A sweeping worship panorama has been painted in Redding, California. The musical painters of Bethel Church, Brian and Jenn Johnson and Jeremy Riddle, William Matthews, and Steffany Frizel-Gretzinger have crafted a portfolio of strikingly singable and engaging worship music. For the Sake of the World comes on the heels of the acclaimed Loft Sessions, building and expanding upon the more intimate feel of that project, and leading worshipers into a powerfully well crafted and intriguing worship experience.
Bethel is already a well-known name in worship circles, having been the launching point for numerous artist/worship leaders, including the high-profile Jesus Culture conference team (born out of Bethel’s youth ministry). Bethel Live also provides resources for the nearly 2,000 churches in Bethel Church’s Global Legacy association, and functions as the worship arm of iBethel.tv, which streams worldwide to more than 100,000 viewers. With such a strong commitment to quality worship music, it’s unsurprising that this latest offering continues to raise the bar for live congregational worship projects.
From the beginning, it’s clear that the Bethel crew is quite intentional about the journey that they are leading people through on For the Sake of the World—rather than simply being offered a selection of good songs, the listener/worshiper is ushered through a fully realized worship experience. It’s all here: engaging vocal work, an impeccably well-produced instrumental bed, moments of spontaneous worship, and top-notch songwriting, all undergirded with simple and powerful lyrics proclaiming the goodness and glory of God.
So, what, specifically, does this sonic painting look like? Largely a collection of intimate moments and power ballads, For the Sake of the World shies away from the “radio-friendly-fast-opener-moving-towards-continually-mellower-songs” model, instead taking a refreshingly opposite approach. It’s quite a while (nine songs in) before the tempo finally jumps into high gear on “In Your Light,” “Freedom,” and “This Is What You Do.” There’s good reason for the structure that Bethel has chosen; the up-tempo songs here are good, but it’s the slower moving heart-songs that are the standouts.
Bethel has mastered the power ballad format, but it doesn’t feel in danger of falling into the trap of songwriting manipulation. The structure simply provides the necessary outlet for the emotions being expressed. This is music “To Our God,” as the opener states strongly, building and building into compelling anthems of praise. “Our Father” stands out as a memorable (and very congregation-friendly) new setting of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s also hard not to immediately look for services to match these songs to: “This Is Amazing Grace” is a perfect Easter song, and the title song nails it for any service built around evangelism, outreach, or serving those in need.
As previously mentioned, there are several extended sessions of spontaneous worship, which might be a novel idea for many evangelical churches. These include a moment where the congregation is asked to sing their own individual and extemporaneous songs of worship. Rather than being the cacophony that might be expected, the individual songs blend together to create a transcendent underscore for the moment.
Sonically, the standard worship team palate here is augmented by folky instrumentation and subtly unique arranging. Instrumental combinations, which on paper might seem odd—tribal drums mixing with country-feel slide guitar, for example—actually blend well to underpin the flow. The end result is an assemblage of worship music that has the potential to go viral, in a good way. Music by the church, and for the church—it will be intriguing to see what the Church does with it.