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Top 20 Worship Releases for 20 Years

Top 20 Worship Releases for 20 Years

Editorial Team

Originally Published in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Worship Leader magazine.

Twenty years ago Worship Leader published the inaugural issue of the magazine. With key editors and contributors such as, Chuck Fromm, Ron Allen, Chuck Kraft and Robert Webber it was designed to be a resource that shined a light on many practices of worship and gave those from different traditions a place to better understand one another. The first issue of WL had a grand total of two music reviews. Bethel Chapel’s The Glory of the Lord and Saddleback Church’s Saddleback Praises: Music With I.M.P.A.C.T. We get a few laughs around the office looking at the picture of Robert Webber with the permmed hair and perennial mustache and Chuck Fromm’s shout out to his mentor Peter Drucker. And we are also proud when we think of the moments of worship we have witnessed and taken part in, and the movement of God’s children finding renewal in his sprit and truth. So we want to celebrate our birthday. But the truth is Worship Leader has never been about celebrating itself. Our whole existence is centered on helping people point to the One who is worthy. Less us, more him. Here is a statement in Chuck Fromm’s editorial in that inaugural issue of Worship Leader: Our God is still seeking “true worshipers,” those who worship in spirit and truth. Our goal is to provide you with ideas, information, and resources to help you enhance and facilitate worship at your church. We could still use that as a mission statement today! That is something that we certainly are proud of. So, we are asking you to join with us in a bit of celebration right now. It’s a celebration and a remembering of sorts. For fun and as a look down memory lane, we have chosen what we consider the top 20 most influential worship releases of the past 20 years. And we have asked a couple of our friends to share what some of those offerings meant to them.

20. Offerings Third Day Essential Records (2000)
Why start a top 20 worship releases with a band that’s not a worship outfit? Because this record brought worship to the cars of more people than just about any other release. Offerings brought worship to the Christian mainstream.

19. Break Through: Live At Saddleback Tommy Walker (2006)
Notes on this album by Phil Sillas:
As a native Los Angelino no one represented our musical melting pot of Los Angeles like Tommy Walker. While cities like London, Melbourne, Houston, Mobile, and Atlanta were making their musical influence known around the world, Tommy Walker was our voice. His church, California Assembly in Eagle Rock became a beacon as well as a musical destination for any aspiring young worship leader or musician. Tommy’s ability to transform some of Los Angeles’ most seasoned session musicians into equal members of a communal worship team rivals LA Laker coach Phil Jackson’s ability to accomplish the same feat on the basketball court. In the summer of 2005, Tommy and the CA crew traveled south on the 5 to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church to lead worship at California’s other worship destination, The Purpose Driven Worship Conference. With close to 3,000 worship leaders in attendance, Thursday night’s evening of worship was recorded for what now is known as Break Through: Live At Saddleback. With an eight-piece band, five singers, and a 100-member choir lead by Stan Endicott, this live recording became a template for worship leaders around the country in how to engage your congregation to sing as one voice. This record gave us “Break Through,” “We Will Remember,” “To God Be the Glory” and the powerful and masterfully written “All the Saints Join In.” As Tommy continues to serve California Assembly and travel the world, this record stands out as Southern California’s contribution to modern worship.

18. Eternity Misty Edwards Forerunner Music (2003)
Opening doors in the worship genre that appeal to passionate cries of the heart, Edwards’ influence can be heard far and wide amongst today’s worship artists.

17. Worship Michael W Smith Reunion Records (2001)
Smitty galvanized worship songs with this release. But beyond that, he lead worship. Worship showed artists that there is a difference between performing in a concert, and leading worship.

16. Hungry Vineyard UK Vineyard Records (1999)
This release captured the fire that was taking place in the late ‘90s in England. And introduced many of us to artists such as Kathryn Scott and Brenton Brown. And of course the influence of Brian Doerksen is felt throughout.

