Ps Daniel Thornton – PhD. (candidate), M.Music Tech (Distinction), Certificate IV - TAA, A.Arts in Religious Studies, L.Mus.A. (Theory), Performer’s Certificate (Piano), B.Mus (Composition) (inc)
Daniel is a member of the Faculty of Business and School of Vocational Education and Training, and specialises in the following areas: Music and Creative Arts.
Daniel Thornton: accomplished and awarded songwriter, musician and worship leader, sought-after minister and educator. He is the world's leading expert on contemporary congregational songs. He is the Head of Deparment, Music and Creative Arts at Alphacrucis College, and serves local churches and their worship teams around the globe as well as being engaged as a professional composer and performer.
From 2007 - 2010, Daniel served as the Music Pastor at Paradise Community Church (Adelaide, South Australia) and previously as the Worship and Associate Pastor at North Shore Christian Centre in Sydney Australia for over 8 years.
He regularly produces/records and releases Worship CDs/DVDs including Christmas Presence, For Worshipers, from Worshipers, Daniel|Piano|Worship Classics 2, It is Well - Instrumentals (2011), Worship Classics (2010), Above All Else (2010), One Heart (2009), Worship Always (2009), Paradise(2008), It is Well - Vol 2(2007), It is Well - Vol 1(2006), Beyond Words (2004), and many more. Some of these recordings/performances are featured weekly on the NSCC TV show LifeSource and the Paradise TV shows.
His songs are sung in churches around the world including “Father”, “Come into the House” and “Presence Beautiful”. Daniel’s passion is to connect people with God and see the church rise to its fullest potential.
Daniel has performed a starring role on in an Off-Broadway premiere at the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street, New York of the new musical “Angels“. His recent starring roles in musical theatre productions also include, Godspell, !Hero and The Prodigal.
Six years at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and a music scholarship to London provided much of Daniel's formal training. During that time, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and other prestigious ensembles performed his compositions. After completing his studies, Daniel was appointed Music Director for Penrith Christian Fellowship Centre, then Penrith City Church and later Worship Pastor at C3 Mt Annan.
Daniel is an ordained minister with the Australian Christian Churches. His formal qualifications encompass PhD (candidate), M.Music Technology (Distinction), A.Arts (Religious Studies), LMusA (Theory), Performers Certificate T.C.L.(Piano) and a Cert IV Training and Assessment.
He has owned and run two private music schools, and also lectured for many years at a number of colleges including Hillsong College and the Paradise College of Ministry.
Daniel and his wife Kris have been married for 18yrs and have 3 beautiful children.
CUFCMP301A - Implement copyright arrangements • CUFCMP501A - Manage and exploit copyright arrangements • CUSIND301B - Work effectively in the music industry • CUSIND401A - Develop specialist expertise in the music industry • CUSIND501A - Apply music knowledge and artist judgment • CUSLED501A - Provide instrumental or vocal tuition • CUSLED502A - Provide tuition for composition • CUSMCP302A - Write song lyrics • CUSMCP303A - Develop simple musical pieces using electronic media • CUSMCP401A - Develop techniques for arranging music • CUSMCP402A - Develop techniques for composing music • CUSMCP502A - Compose music for screen • CUSMLT301A - Apply knowledge of genre to music making • CUSMLT302A - Develop and apply aural-perception skills • CUSMLT401A - Notate music for performance • CUSMLT501A - Refine aural-perception skills • CUSMPF203A - Develop ensemble skills for playing or singing music • CUSMPF301A - Develop technical skills in performance • CUSMPF302A - Prepare for performances • CUSMPF304A - Make a music demo • CUSMPF305A - Develop improvisation skills • CUSMPF401A - Rehearse music for group performances • CUSMPF404A - Perform music as part of a group • CUSMPF405A - Develop instrumental techniques • CUSMPF407A - Develop vocal techniques • CUSMPF410A - Perform music from written notation • CUSMPF505A - Perform improvisation for audiences • CUSMPF506A - Develop technical skills and expand repertoire • CUSMPF508A - Provide musical leadership in performance • CUSOHS301A - Follow occupational health and safety procedures • CUSSOU401A - Record sound • CUSSOU405A - Mix recorded music • CUSWRT501A - Write about music • EDU521 - Creative Arts • WOR101 - Introduction to Worship Ministry • WOR205 - Worship, Arts and Church History.
