In December 2023 I will step down after nineteen years as worship coordinator at King’s Church Durham. I am counting down the sixty songs I have led most frequently in Sunday worship during that time. You can read my introduction and numbers 60 to 31 in my previous post.
Here’s the top 30…
30. Thank You For Saving Me
Martin Smith – 1993
A big start to the top 30. This would have been one of the first songs I ever led in worship as a teenager. Back then, contemporary worship setlists were dominated by Cutting Edge songs, but this and ‘Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?’ are the only ones I led more than a couple of times at Kings. (I only led the once-ubiquitous ‘I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever’ one time!) Songs with crystal clear lyrics tend to endure the longest, and Martin Smith writes more impressionistically. But ‘Thank You For Saving Me’ says exactly what it means, and there is no denying the chorus.
29. Great In Power
Russel Fragar – 1999
A contemporary worship take on Psalm 148. A perfect one-verse, one-chorus opener, compatible with so many other songs in C or D. Running ‘Great In Power’ into ‘Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven’ was one of my early favourite links: new and old, on the same theme, flowing seamlessly together in the same key.
28. All To Us
Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Matt Maher – 2010
There are so few songs about the church. We picked this one up as soon as it was released and it’s still one of our anthems. “Let the saving love of Christ be the measure of our lives.” Amen!
27. Here Is Love Vast As The Ocean
William Rees, Robert Lowry – 1870s
A classic hymn and a deliberate choice to align ourselves with the heritage of the Welsh Revival. Many hymns of the Cross take us on a journey; this one holds us in a single scene. We only use the two verses. I’ve never felt the need for any of the additions.
Brenton Brown – 2008
Was this the moment bridges in worship songs changed from being from an awkward sideshow (‘I Could Sing of Your Love Forever’) into the main event (‘What A Beautiful Name’)? It’s an excellent song anyway, but the bridge takes the roof off. All these years later, I still have to caution our worship leaders not to overuse this song.
25. This Is Our God
Reuben Morgan – 2008
…or was it this bridge? This song does so many things well. Expressing dependence on God and need for the Holy Spirit in the verses, pure devotion in the pre-chorus (or is that bit supposed to be the chorus?), then barnstorming Christology in the chorus (bridge?). The section names are not clear, but the power of a congregation belting out “Lifted on high from death to life/Forever our our God is glorified” absolutely is.
24. Mighty To Save
Rueben Morgan, Ben Fielding – 2006
I vividly remember a cell group lunch shortly after we taught this song where two professional theologians (yes, this is Durham) disagreed strongly about its merits. I have mixed feelings. The lyrics are fairly non-sequitur, but it has such clear statements about the resurrection. And the overall effect of leading it with a congregation is unambiguous. I think this was the first electric guitar riff we copied from a record as part of our regular arrangement. A mixed bag it may be, but some songs are greater than the sum of their parts.
23. And Can It Be
Charles Wesley – 1738
Charles Wesley’s greatest hymn? It’s certainly up there. I’m always surprised by how many students arrive on our worship team never having encountered this before. Fiendishly difficult to play on the guitar. (Perhaps that’s the reason!) More difficult to lead vocally than most because of the echoing parts at the end. But such an enrichment of our vocabulary. Frequently run together with…
22. What Can I Do?
Graham Kendrick, Paul Baloche – 2006
Stellar lyrics in both verses: one on creation, one on the Cross. What would you expect with Graham Kendrick involved? And I’m interested to see how many Paul Baloche songs appear high up this list. I didn’t have him down as one of my favourites, but it seems he is.
21. Holy (Jesus You Are)
Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Jonas Myrin – 2011
I’m always drawn to songs that present an exalted Christ. This one makes a distinctive contribution to our thematic repertoire: Jesus in glory, his power to raise us to glory, his coming judgement. The final verse still takes my breath away every time I lead it.
20. Before The Throne Of God Above
Charitie Lees Bancroft, Vikki Cook – 1863, 1997
Pause here. This is the one. My favourite song of all time. Put this in dialogue with ‘Be Thou My Vision’, and that’s what my soul sounds like. These words are sublime. Dizzying Christology and searing testimony in effortless perfect rhyme. It boggles my mind that it was relatively unknown for decades until Vikki Cook breathed new life into it in 1997 with her superlative tune. I actually hold back from leading it except where absolutely necessary because I never want to become numb to it.
19. Jesus, Friend Of Sinners
Paul Oakley – 2000
Such an exuberant salvation song. I loved leading this in the early years. It’s fun! Which is too rare a musical mood in contemporary worship. One of my biggest ministry mistakes over these nineteen years is that I let everything get monotonously serious for a while.
