Thoughts on the State of Worship Music

Thirty years ago, there was no such thing as “Christian Contermporary Music” (CCM), and it has only been in the past fifteen that “Worship” has really emerged as a music style. Musical options were limited to the traditional Southern and Black Gospel genres and then all kinds of worldly music.

Why is this important to note? Music is so deeply connected to the spiritual realm that I would suggest that all music is spiritual. Whatever you listen to, you take in the spirit of that music. So even music with no words, was created with a certain spirit. I used to listen to “Kind of Bluie”, probably one of the greatest Jazz albums of all time. It’s really a great album, but I found that the spirit of the music did not direct me towards God, so I quit playing it. Of course Miles Davis and John Coletrane were in no way living holy or giving praise to God with their music.

The more you disconnect from the secular music and plug into worship music, the less will impede your intimacy with God. I used to listen to CCM music, and I remember having a difficult time learning to like it, and my friends really thought “all Christian music is just bad.” We thought “you don’t like it because it is Christian.” In reality I think neither answer was right. The music was not musically bad per se — the spirit of the music was not drenched in God and so I think it “had a form of Godliness which denied the power.” It was designed to be catchy and witty and “good” but it was not really designed to do what God created music for–which was draw heaven and Earth closer. This became especially clear to me when I visited Charlotte recently. In Boston, we don’t have Christian music stations like down South, so I’ve gotten used to only listening to my worship CDs. When I went to Charlotte, I surfed the dial a bit for a “refreshment” but I found that the spirit of CCM was kind of draining. Now I’m not saying all CCM is bad. I really do enjoy some of the songs but the enterprise itself lacks.

This is why Hillsongs is so significant. It took someone on another continent to bring forth some music with real heat. Hillsongs is passionate music, and it also rocks. I remember getting “You are my world.” I literally listened to that CD almost continuously for over a year–can you believe that? It revolutionized my walk with God.

Now Hillsongs are not the only people in the genre–there are a lot of worship albums out there now, but not enough that are really pushing the envelope. Fred Hammond was in this category, but  unfortunately seems to have passed his Zenith. He did several albums which were really amazing. “Spirit of David” and “Pages of Life” were two of the best. He combined cutting edge music with deep psalms to God. John P. Kee’s “Strength” album was great faith music. It really played well as an entire album and encouraged a victorious mindset in trial. Israel Houghton has appeared on the scene and people have become fairly excited about him, however it does not have the same spiritual depth as those others. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments on the albums, but nothing to grip you for months on end.

This is why when I go to buy a new album now I don’t listen to the music itself, I listen to the anointing on the music.   When you get an anointed album, you can feel it pulling on your spirit as you listen to it. I like to go onto and listen to the different albums and see which ones really grab my spirit. That is how I got turned on to Christian for the Nations CFNI worship. “Overtaken” and “Glorious” are both magnificent albums. I mean really top notch. A wonderful combination of prophetic worship, passion towards God, strong musicality, and most importantly God’s presence. The most recent album, however, changed out all of the personnel. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing like the previous two albums.

Vineyard has done some great worship, but the problem is wading through their catalog to collect up the good ones.  Their “Women of Worship” has a couple of great female intimacy ballads. Robin Mark had two great albums called “Revival in Belfast” which combined something new musically with the anointing.

Now there are people who are more on the prophetic side of worship, such as Robert Stearns and the whole Morningstar set, but I believe these forms have too much flow and not enough structure. They have some magnificent moments, but the anointing would be much greater if they would constrain themselves more. This is what those two CFNI albums did so well. They would ride with the Spirit but keep the form so others could enter in.

What’s the future of worship? It seems such an easy temptation for Christians today to trade the anointing for respectability. Paul Cain used to say that was essentially how it worked–you seek after respectability and you lose your anointing. Which would you rather have? I’ll take the anointing any day of the week over respectability. Worship music as a genre will mature, but it may not remain as pure as it has been. As part of the seeker friendly mindset of compromise people may get into the form more than the Person and the power.

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