- Online Music Education
- A framework for the congregational song
- Music and Worship in the context of the contemporary church
PhD. (candidate) (Macquarie University)
Dissertation Title A framework for effective contemporary congregational songs
M.Music Tech (Distinction) (University of Newcastle)
Certificate IV - TAA (AWC Training, Adelaide)
A.Arts in Religious Studies (Global University)
L.Mus.A. (Theory) (Australian Music Examinations Board)
Performer’s Certificate (Piano) (Trinity College of Music London)
B.Mus (Composition) (inc) (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
Conference paper — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. Contemporary Congregational Songs, YouTube, and virtual Christian Communities International Society for media, religion, and culture conference https://www.academia.edu/8001983/Contemporary_Congregational_Songs_YouTube_and_virtual_Christian_Communities
Extract: Contemporary Congregational Songs, YouTube and virtual Christian Communities Introduction I have three children, 17, 15, and 14 years old respectively. Two things I know about them, though not unique to them: Firstly, streamed digital media has revolutionized the way they/we consume music. Secondly, online social networking is an integrated core component of the way they/we do relationships and community. It is the nexus of this streamed digital media and online social networking that form the basis for this paper. Particularly, it is the musical genre of contemporary congregational songs, the streaming media and social networking site of YouTube, and the online communities that form around these mediations that are under investigation. Read more here… (external link)
Journal article — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song Part 5. Worship Leader Magazine. http://worshipleader.com/music/what-on-earth-are-we-singing/
Extract: Worship Leader Article July, 2014 by Daniel Thornton What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song – Part 5 The lyrics are profound, theologically rich, and personally moving… but if the music’s unpalatable, and nobody wants to sing/play it, what good is the song? When it comes to contemporary congregational songs, three responses are common to this sort of statement. The first, are those who decry the insipid and banal music of CCS, and popular music generally. They argue that at best, it’s music at its most common and uninteresting, appealing only to the unrefined masses. At worst they point to some profane or even demonic origin of such music and argue that it’s corrupting Christian worship! On the other side of the fence, there are those who agree wholeheartedly with the statement. Jesus used common analogies to communicate truth in ways people (who were open to it) could easily grasp, why would we not use the musical vernacular of our culture to communicate truth? In fact, if we barricade ourselves behind ‘proper’ (however we define it) music for worship, aren’t we simply perpetuating the old practice of keeping the Word of God in the hands (musical language) of the elite? Finally, there are those who want to sit on the fence, perhaps arguing that yes, CCS music is often un-innovative, aimed at quick mass consumption, but it’s not a bad thing, we should just be careful with its associations and with its wholesale adoption into corporate worship. They might argue that we are educators of our congregations, ideally helping them to appreciate music of beauty and excellence worthy of God-worship. Do you resonate with one of these positions? All or none of them? I say, let’s dismantle the fence. Let’s have this conversation around a warm campfire; not on sides, but in community! We are so profoundly attached to our musical preferences that often we can’t even see that we’ve taken up our defensive/offensive position and are ready for anyone who dares utter an alternative one! The very best thing we can all do before proceeding is to admit we have deeply ingrained musical prejudices. Come on… say it… “I have deeply ingrained musical prejudices!” Now, don’t you feel better? OK, so onto the musical content of CCS. Most CCS are musically furnished with electric guitars, acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and lead vocals/backing vocals. Of course there are variations on this, and it’s often one of the few areas that individual artists/CCS producers/local churches can stamp with their own flavour; enter the string quartet, or the electronics, or the banjo. All one can say about this use of instrumentation is that it is culturally consistent with more broadly produced popular music (albeit on the conservative side). But don’t be too quick to cry uninventive imitation! It’s not hard to combine instrumental forces that are unique (3 kazoos, a djembe, a tuba, and vocoder), but how does that help Christians worship? Most CCS are in white-note major keys (commonly G, D, and B). All CCS analysed contained chords I, IV, and V. The majority of songs (19/25) also contained chord iv, and 13/25 contained chord ii. 16/25 songs used no more than four discrete chords. As a classically trained musician and composer I love complex harmony… but for CCS, clearly these are the chords average musicians can play and average congregations can sing to. Will that change over time? Probably. CCS of the 1970s often only had three chords I, IV, and V. But that’s not a huge change, is it. Ten songs finish on the tonic chord (I), but eight finish on the sub-dominant (IV) and five on the dominant (V). That means most songs don’t end with a harmonic sense of finality, opening the way for section repetition, transitions to the next song, or spaces that might facilitate spontaneous/free worship. 