What on earth are we singing? Pt. 2


Music background


By Daniel Thornton

If you haven’t read my inaugural article, you’ll find it helpful before you sink your teeth into this one.  Here’s the link.  I would love to dive into the summary of my corpus analysis of contemporary congregational songs (CCS) with you; it’s fascinating and revealing of the songs we popularly sing in church.  However, some more groundwork should be laid first.

The CCLI most reported songs (especially in the Asia/Pacific region) are largely produced by Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, but largely analysed by non-Pentecostal/Charismatic scholars.  Not that this should discount their contribution in any way, but rather reveals the lens through which these songs are analysed; predominantly as either a modern development of hymns or an infiltration of secular popular music.  Attention, then, is often spent around ‘should’ questions, rather than the ‘is/are’ questions.

Should this music be used in church? Should these simple, romantic lyrics be acceptable as worship?

instead of

What is happening in this music? How is it communicating both to the worshiper, and from the worshiper to God? How do these songs represent a culturally meaningful expression of faith? 

As a Pentecostal scholar, with a professional classical and popular music background, I find the ‘is/are’ questions far more engaging.  Thus, the musical content, production values, performance contexts, lyrics, their theology and writing styles were all analyzed.  One of the biggest challenges was trying to find a generally accepted analytical approach for CCS lyrics.

Various authors have categorized songs as: ‘Praise & Worship’ (a most unfortunate bifurcation); kerygma, koinonia,and leitourgia; through Trinitarian address and usage of verbs; or into myriad types based on the key message of each song.

It’s time for a definitive, but flexible and simple way to categorize CCS lyrics, and I believe the following four categories do exactly that.  Every CCS I can think of over the last 30 years fits into one (or two) of these categories:

  • Praise/Thanksgiving – to or about God (any/some/all of the Godhead), His character and/or His acts; acknowledgement, testimonial, invitational
  • Worship – directly addressed to God (any/some/all of the Godhead); defined by intimacy, surrender, relationship, dedication
  • Prophetic/Statement – directed to the singer, the congregation, the unsaved or the wider community; addressing truth, reality (present or future), declarative, testimonial
  • Petition – request directed to God (any/some/all of the Godhead); the request may take any form, but are often personal, corporate, evangelical or eschatological

So, out of the representative 25 songs analyzed, where did most of them fit? Eleven were primarily Praise/Thanksgiving, three having it as their secondary focus.  Seven songs were primarily Prophetic/Statement, four having it as their secondary focus.  Five songs had a primary focus of Worship and only two songs were primarily Petition.

As informing and useful as this categorization of CCS is, I did also analyze song lyrics in many of the ways other authors have:  I documented the Trinitarian addresses; I noted all personal pronoun usage; I also created an equation to show whether the song had more of a focus on God or more of a focus on the worshiper (which is a common discussion regarding CCS).

I counted every reference to God, whether a name of the Godhead or the divine pronouns ‘You, Your, Yours’.  Similarly, I documented all references to the singer/worshiper, both singular ‘I, me, my’ and plural ‘we, us, our’.  I then made them into a mathematical fraction of ‘singer references – S’ over the number of ‘God references – G’ (S/G).  Clearly, a fraction that is greater than 1 means there is a greater focus on the singer than on God.  A fraction of less than 1 means there was a greater focus on God than on the singer.  What do you think was the result?

Well perhaps contrary to popular myths about CCS, only 4 of the 25 songs had more references to the worshiper than the object of worship (Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone, Desert Song, Hosanna, and Oceans – Where Feet May Fail).

While one CCS had an equal number of references to each party, 20 had more references to God than they did to the worshiper.  Granted, the lowest fraction (song most about God) was still 7/44 (Jesus At The Center).  Some may suggest that’s still too much of a focus on us.  Some may also argue that I’m already looking at the best of CCS and therefore skewing the results to those songs that are vetted by many denominations and worship leaders.  Wouldn’t they predominantly choose songs that give God more focus than the worshiper?  Probably.  I agree.  So there may indeed be many CCS out there that are more ‘me-centred’ than those in the representative list.  But what a great encouragement!  Clearly churches are choosing songs with the right balance of focus for worship!

