The Praise and Worship Hit Parade: a Brief Analysis of Some of the Most-Sung Choruses of 1990.

October 1989 - March 1990

  1. Majesty - Jack Hayford
  2. I Love You, Lord - Laurie Klein
  3. All Hail King Jesus - Dave Moody
  4. Praise the Name of Jesus - Roy Hicks, Jr.
  5. We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise - Kirk Dearman
  6. I Will Call upon the Lord - Michael O'Shields
  7. Jesus, Name of Above All Names - Naida Hern
  8. This Is the Day - Les Garrett
  9. Glorify Thy Name - Donna Adkins
  10. Our God Reigns - Leonard Smith
  11. I Exalt Thee - Peter Sanchez
  12. Give Thanks - Henry Smith
  13. Thou Art Worthy - Pauline Mills
  14. He Has Made Me Glad - Leona Von Brethorst
  15. Bless His Holy Name - Andrae Crouch
  16. Open Our Eyes, Lord - Bob Cull
  17. We have Come into His House - Bruce Ballinger
  18. As the Deer - Martin Nystrom
  19. Seek Ye First - Karen Lafferty
  20. How Majestic Is Your Name - Michael W. Smith
  21. His Name Is Wonderful - Audrey Mieir
  22. Bind us Together - Bob Gillman
  23. Ah, Lord God - Kay Chance
  24. Emmanuel - Bob McGee
  25. Oh, How He Loves You and Me - Kurt Kaiser

Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. (CCLI) is a handy source for congregations who wish to sing some of the newer hymns that are not available in their pew hymnals. Since hymnals cannot keep pace with the continuing explosion of new hymns and choruses for worship, those churches that are interested in new songs need to get copyright permission from the publisher or from a copyright clearinghouse like CCLI. Admittedly, CCLI covers the more popular end of the spectrum; the thousands of churches who use their services indicate quite clearly that P&W music is at the top of their list. Last year CCLI released the twenty-five most requested songs from among the hundreds of songs on their lists.

We asked Bert Polman to comment on several of them. Polman, professor of music at Redeemer College, Ancaster, Ontario, is widely known for his work in hymnody—not only the classical and traditional hymnody of the Christian church but also the contemporary praise choruses that have arisen in the past generation.

As a member of the Psalter Hymnal revision committee, he was a strong advocate for the Bible Song section, which incorporated many of the contemporary Scripture songs (see his article "Singing Scripture" in RW 2).

In my earlier article, "Singing Scripture: A Healthy Revival" (RW2), I welcomed the current interest in singing Scripture songs and suggested that their strengths are their biblical lyrics (often sung from memory!) and their emphasis on praise. When used in conjunction with other psalms and hymns from the Christian tradition, such songs have their rightful place in Christian worship.

I will make a similar claim for the "Praise and Worship" songs, a number of which are strict Scripture songs, and many of which I have learned to use (even if sometimes sparingly) in Christian worship. I have chosen examples from the "Top Twenty-Five Songs" (printed above) to point to some of the values of these songs, to make suggestions about their use, and in some cases to identify some pitfalls or problems with the use of such songs.


Words and music: Jack Hayford

In this Christian anthem a stream-of-consciousness approach governs the combination of textual phrases over asymmetrical musical phrases. Note the rare but theologically significant use of triplets, which makes this music attractive, and the awe-inspiring character of the text, which enables many Christian communities to arouse a greater sense of worship and adoration of God in rituals which are too often primarily cerebral. Though some congregations habitually sing this song several times, its internal repeat suggests no further repetition is needed at any one time.

I Love You, Lord

Words and music: Laurie Klein

This is a typical example of a P&W chorus: a personal testimony of praise to God becomes a sung prayer with rather simple musical means. Appropriate for the beginning of worship, this chorus could lead off a praise medley (which should include some classic hymns of praise) or initiate a time of spoken and other sung prayers.

All Hail King Jesus

Words and music: Dave Moody

Initially a catalog of biblical names for Christ, this praise song has a simple melody and a limited range, but some interesting rhythms in its duple meter. Most useful during Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, this song may function best as a frame around another hymn (e.g., "Hark, the Glad Sound!" [PsH 335, RL 251 ]), or as part of a medley that could include a Messianic psalm (e.g., "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" [PsH 72, RL 232, TH 311]).

