THE HYMNS MOVEMENT IS ALIVE AND WELL
In attending the Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship my goals were evenly divided between two objectives: (1) to gain wisdom from the conference’s plenary and breakout sessions; (2) to network with many like-minded worship leaders who approach worship from much of the same line of thinking that I do. On both fronts, mission accomplished.
I have to admit that I didn’t see a large representation of young, “cutting edge” worship leaders at the symposium. It seemed to me (this is my perception…it may not be reality) that the majority of the participants, though ecumenical in spread, were largely of the 40s and 50s age range, who were part of churches probably characterized by traditional/liturgical and blended worship (I understand that all labels come with faults). Cutting edgers think that that edge is at places like the National Worship Leader Conference or some other conference hosted and funded by the major Christian labels and magazines. I respectfully disagree.
At the symposium, there was a small pocket of a new generation of worship leaders spreading across evangelicalism: PCA, Southern Baptist, Methodist/Wesleyan, Lutheran, Reformed Baptist, Non-denominational, Christian Reformed, and the Acts 29 network. I met Wes Crawford from Redeemer Kansas City, and Chuck Steddom and Marc Heinrich from Bethlehem Baptist (Minneapolis). I reconnected with the Sojourn folks from Louisville: Mike Cosper, Jamie Barnes, Brooks Ritter, Bobby Gilles, Rebecca Dennison. I was given nerdy Grand Rapids bookstore tours from one of my heroes, Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace (Nashville). I had meaningful conversations with Keith and Kristyn Getty. And I met Calvin associates Greg Scheer and Matthew Westerholm (who actually works with students at neighboring Cornerstone University).
In my mind, as I survey this smorgasbord of great worship leaders, one thing is clear: the hymns movement is alive and well. Even more, the hymns movement is growing in appeal and influence in the next generation of evangelicals.
Aside from making albums of my own to contribute to the movement, the broader visionary goal that God has laid on my heart is to see that this grass roots endeavor become a force of change and influence in mainstream evangelical worship. I believe that this is going to happen when, in addition to producing our own music, we hymns movement folks band together for the greater good. We need more networking, more interaction, more resource-sharing, and more cross-promotion. We’re all barking about the same thing—more substance, more historicity, more theology, more ecclesiological connectivity, more diversity, more depth. The issue is that we’re all barking from different corners. We need to move to the center of the room and to start having some meaningful conversations with the mainstream evangelicals whose middle-room chant (mostly sounding to the tunes of CCLI’s top 40) is so loud that they’ve yet to hear us. I saw glimmers of that future day at this conference. These people are articulate, winsome, intelligent, gospel-centered, talented, and musical. They are what modern worship needs in the next generation.
It’s obvious that Kevin Twit and Indelible Grace plan on continuing what they’re doing, resources and funds permitting. The artists that contribute to those albums are only growing in influence and notoriety. Sojourn is cooking up the second installment of their Isaac Watts hymns project, this time with a more Americana flavor, headed up by Mike Cosper. Red Mountain is working on another album right now. Bruce Benedict continues to plug away at a Psalms of Ascents project. Sandra McCracken is in the middle of a hymns project. Jeremy Casella and a few others are diving into the Olney hymns (e.g. Newton, Cowper) for textual fodder. Sovereign Grace is prepping for albums gazillion-three, -four, and –five this year. I’ve been writing and preparing for our second album…we’ll hit the studio, Lord-willing, in early 2011.
The movement is astir and busy…and the fields are ripening unto harvest. Rock.