21/25, the great majority, are in 4/4 time. Boring? Sure, but functional. Have you tried singing in 7/8?!? The lowest note of any representative CCS is Ab below middle C (Beneath The Waters – I Will Rise) and the highest note is two octaves above that (Jesus At The Center)! Of course many churches alter the keys to accommodate the more conservative vocal range of local congregations; although 11/25 songs have a melodic range of a major 9th or greater, making them hard to transpose and remain singable. Individual song sections (Verse, Chorus, Bridge) never have a melodic range larger than an octave (Beneath the Waters being the only exception) and it’s often quite a bit smaller, around a perfect 5th. Moreover, as song sections progress (Verse to Chorus to Bridge) they often each have a higher “pitch center of gravity”; also matched by progressively louder, denser musical accompaniment. Basically, popular CCS are designed to musically build. In summary, if you don’t resonate musically with CCS, it’s simply revealing it doesn’t fit your musical schema (preferences). That schema has been shaped over your adolescence, through significant moments of your life, through parental and familial influence, through peer associations, and through education and experience. It’s absurd to think there must be some musical style that everyone will (or should) resonate with for worship, there’s not. There never will be (until heaven)! Which makes the church all the more exceptional… that people of diverse cultures, backgrounds, education, and experience choose to come together and worship God in spite of their deeply held musical preferences. Read more here… (external link)
Journal article — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song Part 4. Worship Leader Magazine. http://worshipleader.com/what-on-earth-are-we-singing-pt-4/
Extract: Worship Leader Article June, 2014 by Daniel Thornton What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song – Part 4 Perfect theology does not a great song make… of course, neither does heresy! So, lyrically, what does make a great song? Christians certainly want to sing songs that are theologically accurate, but also personally meaningful, and to one degree or another poetic. That is to say, the language must evoke something more than mental assent to its ideas, or general consensus from the doctrinal gate-keepers. So, let’s take a look at how the 25 representative contemporary congregational songs (CCS) that I’ve been analysing throughout this series fare. But first, a quick recap… Part 1 opened Pandora’s Box. In Part 2, I argued for four CCS categories; Praise/Thanksgiving, Worship, Prophetic/Statement, and Petition. I also demonstrated that most popular CCS have a greater focus on God, than on the singer. In Part 3, I noted that CCS address Jesus far more than God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit; and furthermore, that any intimacy in CCS is overwhelmingly directed to Jesus (which perhaps for some, justifies their “Jesus is my boyfriend” critique of CCS). We also touched on some of God’s attributes most commonly included in CCS lyrics. Now to dig a little deeper. Given that multiple Verses are the norm in this genre (only 2/25 songs had a single Verse, and they are both over 10 years old), repeated Choruses and Bridges carry the dominant lyrics. Often accompanied by the ‘catchiest’ melodies in the song, they are even more likely to be remembered and repeated outside the context of a service. While my analysis was of all the lyrics in these songs, it is worth considering the particular influence of Chorus lyrics. You probably already noticed that four lyric lines are the default for CCS Choruses, with the occasional six or three-lined Chorus emerging from the corpus. Does it matter? Does that make a song good, bad, or indifferent? Clearly, four lines still provide endless lyric variation, so more importantly, what are these lines saying? Well, generally, they’re reinforcing some fairly fundamental Christian concepts, consider: • Bless the Lord O my soul… worship His holy name • Christ alone, Cornerstone • Our God is greater… stronger… higher than any other • How great is our God • I will call upon Your name • Saviour, He can