Recommended Songwriters and Hymns from the Twenty-First Century

I have often talked about the issues of church music; in fact, some may think it is the only thing I can talk about!  The debate in the church should never be old versus new, contemporary against tradition, but rather about what honours the Lord.  Thus, although we like traditional hymns, we also are really blessed by contemporary hymns.  Today, Ryan and I aim to list some modern songwriters whom we believe are truly God-honouring.

Firstly, we must acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list and that there are plenty of writers out there that we have not come across who also present some amazing truths.  This list contains some God-honouring and contemporary examples.

Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Stuart Townend

You may recognise these writers for their famous hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ or ‘Power of the Cross’.  They are all talented musicians and writers that have given the church several fantastic new songs and hymns for us to sing in our congregations.  For the Getty’s in particular, congregational worship has been on their hearts for years and has culminated in the annual Sing conference, where they encourage new hymns to be written.  Combining Irish folk with worship they provide a strong emphasis on artistry which provides a great example of how we can use our gifts to glorify God.

So, below, I have put three of their most recent hymns that could be played, but please do note that they have produced such a great number of hymns it has been hard to narrow it down!  Please do look at their stuff in more detail:

I Will Wait for you (Psalm 130)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eJUqY_6tqo

It is so important for us as the Church to sing the Psalms and this hymn does just that.  The words are incredible and remind us to call to the Lord in our troubles, to rely on the word and to give him the praise.

Christ our Hope in Life and Death

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OibIi1rz7mw

This is their most recent hymn at the time of  writing.  Written by a number of people, the hymn outlines what (or who) should be the basis of our Hope.  It breaks it down and gives us a clear answer: Christ is!  It is a fantastic hymn that reminds us that we need not fear Death, as we will be with Him forevermore!

Come People of the Risen King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rxn8cT4BrPg

This is a call to worship, a great one to start Sunday worship with.  It tells us to lift our eyes to Him, to Rejoice as one people.  It is a simple tune to learn and we would thoroughly recommend it.

Townend is another gifted writer and musician who has written alongside the Getty’s on a number of hymns, such as In Christ Alone, By Faith and so forth.  His own work includes many favourites such as How Deep the Fathers Love and The Lord’s my Shepherd.  But he has also written his own hymns…

How good it is to sing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8bn2sM97A8

Townend’s most recent albums have generally been more personal stories, but examples like ‘How good it is to sing’ show us that he still writes for the congregation and with power bridging individual reflection with congregational praise.  This song is based on Psalm 147 and reminds us to extol the Lord.

Andrew Peterson

Perhaps one of the lesser known modern songwriters is Andrew Peterson.  His work tended to focus on biblical stories such as the Passover Feast, but he recently wrote an amazing hymn called ‘Is He Worthy?’

Is He Worthy?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMWrAqMWhWs

This hymn is based on the book of Revelation and reminds us that Christ is worthy to be slain for our sins.  That He is worthy is take our sins upon Himself and die for us and to ransom us to Himself.  It is an incredible hymn that requires the congregation to really get involved!  He is certainly one to look out for in the future.

Matt Redman et al

Redman is an interesting case for me to write about.  His most recent work had an admirable aim, to get Jesus back into our songs.  But some of the writers he chose to write with left me very disappointed.  Nonetheless, some of his older works are certainly worth singing in your church.

10,000 reasons (Bless the Lord oh My Soul)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E

Probably one of the best hymns written in the twenty-first century, the hymn really is powerful, with the last verse based on the last hymn Charles Wesley ever wrote.  I think it is such a treasure and should certainly be considered for your church’s set list.

Blessed be Your Name

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnWKehsOXu8

Another great song by Redman that includes the line, ‘You Give and take Away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name’.  A powerful song for those in difficult situations.

Abide with me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=476_PgSf2jQ

This song is based off an old hymn and is well written and extremely powerful.  We certainly recommend listening to it, even if you do not want to in church.

Redman has written many other great songs like ‘You Alone Can Rescue’ and ‘Never Once’.  All are worth a listen.

There are other writers with a similar style to Redman, such as Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham who could be used in church.  Tomlin’s ‘Amazing Grace’ and Wickham’s ‘This is Amazing Grace’ are two very popular song.  Wickham has certainly written a good song in ‘Living Hope’ which you could check out for your Sunday services.

City Alight

City Alight is the music ministry of St Paul’s Church, an Anglican Church based at Castle Hill in Sydney, Australia. Their aim is simple: to provide biblically rich lyrics and simple melodies. Made up of fifteen songwriters from St Paul’s, they have been recording since 2014.