15. We Cry Out Jesus Culture (2007)
We Cry Out further articulates the heart-cry of a generation that God has gathered to himself through worship. This album beautifully captured raw passion and devotion for Jesus Christ. You can hear the authentic love for Him in every note. I’ve so appreciated the unhindered expressions of praise and space the album has provided for individual worship. The track that makes the album for me is John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” featuring Kim Walker-Smith. This song has become one of the anthems of our time, and I was so thrilled that Jesus Culture gifted the Church with such a standout version of this corporate favorite. “Fire Fall” featuring Chris Quilala and “Rain Down” featuring Melissa How are other notable tracks on the album. The title cut, “We Cry Out” written by Brian Johnson (featuring Kim Walker) has served to fill my lungs with earnest prayer more time than I am able to count. It has enabled me to join my voice with the unnumbered multitude of brothers and sisters across the earth pleading for the mercy of God. “The Time Has Come” written by Joel Houston (featuring Melissa How) sums up not only the album, but also the intent of a people dedicated to living lives abandoned to the call and purposes of Jesus Christ. I’m so appreciative that a Jesus Culture is being cultivated in our day. “O God, We Cry Out!”

14. Heart of Worship: Live ’97 Soul Survivor (1997)
This marked the British invasion and many people’s introduction to Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, and Kevin Prosch.

13. Donnie McClurkin Donnie McClurkin Warner (1996)
Notes on this album by Israel Houghton:
The self titled Donnie McClurkin record for me came into my life after I already had some experience hearing him live. At the time, I was so happy to hear a studio record done with such quality. It encompassed songs like the iconic “Stand,” “Jesus at the Mention of Your Name,” and “Speak to My Heart.” The conviction and character with which Pastor Donnie sings and communicates cuts through like a scalpel in any setting. Live. Studio. Television, etc. It’s no wonder that this record had profound effect on Oprah Winfrey who helped shortly after the release of this record to add to the platform God had already put under him. This recording affected me as well, and having listened to it all again it takes me back to a very pivotal place in my life and ministry.

12. A Collision or (3+4=7)David Crowder*Band Sparrow/sixstepsrecords (2005)
Notes on this album by Mike Crawford:
I started leading worship at a church called Jacob’s Well in 2001. I didn’t exactly go seeking that vocation, but instead found myself called into it by a group of friends. I had played in rock bands my whole life and though I certainly was a Christian, I felt a certain unease about Christian music and about leading worship. One of those friends introduced me to David Crowder’s music. I listened to the first few DC*B records with increasing interest. Then, in 2005, they released A Collision. It truly changed everything for me. Not only were there an abundance of fantastical worship songs, there was also a depth to the music and lyrics that was overwhelming. The music was curiously dense with glitchy-beats+sine-wavey-synths smashed into orchestral string sections, burnished-until-bronze layers of electric guitars colliding with a deft rock-and-roll rhythm section, beautifully recorded acoustic guitars, strange extended sections of bizarre musical interludes that were often dark and mysterious, and of course, Dave’s captivating voice! Then there were the lyrics—a true concept record with themes of death, darkness, sin confessed, and lament, all met with hope, joy, faith, quiet, waiting and ultimately, awe for all our God has done … is doing … will do for us. When I heard A Collision, it did something for me besides giving me a slew of songs to play at our church. The DC*B provided me with a sense of hope. Records could be interesting, dark, strange, even “out there” and still worshipful. I thought, “Maybe I could make this kind of record for the Church.” It was like I had been given permission to do something strangely beautiful and started putting together our first Songs for Jacob’s Well. At the end of the record, when Dave sings, And I’m just trying to make you sing From inside where you believe Like it’s something that you need Like it means everything And I’m trying to make you feel that This is for real, that life is happening That it means everything I’m just trying to make you sing I hope he knows they did exactly that with this record. I, for one, say thank you!

11. Shout to the Lord Hillsong (1996)
Notes on this album by Rick Founds:
Great worship songs are those that provide an opportunity for personal encounter and intimacy with the Living God. Great choruses and songs of praise encourage the corporate exaltation of who God is, what he is like, and what he has done. Great Hymns of the church dispense theological truths that build faith, stir up hope, and call the believer to action. The 12 songs offered on Shout to The Lord collectively encompass all of these qualities, and moreover the title cut, “Shout To The Lord,” penned from the heart of worship leader and modern hymnologist, Darlene Zschech, dynamically and emotionally conveys all of these elements in a single, self-contained, skillfully wrapped musical package. Personal intimacy is lyrically expressed in the words: “my Jesus… my Savior… all that I am… I sing for joy… forever I’ll love you…” The corporate praise of God’s power and majesty are encouraged in: “…shout … allthe earth… let ussing.” In true Hymn-like fashion, the song pours forth the wonderful truth that God is our comfort, shelter, refuge, and strength, and that at the sound of his name, all Creation will indeed bow down and worship. Like most worship leaders, I have a huge collection of CDs, MP3 files, cassettes, and yes, even vinyl records. Each one contains songs, that over the years I have implemented in worship. There are a few albums that I come back to again and again. This is because I personally find myself drawn into God’s presence every time I listen. Shout to the Lord resides near the very top of the stack—always within easy access.

