the church and if so, what of their significance? Should we go back to singing those old songs that my friend’s pastor was talking about?

Before I launch into some of these issues in my next few posts, I want to end this introductory post by sharing something which a friend of mine had posted on Facebook and I found quite amusing. It was about the difference between a “chorus” (which apparently those of us in charismatic circles like to sing) and “hymns” which are the staple of mainline churches. I found it pretty insightful. Enjoy!

Worship Leader Magazine’s Top 20

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?

Another Awesome Rehearsal

I just got back this evening rehearsing with the band for Converge “Hear the Nations Worship” night. It was another time of refreshing in God’s presence.

I came to the rehearsal with quite a great deal of stress. I was busy at work, but also busy trying to finalise everything for Converge and my mind was in a million different places. And then I caught a cold. So I took today off work (it should have been sick leave!) to try to organise the songlist for our rehearsal. I also thought I would spend some time with the dog as well as she was starting to feel neglected with all our busyness and filled-out schedules.

But it was like all the stress melted away as we worshipped. We began just by simply praying together which really helped us maintain our focus. After a couple of tricky fast songs (which required a good deal of concentration) we came to the turning point when we started Stephanie Truscott’s gospel worship set. There’s something about gospel music that just gets your toe tapping and body moving. And I sensed that God began to imbue us with a sense of freedom as we sang “I’m So Glad, Jesus Set Me Free”.

As we started worshipping to “Beautiful Saviour” there was just a wonderful overlay of vocals singing the names of God and I just felt like I was spirited away into another realm. It felt like the song that never ends. As we went back into the bridge “I could sing forever, Jesus I love You”, we’d be hit a with a new wave of praise bubbling over.

It was such a beautiful time.

I really am blessed to be serving with such a wonderful and anointed team.

So let me introduce you to the team facilitating the Converge Day of Worship Finale (sorry I forgot to take a photo this time):

// Worship leaders: Me, Pastor Yoy Alberastine (Faith Community Church/Sonlife Church), Shaw Cheong and Stephanie Truscott MOSAIC Church)
// Vocals: Me, Pastor Yoy, Shaw, Stephanie, Ling, Wai Kin Wong (Full Gospel Assembly)
// Bass: Jon Teoh (FCC) (he just joined us tonight and he’s awesome!)
// MD and keys: Daryl Tan (Firstlight)
// Electric Guitar: Chris Mayne (Lifestreams Church)
// Drums: Ash Tie (New Covenant Community)

And here is the mega songlist in case you are preparing:

// Ancient of Days
// You are Good (Israel Houghton)
// Hosanna (Brooke Fraser)
// You’ll Come
// I See the Lord
// I Exalt Thee
// Gospel Worship with Stephanie Truscott
// Messianic Worship with Kathy Susnjar
// Beautiful Saviour
// Worthy is the Lamb
// You Deserve the Glory
// Shout to the Lord
// African Worship with Arlene Gregory
// We Speak to Nations
// How Great is Our God World Edition (in English, Mandarin, Malay, Tagalog and Zulu)

I think the last song is a significant prophetic enactment and prefigurement of what will happen at the end of time when the nations gather before the worthy Lamb who was slain, giving Him glory, honour, power, wisdom, strength and blessing.

I’m really looking forward to Saturday!

How to Choose Songs

Whenever I teach on worship leading, one of the most common questions I am invariably asked is: “how do you choose the songs?”

I think a lot of people presume that the songs are found in a special room in my apartment called “the secret place” where I go “beyond the veil” to “download” the “songs from heaven”. Some people think that worship leaders only come up with songs after an extended time of prayer and fasting.

I hate to burst bubbles, but the process of song selection is not as mystical as some people think. In fact, it is quite a natural process.

For me anyway, the process can be quite varied.

// Sometimes, I might come across a song that really speaks to me and I feel that it is the right song to be sung on Sunday and then I just start constructing a song list around it.

// Other times, I am worshipping at home on my guitar and a flow of songs just comes to me and that becomes my song list.

// On occasion, Wednesday night rehearsal is rolling around and I’ve got nothing. So I just cobble a few songs together in faith and hope for the best! If I’m really desperate, I might pick up a songbook and skim through it to see what appeals to me.