Only a Holy God

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HSdeeCm8_g

From the title track of their 2016 album Only a Holy God, this song has simple yet powerful lyrics with great encouragement for the heart and helps us glorify and direct our praises to Him. A clear indicator that simplicity does not have to come at the expense of biblical truth.

Yet not I but through Christ in me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwc2d1Xt8gM

The title track of their 2018 EP Yet not I but through Christ in Me indicates how our hearts and minds should be focused on Jesus Christ and in turn displays the centrality of the Cross in our walk-in faith.

Sovereign Grace

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Sovereign Grace Music have been releasing contemporary worship music since the 1980s, directed by worship leader Bob Kauflin, who is aided by a number of songwriters and pastors from Sovereign Grace Church. Hailing from a church of neo-charismatic and evangelical orientation, Sovereign Grace continue to produce songs that are both animated yet grounded in biblical doctrine. Their music is a staple in many reformed and evangelical churches worldwide. Sovereign Grace offer a wide range of powerful hymns which not only impart key doctrinal understanding but also provide words of encouragement for congregants. However these two recent stand outs I would highly recommend.

O Lord My Rock and My Redeemer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpELMk4-3n8

Firstly ‘O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer’ from their live album Prayers of the Saints (2017).  This particular hymn focuses on justification and forgiveness, resurrection, the triumph of Christ, assurance, confessions, dependence on God, desire for Christ/God, love for God/Christ, suffering/grief and victory in Christ.

How Vast the Love

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgjFgP1ZOvo

Secondly is ‘How Vast the Love’ from their most recent album Glorious Christ (2020). The song focuses on the themes of the love and mercy of God, atonement, justification, forgiveness and reconciliation, assurance, hope and perseverance.

All Creatures of our God and King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUZD0hgtSgE

Sovereign Grace also offer a range of contemporary renditions of tradition hymns. One such example being ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’, featured in the aforementioned Prayers of the Saints.

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

Another contemporary writer is Texan worship pastor and singer-songwriter Matt Boswell. He founded corporate worship ministry called Doxology and Theology and has a particular interest in writing modern hymns. Boswell frequently continues to collaborate with North Carolinian singer Matt Papa. Why are they all called Matt?! Both have written a number of hymns including ‘Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery’ and ‘Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor’ which feature on the recent compilation His Mercy is More: The Hymns of Matt Boswell and Matt Papa (2019).

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-xQDm-KZw8

Themes in “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery,” include justification, God’s providence/sovereignty and the centrality of the Cross.

Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9aZaOBy8Y8

‘Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor’ focuses on the theme of perseverance and sanctification in which we come to see God’s eternal glory.  These hymns are not only biblically and doctrinally rich but also offer simple folk-like melodies which are easily accessible and can be used in a range of different settings.

Honourable mentions

God the Uncreated One

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rswH9CSyWHk

Jesus is Mine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeUII5l0gTI

Praise to the Lord (Joyful, Joyful) by Shane and Shane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRdB93JaHLo

Do look out for old hymns redone!

Conclusion

We have, in this article, provided examples of a wide range of worship music stretching from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.  We hope this range of hymns and songs can help you grow in your knowledge and love of the Lord.

We both love our traditional hymns, but the church does need to keep equipping itself with new songs as the Psalms command us (Psalm 34 and 40 are just two examples); we have provided an extensive but not exhaustive list of good, God-honouring music which we pray will bless the Church for years to come.

A Reformation In How We Sing!

As you may be aware, congregational worship is something that has really impacted me over the last few years. I have written many articles on the subject, and it’s a topic that really needs attention. I recently read the Getty’s ‘Sing’ book (now also a conference which I highly recommend looking at) which described how we need a reformation in how we sing. That hit me hard…a ‘reformation in how we sing’…have we been doing it that wrong for so long? And as I looked around me, and over a few conversations, I realised we had. Some of us have gone to the contemporary, pop version of church singing  promoting songs which have no meaning in the words, but instead catchy tunes and bands/singers. Some of us have gone reclusive, only singing the hymns of our forefathers and not really engaging with anything that is new – even regarding instruments such as drums and guitars as ‘evil’ and have this weird fixation with the organ and that’s it.

The Church needs a reformation in how we sing. It’s plain and simple, we need to wake up and change. In this article I am going to go through some points on how we change our attitude towards music.

