NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Music experts charged with the task of setting criteria for which the hymns, worship songs and praise choruses should be part of an upcoming project concluded that a song’s theology is more important than its sound.
A Hymnal Summit hosted by the LifeWay Worship Music Group in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 12-13 drew 100 participants selected because of their expertise to provide feedback on potential content for “The Worship Project,” which includes a hardback hymnal to be released in 2008 and a 1,000-song digital hymnal repository to be released shortly thereafter.
“We have music professors from all of our Southern Baptist seminaries and 21 Baptist colleges, as well as church musicians and worship leaders and local music industry leaders,” Mike Harland, director of the LifeWay Worship Music Group, said. “We also have invited people who worked on the 1991 Baptist Hymnal and our own LifeWay people who are devoted to this project.”
Participants attended sessions on educational resources, hymnal selection criteria, hymnal components and products, theological review, Web portal function and worship song selection criteria. In each session, experts discussed what was needed to make The Worship Project a usable and successful tool for churches.
“I want you to know that your presence and input is invaluable to this project,” Harland told the group. “We have not come here with a lot of preconceived ideas about what we are going to do. What you tell us is going to help shape the project’s direction.”
Harland reminded the group that evangelism must be the core of all that churches do, musically or otherwise.
“If evangelism doesn’t come as one of the results of our worship experience, I would question that worship experience,” he said.
John Davis, professor of church music at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., expressed optimism about the project.
“Based on what I have seen so far, and providing that the innovations being contemplated are included, I believe this new hymnal/worship resource will be a revolutionary development for my seminary students,” Davis said. “It will allow them maximum flexibility in their worship ministry, enabling them to be more effective, and will allow them tremendous new opportunities to involve others in the worship ministry.”
Tom Hellams, vice president of executive communications and relations at LifeWay Christian Resources, anticipates The Worship Project to be widely accepted.
“This will be a tremendous benefit to church starts and those churches with just five to 10 members,” Hellams, a former music minister, said. “On the other end of the spectrum, it will also be of such great use to those large churches with hundreds or even thousands of members.”
As the summit closed, musicians gave reports on their group sessions.
Jon Duncan, state music director for the Georgia Baptist Convention, gave a list of criteria from the theological review session, which determined that the selected music needed to be Christ-centered, biblically sound, relevant, Trinitarian in scope and distinctive.
Similar criteria were reported from each of the other sessions, with the hymn and worship song session attendees adding that the songs need to be easily sung and memorable.
Harland said he views the project as one that “reaches back to our history and reaches forward to our future.” He specifically mentioned attendees such as Buryl Red, Wesley Forbis, Jim Gibson and Bob Burroughs as giants of church music whose contributions and opinions are still valued greatly for The Worship Project.
At the same time, he sought the advice and counsel of worship leaders like Travis Cottrell and David Moffitt, who not only are leading worship but also are writing new songs for worship. Harland added that having music production legends such as Phil Barfoot and Greg Nelson, who serves as the project’s creative director, added a fresh perspective and insight into features that are essential both within and outside the Southern Baptist audience.
“This project is going to be one that will touch lives for years to come,” Harland said. “What we do here and the music we select for inclusion will impact the Kingdom of God. It will draw people to Him. None of us take this responsibility lightly.”
Music selected for the project will cover a variety of musical styles, but the substance of the music will determine each song’s inclusion.
“During one of the sessions, Dr. Lloyd Elder [former president of the Sunday School Board, now LifeWay] made an observation that sums up the criteria for the selection process,” Harland noted. “He said, ‘We don’t need to aim for balance, we need to aim for fundamental truth.’”
For updates on the project, visit www.lifewayworship.com.