When you’re a twenty-something year old Nashvillian with any sort of musical aptitude, the sharing of musical background, experience, and aspiration becomes standard fare in the liturgy of social  interactions and introductions.

“What brought you to Nashville? You trying to do music?” he inquired.

“Yeah… trying,” she replied, sheepishly.

“Cool, what do you play?” he asked, graciously choosing to converse about her hypothetical music career rather than her day job at Starbucks.

“I’m a flautist for a anarchist post-metal hardcore band. Do you play?” she says, nonchalantly.

At this point in the conversation, many of us twenty-something, musically proficient people would wax poetic about our new industrial, reggae, dubstep project or reach into our pocket to retrieve one of a seemingly endless stack of demos with our band name scribbled in Sharpie across the repurposed jewel case of an old Ruben Studdard album we used to love but now pretend to hate.

However, for some of us… for those of us with backgrounds in worship music, this is the part of the conversation where we usually prepare to defend and/or distance ourselves from the music of the Church.

“Yeah… I play guitar and sing… Well… I lead worship,” he said, fully aware of the less than enthusiastic response he was about to……

“Oh… ok,” she said, less than enthusiastically.

If given the opportunity, the conversation that follows can often be quite agreeable and may even segue into constructive discussion about the ways in which many churches have failed to embrace the arts or even the creative gifts of young people. However, it’s unfortunate that it should ever be a surprise that someone passionate about music might also be passionate about the music of the Church.

I don’t mean to hate on Michael W. Smith, but this album cover was just too good to pass up.

But, let’s face it, friends… As far as music goes, a lot of “Christian music” really stinks.

At some point along the way (the 80s, I presume) Christian radio stations set a standard for how Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) would be defined henceforth, and Christians have been stuck with it, for better or worse, ever since. And, though no major shifts have occurred in the Christian radio world, there has been a veritable explosion of quality worship music and independent Christian music over the past several years.

Even tenured bands like David Crowder Band who started out well-within the bounds of CCM, eventually explored levels of creativity not previously associated with genre. Hillsong United has essentially crowd-sourced and redefined modern worship music world-wide. Gungor has pushed limits of Christian songwriting into whole new categories typically reserved for “secular” bands. There are even some Christian artists I am convinced I’d listen to almost as intently even if I wasn’t a Christian because of the style and quality of musicianship (i.e. John Mark McMillan)… And those are just some names that many people already know and closely associate with CCM.

I would love if the music of the Church was defined, not by the style of CCM that makes it onto Way-FM and The Fish… the kind that makes you want to brush your teeth after you hear it because it’s just so sweet and sugary… but rather by wellspring of creativity, authenticity, and diversity that I know exists within the People of God.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to be dismissive about all the music that gets played on Christian radio (and certainly not the musicians, themselves) . Even the music there has its place, and, just because I don’t like it, that doesn’t mean it lacks value, authenticity, or mission. However, I believe there is a relatively untapped wealth of creative, innovative, and heartfelt expression that falls within the realm of “Christian music” many people have not yet had the privilege of hearing.

John Mark McMillan

It is for this reason that I have spent a little time compiling some of my favorite songs of faith, hope, longing, and doubt.

It is my hope that these songs will inspire you as they have inspired me.

I also hope, for those of you who are already familiar with many of these artists, that you are able to find something new. Several of the songs on the list came by way of suggestions or new discoveries in searching for songs that might fit well, so many are new to me as well.

It’s definitely a work-in-progress and far from comprehensive, but it is a start.

So here it is… Songs of Faith, Hope, Longing, and Doubt (Because “Christian Music Doesn’t Have to Stink):

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll let me know which songs you’d add to the list.

Peace. Grace. Rhythm.

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