So much more to come… but for now, let the discussions begin!


Pastor Daniel Thornton is an accomplished songwriter, musician, worship leader and communicator. He is the Head of Department, Music and Creative Arts for Alphacrucis College, Sydney, Australia and regularly travels to minister and train all over the globe. He is the world’s leading expert on the contemporary congregational song. Visit, danielthornton.org.

Why I lead Children’s Worship


By Tanner Delano

I never imagined that I would be a children’s worship leader for this long (almost 3 years). I mean, I always knew that I would start leading children’s worship and that it would be a great learning experience for something greater. Throughout the process I’ve come to understand that this is more than just a learning experience. I’ve realized that maybe the “greater” life that I’ve always dreamed of is actually what I’m living right now. I remember the first service I ever led for children’s ministry. I sang off key the entire time, and honestly didn’t even know what it meant to sing “on key.” But that’s the beauty of children’s worship, because the kids will worship God despite how awful anything sounds. I was just a 16-year-old high school student whenever they asked me to lead worship in children’s church for one Sunday. I am now one month away from being 19, a freshman in college, and currently have the honor of running a 20-member children’s worship team that leads six services each Sunday. I don’t say all this to build myself up, but I say this as a testimony of what God has done in and through the children of my community. These children have given me more than Hillsong or Bethel could ever give me. I’ve kept each letter, drawing, and craft that every child has given me throughout my time with them. I knew I would need those when times got difficult.

The statement that I’m about to make is going to sound completely biased, but that is not my intention. I truly believe that one of the most important ministries in a church is children’s worship. Whether you agree with this statement or not, my time in children’s worship has led me to this belief for countless reasons.

1. Purity
For one, I believe that there’s a purity that rests on the worship of children. Worship is important in itself, and the opportunity of mixing worship and children’s ministry is extremely special. If excellence is poured into worship starting at the level of children’s ministry, then imagine how on fire they would be for the presence of God whenever they reach adulthood. It is so vital that the presence of God rests on children so that they may carry it with them the rest of their lives. Even today, I remember the most intimate times I’ve ever had with God was when I was just seven years old. I remember being impacted by Hillsong worship at such a young age. Furthermore, my greatest heroes are not from Hillsong, Bethel, or Jesus Culture. They are not even from the University of Texas football team. No, they are right in front of me every Sunday; a generation of children that boldly and passionately pursue the presence of God. That right there is the true inspiration.

2. Deep Understanding
Throughout my time in children’s worship, I’ve learned that the message of worship does not have to be reduced. All the songs that our team does for worship are all worship songs that are done in adult services. Children understand more than we think. The sound of children’s worship does not have to be reduced to cowbells and hymns, but rather their own sound will emerge from their desire to pursue the presence of Jesus. In the Bible the children pursued Jesus, and they were brushed aside by the older men and women. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” I would encourage any church to pour into their children’s worship teams. To allow children to pursue Jesus with their own passion and sound, just as they did in the Bible. A person being impacted by Jesus as a child will go on to greatly impact the world as an adult.

3. Encouragement
I recently had one of the most difficult weeks of my life. Tuesday after our worship rehearsal, I was speaking with one of the young girls from our team. She’s a second grader, and has one of the most gifted voices that I’ve ever heard. She said, “Tanner, I have a question.” I answered her with a “Yes ma’am?” She then proceeded with her question and said, “When did you know that you were a good singer?” Taken by surprise I responded, “Well, I really don’t think I’m all that great. There’s still so much I need to work on and get better at.” She then sweetly said, “Well, I think you have a good voice.” Tears began to fill my eyes as those words came out of her mouth. My difficult week then didn’t seem so bad.

