Nearly thirty 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 reviews of worship albums. 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 permed 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 spirit and truth.
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 albums over the years. And we have asked a couple of our friends to share what some of those offerings meant to them.
20 Vintage Worship Albums That Still Influence Us Today
20. Offerings Third Day Essential Records (2000)
Why start a top 20 worship albums 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)
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.Written by Phil Sillas)
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!” (Written by Jennie Lee Riddle.)
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)
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. (Written by Israel Houghton)
12. A Collision or (3+4=7) David Crowder*Band Sparrow/sixstepsrecords (2005)
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! (Written By Mike Crawford)
11. Shout to the Lord Hillsong (1996)
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 … all the earth… let us sing.”
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. (Written by Rick Founds)