As a youth leader, and sometimes worship leader, I’m always on the lookout for songs that bring folks into the presence of God in sincere and thoughtful ways. I have a slight aversion (read: disdain) to ridiculously cheesy Christian music. I’m sure most of you are with me. But even more, I have a hard time singing worship songs that seem to have been written in some sort of cliche-filled rhyming machine. Worship can and should be real. It should be filled with authenticity. Powerful, poignant, passionate praise. Reflective, reactive, (even) remorseful repentance.
One of my best friends recently asked me what my favorite Christian rock album of all time was. I was stooped and silent. I didn’t have one. He then just rephrased the question to what my favorite Christian album was of all time. This allowed me to walk down the road of worship. You see, I’ve heard Chris Tomlin’s albums. But I’ve also heard Chris Tomlin lead worship. To me, they are about as different of experiences as you could possibly imagine. The man is an incredible “lead worshipper”, but I have a really hard time making it through the other stuff. With the door to worship opened, I give you a few artists and albums and songs that have really taught me more about worship than just about anything else. Hope they come to your rescue as well:
Anthony Skinner – Forever and a Day
This is a put-it-on-and-listen-to-it-all-the-way-thru kind of album. There’s rarely a time where I just put on a track or two. If so, my go-to’s are numbers 9 & 11 (always a crowd favorite). Several of these songs have made it thru the ministries that I’ve been a part of over the years. Quite honestly, if you know me, you probably know some of this album already. I discovered it on a rare chance in college and have been living with it ever since. It’s honest and beautiful. But the thing I love most about it is this raw, communal feeling you have while it’s on. You won’t just be listening, you’ll be singing and having a worship experience as well. It’s just contagious. And that same exact spirit brings me to the aptly titled album below…
Phil Wickham – Singalong
First thing I loved about Singalong? It was free. And no, I’m don’t mean free-for-me-because-someone-burned-it-for-me free. I mean Phil Wickham literally put out this live worship album for free on his website. I downloaded it one morning and was glued to it for the next several months. Literally. Old hymns, new worship songs, people really singing along loud and full of faith. If you haven’t heard it yet, let me burn you a copy. It’s gotten me thru at least half-a-dozen roadtrips. Day or night, sad or glad, this thing is sure-to-God good. Not convinced? Give it a listen here. And yes, he rocks a vest and a Euro mullet.
John Mark McMillan
Listened to KLOVE recently? Yep. Me neither. But have you been in church any time in the past year or two? Then chances are you’ve heard the song this guy’s first known for. McMillan wrote How He Loves a while back, though it’s really just caught fire relatively recently. I’m sure the song would’ve caught my attention the first time I blindly heard it at church or on the radio. I hope so. But I didn’t have that experience. I was sitting quietly at my laptop when one of my best friends passed a youtube link to me of this worship leader balling his eyes out while telling the origins of a song he’d written. I was broken and breath taken.
McMillan wrote the song following the death of a dear friend who, during a church meeting, prayed out loud, “If it would shake the youth of a nation, I will give my life today.” McMillan was awakened in the middle of the same night by a phone call; the friend had been killed in a car crash. The first time I led this song with our students, it certainly rocked them. We were at our fall camp the first time we sang it together. God’s love poured thru in a mighty, magnificent way as we shook the old, metal roof with our voices lifted high and loud.
The song’s recently been covered by just about every major Christian artist and is impossible to miss. But I’m telling you, hearing how the song came about from the writer himself changes everything. It leaves a deep impression on you that’s hard to shake and urges you to listen to these words with stronger clarity. You begin to realize that it doesn’t sound like every other worship song. The words you’re singing are arranged differently. If you allow yourself to get there, you’ll feel more than normal feel. Heck, for some of us, we may feel while worshiping for the first time in a long time.
One of our students recently gave me McMillan’s new album, which is certainly solid. Heck, I may have finally found an answer for “my favorite Christian rock album”. I’m posting a couple of his videos below. The second is a song called Death in His Grave off of that new album. It’s probably the next song you’ll be hearing from me a lot. In fact, you may end up getting tired off of it here in a year or two. McMillan describes it as his attempt at writing a hymn. I loved hearing him say that because the first time I heard the song I began googling the song title to find the original hymn. There wasn’t one. It’s all his. So, if you have time, watch it. It’s great.
But if you only h ave time to watch one, the first video is what I’d push on to you. In may ways, it wraps up everything I’ve written above about worship here into one little snapshot. Enjoy.