For many people, Lent is a time to return to some of the old traditional favorites. But there are also many great “new classics” from the modern worship scene that are great for this season of returning to the core of our faith. Lent is a journey toward the cross – toward the redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Below is a list of songs for Lent, broken down in three central Lenten themes: repentance, discipleship, and the cross.
Yes, it is true that much of contemporary worship is quite limited in its metaphorical scope when it comes to Jesus’ death, but the same could be said of our traditional hymnody. So I’ll also try to point toward some lesser-known music that brings us closer to the rich variety of biblical imagery.
There are two aspects of evaluating songs for use in worship: one is musical (is my congregation able to sing it?), and the other is lyrical. Part one of this article will focus on the musical aspect, while part II will dive into lyrics.
The musical question is much more contextual than many people realize. What is “singable” for a congregation of 500-1000 people in an urban area is going to be very different than what is singable for a congregation of 25 people in a rural farmtown. This applies to both the style of the song (and what instrumentation is needed to make it viable) and its musical key. When it comes to contemporary styles, some congregations just will not be able to pull off certain songs because of a lack of adequate instrumentation.
For many church praise teams, Christmas can be a challenge. Where do I find good contemporary arrangements of Christmas music? What songs from our regular repertoire work for this season? Here’s your all-in-one Advent/Christmas guide. I realize this will already be too late for some of you to use this year. If so, keep it bookmarked for next year, and I'll be sure to update it early.
Everything I have written so far could be summed up in a simple, two-part rhythm. I believe this rhythm is the very essence of Christian worship, transcending denominational, stylistic, and even theological lines. Christian worship does these two things, which are always working in harmony with each other:
1) Acknowledges our need for God.
2) Celebrates Jesus as the fulfillment of that need.
If you are doing this in your worship, you are leading people toward experiencing the gospel, and therefore experiencing God. This applies to our singing, as well as to preaching and to our celebration of the sacraments. Over and over again as we worship, this rhythm is either right beneath the surface or explicitly displayed.
Musically, it may happen within one song, with two songs, or it may be a broad movement over an entire set. As you plan worship, look for this rhythm. Plan it into your worship. In this rhythm God is glorified. In it God comes to meet us where we are. In this rhythm we are ushered into God’s presence.
As an example of the ideas presented in the last several posts, here is a breakdown of the worship service at my church from today.
Movement 1: Gather
Happy Day (Tim Hughes)
Everyday (Joel Houston)
Love the Lord (Lincoln Brewster)
In this particular service we are afforded quite a bit of time for music, so we are able to develop the theme significantly through music in the Gathering section. Today we used “Happy Day” to recall and celebrate our baptism, by which we are united into Christ’s death and resurrection: “The greatest day in history/death is beaten you have rescued me/Sing it out/Jesus is alive/…/O happy day/You washed my sin away/Forever I am changed.” We didn’t do this today, but during this song we could have invited folks to come forward, dip their fingers into the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross on their forehead (or one another’s foreheads), saying “I am (You are) a baptized child of God.” Another method is for a pastor or member to walk around and “spritz” the congregation with a branch dipped in water. Good times.
During the years leading up to the turn of the century, a revival of worship music that began largely overseas – particularly in England and Australia – made its way to American shores. Worship music was infused with a new level of passion. But the best had yet to come. In the decade-plus that followed, the music became more innovative and the gradually the lyrics were written with a higher degree of theological reflection. Here are some of the best albums – especially featuring songs for corporate worship – that have come out since 2000.