One of my greatest struggles that I deal with is the way my voice sounds. This young second grader has more talent than I might ever have, and she tells me that I have a good singing voice. So many times we disqualify ourselves because of our abilities. I’m so thankful that God looks at the heart above the talent. When viewed from the eyes of a child, anything is possible. There’s a purity on their lives that allows them to dream and trust God more than any adult could. Jesus was so on point when he said that the kingdom must be embraced with child-like faith. In this young girl’s eyes, I could be anything that I wanted to be. She doesn’t see my inadequacies or my limitations. Rather, she sees everything that I could ever possibly dream of myself becoming. Could it be possible that God also looks at us this way? Of course it is.

Furthermore, I could’ve gone away to college. I could have quit years ago and moved off to a big city, drinking coffee in hipster cafés, and battling the ungodly traffic that comes with that life. Just when I was about to give everything up for a life outside of Killeen, I went back and read the letters that the children wrote for me when they joined the worship team. I saw the pictures they drew, and the crafts they made. I read the words of encouragement that came straight from the pureness of their hearts. As tears filled my eyes, a new love and appreciation filled my heart. Yeah, I decided that my life wasn’t so bad after all.

Is children’s worship easy? Not always. Have I ever wanted to quit? Yes. Is it worth it? Always.

It’s worth it whenever I see children on their knees boldly worshiping their Savior. It’s worth it when I see a generation with tears in their eyes because they’ve had a face-to-face encounter with the presence of God. It’s worth it whenever parents come to me telling me how much I’ve impacted their child’s life. They have no idea that they have impacted me more than I could ever possibly impact them. It’s worth it when I’m in an adult service and I see children from my team on their faces at the altar, when grown men struggle with just lifting their hands. It will be worth it when I’m standing in eternity, and gazing at the full manifestation of what I’m blessed to currently do every week in the lives of these amazing kids. Yes, that will be the day.


Tanner was born and raised in Central Texas. In 2012 at age 17 he released his first EP entitled “Falling”. He continues to lead worship at his home church in Killeen, Texas. Tanner has a deep passion for the presence of God, and has a heart to train, equip, and mentor the next generation.

Website: http://tannerdelano.com
Twitter: @tannerdelano
Facebook: Tanner Delano
Itunes: itunes.com/tannerdelano

Introducing Ellie Holcomb


Ellie Holcomb recently came up our radar as a sincere artist with a unique ability to pour out prayers filled with joy that are still true to the realities of this life. Her earnest songs and warm voice quickly won us over and we had the pleasure of getting to know her a little more. Here is that conversation.

WL: You father is one of the most well-known songwriters and producers in Christian music (Brown Bannister). How has that shaped your understanding of music ministry and your path as a worship leader? …

Ellie Holcomb: I learned from my dad at a very early age that music had this wonderful ability to offer hope and encouragement to the weary soul. He still tears up telling stories he hears from artists about the way songs speak and sing life into people’s hearts. I think that has shaped me more than anything, and the idea that I could be any part of that story makes my heart beat fast.

WL: Also, did Amy Grant ever drop by the house when you were growing up?

EH: Yes! She has been a sweet friend to our family over the years and is a lovely, genuine soul.

WL: Tell us a little about your journey to your current place in life?

EH: Growing up in the music business, I saw that there was great cost to being an artist, so I swore I’d never marry a musician and decided to pursue teaching instead of music in college. I got my Masters in Education and taught English for 2 years, but I happened to fall in love with my best friend, who happened to be a musician. After a year of spending half of our time apart, my husband asked if I would be willing to quit the teaching job that I loved to join him on the road. What we thought would be a year-long diversion, turned into seven and a half years of writing, recording, and touring the country together. 

I kept writing songs that were helping me work through my faith. Most of them are prayers asking God to help me believe that His promises are true. They didn’t fit in with what our band (Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors) does, but Drew really encouraged me to pursue writing them because he loved how they were sounding. 