move the mountains If these are the words we place in people’s mouths to sing (and ultimately to meditate on) should CCS Choruses be saying something else? The average word count is 123; for the male writers it is 106 and female writers, 138. In Christ Alone has the most words; 224 (though written by a male lyricist); For All You’ve Done has the lowest, 61 words. Interestingly, the duration of For All You’ve Done is 5’35” and In Christ Alone is 4’56” indicating no direct correlation between word count and song length. Are songs with fewer words less enduing? Not necessarily. The 2nd oldest song on the list also has the second lowest word count – Open the Eyes of My Heart, 63 words. It is not only ‘hymn-like’ CCS that have a high word count. Desert Song, Beneath The Waters (I Will Rise) and Blessed Be Your Name all have more words than How Deep the Father’s Love or Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone). 16/25 are written in the first person, singular (I, me, my). Only 2/25 use only the plural first person pronoun (We, our, us) – Our God and God is Able. 7/25 contain both first person singular and first person plural pronouns. Is this the right balance? All but one of the songs (One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)) use at least one title to address God besides pronouns (You, He, etc.). The most utilised are those for the second person of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ. Nine different terms are used for Him across twenty two of the representative CCS. The most common term is Lord; interesting, given its full theological implications against a backdrop of individualistic postmodern western Christianity. Has the term lost its meaning? Alternatively, is it aspirational, an expression of faith or intention? Besides God-titles, in addressing God, 11/25 use only 2nd person pronouns (You, Yours), 8/25 contain only 3rd person pronouns (He, His) and six contain both 2nd and 3rd person pronouns. How do you feel about that balance? Regarding the songs containing both 2nd and 3rd person addresses to God, does this confuse the song’s focus? Or are these great examples of balancing God’s immanence and transcendence? Finally, poetic language and metaphor abound in CCS. For example: • Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find • Through the storm He is Lord • Into the darkness you shine, out of the ashes we rise • He wraps Himself in light and darkness tries to hide • Keep my eyes above the waves Does this language resonate with you? Should we be encouraging more equivocal poetic language in CCS? Or, do we risk making the songs so ‘interpretable’ that they might well make sense as a secular love song, or as a worship expression of some other religion? The data can be a little overwhelming, and there’s so much more than I can fit into these articles. We didn’t even touch on how Scripture is expressed/re-expressed in CCS. Nevertheless, ultimately, this is about the words we put in Christian’s mouths and potentially in their hearts… how are we doing? Join the conversation. Read more here… (external link)
Journal article — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song Part 3. Worship Leader Magazine. http://worshipleader.com/what-on-earth-are-we-singing-pt-3/
Extract: Worship Leader Article April, 2014 by Daniel Thornton What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song – Part 3 Have you ever considered what might define the contemporary congregational song (CCS) genre? Of course every song is unique (although some may feel that CCS all sound the same!), but what are the music and extra-musical parameters that make CCS, CCS. Are they just pop songs with Christian lyrics? These are just some of the questions I’ve been pursuing answers to through my PhD research, overflowing into this series of articles. If you’re only just joining the conversation, please check out the first two parts (Part 1, Part 2) so you’ve got the context of what I’m about to reveal… But, before we go any further, I thought it might be helpful to outline what I intend to cover over the coming months: • Summary of the genre analysis (this article) • More in-depth CCS Lyric analysis • More in-depth CCS Music analysis • Secular musical influences • Industry in the driving seat (platforms for CCS) • Songwriters’ perspectives • Average believers and the songs we make them sing • Perceptions of engagement • A framework for effective contemporary congregational songs Having analysed 25 representative CCS that are popularly sung across numerous countries, scores of denominations, thousands of churches, and are highly viewed on YouTube, the following is a summary of the genre. Yes, it’s reductionist, and you may like (or not like) some of the findings, but they are what they are. You will be able to find exceptions; some of those exceptions are what makes the individual songs stand out among the sea of over 300,000 English-language worship songs represented by CCLI. Contemporary