Introduction and Criteria
Having articulated a working criteria for evaluating worship songs for their use in corporate worship services, I thought I would explore a few case studies as a way to test my criteria. Here is the first offering:
Case Study #1: Hillsong United, With Everything from Passion’s Awakening
Lyrics (courtesy of Lyricsmania.com):
Open our hearts,
To see the things
That make Your heart cry,
To be the church
That You would desire.
Light to be seen.
Break down our pride,
And all the walls
We’ve built up inside,
Our earthly crowns
And all our desires,
We lay at Your feet.
So let hope rise,
And darkness tremble
In Your holy light,
And every eye will see
Jesus, our God,
Great and mighty to be praised.
God of all days,
Glorious in all of Your ways.
Your majesty, the wonder and grace,
In the light of Your name.
We will shout for your glory.
We will shout forth your praise.
Our hearts will cry
Be lifted high,
Above all names.
For You our King,
We will shout forth your praise.
I first heard this song as background house music prior to one of our worship services. Because I had not heard it before, and because I am anal retentive about researching everything, I went home and listened to this song on repeat for about a week. Very quickly I wondered whether this would be a helpful song for incorporation into a worship service. For the record, I love Hillsong United. Most of their stuff is pretty good. Therefore, I expected this song to pass all my tests. Let’s see how it did.
The Bible Test
No discernible Bible verses used in this song’s lyrics, but there are Biblical themes peppered throughout.
- Confessing pride
- a prayer for the syncing up of God’s desire for the Church and our desire to be the Church
- the imagery of casting crowns at God’s feet (Revelation 4:10)
- God being great and mighty and worthy of praise (Psalm 150:1-2)
- The demonstration of praising God by means of shouting (As modeled in Ezra 3:11)
I did find it interesting that the lyrics attribute the name “God of all days” to YHWH. That name of God was foreign to me and so I googled the phrase to see where it originates. The first 10 hits? Hillsong United’s song With Everything. My take on this is that this must be some internal sermon series or theological positioning within the church at Hillsong that has surfaced in their lyrics. I love the idea behind God being a God of all days, so that it is not directly Biblical is not a deal breaker to me.
The Hymnody Test
There is not much teaching going on here. This song (as do much of Hillsong’s songs) assume a knowledgable audience and therefore tends to reinforce an assumed belief system. It does not bolster a theological foundation with some new teaching towards the goal of worship.
There is a God-honoring purpose in that the lyrics invite us to ascribe to the God of all days the glory and honor and name above all names of Jesus.
The overt trajectory of this song is to shout praise to God. And by that, I mean to literally shout for about 5 minutes. To God. With an unintelligible groan (Romans 8:26). Here lies one of my bigger problems with this song. While I like the lyrics, the goal of the song seems to be to get people to shout. My skepticism goes off at this point.
The Internal Consistency Test
This is a song of confession and admission. Therefore, the goal is to put some lyrics on a screen that people will identify with and confess back to God through praise. While I could want more from a song of confession than bursts of statements and phrases, I don’t fault Hillsong United in this way. I am concerned about all the shouting, which seems to distract from the confession. Maybe the writers wanted the singers to shout in an uninhibited manner as a way to overcome their own social misgivings and worshipping outloud in a large worship space. But that seems like a theological and pastoral stretch to me, since articulating real and meaningful lyrics would do the trick in a more ordered and measured manner.
The Hook Test
What hooked me about this song? To be honest, it was the shouting. It was anthem-like. It reminded me of a Coldplay concert where people were humming along to the When I Ruled The World anthem. And my skepticism alarm went off here noting the similarity in artistic medium and tone (and the tendency for Christian artists to copy pop-rock artists). Given that the shouting is as long or longer than the actual singing of the lyrics, it seems that shouting is equally as important to the song’s viability as the lyrics. This is a red flag for me for corporate worship since you cannot sustain shouting for prolonged periods as a regular part of orderly worship. At some point, it will feel contrived and phony.
The Dave Matthews Band Test
Fail. I tried to play this song on the ukulele and it did not have the same effect. This is true for many, but not all, Hillsong United songs. They are arranged with a full rock band and orchestra in mind.
On the surface, this test may appear out of place, but it is vitally important, especially for any pastor of 40s and younger. Repeat with me: DAVE MATTHEWS, JOHN MAYER, JACK JOHNSON, and CHRIS TOMLIN. It is not a coincidence that all of those artists found huge success at the same time. Do you know what is common among all three artists? They got their starts playing coffee shops/bars with just their bodies and their guitars. Thus, all of their music begins with a song and a voice and a instrument.
Our generation (Late Gen-Xers and Millennials) begin with a preference of singer + instrument. We view orchestras and convoluted bands as phony and disingenuous because they can cover up the integrity of an artist’s voice and instrument. So why do we like Coldplay, who are the kings of big and bright and full? Because Coldplay’s songs, at heart, are a guy and a guitar…or a guy and a piano.
What this means in church music is that if you can play a worship song with one singer and an instrument, then we would be okay with you playing it with an orchestra. If the song can only be executed with a full orchestra, then we will reject the song in worship. Cynical? Perhaps. But it is a real factor.
The Recognition Test
I also give this song low marks in the recognition test. The shouting is the most recognizable part of the song. But listen back to the actual lyrics. They are in a ambitious meter. Even after listening to the song 4-5 times, I had a difficult time singing along with the song. I think it would ultimately be a complicated addition to a worship service.
For all the reasons above, I would not advise incorporating this song into your worship service mix. The lyrics are a good model of confession. But they are arranged in such an odd meter that I sense that many congregations would get lost in the singing. Plus, the shouting seems to be the trajectory of this song…and I find the Biblical grounds for shouting for 5 minutes to be weakly connected at best. Furthermore, I think the song would fail the genuine/DMB test, preventing it from becoming a staple of a 40-and-under church crowd.