At the end of the day, there is no “hard and fast” prescription.

In this post, I want to share with you some of the parameters that I use to help me choose songs for a Sunday worship set. The important thing to note is that half of the work of a worship leader is already done well before Sunday, and in fact, well before rehearsal.

A well-constructed songlist can often “work itself out” so that the worship leader can almost step into the set and go on “autopilot”. That way, when the worship leader is actually on stage, far less concentration is required to make sure the songlist is executed properly to focussing on what the Holy Spirit might want to do during a meeting.

So here are some guiding principles to choosing good songlists:

1. Pray!

It might sound like a given, but so often, we take the process for granted. I remember when I first started worship leading, I used to put a lot of effort into praying and seeking God and worshipping before I could come up with a songlist. Looking back, I realised that I was just being overly religious: going through particular motions in the hope of getting a particular result. My notions of God have changed since those days: now I believe that God wants to speak to me in every moment and in any place, so I don’t really need to go through a convoluted ritual to somehow “birth” a songlist. The risk in this approach, however, is to becomes so blase that you don’t even involve God in the process.

A friend of mine utters a very simple prayer as he prepares: “Lord, what is it that you want your church to express to you this Sunday that will really bless your heart?” I love that childlikeness and I believe that God honours our approaching him with boldness and simplicity.

Such a prayer also makes us think about the congregation and how to pastor them into God’s presence: something we need to remind ourselves of more and more as worship continues to risk crossing the line into consumerism, entertainment and a musical showcase.

2. It’s Not About Me!

Quite often, we can construct a songlist around our preferences. We can become so conceited that we start thinking: “does this song suit my vocal range?”, “I don’t really like that song” or “this song will really show off my guitarist’s awesome skills”.

We need to set aside those preferences. Often, I will do a song because I feel that it captures the heart of the church towards God in a particular season even if I personally don’t like the song or I don’t sound good singing it. My job is to capture the church’s expression of praise to God, not to show off or pander to my own likes and dislikes. In fact, worship shouldn’t be about me at all! That’s the furthest point we can be from the throne of God.

3. Focus on Flow

This is a lost art! When I started learning about leading worship, Hosanna! Music put out lots of worship cassettes which captured the flow of a worship meeting. Kent Henry used to record albums where the starting song flowed seamlessly through free worship, prayer, Scripture reading all the way through to high praise without interruption.

These days, worship albums are more about showcasing artists than capturing the atmosphere of worship.

We should approach a worship set like a seamless journey that tells a story of our approach to God. So for example, there should be thematic unity. God is so infinite and varied that we could never sing about every aspect of His nature in 30 minutes. So choose one or two thoughts to centre around, e.g. the love of God, intimacy, his power and might, his presence, comfort, healing etc. Just make sure that the themes aren’t diametric opposites because a sure way to kill the atmosphere is to go from “Jesus Loves Me This I know” to “Mighty Warrior”.

Key selection is also important. Choosing songs in the same key allows you to move seamlessly into the next song without having to rely heavily on clever musical interludes. It allows the worship leader to have various entry points into the next song and to even move back and forth between two songs if necessary.

Once you have chosen the songs, you should be able to pretty much visualise the flow of the worship service from start to end. This also helps you to communicate better to your team during rehearsals so that you can plan your transitions well.

4. Give Room for the Holy Spirit

We can be clinical and plan everything to a tee and then hope for the Holy Spirit to move. Or we can “plan to be spontaneous” by not overloading the set so that there is some inbuilt time buffer within which we can allow and expect the Holy Spirit to move.

When I first started leading worship, I thought that on average a song might last 3 to 4 minutes so for a half-an-hour set, I could probably fit about 7 songs in there easily. Boy, was that a mistake! I just ended up rushing through everything without giving anyone (let alone the Holy Spirit) any chance to breathe.

For a 25 minute set, I recommend about 3 to 4 songs (or at most 4 songs plus one short chorus to finish). Within that, allow for free worship; allow for times for the music to play; allow for the Holy Spirit to inspire you to give a word, exhortation or prayer.

5. Include Various Expressions of Worship

When I first led worship on a Sunday, I had a disdain for fast songs. I thought they were shallow and emotional. No, the real spiritual songs are the slow songs. That is when you really pour your heart out to God.