congregational songs we sing are predominantly written/co-written since 2009 by male singer-songwriters, mostly with a strong local church expression. They are recorded by artists who have a significant platform (including financial backing and marketing) with which to gain the initial momentum required to seed the songs across enough churches for them to begin registering on CCLI charts. Effectively, they are either extensively on tour or front the worship of large cross-denominational conferences. They will be recorded in a live or pseudo-live worship context, probably with Electric Guitar(s), Acoustic Guitar(s), Keyboard(s), Bass, Drums and Lead vocal/Backing vocals. They will of course be commercially available and registered with CCLI. Many of them will also be recorded on video. All of them will have this version, or a fan created lyrics-with-background-pictures version uploaded to YouTube. They are in white-note-Major-keys and always contain chords I, IV and V with one or two extra chords added, often vi or ii. They are on average 6’16” long, predominantly slower in tempo (below 80bpm), and in simple quadruple time (4/4), rarely in complex duple (6/8). They are likely to have more than one Verse, a Chorus and either a Bridge and/or an Instrumental section. They will on average use 123 words, although it could be half or double that amount. And yes, for the record, female songwriters on average use more words (138) in their songs than male songwriters (106). CCS will likely have a primary focus of Praise/Thanksgiving, but possibly Prophetic/Statement and less likely Worship or Petition (definitions can be found in Part 2). They are likely to be written from an individual point of view (I, me, my), but are often a combination of individual/plural points of view (I, me, my, we, us, our). They will address God more than they acknowledge the singer. They will generally focus on the second person of the Trinity, sometimes referencing God or the Spirit, but almost never Father or Holy Spirit, and they will generally not address the Godhead with more than four titles in the one song (e.g. Lord, Saviour, Redeemer, Jesus). They will also address God directly through the 2nd person pronoun (You), or through a combination of 2nd and 3rd person pronouns (You, He). If there is any level of intimacy in the lyrics they will virtually only ever be directed to Jesus, or the undefined divine “You”. They will contain some Scriptural references, often in isolation and re-expressed, as well as acknowledging one or more of God’s attributes. The most likely attributes to be acknowledged are God’s; love, name, mercy/grace, light, goodness, and greatness/strength/omnipotence. They are likely to have a melodic range of a perfect octave somewhere between D4 and E5, with a “pitch center of gravity” of B5, at least in their recorded versions. The overwhelming majority of intervallic movement in the melodies is the unison (repeated notes) and the Major second, similar to the statistics for nursery rhyme melodies. Of course, they will be comparatively rhythmically more complex. Finally, they will contain some easily identifiable lyric hook or instrumental riff which is reoccurring. This summary may at first appear facetious, but it’s not. It is not prescriptive, but descriptive of the genre. There is no value judgement made of the findings, although you may feel particularly passionate that some of these musical/lyrical elements should change. Great! Encourage your songwriters to write songs according to your convictions. Alternatively, choose songs for your church that address your concerns. Alternatively, you may feel that this quite adequately endorses the majority of songs you sing/lead. The more interesting question is why does this accurately summarise the genre? What are the limitations that congregational songs must adhere to, if they are to remain congregational? I open the floor… Read more here… (external link)
Journal article — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song Part 2. Worship Leader Magazine. http://worshipleader.com/what-on-earth-are-we-singing-pt-2/
Extract: Worship Leader Magazine Article March, 2014 by Daniel Thornton What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song – Part 2 If you haven’t read my inaugural article, you’ll find it helpful before you sink your teeth into this one. I would love to dive into the summary of my corpus analysis of contemporary congregational songs (CCS) with you; it’s fascinating and revealing of the songs we popularly sing in church. However, some more groundwork should be laid first. The CCLI most reported songs (especially in the Asia/Pacific region) are largely produced by Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, but largely analysed by non-Pentecostal/Charismatic scholars. Not that this should discount their contribution in any way, but rather reveals the lens through which these songs are analysed; predominantly as either a modern development