For the past few years, I have received many requests from people for recommendations and reviews of Christian worship resources, either for personal listening or corporate worship. While I am happy to recommend a few good albums off of the top of my head, I have not done online reviews for a few reasons. First, there are already too many worship blogs online. Second, there is too much work involved in writing long reviews. And third, it has taken me a while for me to develop what I think are helpful criteria for evaluating worship material. While worship may be a word we all use, the practical, day to day nature of how Christians worship is diverse and multifaceted. The current vocabulary that people use to "like" or "dislike" worship resources forces people to polarize around a few narrow concepts and we miss the broad range of what music, God's word, and culture can offer. Instead, I have tried to develop a system that is easy to use, gracious to a broad audience, and practical for Christians who are trying to find new resources. I've tried to avoid criteria such as "it's good / bad" and "I like it." Rather, I have made four spectrums of worship elements that, when well done, help us worship with a broad range of usefulness. These criteria assume that the lyrics are true, the songs are well written, they are worshipfully useful, and stylistically flexible. With this simple visual review system, I hope to make it quicker for myself as I review music and easier for readers to find the information they want. In particular, my hope is that new criteria for determining the usefulness of worship music will help unify the Church in areas that have previously been opportunities for fracturing. Here is how it works:
This spectrum measures how an album or song uses scripture. Many worship songs, while not quoting scripture directly, are clearly inspired by or are an expansion of a particular verse. An example of this is Bethel's No Longer Slaves, which is taken generally from Romans, but expands into other themes. However, many songs use direct scripture quotation as their lyrical content, such as Kevin Twit and Mac Purdy's version of Psalm 73. By placing scripture usage on a scale from direct quotation to derivative theology, the conversation about lyrical content can become less antagonistic between Christian traditions and hopefully more useful for actual worship services.
HOW YOU ENGAGE
This spectrum measures how a church or individual should engage with the music. Songs that are strong on the singing end means that a church could sing these songs as part of corporate worship. This includes singable melodies, rhythms, lyrics, ranges... However, what is singable in my church may not be singable in a different church. The sing-ability spectrum is based on the composers original audience, not all churches for all people. On the flip side, songs that are too complicated or vague for the congregation to sing are often designed to be listening songs for faith, either through personal use or special music. The goal for this spectrum is to help people differentiate between helpful songs that inspire them and songs that are suitable for singing at church.
This spectrum measures the primary worship culture the song or album operates from. Intimacy driven songs come from worship cultures that primarily value reaching a state of intimacy with God as their primary goal. These songs are often also called Praise & Worship, have less lyrical content, and more dramatic or repetitive structures. I Love You Lord, by Laurie Klein, is a great example of intimacy driven worship culture. This doesn't mean the song is cathartic and quiet, rather, its goal is to help you feel the presence of God. Revelation driven songs come from worship cultures that value being revealed or reminded of something about God as their primary goal. These songs typically have more words and explore an idea to its completion. In Christ Alone, by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend is a great example of this culture. The Church spends a lot of time debating style and instrumentation of worship, but the more distinguishing aspects of worship, which are often unnoticed, is the theological culture a church worships with. For extended reading on this topic, I recommend reading Lester Ruth's, Lovin' on Jesus.
WHERE YOU'LL FIND IT
This spectrum measures where the song or album can be heard. Mainstream music would be anything that sounds like you could hear in on K-Love or from popular churches like Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation etc. Subculture music covers a wide range, from traditional to ethnic sub-cultures. Basically, anything that could not be found in the mainstream. The key to this spectrum is that it measure how likely other people will be familiar with the music, -not- exactly what it sounds like. There are way too many cultures, styles, and genres to try and classify in a helpful way.
What do you think?
My goal is to make finding worship music easier and more helpful to a broad audience. Let me know what you think! Feedback is important to developing helpful resources. If there is a song or album you think I should review, let me know!