Ask a Worship Pastor #2: The top 5 worship songs from the past 10 years

This is part 2 in the "Ask a Worship Pastor" series. Part 1, which asked "What is the biggest misconception about your job?" can be found here. My followup thought to the Top 5 list can be found here.

Over the past 20 years the worship music industry has grown to be quite expansive.

From record companies' big budgeted live and studio recordings (put out by individual artists, individual churches, worship movements, and those large group projects featuring Christian music celebrities) to the increasingly excellent and numerous independent projects being released (put out by, you guessed it, individual artists, individual churches, worship movements, and those large group projects featuring Christian music celebrities) there is A LOT of "worship" "music" out there to choose from for personal devotion, congregational singing, or even simple enjoyment (Wait, is it ok to "enjoy" worship music, like for pleasure? That sounds sacrilegious or something.  [Hold on there, are you saying some people actually "enjoy" worship music, like for pleasure? Is that even possible?!])

I am actually working on a list of all the worship and worship music resources and artists I could find, in an attempt to overwhelm everyone, including myself. But I am way more interested in knowing what songs our churches should be singing than I am in knowing everything about the current state of worship music. I want to know where the Holy Spirit is moving amongst God's people, I want to know the song that is rising up in their hearts. I also want to know the songs being written which are the most musically excellent and durable while also containing lyrics that are both theologically sound and poetically beautiful.

There is a problem though, two actually, as I see it with the state of worship music:

1. As pointed out above, there is so much new repertoire out there it is impossible to sift through it all to know what we "should" be singing.
2. A lot of the new music is not all that musically or lyrically excellent, but consists of pretty middle of the road modern pop forms, causing us to get sick of singing the new songs rather quickly. In other words, we are creating disposable church music that no one wants to sing 5 years later. We suck out all the use value of a song and then discard it on the rubbish bin to be mocked by future generations who think their music is "better".

And so I have posed a question to my worship and music pastor friends for the second installment of my "Ask a Worship Pastor" series:

What are the 5 best worship songs written in the last 10 years?
What songs offer the best all around package (containing both excellence and accessibility lyrically and musically)?
What 5 songs do you think have legs and will endure to the next generation? If you had to guess, of the songs being written now, what do you think people will want to still sing in a couple of decades and not cringe away from?
Or, finally, if hymnals still exist in the future, which of our present hymns might make the cut?

NOTE 1: one stipulation I gave them was that re-tuned hymns do not count, that is the composition has to be completely original to the past 10 years.

NOTE 2: one of the main reasons I wanted to do this was to learn some new songs for my church to sing. Personally, I feel like I succeeded greatly on that front. There's some great songs I have never heard or sung before in these lists. I hope other song leaders can benefit in the same way.

NOTE 3: I have not included any links to any of the songs—that would have taken too much time. Just know that (basically) all the songs mentioned can be found on Youtube, itunes, Spotify, or a good old fashioned CD which you can purchase.

NOTE 4: As a reference at the end of this article I have included the 5 songs currently at the top of the CCLI song chart.

Here are their responses. It should go without saying (but here I go anyway) that these lists are not comprehensive but only represent each song leader's personal tastes as well as their experience singing these songs with their congregations. Some decided to elaborate and explain their choices while others just gave us their list. 
Again I have included info on where they are ministering and any other blog or music sites they maintain.

Amanda Holm Rosengrenan ordained deacon, leads the music and also serves as the assistant pastor at Church of the Redeemer in Highland Park, Illinois. Amanda sometimes keeps a blog, where she is documenting her read through the BBC best books list.

As I did my brief “research” to answer this question, I had a few realizations: 
•Many of my favorites, the ones I think might actually last for a while, were written over ten years ago. It seems that my sense of time (as in, what feels like a “new” song) moves more slowly than actual time. Even most of the songs that made it on my list barely squeaked in at the 9 or 10 year mark. 

•There are a lot of worship songs out there that I will never even see, much less use. Too many, perhaps! 