of hymns or an infiltration of secular popular music. Attention, then, is often spent around ‘should’ questions, rather than the ‘is/are’ questions. Should this music be used in church? Should these simple, romantic lyrics be acceptable as worship? instead of What is happening in this music? How is it communicating both to the worshiper, and from the worshiper to God? How do these songs represent a culturally meaningful expression of faith? As a Pentecostal scholar, with a professional classical and popular music background, I find the ‘is/are’ questions far more engaging. Thus, the musical content, production values, performance contexts, lyrics, their theology and writing styles were all analysed. One of the biggest challenges was trying to find a generally accepted analytical approach for CCS lyrics. Various authors have categorised songs as: ‘Praise & Worship’ (a most unfortunate bifurcation); kerygma, koinonia,and leitourgia; through Trinitarian address and usage of verbs; or into myriad types based on the key message of each song. It’s time for a definitive, but flexible and simple way to categorise CCS lyrics; and I believe the following four categories do exactly that. Every CCS I can think of over the last 30 years fits into one (or two) of these categories: • Praise/Thanksgiving – to or about God (any/some/all of the Godhead), His character and/or His acts; acknowledgement, testimonial, invitational • Worship – directly addressed to God (any/some/all of the Godhead); defined by intimacy, surrender, relationship, dedication • Prophetic/Statement – directed to the singer, the congregation, the unsaved or the wider community; addressing truth, reality (present or future), declarative, testimonial • Petition – request directed to God (any/some/all of the Godhead); the request may take any form, but are often personal, corporate, evangelical or eschatological So, out of the representative 25 songs analysed, where did most of them fit? Eleven were primarily Praise/Thanksgiving, three having it as their secondary focus. Seven songs were primarily Prophetic/Statement, four having it as their secondary focus. Five songs had a primary focus of Worship and only two songs were primarily Petition. As informing and useful as this categorisation of CCS is, I did also analyse song lyrics in many of the ways other authors have: I documented the Trinitarian addresses; I noted all personal pronoun usage; I also created an equation to show whether the song had more of a focus on God or more of a focus on the worshiper (which is a common discussion regarding CCS). I counted every reference to God, whether a name of the Godhead or the divine pronouns ‘You, Your, Yours’. Similarly, I documented all references to the singer/worshiper, both singular ‘I, me, my’ and plural ‘we, us, our’. I then made them into a mathematical fraction of ‘singer references - S’ over the number of ‘God references - G’ (S/G). Clearly, a fraction that is greater than 1 means there is a greater focus on the singer than on God. A fraction of less than 1 means there was a greater focus on God than on the singer. What do you think was the result? Well perhaps contrary to popular myths about CCS, only 4 of the 25 songs had more references to the worshiper than the object of worship (Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone, Desert Song, Hosanna, and Oceans – Where Feet May Fail). While one CCS had an equal number of references to each party, 20 had more references to God than they did to the worshiper. Granted, the lowest fraction (song most about God) was still 7/44 (Jesus At The Center). Some may suggest that’s still too much of a focus on us. Some may also argue that I’m already looking at the best of CCS and therefore skewing the results to those songs that are vetted by many denominations and worship leaders. Wouldn’t they predominantly choose songs that give God more focus than the worshiper? Probably. I agree. So there may indeed be many CCS out there that are more ‘me-centred’ than those in the representative list. But what a great encouragement! Clearly churches are choosing songs with the right balance of focus for worship! So much more to come… but for now, let the discussions begin! Read more here… (external link)
Journal article — Published in 2014
Thornton, D., 2014. What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song. Worship Leader Magazine. http://worshipleader.com/what-on-earth-are-we-singing
