We are in desperate need of introducing some contemporary music into our worship services. I do know contemporary music but have no clue about what works best in a room full of folks, many of whom do not know contemporary Christian music. We do a few songs: As the Deer, Seek Ye First, Sanctuary, and a few others here and there. My organist insists they can do the contemporary music, but the few times we have done it it has fallen flat. I can’t tell you why. So, here is my question: if we were to introduce maybe 10 new contemporary songs to our congregation to be used in worship, which 10 would you suggest? Of course theology matters, but so does singability and teachability.
To start, I would definitely recommend you sign up your musician and any singers that are interested for the Tune Up worship band gathering: http://TuneUpGathering.org – they will learn some new songs, and rub shoulders with other church musicians who are doing this same thing.
I’ll say that successfully pulling off contemporary music is a challenge. Especially for a church organist. There are lots of reasons why: the rhythmic language of contemp. music is different than traditional hymnody. Also many contemp. songs are written and presented by guitar driven bands, and without that instrument (as well as drums) they can fall flat.
But there are some “bridge” songs that can get you started in the right direction. Songs that work well with piano and are easy to learn for an assembly that is unfamiliar with the style. The ones you listed (especially As the Deer) are good. If you’re using Evangelical Lutheran Worship in the pews, take advantage of some of the music in there:
857 Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
821 Shout to the Lord
483 Here Is Bread
And even some of the multicultural music works well and is “new” in a sense, if you’re not already using them:
817 You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore
491 Come, Let Us Eat
525 You Are Holy
Here are some other songs outside of ELW, found through a website: CCLI.com:
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman
How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin
Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman
Here I Am to Worship – Tim Hughes
Your Grace Is Enough – Matt Maher
Holy Is the Lord – Chris Tomlin
Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin
Hopefully that is something to get you started. Theologically, most contemp. songs are fine. A few are not. The biggest problem I run into is they can be less than gender inclusive (God = He) and put way too much emphasis on substitutionary atonement theory (as opposed to a Christus Victor theme). Some contemp. songs are engaging Biblical themes and images unexplored in traditional hymnody. However, a consistent diet of contemp. songs will not be as full, or rich a theological expression as hymnody would be. For example, if you’re looking for contemp. songs that mention the Trinity (a core doctrine of Christianity), you’ll have to look hard (but they are there).
I recently read Reggie Kidd’s With One Voice. So much good stuff in it about Christ as our singing Savior – our Chief Liturgist. As we sing our songs of corporate praise and adoration here on the earth, we’re merely echoing and pointing to the greater song that Christ is already singing to the Father as He leads all the saints in song.
The challenging stuff is about the different voices of Christ and His body (Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers). Congregations develop their own nuances and styles of corporate worship appropriate to the people they’re made up of and the surrounding culture. That’s the part of Christology we call “incarnational.”
“But we say something profound about the gospel itself when we stay a family and refuse to allow ourselves to become insular, a closed-in group. By God’s grace, we can nurture the good we’ve inherited from our family tree, further its contribution to the larger body of Christ, and at the same time appreciate – and perhaps learn from – folks who sing Christ’s song differently.” (p. 156-157)
Keeping a congregation opened-out to the variation of Christ’s song is tough. It’s too easy to just go to the top 25 songs from CCLI and create a set list every week. It’s too easy to just stick with what the denomination prints. It’s too easy to just keep doing what the Pastor or Worship Leader likes and prefers.
I think in most cases, a pleasing variety of Christ’s songs are present in any given congregation. Just from the people that are already there, the music of their hearts and backgrounds. The tough work is mining it. It means building relationships and learning about people. “What does it sound like for your heart to be engaged by God in worship?” That should be a frequent question from servant-leaders.
And then comes the skill of creating a collage representative of what God has already knit together in the congregation. And on top of that, the task of patiently explaining and teaching everyone that “It’s OK if you didn’t like, or get, or enjoy the musical offering/palette today. Rest assured that it was beneficial to someone else in this Body. And rest assured that it’s not about you.”