  1. There is a problem and we must acknowledge it. I have a feeling that we are blindly just continuing to do what we do, missing out on the true point of music worship and do not realise that we are missing out on blessing and growth.   We go to church, listen to our favourite songs that we hear on the radio or that we sing every week time and time again, and forget to fall in love with the words all over again. There is a problem: is our worship reverent? Is our worship helpful? Is our worship theological? Does our worship cover different emotions? Etc…These are just some questions we must ask ourselves and our church. Music is so important and I think many of us have got it wrong.
  2. The church has been severely affected by the worship wars that have happened inside her walls. The church has separated into ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ churches; in fact, the biggest divide today is most likely to be found in our style! The thing is, congregational worship isn’t about new or old songs/hymns. It’s about those which are God-honouring, thought-provoking, and those which spur us on to praise even in the storms. What does the Bible say on this? Sing to each other, to encourage one another, to help one another, to learn about God. To ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ to one another. I’m not sure the church fully understands what this is about. Does the music you sing, engage your mind and heart? Does it help the person next to you, or does it just help you emotionally, singing simple things to cheer you up? As I said it’s not about new vs old, it’s not about drums or piano only, it’s about the words we sing.
  3. The church has to figure out the difference between congregational music and ‘home’ music. There’s nothing wrong in liking ‘Good Good Father’, but is it a song to be sung by a congregation? It’s one where we can praise on our own and listen to for sure, but do we learn much from it, or do we help others by singing it? Whilst ‘Bless the Lord oh my Soul’ is one which certainly helps us in a congregation.
  4. We must know the difference in just good music and bad music, and be discerning in our choice.  To be honest, many songs are also just dire – old and new – you listen to them and either the tune is just awful, or the words are just so fluffy that anyone could have written them.
  5. Church is not solely for the young! I never get the point of making music ‘contemporary’ for the sake of its audience. We shouldn’t ever market a church for a particular age group or culture; instead it’s for all, for the old and young. Let us remember to respect and follow our elders, insofar as they follow Christ. I’m not saying young people and young peoples’ ideas are stupid! I wrote an article on the fact that they should have a voice, but they should be very careful how they seek to influence the church.
  6. The church’s music worship should only be as high as the pulpit. We must note the link between music and what is taught. If the church is not taught the word, with a desire for rich theology and doctrine, then its singing will not have depth. Therefore, ministers and those leading worship (bands, worship leaders) have a great responsibility in feeding their congregations the word. Weak/superficial theology will produce weak/superficial worship.
  7. We need more hymn writers in the present! Charles Wesley’s hymns, set to popular tunes of the time, revolutionised Christian singing and hymnody. Look at why he wrote them – to teach, to praise – and when you see his adoration, its breathtaking! We need that today, more hymn writers, using contemporary tunes to convey praise, doctrine and love all in one piece of music.
  8. We need to re-engage with the Pslams.  These were the songs that Christ sang!  The Bible has its own hymn book!  Whether its reading it more in our services or singing hymns based off them, it is something we need to re-engage with, as the Pslams offer so much to the Christian!
  9. We need creativity. We need to have creativity in praise, in worship, in our styles of music. Whether it is hip-hop, rock, metal, folk, orchestral, let us use it all to praise God and worship. People may say, well that happens already, and yes it does to a point, but it has to be gospel-focused and it needs to be theologically-driven to be powerful.
  10. We need to sing in our families. I remember reading the Getty’s book ‘Sing’, where they stated that the Puritans would withdraw communion from the man, if he failed to lead his family in singing at home. Strong, and probably a tad over the top (as the Puritans often were!) but it shows us how important singing was. We should sing at home, with our children, so as they get older, they have strong hymns of faith that will stay with them their entire life.
  11. Finally, we need it to come from the local church. We need to encourage men and women in our churches to write music, to write worship that impacts the local church and people. Worship today is so commercialised, let us just scale it back slightly to the local church. In saying that, there is nothing wrong is popular Christian music! I love the Getty’s and Stuart Townend, they are amazing, but what I mean to say is that we should also encourage the local church to write!

 

I am sure many of you reading this know the hymns of old. If you don’t then look them up, start with the Psalms, check out Isaac Watts, who wrote mainly from them. Check out Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon. There are so many greats that we should learn from.

I am sure many of you reading this know the new hymns. If you don’t then do check out Kristyn and Keith Getty, Stuart Townend, Matt Boswell and Matt Redman. There are many others, but they are fantastic and should be sung in our churches in the present.

