Twenty five years ago, we were the songwriters for a new worship movement in the UK.
Every movement has a musical soundtrack and gives birth to songs. Those referred to in
Martin Saunders' 2014 article in Christian Today were forged in the theological framework of that period.
The charismatic/evangelical churches were at the cutting edge of worship in those days.
Most of the songwriters were involved in these newer churches, or at least, being influenced by them.
Worship had been taken to the streets with March for Jesus (MFJ). In 1988, 60,000 people
gathered for the second MFJ event in London. By 1994 – MFJ was a global movement
with simultaneous events held around the world on a single day. On that occasion 80,000
gathered in Hyde Park, London. I remember standing on the stage and thinking that we
could easily fill Wembley Stadium with worship. Already, worship/prayer events were filling
national arenas in the UK on a regular basis.
So it was not surprising that our songs were anthemic and contained lyrics of glorious
optimism. We believed that worship and prayer events would help pierce the darkness
over our towns and cities. Spiritual warfare and victory was a recurring theme of our
conferences and events.
When we organised the event at Wembley Stadium in 1997, our goal was to proclaim
Jesus Christ as the true champion of the world, in the place where the 'gods of sport and
music' had been worshipped. Very triumphalistic!
The 1990s saw a generation of pioneering hymn-writers such as Chris Bowater, Graham
Kendrick, Dave Fellingham, Dave Bilbrough, Martin Smith and many others.
Their ceiling became the floor for this current generation of writers - Tim Hughes, Matt
Redman, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, to name just a handful, whose music has gone global in a
way that far exceeds what the class of the 1990s achieved.
The songs today, reflect what we think God is doing in this generation. As if we really know.......!!!
The church and the world of 2014 is very different to that of the 90s. Inspirational songs
that raised the roof, spoke of our victory in spiritual warfare and reaffirmed our identity in
Christ, were extremely necessary then. That need remains, but there is a greater need in
these days for the church to find a place of engagement within our society, for bridges to
be built into our communities, for our faith to be lived out in a different way to that of
My own thinking has shifted over these years. Whereas in the 90s I would have been
comfortable with the phrase “we are going to take the nation for Jesus”, I would not use
that language today. Why? How would we feel if a group of people were marching through
the streets of the UK singing about taking the nation for Allah? We would be extremely
unhappy to hear that proclamation. Most of us do not want to live in a Theocracy of any shape or form.
Equally, how do people of other faiths and no faith feel, when they hear our militant
declarations of Christian dominion. We have to view our evangelical language through the
eyes of those we are trying to reach. An example - we no longer use the word 'crusade' for
outreach events, for obvious reasons. What was acceptable in previous generations will
not serve us well today.
This present generation of songwriters have not lost the sense of victory. That is still
present in the newer songs. For example – Matt Redman's “Our God” says:
Our God is greater, our God is stronger,
God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power,
Our God! Our God!
However, we songwriters realised several years ago that our modern hymnology was
very two dimensional – songs of praise/celebration followed by songs of intimacy.
Where, for example, were the songs that opened our hearts to the needs of the poor
or tackled the subjects of injustice and consumerism? If the role of our hymns is to
bring teaching to the church – we are what we sing – then we need songs that
address the real issues that our society and the Church is facing now. The world of
2016 is very different to the world of 1994 and our hymns and songs must reflect
that. Otherwise, we will be living in the safety of our Christian ghettos and not
engaging with our communities. Worship that is nostalgic rather than prophetic.
Yes, we had some great songs in the 1990s and we will occasionally take them out,
dust them down and give them an airing. But we also need to keep moving on. There
are great songs being written now and even better ones yet to come.
But let's not limit our vision to simply filling churches with new and better songs,
creating an alternative, cosy world to the one we live in. That makes us narcissistic.
Worship, without mission is self-indulgent.
There is a whole world out there for us to engage with and music is a wonderful way
of conveying eternal values. Music is the art of the prophets and connects with people at a spiritual level.
The other day, I watched the video of Robbie Williams singing “Angels” at Knebworth
Park in 2003. Over a three-day period, he drew crowds of over 375,000, and a further 3.5
million who watched live on television and online. This was reputedly the biggest UK pop
concert ever. It gave me goose bumps to hear the crowd singing along. It was a worship
event (although Robbie is not God) and touched peoples' spirits.
So I finish by raising a couple of questions:
Could we see an even greater number of songwriters and artistes who are Christians,
choosing to focus their career within the mainstream music business, writing and
performing songs that are rooted in the moral values of God's Kingdom?
Will we see them filling bars, clubs, theatres, arenas and stadiums with music that
transports people into a place where they can hear the sound of Heaven