Modern Worship Turns 10
Hard to believe that it's already been a decade since modern worship began to revolutionize the way the church used music to glorify God (not to mention transforming the way the Christian music industry approached publishing). Modern worship doesn't have an official anniversary—songs like "Shout to the Lord" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" were already staples in the church, and labels like Vineyard, Maranatha, and Integrity had been trying to introduce modern worship for years. But several best-selling milestones all happened to release around the same time, paving the way for a phenomenon that still continues ten years later. Below are 10 albums (presented in approximate chronological order) that remain essential to any modern worship library.
Cutting Edge (Curious?/Sparrow)
For those already familiar with the band in the UK, this was merely a two-disc collection of the previously released worship EPs. But for those in America, Cutting Edge was the first introduction to Delirious, a U2-styled precursor of modern worship with an already sizable repertoire of enduring classics including "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble," "Lord You Have My Heart," and "Shout to the North." The quality of the material would eventually pale next to the group's subsequent artistic moves, but something about the rawness, intimacy, and simplicity of the performances shaped the way State-side worshippers viewed their own approach to praise music. Cutting Edge challenged them to not only sing to the Lord a new song, but to also write rallying cries for the church and a generation ready to lift up the name of Jesus with a voice of its own.
The lone studio release from the original members of Sonicflood took worshippers across the nation by storm. Never had a rock band taken tried-and-true praise choruses and turned them into thundering anthems with more bite and boom than the originals. The Jeff Deyo-fronted foursome delivered terrific reinterpretations of songs parishioners had heard before, like Andy Park's "I Want to Know You (In the Secret)," Scott Underwood's "Holiness," and even Bill Gaither's "There's Something About That Name," but made them all their own thanks to an aggressive alternative style that's rare in even the most skilled worship cover band. Sonicflood's own original material was quite moving, too: "My Refuge" is likely the most rocking modern worship anthem in the history of the genre.
The mother of all worship compilation discs, Exodus was groundbreaking for the way it brought alternative and pop sensibilities together with worshipful sentiments under one roof for an artful batch of songs featuring one of the most atypical "special event" lineups in Christian music. On one end, the hottest bands in Christian rock at the time: dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, and Third Day. On the other end, beloved pop singers like Crystal Lewis, Cindy Morgan, Chris Rice, and Michael W. Smith. It's an oddly appealing synergy, helped all the more by Smith's discreet production—at once organic and synth-based, depending on who's doing the singing. In time, Exodus would go on to pave the way for scores of similar multi-artist projects that followed, including City on a Hill, Next Door Savior, The Message: Psalms, and Glory Revealed, among numerous others.
The Heart of Worship (Worship Together)
The second major worship leader to emerge from worship music's British invasion was Matt Redman, the worship veteran behind the poignant "The Heart of Worship." Redman wrote the song for his own church, but in a way it became a prophetic apology for what modern worship would become after the turn of the millennium, where focus on showmanship would become more prevalent than the condition of the heart—the real measure of one's true worship. Aside from the title track and "Let Everything That Has Breath," not many of the songs on The Heart of Worship became standards for the average congregation. But it was the album that truly captured the attention of a new generation of worshippers with a song that became the rallying cry for a new movement, while setting the stage for other singer/songwriters to transform their own quiet-time meditations into heartfelt songs of praise.