•I’m not sure what counts as a “worship” song for the purposes of this assignment. Does TaizĂ© music count? Fernando Ortega or Rita Springer songs that aren’t listed in CCLI? Random songs I use from non-CCM artists such as Ascend the Hill and Red Mountain Music? What about the songs that my lead pastor and I have written, songs only used in our congregation — do those count? Or are only songs that are mainstream (within evangelical circles, that is) and widely used in the running? I could come up with all sorts of lists depending on the answers to those questions. So, for the purpose of this list, I decided to consider only those songs that are likely to have appeared on the CCLI “top songs” list at some point. 

In no particular order:
Revelation Song—Jennie Lee Riddle
In my opinion, this is the most creative song on my list. It sounds different than your typical CCM song, using both minor and major chords to evoke mystery and awe. It also uses beautiful imagery without being tacky (unlike the infamous “sloppy wet kiss” Jesus song...), which fits perfectly with the music in expressing God’s majesty and other-ness. 

Hosanna—Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche
This one gets me celebrating every time — it is God-focused, full of hope and praise, 
and fun to sing. I think it draws upon Old Testament themes (the God who saves) in a  fresh way. I particularly love using it on Palm Sunday to build on the readings in which the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.

Mighty Is the Power of the Cross—Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Shawn Craig
Another one from Tomlin and friends. I like this one because it incorporates 
communion language (body/blood) and is a bit more contemplative than many of the 
big CCM numbers. It almost verges into Protestant “veneration of the cross” territory, which to me is a good thing. 

How Great Is Our God—Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
Another great song that allows a group of people (corporate language along with 
personal language) to worship God together. It focuses on God, expresses awe and 
wonder, good lyrics that are neither trite nor complicated nor boring, and once again, 
contains a tune that suits the lyrics well. My one complaint: if the worship leader isn’t careful, the song can sound like “How Grey Is Our Gaw.” Diction, people, diction.

Everlasting God—Brenton Brown
This one never gets old for me — I probably could sing it for week after week and still 
love it (there’s a reason I sang it at my wedding!). It draws from Scripture without
being too “word for word” Scripture-y (the song “As the Deer” comes to mind), the 
tune is interesting and fun to sing, the music matches the lyrics in what it communicates, it celebrates God while acknowledging our need of him. Love it.

So there you have it — though I’m not sure whether these are just five of my favorite CCM songs or if they really will be sung in the church for years to come. All I know is that I like to sing them, and my congregation does too (quite loudly, might I add) — and 

pastorally speaking, that’s all I need.

Eric Speecea newly ordained pastor, is the Pastor of Worship Arts at King of Kings in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can read an article Eric wrote on worship here.

Choosing the ‘best’ of anything is always an exercise in balancing preferences. This is especially true when trying to pick “the 5 best” worship songs from a decade in which there’s been an explosion of new songs.  Particularly, worship songwriters have started to refocus on the need to write worship songs “for the church” resulting in songs that are sing-able while being theologically informed and still melodically interesting. 

As I was thinking about my choices, I also added one more bit of criteria that helped me narrow it down a bit.  I’ve lead worship in both large and small, liturgical and non-liturgical churches and I found that there are some songs that work well in one setting that don’t really work in another, regardless of how much rearranging you do.  So, on top of my choices being theologically solid and melodically interesting, all of my choices work well in almost any setting with very little rearranging. 

In no particular order:
Holy SpiritKeith Getty and Stuart Townend
There aren’t many solid songs about the Holy Spirit.  I love this ‘modern hymn’ specifically for its rich Pneumatology.  Getty and Townend have written a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s power to work in our lives individually and the Church corporately.  At the same time, the song makes us sing about the Spirit’s work in creation, unity, peace, and regeneration.

Remembrance (The Communion Song)Matt Redman and Matt Maher
What do you get when an Anglican (Redman) and a Catholic (Maher) write a song about Communion together?  This song! I love the melody of this song.  I also love the theology of it.  As we participate in a practice that remembers Christ’s death, we are brought deeper and deeper into worship of Him.  This song speaks about unity that’s created in Communion, it speaks about the symbolism of God’s mercy lavishly poured out on unworthy sinners, and it speaks about the intimacy with God that we are brought in to through the act of Communion.   One great thing about the lyrics is that this song can be sung by any church regardless of their “Eucharistic Theology”.  Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans can all sing this song.  At the same time, the lyrics aren’t watered down.  Because of that, I think it’s a masterpiece.  