We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise

Words and music: Kirk Dearman

This characteristic and well-composed example of P&W worship music appears often in praise medleys. To reflect the biblical teaching that our praise must be combined with justice for "the poor, the widow, and the orphan," this song should be combined with another hymn that amplifies the notion of sacrifice—try it with "How Would the Lord Be Worshiped" [PsH 609].

I Will Call Upon the Lord

Words and music: Michael O'Shields

Two psalm verses (Psalm 18:2,46) are united into a powerful brief anthem of praise to "the God of our salvation." Initially a two-part canon (for women and men), this song develops into a strong homophonic "praise" which could be sung in harmony and suitably punctuated with hand claps. This is an (unusual!) example of a P&W song in which the music has a lot of interest and is likely to engender greater longevity.

This Is the Day

Words and music: Les Garrett

A "proof text" song (text is Psalm 118:24), this popular Scripture chorus is useful for many different occasions and invites the addition of more stanzas to explain the significance of "the day." Its music provides a delightful opportunity for responsorial singing between clergy and congregation in "high" churches or for antiphonal singing between women and men in "low" churches.Improvise some clapping patterns to set off the syncopation!

Father, We Love You (Glorify Thy Name)

Words and music: Donna Adkins

Similar in trinitarian structure to such simple choruses as "Father, I Adore You" [PsH 284], Adkins' song is well-crafted with melodic sequences, and has deservedly been "star-kissed" into the church's hit parade by many performers in the Christian media. Part-singing (as in the arrangement of PsH 634) gives energy to the two long cadences. Try it unaccompanied, improvise a vocal descant for the two cadence phrases, and take it in a rather stately tempo.

Our God Reigns

Words and music: Leonard Smith

This text of various stanzas is another fascinating stream-of-con-sciousness collage of Christian affirmations about the Lord God. Its refrain functions virtually like a pontifical statement in expressing and urging on the rule of God; it is reminiscent of the effective "hammer blow" dramatics in Handel's chorus, "For unto us a Son is given." Sing this especially for Easter (give it some rest during the balance of the year!), and observe a moderate tempo.

As the Deer Panteth for the Water

Words and music: Martin Nystrom

Though undoubtedly a decent praise song with a respectable tune in its own right, this song illustrates one of the problems that handicaps the P&W genre: this style of worship does not encourage or even permit the singing of laments. And the laments in the Psalms are very significant in expressing the turmoil that crops up in so many Christian lives and helps bring them to God.

"As the deer" turns the lament of Psalm 42 into a simple but shallow chorus of praise that avoids the context of the original version by the "Sons of Korah." Sure, sing it, but then plumb the greater depths of the biblical laments through use of a more complete Psalter.

How Majestic Is Your Name

Words and music: Michael W. Smith

Set to an energetic tune that works well initially for unison congregational singing, this song combines several biblical lyrics into a most edifying song of praise to God. The long musical phrases for L-o-r-d suggest a symphonic use of voices and instruments in harmony or counterpoint. Combine this with a creation hymn such as "Let All Things Now Living" [PH 554, PsH 453, TH 125] or pair it with another fine praise song, "Great Is the Lord," also by Michael W. (and Deborah) Smith.

As has happened so frequently in the history of Christianity, a revival movement in the church may produce a whole new repertoire of church music. The best of these texts and melodies may become enduring parts of the church's song, but many others will be used briefly (with joy!) and then discarded. Such is the case too with the P&W genre, I suspect, though it is sometimes hard to judge which of the current "hits" will be retained for longer periods of time.

I am sure of several things, however: first, useful as these choruses may be, they need to be integrated into a larger body of classic Christian hymns and psalms (through medleys with older hymns and as hymn "frames") and not become the dominant or exclusive style of Christian worship; second, the character of most P&W songs makes them an eminently suitable corrective to the "sterile" patterns of worship that still haunt some Christian communities; and third, due to the simple nature of these choruses, abuse through overuse must be avoided, and more creative ways (rather than sheer repetition) must be found to incorporate them into the larger fabric of Spirit-filled Christian worship.

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 20 © June 1991, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.