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 vocabulary that is easy to use, gracious to a broad audience, and practical for Christians who are trying to find new resources. I avoid criteria such as "it's good or bad", 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.
This simple visual review system is designed for quick access on your instagram feed, so head over there and follow new posts! 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 concepts from 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 word-for-word, or verbatim, 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.
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 how the lyrics, or structure of the the song, function. Some song, like I Love You Lord, by Laurie Klein, spend time simply reflecting on an idea or feeling in worship. These songs are often also called Praise & Worship, have less lyrical content, and more dramatic or repetitive structures. However, reflecting songs can also be older hymns, like I Need Thee Every Hour, which stays focused on one idea. Expanding type songs focus on beginning with one idea and following it until it resolves. They tend to have more lyrics and less repetition, but could be from different musical styles. Many hymns, like Come Ye Sinners, are an example of this, but O Praise The Name, by Hillsong, follow the whole story of Christ's death, resurrection, and then our resurrection, so would be considered developing.
WHERE YOU HEAR IT
This spectrum measures where the song or album can be heard. Widespread music are songs that literally have a large following, like K-Love, Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation etc. Or it can also be songs the broader culture knows, like Amazing Grace or In Christ Alone. Contextual music is anything that has a smaller audience, but is still known and used in those contexts. Some examples of this are the retuned hymn movement, independent contemporary artists, and global music. The key to this spectrum is that it measures 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!