18. King Of The Nations
Graham Kendrick – 1992
The only song in our repertoire with a mandatory key change. And what a key change! The tempo drastically drops and we jump up a step to an epic finish with words from Revelation 14: “Fear God and give him glory/For his hour of judgement comes”. Hooo! It’s so huge that there’s no need for a final chorus. I wonder if we’ve sung this more than any other church in the past two decades. Even Graham Kendrick doesn’t have a decent recording of it online.
17. Gonna Trust In God
Steve Earl – 1997
I picked up a lot of songs from the Stoneleigh Bible Week albums in the late 90’s. This is one that I would never have heard of any other way. An upbeat, faith-filled closer. Nothing else does the same thing. We still use it.
16. This Is Amazing Grace
Phil Wickham, Josh Farro, Jeremy Riddle – 2013
This was a significant song. Aesthetically, as much as anything else. Probably the first one we fully embraced as mainstream contemporary worship recentred itself around Bethel Music. Probably the first one where the primary source was a video featuring a darkly-lit space and festoon lighting. Probably the first “woah” we sang as part of the main melody (late and reluctant to that party). Sure, there’s plenty to critique about all of that, but this is a great song. I love the way the verses feel like Psalms, the chorus is New Testament, and the bridge is Revelation. The chorus articulates substitutionary atonement more clearly than many ‘sounder’ sources. And too often over the past decade, we have needed to proclaim “Who rules the nations with truth and justice? The King of Glory!” in the face of all the contrary evidence in the world.
15. Here For You
Jesse Reeves, Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Tim Wanstall – 2011
Such an exceptional opener. (Minus the dropped octave for the first verse.) These are truly the things I pray at the beginning of gathered worship. Substantial content, and the explicit acknowledgement that God is dynamically present as we gather. A manifesto for healthy charismatic worship.
14. Thank You For The Blood
Matt Redman – 2000
How does Matt Redman manage to write again and again on central themes with such consistent vitality and purpose in his lyrics? There’s nothing fancy or clever-sounding here, but this song celebrates a distinct and powerful truth about the Cross with unpretentious clarity. He is truly an exceptional writer. The torch-bearer in our generation for the tradition of profound and plain-speaking poetry that characterises the best of English hymnody from its very beginning with Watts and Wesley. (Don’t come back at me with “Na na na na na na hey!” if that claim surprises you – actually spend some time with his lyric sheets!)
13. You’re Worthy Of My Praise
David Ruis – 1991
One of the hallmarks of an enduring song is that it doesn’t say anything unnecessary. That’s strikingly true here. There are no random pre-choruses or bridges, no filler lyrics, nothing ambiguous, nothing that dilutes the central theme. The bVII chord in the verse never gets old – so much so that I often use it in a chorus reprise. This song is useful almost anywhere in a set.
Chris Tomlin – 2001
Patterned on Psalm 136, this was one of our core songs for many years. It feels strange to consider where I picked up such a popular song, but actually Michael W Smith’s ‘Worship’ album was the source for quite a number of key songs in the early 2000’s. That was when North American songs (beyond Vineyard) began to feel relevant. Before that, it had all been UK writers.
11. Be Thou My Vision
Dallán Forgaill, Mary E. Byrne, Eleanor H. Hull – C6th, 1905, 1912
I’m amazed this isn’t in the top 10! It’s probably the song I play most in my own devotional life. Our driving 4:4 arrangement has closed countless meetings beyond the ones in my database. I’ve had the honour of leading it at dozens of friends’ weddings. Pretty much my signature musical arrangement at Kings is finishing the song with a huge final verse and then dramatically dropping for a congregational a cappella reprise from “Christ of my own heart, whatever befall”. In later years I have been leading a much more reflective 3:4 version when the moment requires. I feel a connection with the ancient Christianity of these islands when I sing it, like it comes up from the soil. The depths are unplumbable.
10. The Lord Is Gracious And Compassionate
Graham Ord – 1998
There are a lot of songs taken from the Psalms towards the top of the list. (Who would have guessed those ones have an advantage in terms of longevity, huh?) This one is verbatim from Psalm 145. The original recording on the Vineyard UK ‘Come Now Is The Time’ album was a key musical reference point for me as I imagined what kind of sounds we could make in church. But of course it’s the endless versatility of the end section “Praise the Lord, O my soul/Praise the Lord!” that made the song endure. We’ve often used that part by itself as a tag for other songs. It’s powerful with the band at maximum volume, and even more so when the congregation sing in a cappella harmony. In fact, I think it’s this song that taught me that the congregation’s voice is the primary instrument in gathered worship.