So I wrote furiously, sitting in God’s word and letting music come out. It was and is such a joy. I found out during this season that we were pregnant and by the end of 9 months, I ended up wit a precious baby girl to hold and 45 songs to sing.

We recorded my second EP and then my first full-length in a year, and while I was very hesitant to move forward with making music apart from our band, it has been so sweet to see God sustain and provide for me, for this music, and for our family.

I got to release my first full-length record thanks to the support of 1,756 backers on Kickstarter, and I could not be more grateful. Praying now that the songs will be light in the darkness for those who hear them.

WL: What other musicians or artists have inspired you in your life and/or continue to inspire you?

EH: I love Amy grant. Always have. Always will. Sara Groves and Jon Foreman have made records that are balm for my soul.

WL: Your recent CD was a Kickstarter project, as more and more worship leaders are starting to get interested in putting together a worship CD for their local communities, what are some things they should be aware of before jumping in? 

EH: It’s scary, but wonderful. It’s a vulnerable thing to ask for help, and to know that if you don’t hit your goal, you will fail publicly, but it’s a beautiful thing to invite your community to be a part of the creative work you’re making! I’m so glad fear didn’t keep me from launching a Kickstarter campaign. It’s been one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced creatively because it develops a group of people to surround you and the work your making. Being an artist can often be lonely, especially when you are creating something, but Kickstarter opens the doors and invited people into the process in a healthy and wonderful way.

WL: Do you have any tips for people who want to try the Kickstarter rout?

EH: I’d start by setting a realistic goal and thinking through the rewards and experiences that your community would enjoy. I think a good video that casts a clear vision is extremely helpful too. The invitation is important.

WL: Along with being an expression, songwriting serves a purpose, what are you hoping your songs accomplish for others?

EH: My deepest prayer is that the songs I write would encourage and refresh the weary heart. I also hope that they will always be honest, and in that place of being very real, might help others feel the freedom to come just as they are to Jesus. 

WL: There seems to be an aware joy in your music, as in joy that is aware of pain in the world. Is this intentional on your part? … 

EH: I love the way you said that. Most of the songs on this record come from a difficult season that I have experienced myself or that I’ve walked through with dear friends. I’ve seen God to be very faithful on one hand, and on the other, I still have a lot of unanswered questions about suffering in the world, but I’m learning that there can be a joy in the midst of unanswered questions because Jesus suffered too, and He is with us, in the heights of our joy and the depths of our sorrow. My counselor calls this grounded joy. Joy grounded in the truth that life is immensely painful at times, and that Jesus enters right into the middle of all of that pain and offers companionship and hope that the pain is not the end of the story.

WL: What words do you have for people who are worshiping even when they are in desert places? 

EH: Run to Jesus. He is a man of sorrows. I’m learning that He’s the best person to know or to run to in the midst of deep suffering because He suffered too. My gut reaction to pain is to run away from God shaking my fist at the heavens, shouting “Why? How long? What’s the point?” But I’m figuring out that maybe He’s big enough to handle those questions, and I can run TO Him when my heart is breaking. And what a comfort to be held by a God with scars as our wounds are in desperate need of healing and our hearts are in desperate need of knowing that we are not alone.

WL: What is the role of music in a church’s local mission, and what do you see the role of music in the larger mission of God in the world today?

EH: Music is a bridge builder. It has a way of working itself into the crevices or our hearts and souls in an unassuming and undeniable way. It seems like music in the church can help open the doors of our hearts, even when they’ve been slammed shut, and that melodies full of truth help point our wandering souls back homeward.

Hopefully, it does the same thing in the larger mission of God in the world, offers truth and beauty that break down barriers and make our souls long for the kind of Love that will complete us, for the kind of hope that will not disappoint us, and for a place that we can truly belong. 

WL: What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the process of releasing your recent record, As Sure as the Sun?

