Pulled from the Worship Leader archive, Matt Redman encourages us remember the past while moving forward.
t the age of 19 I became the full-time worship leader at my local church and walked into an exciting new season. At the same time, a fresh new wave of worship songs was beginning to sweep across the UK church, and I couldn’t wait for the next CD to come out so I could hear all the latest offerings emerging. If it had been left to me, those brand new songs were probably the only ones I would have included in the services I was leading. Looking back, I’m glad my Vicar had sight of the bigger picture, and stepped in. All the while I was straining towards the newest and latest, the Vicar had a healthier plan. Yes, he encouraged me to write and introduce new songs but at the same time not to neglect the many centuries of Christian worship heritage that went before us. He pointed me towards a verse in Matthew’s Gospel to help plant this thought in my song selection process:
Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out both new and old things out of his treasure chest (Matthew 13:52 ISV).
As worship leaders we have an amazingly rich back catalogue of songs within our grasp. There are thousands of past songs and hymns out there for us to discover. Some of them will merely interest us, while others will totally inspire us. Some will need a few cobwebs blown off them, while others will need some serious digging through the dirt, getting rid of a verse or two, or finding an easier melodic way to sing the amazing lyrics. All of these hymns have one thing in common though—they are our heritage, our family history, if you like.
So I tried to be obedient to my leader and dusted off a couple of old hymnbooks for closer inspection. At first, I did it merely out of duty. But as I started reading through these hymnals, I quickly became caught up in so many of the lyrical jewels within them. They were packed with original and helpful expressions of praise—many of which had stood the test of time and were so relevant even to this day. Truth-filled songs have an amazing ability to endure.
After a while I started collecting old hymn books from as many different streams and time periods of the church as I could find. And I spent much time on www.cyberhymnal.org hunting for more treasure. Yes, I carried on with my quest to write and find brand new songs. But at the at the same time, I started to look back—as far as I could—to these worship anthems of the past. And then one day I came across an old Winston Churchill quote:
Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse. 1
Our Own Risk
We ignore the worship expressions of our forefathers at our own peril, for they have the ability to shepherd us and develop us. Yet if this output was all we ever expressed ourselves through today, we might struggle to connect with contemporary culture and our songs would suffer from a lack of creativity. The key is to learn from the past and lean into the future.
The worshiping church is like a building in which every generation constructs a floor, building upon the previous generation’s work. As I once heard, Gerald Coates says, “The ceiling of one generation is the floor of the next.” Ultimately, of course, every story is built firmly upon the foundations of Scripture.
We must encourage this generation to keep pushing the boundaries and find new biblical ways of connecting with culture in worship and song. Yet all the time, keep digging up the ancient treasures.
Matt Redman is married to Beth and they have five children. They are based on the south coast of England, near Brighton. Matt has been a full-time worship leader since the age of 20 and this journey has taken him to countries such as South Africa, Japan, India, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Matt’s earlier songs include ‘The Heart of Worship’, ‘You Never Let Go’ and ‘Blessed Be Your Name’. More recent compositions include the Grammy-nominated ‘Our God’, and the double-Grammy winning ’10,000 Reasons’ – for which he also received a Billboard award in the USA. His latest record was recorded live at LIFT, a worship leader collective hosted by Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA.
Matt is also the author of several books, including The Unquenchable Worshipper, Facedown, Mirrorball,Blessed Be Your Name (co-authored with Beth Redman) and Indescribable (co-authored with Louie Giglio).