One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)Brian Johnson, Jeremy Riddle, Christa Black Gifford
This song is just fun to sing and congregations love it. The melody isn’t complicated and the repetition means that it can be learned very quickly. I appreciate the pastoral implications as well. I’ve been told that it’s been an encouragement to people facing difficult situations. It’s a simple song that reminds people of God’s never failing love even in midst of trials and temptations. (One note about the arrangement: This song gets a lot of criticism because of the ‘octave jump’ that they do in most recordings of it. I’ve found that works in larger settings, but not always in smaller settings.  What I do is lower the key to G or F and sing it in all in the same register. )

Our God AloneDavid Gungor and John Arndt
It’s no secret that The Brilliance is currently my favorite band.  They are worship leaders and classical musicians who are writing songs that are musically excellent with melodies that are still, somehow, congregation-friendly.  Being a classically trained pianist myself, I love, love, love John Arndt’s Chopin-esque piano arrangements that come out on songs like Breathe (which is a runner up on my list!).   However, Our God Alone, is one of their more simple arrangements.  This is a great ‘call and response’ type of song.  It makes a sweeping pass through salvation history and culminates in very powerful call to worship of the God who created and redeems us. 

Man of SorrowsMatt Crocker and Brooke Ligertwood
Nobody does anthems better than Hillsong and Man of Sorrows is another great one that comes from a land down under (Mmm…vegemite!).  It is both a hymn and a rock anthem that tells of Christ’s passion, his death and resurrection.  The chorus and bridge I’ll sing until my dying day. 

Joe Santiso—director of contemporary worship at First United Methodist Church in Peoria. You can follow Joe on twitter here: https://twitter.com//joesantiso.
In descending order:
5. Great I AmJared Anderson
4. Your Love Never FailsChris McClarney
3. All The Poor And Powerless—David Leonard, Leslie Jordan, (All Sons And Daughters)
2. Love Came DownBrian Johnson
1. How He LovesJohn Mark McMillan
These are all songs that had a huge impact and were perfect for their time and place in my opinion, and ones that really helped people worship in a new way.

Chris Marchand—author of this blog, singer of these songs, leading songs at this church, and headmaster at this school.

Here are my songs, in descending order:
5. Christ is Risen—Matt Maher, Mia Fieldes
This was mainly a lyrical choice, which means it's the weakest on my list. Still, I wanted a song about the cross and/or resurrection and lyrically this song is superb.

4. Breathing the Breath—Matt Redman

This is my personal favorite, a song that has gone all but ignored since it came out in 2004. But I will continue to champion it, hoping it will someday catch on in our churches.

3. Everlasting God—Brenton Brown, Ken Riley & 2. How Great is Our God--Chris Tomlin, 
Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
OK now, if we're really careful people still might want to sing these two songs in years to come. I am glad Amanda chose these songs for her list as well. I was a little afraid they were too mainstream middle of the road, but the fact is these two are basically the most popular songs from the last ten years and are just solid compositions. My fear though is that churches might already be burnt out on them...

1. Sovereign Over Us—Aaron Keyes, Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring

To me, this is the best song written in the last ten years. It is powerful, deeply Biblical, and singable.
For reference: 
The Top 5 CCLI Songs of July 2014
1. 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord Oh My Soul)—Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
2. How Great is Our God—Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves
3. Mighty to Save—Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan
4. Our God—Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman
5. Blessed Be Your Name—Beth Redman, Matt Redman
Related Articles on Worship and Worship Music:
Assessing the Top 5 Worship Songs List
Ask a Worship #1: What is the great misconception about your job?
Why I've Never Sung Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons' At My Church
4 Things I Learned About Worship By Being on a Podcast
5 Pieces of Advice For Matt Redman (not that anyone asked...)
Dear CCLI: Here are 5 ways you can become better

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