10. Passion: Better Is One Day Passion Band (1999)
This release galvanized a musical movement that has been multiplied and used by God to transform the lives of millions of young people.

9. Pray
Andraé Crouch Warner
Notes on this album by David M. Edwards:
Some 30 years after his first record, Andraé Crouch, proved yet again that quality, creativity, and, yes, anointing can come in the same package. His personal trademarks are all here: songs full of Scripture, lyrics referencing the person and work of the Holy Spirit as well as the Second Coming, and his endearing selflessness that allowed other singers to share the solo parts with him. I mean, who knew there was such a force as Tata Vega until 1984’s No Time To Lose? God has always used him as a gathering place for some of the best musicianship and creative energy the world has ever known. His seven Grammy’s only attest to the ability of his music to touch hearts no matter what walk of life they come from. God has used him and his songs to build bridges within the Church and without. Andraé never follows he always leads. His projects have always seemed streets ahead of their time. Pray is like one great church service from start to finish—full of power and emotion, conviction and resolve. Pastor Andraé starts out giving us the Word on the first track and finishes the project reminding us that Jesus is returning soon. Crouch’s work has always encouraged me spiritually and creatively. From a schoolboy trying to copy his piano licks, to an adult where I’ve been privileged to throw my arms around this living legend and tell him how much he has meant to me. Many a Christian artist and songwriter can thank him for paving the way racially, creatively, and spiritually. Praise the Lord—he does all things well!

8. Beautiful Things Gungor Brash Music (2010)
With Beautiful Things, Gungor expanded the boundaries of the worship genre. Beautiful, skilled, and creative, this release is a New Song.

7. Facedown
Matt Redman Sparrow/sixstepsrecrods (2003)
Redman’s influence in the worship genre is ineffable. The worship leader’s, worship leader he fills his music with passion, intellect, and elegance, paving the way to a hopeful future in Church music. Facedown the epitome of his craft and anointing.

6. United We Stand
Hillsong United Hillsong/Integrity Music (2010)
Notes on this album by Peter Kipley:
One of my all-time favorite worship album’s is Hillsong United’s 2006 release United We Stand. Featuring foundational songs such as “From the Inside Out,” “The Stand,” and “Take It All,” these songs have impacted the Church spanning across the globe and have had a profound impact on worship writer’s and leaders alike. Sonically this album broke new ground in the live worship genre, which can be extremely elusive to all of us who make worship albums. That being said, the live worship experience, which I have been fortunate to see twice, is too great an experience for any recording medium to capture. To me, a standout of the record was Joel Houston stepping to new heights both in writing and his presence on the album. This was also the first CD featuring Brooke Fraser, who stands out on “None but Jesus.” These songs have not only had a profound impact on the Church, but have found a way to unite a global audience worshiping God. In every aspect of society today you will find people trying to define a movement. Whether that was their intention or not, Hillsong United have done so successfully through powerful songs and voices of worship.

5. Change My Heart Oh God Various Vineyard Music (1996)
The quintessential early Vineyard release, these songs could well be the spark that started a revolution. The title track alone is one of our most cherished gifts, but there’s more here: “Refiner’s Fire,” “I Believe in Jesus,” “Hosanna,” “Isn’t He,” “More Love, More Power,” “Holy and Anointed One,” “Light the Fire Again,” this release was used by God to truly change the world in some powerful ways.