EH: I’ve learned that I desperately need to hang onto what is true and that spending time in God’s word is a game changer. When I get busy managing all of the good opportunities and responsibilities that have come in the wake of releasing this record, and forget to look to Jesus, I’m quick to wither, fear creeps in and begins to own me, but when I keep my eyes on Him and lean into His love, it changes me. It helps me have the courage and peace to face a wonderful, but unknown and extremely busy season in our life.


5 Things Worship Leaders Need To Remember Each Sunday

1-5-things-wls-think about

By Kristen Gilles

If we’re honest, most of us struggle to continuously fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Sometimes our hearts even want what belongs to Jesus. We want our performance to be praised. We want our names to be great. We want to be the great Worship Leader who leads the charge into God’s throne room. We want to take credit for transforming hearts and lives. We assume responsibility for the worshipful response of the church and think that we actually made it possible for others to experience God’s presence.

But our performance is not the point. We are not able to save or transform ourselves or anyone else. And as much as we worship leaders need to be steered away from hoping in our performance and instead pointed to Jesus, reminded that He is our Worship Leader who perfects our worship of the Father, so too the people that we shepherd also need to know that Jesus is the point of all of our worship liturgy, and the one who makes it possible! Jesus is the one we are to adore and long to experience, in whose presence we can expect to be transformed into His likeness.

Consider the following needs of all people as you prepare to serve your congregation and point them to Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you and your team know how to effectively follow through:


1. We need to keep confessing that we cannot save ourselves; only Jesus can save us. Our songs, prayers and encouragements from the stage must help people recognize that God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. We need to see Jesus, our Savior and the only Living God, exalted high above every false god that fights for control of our hearts. We need to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God slain before the world’s foundations, whose finished work has earned salvation for all who believe in His name. Our congregants must leave each service with this understanding, “We cannot save ourselves; only Jesus can.”

2. We may be worship leaders, but we are not THE Worship Leader. We need to acknowledge that Christ is first in everything: He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead (Colossians 1). We need our worship to be perfected by the ongoing work of Jesus, our Worship Leader. We need to be reminded that Christ is our Faithful High Priest, always making intercession for us before our Father. We worship the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit through the perfect work of Jesus. Our worship is a gifted response made possible by the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

3. We need to hear and profess God’s Word together. We need our attention to be directed to the Living Word of God, the Truth that sets us free, the Word sent to heal us, the Word that made everything and holds it all together. Our own words may be composed with eloquence, but only the Word of God stands firm forever and has the power to save and heal and deliver. Let the Word of God saturate our services – not just the sermon but our songs, our prayers, our liturgical readings. 

4. We need to be comforted by the God of All Comfort. We need to experience the God of All Comfort who comforts us in all our troubles and helps us to comfort others. We need to know the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with our grief and bore all our suffering in His own body on the cross. We need to remember that our Good Shepherd is always with us and close beside us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We need to receive his comfort and encouragement.

5. We need to trust Jesus, the Author of Life and the Conqueror of Death. We need to see Jesus, Victorious Conqueror of the Grave! We need to hear Him say to us, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live even after dying. I will raise them up!” We need to behold Jesus, the Firstborn of all who rise from the dead. We need to trust Jesus. Don’t put your ultimate trust in your skill, your eloquence, your stage presence, your team, your equipment. Trust Jesus.


Kristen Gilles is a deacon at Louisville’s Sojourn Community Church. Her new CD Parker’s Mercy Brigade is a story of faith, lament, comfort, healing and worship following the stillbirth of her son. Kristen blogs about worship with her husband, Sojourn’s Bobby Gilles, at mysonginthenight.com.





How to Love Your Critics

motion heart

By Amanda Furbeck

Do you have critics? If you’ve spent any amount of time in ministry, you’ve probably got a few. For those of us who are people-pleasing type worship leaders, managing, or better yet, loving, those who are critical of you or your work can be a daunting task. You want to make them happy; you want them to love you; you want them to love the worship music. And it hurts when they don’t. But having critics isn’t all bad if you know what to learn from them and how to love them in return.