9. To God Be The Glory
Fanny Crosby, William Howard Doane – 1875
Is there a song that more completely achieves what it sets out to do? “To God be the glory, great things he has done” it starts, and the rest of the song unpacks those two clauses with exuberant clarity. It’s so useful having a properly up-tempo hymn. We propel it along with driving eighth notes on all instruments in the peak sections. A supremely eloquent call to worship and proclamation of the Gospel. Hear the ultimate invitation for Christian life and worship: “O come to the Father through Jesus the Son/And give him the glory, great things he has done.”
8. Beautiful Saviour
Stuart Townend – 1998
I wasn’t expecting this so high up the list, but it’s absolutely worthy. The second verse is a beautifully articulated summary of what the Cross achieved, the third a transportative vision of eschatological hope. Even the turnaround Dm-Eb-F is endlessly evocative in 6:8. And I think it might win the prize for most chords in a contemporary worship song.
7. Our God Saves
Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche – 2007
A Trinitarian call to worship in the classic U2 style. Exactly what we were looking for when it came out, and it hasn’t worn thin yet. I’ve already noted that opening songs are the workhorses of this list, and opening songs that make room for difficult times are the most useful among them. We’ve often leant heavily on “Mourning turns to songs of praise” to acknowledge some painful event in our community or in the world at the start of a meeting.
6. You Alone Can Rescue
Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin – 2009
I heard Matt Redman lead two choruses and the bridge of this song at a conference in London many months before it was released. I couldn’t wait to teach it. The finished song is one of his finest and it immediately established itself as a Kings classic. But the album version only has one of the two choruses he led at the conference. For me, the already incredible song elevates still more with the missing chorus, so I found the lyrics online and we use it to this day:
Something Is Missing
5. What The Lord Has Done In Me
4. Say It Loud
Graham Kendrick – 1997
Matt Redman may not appear in the top 5, but I’m very glad that Graham Kendrick does. He was a mentor for me when I was in London and he is the vital reference point for all of us who write songs and lead worship in the UK. ‘Say It Loud’ is not one of his most famous songs, and not the one I would choose to highlight if someone hadn’t heard his work, but it’s a testament to his incredible strength as a writer that even works from the middle of his catalogue are so brilliant and so useful to the church. The second verse ends with a triumphant “God’s own Son for sinner’s died/He rose again, he is alive”. That may sound like basic stuff, but just try to write a more eloquent summary of Jesus’ saving work in twelve words with a half rhyme, and then you’ll begin to understand.
3. In Christ Alone
Stuart Townend, Keith Getty – 2001
If one song from our generation will last a hundred years, it’s obviously this one. Over and above the intrinsic merit of it, ‘In Christ Alone’ has become a symbol of theologically engaged, Biblically literate, Christ-proclaiming contemporary worship. When we welcome hundreds of new students through our doors every October, this song grounds the nervous energy. When disastrous events occur in the world, this song recovers our bearings. When we celebrate weddings or mark funerals, this song declares God’s unchanging faithfulness to us in Christ as the ultimate narrative. Each time we sing it references all the other times we’ve sung it, and singing it aligns us with all the Christians around the world doing the same.
2. Crown Him With Many Crowns
Matthew Bridges, Godfrey Thring, George Elvey – 1851, 1871, 1868
Very surprising at number 2, but it does make sense. We’ve used this as a standard opener for practically all my nineteen years. The fourth verse “Crown him the Lord of peace” has too often been sadly urgent. And it’s right on my heart’s favourite theme of the exalted Christ. When I was younger, the rather obtuse language of the last verse (“potentate of time”, “ineffably sublime”) was often negatively cited as the reason why we need contemporary worship songs. People should be able to understand what they’re singing without having to reach for a dictionary. I think that’s right as an overall principle, but I also wholeheartedly embrace the culture we have at Kings where the journey of faith is understood as engaging our intellect and stretching our minds as much as the rest of who we are. Singing lines that need to be thought about is an invitation to learn the truths of God passed down from generation to generation. Worship should lead us beyond what we already know. And that’s particularly justifiable when then end point is “All hail, Redeemer, hail/For thou hast died for me/Thy praise will never, never fail/Throughout eternity.”
1. I Cling To The Cross
Chris Juby – 2004
It’s slightly embarrassing that my own song is the one I’ve led most at Kings, but I guess it’s fitting. My songwriting and my stewardship of what we sing have been bound together for two decades. I wrote ‘I Cling To The Cross’ a few months before I moved to Durham, and it had been well received by my church in London, but I was still such a fledgling songwriter that I taught it to Kings with much vulnerability. If I start enumerating the encouragements I’ve had about it since then, I’ll never stop. Suffice to say: the way our community has embraced this song – and me through it – is truly one of the treasures of my life.