So, here are just a few points. I doubt I do it justice, but there are issues and we need to address them.   If we do, then we as a church will be blessed. The whole point is to bring a stronger theological focus in our worship that covers different themes and emotions and styles. It’s not a debate about instruments or style, but about our focus. A good starting point is the hymns of old, and many churches need to go back to them, whilst for them, discovering the new hymns of the age is also a MUST. Let us see a reformation, let us see this change, for the blessing, for the glory of our Lord and for the praise of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Music As A Form Of Worship

The phrase ‘Let us start worship’ or ‘Let us begin worship’ is one that never sits easy with me. The term ‘Worship Leader’ for me doesn’t seem to be a biblical principal. In this post, I am to pick apart these terms and phrases and suggest what I believe we should be actually doing instead.

Is Worship something we turn on?

I do hope that no church flicks a switch and suddenly they are in ‘worship’ mode, I would be extremely concerned if it did! In my interpretation, worship is something that we are, we are made to worship. It is also not just solely music and singing, as we can sometimes think; in fact music is just a small part of what worship is all about.

So can we just turn it on with a flick of a switch? No! We don’t start worship, and we don’t just begin in worship, we should be worshipping God in all our thoughts and deeds, in our actions and in our words.

There is no start, and there is no end. To be frank, no one can lead you in worship. No man can lead you in worship to God, only the Spirit can give you the words to say, give you desire to praise such an awesome God we serve. You don’t just go to church where someone there helps your heart focus on God, that’s all through the Spirit, through your own heart and through you as an individual before the Lord. We worship collectively as individuals.

Music isn’t all worship

Let’s be straight here as well. Music is only a tiny fraction of what worship actually is. The Bible says:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Worship is everything we do, it is a way we can communicate with God, it is a way we can give Him praises, and it is a way in which we can actually remember truths and passages from the Bible. If you look at hymns for example, their purpose is often to help people remember key truths about the Bible and about God. Are we losing that today?

Nonetheless, music isn’t worship. Music is a tool God has given us, to help us and to give it back to Him. Martin Luther said, ‘Next to the word of God the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ However, I think, we, the church, can get too focused on just one facet of what worship is. We will rehearse, practice and make a fantastic performance on stage, but what is our prayer life like? Do we spend time with God? Do we read our Bibles? Do we show a Christian life by our actions always? Sometimes we focus on one facet that we forget all the others which are just as, if not even more, important. We may get excited over a song, but we have to ask the question — do we get excited because we love the tune, love the music, but not what worship is all about?

I’m not against ‘Worship Leaders’ but..

I understand the need for someone to help keep everyone in tune, in focus and in musical cohesion, but let’s be straight here, no person actually leads worship. If anything the Spirit helps us in our singing praise, but again no person should be in a position like this, it is though as if it was just a title given to someone to sound spiritual.

Again, I am not against someone at the front helping the congregation sing and what not, but it’s the term that I have problems with, can it not be just an ego situation?

So is Music bad?

Certainly not! Music is a great gift! (Psalm 71:23; 105:2; 150: 1-5, Colossians 3:16; Revelation 14: 3-4) and one we should cherish and love to do, it allows us to be creative and it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us. Nonetheless, we must remember that it is all about Him, the mighty God, the One we are told to hold in reverent fear as well as love and adore. When we sing to our Father we do need to be serious and mean what we say. If we sing ‘I surrender all’, for example, then we should surrender all to Jesus, rather than merely singing for the sake of it (or because it’s catchy and modern) then going home and forgetting all about it. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were hypocrites and, to be frank, we can be very hypocritical in our music.

Music shouldn’t also be about using the latest snazziest catchphrases. For example, in recent times ‘oceans’, ‘waves’ and ‘storms’ having been doing the rounds. Before that it was ‘dry bones’ and I can keep going on. When we write music as worship, it should all be from the heart, about what God is telling us, and what we have been through, not what is trendy. Let’s be frank, modern songs/hymns have produced some amazing and great songs that really come from the heart, but there are also a number which just sound like they have been regurgitated time and time again, the same phrases, the same things being said. When we describe God, surely there are more ways of saying ‘You are awesome’ or ‘You are great.’ Don’t get me wrong, these are amazing truths, but sometimes it feels to me that less time has been put into the lyrics and more time into the production quality. Lyrics are important! Sometimes I can’t resist rewriting certain songs for my own personal use, and I’ll probably go on a massive rewriting spree now with many others because sometimes the tune is great but the words are so weak.

When we worship, via music, via songs, we must ensure it comes from the heart and that we mean it. We must also be prepared to learn, to be prepared to be challenged. We must acknowledge all aspects of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Now I love music, I love music in churches, but I just wanted to write this. I think sometimes we get the wrong concept of what worship is. We don’t start or begin worship, when we sing we actually join in with the choruses in heaven, but our whole life is worship, of one form or another. Live a life that worships God, love Him with all your strength and yes praise Him in music, but always remember Who you are worshipping.