Note: Ok, I might have gotten carried away with this one. I'm a geek and I like to talk about worship, so lots of words and videos to work through this time. If you want the tl;dr (too long; didn't read) version, skip to "What on earth does this have to do with Say the Word?"
Hillsong United is getting a lot of great press right now, including a highly praised appearance on NBC's "Today Show" and the release of the documentary detailing the writing and recording of 2015's "Empires," "Let Hope Rise." It's not often that a worship band makes it into the realm of public consciousness, but the guys in United are defying those expectations right now. It's even more unlikely when you consider that they started as an admittedly rowdy youth worship band in the early 2000s.
(Can you use the words "history" and "modern worship" in the same context? I'm going to. #spoilers)
I'm 26 years old, so my time growing up in youth group (my first experience with church in general) in some ways paralleled the maturation of Hillsong United. I never cared much for them when I was a teenager - their stuff was catchy enough, but it was a little inaccessible for a kid like me. I was the only musician in my youth group, a piano player at that, and their stuff was high energy and guitar driven (My predilection for metal music didn't help either). But as I got older and developed as a worship leader, Joel Houston progressed and developed as a worship leader and songwriter as well. Over that time, shallow bouncers like "One Way" (you can click the link, but I'll warn you: it's not great. What can I say? That was youth worship in 2003) gave way to more serious attempts, such as 2006's "United We Stand" - still a high water mark for the relatively fledgling Modern Worship Movement. "United We Stand" featured songs like "From the Inside Out," "Came to my Rescue," and "The Stand" and heavily influenced the next 10 years of worship music. 2006 was the year I started leading worship seriously, and suddenly I found myself reaching for more and more Hillsong in my setlists (though I was definitely more of a David Crowder kind of guy.) (This story has a lot of parenthetical moments)
Fast forward to 2013. I stop at 2013 because that's the year that Hillsong United "grew up" with the release of "Zion," which you probably know as the album that introduced "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)," and it's singer Taya Smith, to the world (Not to be confused with "Broceans." take the 30 seconds and thank me later) It's also, coincidentally, the year that I started working here at Navarre, and began considering ministry as a career. That last part is incidental, really, but I like the symbolism. Zion as an album was a complete tonal departure from everything the band had done in the past, while being a serious leap forward in lyrical maturity at the same time. (#spoilers: Oceans isn't even the best track on the album - that honor goes to "Scandal of Grace"). Zion showed a new dedication to creativity and maturity that has helped give the church's modern expression of worship meaning and legitimacy. That expression continued with the release of 2015's "Empires." Which brings us to the point of this whole walk down memory lane.
What on earth does this have to do with Say the Word?
(Hey, you're still reading! Or maybe you skipped here because history is boring. Either way, /highfive. )
Here's what 12 years of maturity looks like lyrically:
I lay my life down at your feet,
'cause you're the only one I need.
I look to You and You are always there
- One Way (2003)
Say the word and there is light
Say the word and dead bones rise
Every start and end hangs on Your voice
For Your word never returns void
- Say the Word (2015)
There are times that I listen to Hillsong United and am taken aback at new ways that Joel finds to say basic truth. "Your word never returns void." I love that line.
So we've been working through Christian to the Core, a study and sermon series about the core values of our faith. And while I was working through the lesson for Week 3 - Passion for the Harvest, this song kept running through my head. And it wouldn't leave. I found myself coming back to those verses, and I couldn't shake the feeling that this was something that our congregation needed to be singing. Now, if you've never had hours of your life taken from you listening to me talk about how I plan worship (my poor worship team, man), then you're probably unaware of how long it takes a song to make it from first listen to being scheduled for worship. I've got an admittedly over-meticulous process for evaluating and critiquing and preparing a song for Sunday morning worship, and it takes a long time. At the moment we've got a setlist of about 40 songs that we sing on a regular basis for Sundays. This year, we've introduced 14 new songs, 11 of which are still on that list. There are over 75 songs sitting in a spreadsheet that have been vetted and approved for potentially being introduced on Sunday mornings, and some of those songs will never see the light of day in our sanctuary.
That's what makes "Say the Word" so unusual. When Hillsong United released their "Empires" album last year, I vetted the few songs that stuck out to me. Somehow, I missed this one. Maybe it was the arrangement, maybe it was the placement between two great songs, maybe it was just where I was at at the time. Who knows? All that to say, "Say the Word" was never on that list. Then I heard the acoustic arrangement (linked below), and really started to listen to the words of the song for the first time. That acoustic arrangement was recorded on the mount of the beatitudes, where Jesus gave the "Sermon on the Mount" from Matthew 5. That was a very poignant realization for me, and hearing this song in that context changed my understanding.
This song says some very important things about the way that God's Word works in our lives, and I felt that it was something that we needed to be singing in this season of our lives. I can't believe I almost missed it!
Ok, I'll shut up. (Maybe.) Take a few minutes to hear the song story below, and catch the acoustic version as well.
Matt Dailey serves as Worship Director at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2013. When he's not leading worship and designing graphics, he enjoys baseball, comic books and team trivia (his team is nationally ranked. #micdrop). Read more about Matt here.