4. Live From Another Level
Israel Houghton Integrity Music (2004)
Notes on this album by Darlene Zschech:
It’s so easy to write about anything that involves Israel Houghton. This album, Live From Another Level was absolutely breakthrough when it was released—bringing together pure CCM, pure gospel, pure worship, and songs that really called us to come near to God. To hear the Church global make “Friend of God” their own is a true reflection of man’s desire to be closer to our creator, and to me, this album reflected our unchanging desire for relationship over religion. The other thing about this project as a whole, is that if you play it from start to finish and actually engage with the worship leadership that is woven throughout, you truly are led to the courts of our King. This is done with integrity, wisdom, and a sweet anointing that dose not manipulate, but rather, encourages us in our pursuit of Christ and his presence. No one leads and writes songs of praise quite like our Israel. Again and again these songs that declare and announce that our God reigns, that he is to be praised, and that friendship with him is possible, are written, played, and sung with complete conviction. And to be honest, they really help a heart like mine jump over its own inadequacies, allowing me to run toward God in praise! I genuinely am thankful to Israel and his team of genius players, singers, and prayer warriors that I know spend countless hours truly bringing their finest, both musically and spiritually. Thanks Israel, you continue to call us up to “a whole nuther level!”

3. A Greater Song
Paul Baloche Integrity Music (2006)
Notes on this album by Jason Ingram:
A Greater Song by Paul Baloche is the album that gave us “Your Name” and “Hosanna” which have been such gifts to the Church. I’ve led both of those songs many, many times and have seen God’s people experience his transcendent presence in power and in truth through them.  In recent years I’ve become a good friend of Paul’s and it’s no mystery to me why God has and continues to use him in such mighty ways. His heart pounds with a passion to always sing a greater song to God here on the earth, to lift him higher still.  Thank you Paul for reminding us that in his presence, all our fears are washed away and for giving us songs that carry His presence to every heart that will sing.

Arriving Chris Tomlin Sparrow/sixstepsrecords (2004)
Notes on this album by Jeremy Armstrong:
Chris Tomlin is easily the Christian singer/songwriter exemplar for the current generation of worshipers. This is not an arguable statement; it’s the truth. With words and thoughts that are as beautiful as they are accessible by nearly every age range, Arriving was the beginning of the changing of the guard. Chris Tomlin showed us what we never knew we were missing in church: a combination of passion, theology, and the anthemic hook. From the moment Arriving released anthems grabbed the reigns from the praise choruses and said, “We’ll take it from here.” And it was songs like “Indescribable,” “How Great Is Our God,” and “Holy Is the Lord,” that were able to gather large portions of the body of Christ, and we were woven together in apt adoration and united in heartfelt and honest praise. Beyond all of this, its is no small thing to note that Tomlin stood out as an example to other men, willing to pour out passion and heart—to bow before the Lord our God in humility and love, unashamed. On Arriving, Tomlin is filled with charisma and optimistic praise. Arriving also marks the collaborative work between Tomlin and preeminent producer/songwriter/instrumentalist Ed Cash. Undoubtedly, this duo (along with the Passion’s various worship leaders) has been used by God to transform the way this generation offers its sung worship to our Father. And Arriving was Tomlin hitting his stride in the journey.

1. Cutting Edge 1&2 Delirious? Furious? (1994)
Notes on this album by Andrea Hunter:
Although known for its reserved religious expression, England is experiencing a sweeping revival fueled by contemporary worship music. At the forefront is Delirious?, five lads from the seaside town of Littlehampton who stormed the British charts—without any record deals or media exposure. (early band description, circa 1994) If Love Song ignited the rock band as worship model, and the Vineyard continued to light the fire, then The Cutting Edge band (named after a youth movement in the UK), aka Delirious? added a booster rocket and shot it into the stratosphere. The first time I heard, sang, and danced to “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (originally recorded on one of two cassettes and then released on CD as Cutting Edge 1&2 in 1994), I was caught up in its sheer joy and exultant declaration of God’s love … and yes, we almost did sing it forever. It was followed at service-end by “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble,” (Cutting Edge 3&4, 1995)—which in SoCal after having just survived the Northridge Earthquake was more than a lyrical concept—pulling everyone from their seats in a burst of staccato pogo-ing. This was two years before the songs were released in one double CD in the US. As in the early Jesus movement, the music flew faster than the industry’s ability to produce and distribute, circulating worldwide, infusing worship with new vitality, accessibility, and power. Sometimes called the “Delirious? Movement,” their impact on not only what we sing, but what we write, and how we reflect that faith locally and globally has been inestimable. The Delirious/U2-ing of American worship can be heard every Sunday across the land. And though we always encourage leaders to develop their own voice, emulating the truth, beauty and rock-worthy worship of Delirious? is an inspired starting point.  

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