Listen. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. If you find someone constantly criticizing you, ask yourself: Do they just want me to hear them? They might just be in need of a listening ear. Make an appointment, take them out for coffee, or stick around after church and give them a non-judgmental ear and your undivided attention. Listen closely to their heart, not just their words. Don’t get defensive, but after they have said everything they need to, you might be able to gently share your point of view, if appropriate. And they might be more willing to listen if they feel they’ve been heard and understood. Critics who just need to be heard often become your biggest defender if they feel valued and understood.

Look for the golden nugget. Sometimes, our critics are completely right. Or maybe they are mostly wrong. Regardless, search for that one nugget of truth that is contained within their words, no matter how sharp those words may seem. If there is truth to their criticism, ask yourself if it is something you should act on. Maybe the worship music really is too loud, or maybe the bass player really does need a little guidance from you. Maybe you actually could benefit from spending a little extra time in preparation. Regardless, look for something in their criticism that can help you improve your musicianship or leadership. And then thank them for it.

Offer grace. We are not perfect, worship leading friends. We do make mistakes. And so do the people that criticize us. Offer grace to yourself for any mistakes you’ve made. And offer grace to the other person. Although you may feel attacked, or that their words were harsh, look at their heart. They probably really care about your ministry and about you, or they care about worship, or they worry that they won’t be able to worship if things aren’t just so…. Regardless, offer them the grace that God would give them. And always follow it up with a healthy dose of grace for yourself.

Agree to disagree if need be. Your critics may have something important to say, but sometimes it just isn’t possible to implement what they think should be happening. In which case, you may need to respectfully agree to disagree, but always act out of love and sincerity. Make sure they know that you value them and you value their opinions. Thank them for being willing to speak up!

Let it ride. Sometimes a critic is just having a bad day. That cranky worship team member who doesn’t like that song might just be over-tried from a bad day at work. Or the lady in the third row who is grimacing during worship might just be stressed from financial strain. You may not know what each and every person in your congregation is going through, so if they are giving you a hard time, it might just be because they are having a hard time themselves. Sometimes, you just need to let it go. Ride out the wave of disapproval; offer to help if it seems appropriate.

Appeal to a higher power. Do you feel like you are in over your head? Maybe you tried to work things out and you just can’t. Maybe the problem is a lot bigger than your job description permits. In this case, you may need to confidentially speak with your lead pastor, governing board, or supervisor.

Silence your biggest critic. Yourself. Chances are, you are harder on yourself than anyone else. And that’s why others comments can sting so badly, because it feels like ‘proof’ that you are not as good, smart, musical, worshipful… as you could or should be. Treat yourself the way you treat your other critics – look for the truth so you know how you can improve. But then turn the voice off. Instead of listening to your own negative ruminations, fill your head with God’s voice concerning you. Need some help? Look up Psalm 139. Romans 5:8. John 3:16. God’s thoughts of you are love. And He loves your worship.

Pray. Prayer shouldn’t be our last resort; it’s our first line of defense. It’s not the last thing to do, its best thing to do. So do it! Pray when things are going well and it seems like everyone loves you. Pray when it seems like everyone hates you. Pray all the times in between. God hears each and every prayer.

It can be discouraging when it feels like someone doesn’t love you. But your job is not going to make every person in the congregation happy all of the time. Certainly you have to work within the boundaries of your own congregation, but even when doing so there will be times when conflict and criticism arise. Use the principles in Matthew 18:15-17, James 1:19, Romans 12:17-21 to help you respond. Focus on pleasing the One who always loves you and who inhabits our worship and on showing His love to His beautiful Church.


Amanda Furbeck serves as a worship pianist at Bethany United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. She is also a free-lance writer, piano teacher, and cosmetologist. Amanda has led worship in a variety of settings, including women’s ministry events and as music pastor in previous churches. She has a heart for helping people connect with God through music and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary.

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