When it comes to music I’m kind of a Ned Flanders. I love music that exalts God and puts one of the many facets of the gospel into lyrical form. Hands down, if I’m going to listen to music then I’d rather have something that’s in tune with my faith over something that isn’t.
But at the same time, many of the headache-inducing songs I keep hearing on ”Christian” radio just don’t make the cut in my book. You know the ones. They all sound the same with a twenty-something Caucasian singing in exactly the same tonal range as all the others Christian music artists, with a chorus effect to make it sound like there’s three singers instead of just one, carrying out the last word of every other line across four or more measures as if there’s some sort of contest between them to see who can carry out the longest note.
Then, there’s the unoriginal “Q-station” style of verse/chorus repetition. “Hmmm, well I can only think of two verses to go with this chorus so lets just do verse one – chorus – verse two – the chorus twice - musical interlude – the chorus two more times – the chorus again but this time quieter – the chorus a few more times but this time as loud and drawn out as possible.” And let me reiterate my point that many of these songs sound exactly the same, as if there were some cookie-cutter formula for what a “Christian” song is supposed to sound like. The result is that there’s a lot of sub-par music out there that attempts to glorify Christ but fails because its mostly unoriginal, uncreative, and overly repetitive.
Now, this isn’t the case for every song played twenty times a day on your local Christian-themed radio station, but I do find this to be true for the vast majority.
So over the past few years I’ve been on the hunt for music that hasn’t gone through the CCM machine. I’ve been looking for music that is original—either lyrically or melodically—creative, and not overly repetitive. Most importantly, it must be music that stirs within me a passion for the things of God and an ardor for Christ—his work on the cross, his victorious resurrection, and his definite return.
Surprisingly (or rather, unsurprisingly?), I have found what I have been looking for in church-grown music. Churches and ministries whom God has blessed to have talented, creative and visionary musicians and to be large enough to afford to record their own music. Following are the groups I’ve found thus far that meet my personal criteria. Perhaps you may enjoy them as well!
Sovereign Grace Music
Sovereign Grace Music (originally based in Gaithersburg, MD as an outreach of Covenant Life Church) was the very first group I found after searching for a theology of worship and ended up reading Bob Kauflin’s blog, Worship Matters. According to their website they have been doing this for over twenty-five years now, and listening to their albums you can tell they have only improved over time. I particularly like how many of their albums center around a singular theme such as the resurrection, the birth of Christ, adoption, and trials. Recently SGM has relocated to Louisville, KY.
Their three most recent albums are simply stellar:
Mars Hill Music
Whatever your thoughts are about Pastor Mark Driscoll, you’ve got to admit: the worship bands at Mars Hill Church rock. Which is to be expected when you plant a church in Seattle, the same city that Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains came from. While a smattering of songs can be downloaded for free from the Mars Hill Church website, the cream of the crop can be purchased on BandCamp:
- Hail the Lamb (Ramshackle Orchestra)
- Already/Not Yet (Citizens)
- Oh! Great is Our God (The Sing Team)
Glorious Day, the first song on their latest album God of Victory, is a rewrite of the hymn One Day by Rev. John Wilbur Chapman which was written in the late 1800′s. The four lines of the chorus sum up the Gospel quite nicely:
Living, He loved me; dying He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming – oh glorious day!
Sojourn Community Church
In Louisville, KY is a small network of churches known as Sojourn Community Church with a music ministry aptly named Sojourn Music. They describe their music as:
New songs for modern missional worship, rich in Christian teaching and contextualized in modern culture. Contemporary hymns, psalms, songs of lament and praise written by members of the Louisville, KY-based Sojourn Community.
With a distinctly Americana sound, Sojourn has produced eight quality albums. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Water and the Blood: The Hymns of Issac Watts, Vol. 2
- Over the Grave: The Hymns of Issac Watts, Vol. 1
- The Mercy Seat & The War split EP by Jamie Barnes & Brooks Ritter
Reformed University Fellowship
Putting old hymns to new music, Reformed University Fellowship has spun off two groups of musicians. Red Mountain Music from the ministry at Auburn, and Indelible Grace from Belmont University. Their music can be found most easily on iTunes.