I have since realised that, in fact, all songs directed to God in worship are spiritual! The Psalms indicate that it is just as valid to worship God with dance, shouts and celebration as with intimate cries of the heart.

So now, I don’t shun fast songs. In fact, I think they are necessary and to not do them is to deprive the church of a very real expression of praise.

Further, fast songs are an important tool to engage and bring people with you, especially because when people first enter the sanctuary, they are not emotionally prepared to engage with God. A fast song will often help get them onto the same page before releasing them to express worship to God in their own way!

Of course, there may be times when you might feel God doesn’t want you to do a fast song, but I have the fast song on as a default setting unless directed otherwise.

So those are some of the parameters that guide me when I choose songs for a worship set. I hope they have been helpful! Remember, if you can put together a good songlist, half of the work is already done!

Epochal Songs of the Praise and Worship Movement

I have been leading worship for the last 19 years within the Charismatic Renewal and I have seen the style (and to some extent) the content of our worship evolve. Rewind 20 years back and it would have been unimaginable for the church back then that we would sing the types of songs we sing today.

The instrumentation has changed. From keyboard-driven and big band orchestral music, the forerunner music of today’s worship is guitar-driven grunge and electronic techno.

We have also moved on from traditional hymnology to a much more prophetic, apostolic lyric but at the same time, injecting elements of heartfelt personal poetry and imagery. Worship music is beginning to bridge the cultural divide between sacred and secular.

The praise and worship movement had its origins in the 1960’s. Two streams were particularly influential: presentation blue-grass gospel songs (popularised by the Gaithers) and the Jesus People movement (which brought rock-and-roll music and musicians into the church). (It is interesting to see even then how the generations converged in Charismatic worship).

Since then, those on the cutting edge have continued to revolutionise worship music, bringing to it strong artistic merit without comprising biblical content.

An epoch means an era or season. And so when I refer to “epochal songs”, I am referring to songs that are significant to an era or season of the church in one of two ways: either it defines the season (i.e. it captures and articulates the heartcry of the church at a moment in time, usually an emotion or perspective which was felt but not yet expressed) or it is defining of the season (i.e. it catapults the church into a new prophetic direction).

Here, I want to list what I believe are the epochal songs of the praise and worship movement. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this but my opinion is based on extensive reading, listening and thinking about praise and worship and also experiencing it first hand for the last 22 years of my Christian walk.

So here they are – my list of the 15 epochal songs of the praise and worship movement in chronological order:

  1. All Hail King Jesus (Dave Moody, 1977)
  2. Give Thanks (Henry Smith, 1978)
  3. I Love You, Lord (Laurie Klein, 1978)
  4. As the Deer (Martin Nystrom, 1984)
  5. Ancient of Days (Jamie Harvill and Gary Sadler, 1992)
  6. Power of Your Love (Geoff Bullock, 1992)
  7. Shout to the Lord (Darlene Zschech, 1993)
  8. Everything That Has Breath (Michelle Hira/Parachute Band, 1994)
  9. I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1994)
  10. Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1994)
  11. Breathe (Marie Barnett, 1995)
  12. History Maker (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1996)
  13. The Heart of Worship (Matt Redman, 1997)
  14. How Great is Our God (Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Jesse Reeves, 2004)
  15. How He Loves Us (John Mark McMillan, 2005)

In my next several posts, I will explain why I have picked these songs and their significance to the worship life of the church. You may not agree with my list or you may think other songs should be included. What would be interesting for me (as a bit of social research) is to hear your thoughts on my list. What songs do you think should be here? Why do you think they are significant? I look forward to reading your comments!


How Great is Our God – World Edition

Revelation tells us that at the end of the age, every tongue, tribe and nation will worship around the throne.

“How Great is Our God” is one of my favourite songs because it spans the generations.  But more than that, it is a song that has spanned cultures and languages because of its simple declaration of the greatness of God.

Listening to the World Edition prophetically prefigures the picture of a glorious church where there is neither male, female, slave, free, race, colour.  As was famously declared by Bartleman in the Azusa Street Revival, “the colour line was washed in the blood”.

You will be moved as you listen to this.  Look out for some notable worship leaders, including Sidney Mohede singing in Indonesian and Marcos Witt singing in Spanish.  Great stuff.