Extract: What on earth are we singing? A series on the contemporary congregational song It’s about time we got acquainted… Hi, my name is Daniel Thornton, and as an ordained minister, worship leader, professional musician, songwriter, recording artist and speaker for over 20 years, I’ve been involved in innumerable conversations about what we sing in church (contemporary congregational songs or CCS); as I’m sure have many of you. The strong opinions are endless! But ultimately so many of those conversations are simply that, opinions; justified, passionate, logical, educated, but still opinions. After reading all the authoritative, current literature on CCS, I saw a major hole in the research: enter my PhD journey. I want to share with you over a series of articles, not educated opinion, but concrete, quantitative and qualitative analysis of the songs we sing. What really is “singable”? What are the theological biases of CCS? What’s the balance of “me-focussed” to “God-focussed” songs? Why are certain songs adopted by the church-at-large and others are not? Christian Copyright licensing International Ltd. (CCLI) is a tremendous resource, not only in that it allows churches to legally work with copyrighted materials (i.e. songs), but also because it provides us with data “after the fact”. Only after churches have introduced songs to their congregation do they report them. 10,000s of churches report, from different denominations, from all over the country, and indeed all over the world. That means the data is untainted by media hype or music industry sales figures or particular circles of worship influence. Hence, I used the CCLI data to establish 25 representative CCS, and analysed these to answer the questions I posed earlier (and many more!). Admittedly, my research is focussed on the Asia/Pacific region data. However, in this global village, the data is not that much different across the western world. In fact, I have used one of the dominant transglobal media platforms – YouTube – as the “primary text” for analysing songs. Anyone involved in worship ministry will know the conundrum of providing musicians and singers with an audio version of the song, so they can learn it. From the user’s perspective, YouTube is free, easy to share, doesn’t take up valuable space on a church server, and most importantly, is mostly legal (at least when sharing monetized or official videos)!! Enough of the copyright lesson… What does the analysis of these representative songs reveal? Well, far too much for one article! Nevertheless, let’s make a start. Three of the biggest critiques of CCS are: 1. They lack theological weight or accuracy 2. They’re not very musically interesting 3. Popular music is either inherently secular or secular by association I won’t argue for or against the first point. My question would be, “compared to what”? Compared to hymns? Compared to Scripture? Well, if we seriously are looking for our congregational songs to comprehensively articulate all Scriptural and doctrinal truth, nothing we have sung for the past 2000 years would gain the tick of approval! Clearly, any song in order to be realistically sung must limit its focus! It was no different for the early church Christians; they were not singing the entire letters of Paul or the Gospels each week to ensure their songs adequately covered all of their beliefs! “Ahhh, but compared with hymns, contemporary songs are far less doctrinally comprehensive” I hear some say… are they? Let’s run with the assumption that they are. In a day and age where we have so many forms in which we might digest truth (the written Bible, the audio Bible, visual Bibles, preaching and teaching in written/video/audio formats), must our songs be theologically comprehensive? Of course they cannot be heretical, but then we can’t always hold hymns up as examples of perpetually perfect doctrine. As for the second point, it is often the musically trained that complain about the musical content (or lack thereof) in CCS. However, surely the real question here is “what are these songs’ purpose”? Answering that question impacts substantially on the musical parameters utilised. If the song is for the average, mostly untrained, Christian to sing, then a level of musical simplicity is not only required, but should be lauded; the song is made for its purpose. Clearly songs that are amazing musically, but are unsingable, cannot be considered successful congregational songs. Finally, even if someone could define the exact musical content of the ancient Hebrews (which they can’t), would we all be arguing that such music was the only sacred music acceptable to God. It seems that God’s silence about exact musical details in Scripture is brilliantly conceived, for in that silence all cultures, all musical histories and expressions can find new and true purpose being directed towards the worship of God. You don’t have to like popular music. You don’t have to like the associations with some who produce it. However, you cannot declare it as unable to be used for the glory of God. Pastor Daniel Thornton is an accomplished songwriter, musician, worship leader and communicator. He is the Head of Department, Music and Creative Arts for Alphacrucis College, Sydney, Australia and regularly travels to minister and train all over the globe. He is the world’s leading expert on the contemporary congregational song. Visit, danielthornton.org. Read more here… (external link)
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