New Worship Songs for Progressive Christian Faith Communities (Brian Brandsmeier)

Progressive Christianity has a lot of things in its favor: thoughtful theology, rich tradition, social engagement, etc. But too often it’s missing one important factor: passion. Some people probably gravitate to more conservative churches because, frankly, they’re bored and uninspired by worship at progressive churches. But it’s possible to be progressive and passionate.

One important aspect of being a more rousing church is music. There’s something about music that goes deeper than words alone. Music naturally facilitates passion, energy, and depth. Not only does music provide energy, but it also helps us learn and explore theology. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of music. But progressive Christian music is rare. And progressive Christian music done well is even more uncommon.

I can testify to the need for such music. After serving a progressive congregation for a few months, I realized that many people didn’t seem very inspired by the hymns. They just weren’t connecting. No wonder. The lyrics had traditional theology, old-school metaphors, outdated wording, etc. Plus the music itself wasn’t the kind of music that people actually listen to in their car or on their iPod. The same hymns that may have made people misty with emotion in the 1950s or 1850s just weren’t having the same effect today.

New music was needed. So I recruited my wife to help me write some songs. After reading Brian McLaren’s “Open Letter To Worship Songwriters,” we set up some guidelines. The songs had to include: progressive theology, Biblical faithfulness/breadth, missional/justice themes, inclusive/modern language, expansive/relevant metaphors, emotional/spiritual authenticity, and focus on peace/healing. With our guidelines in place, we set out to write music that would facilitate a deeper, more passionate spirituality during worship.

Over the next few months we wrote a bunch of songs with a variety of topics. Songs about being open to the abiding presence of God, finding hope through lamentation, living out Christ’s resurrection in our lives, etc. Songs about churchy topics, such as the Magnificat, Eucharist, and Lord’s Prayer. Songs that featured the Psalms, including a Psalm of war that we wrote in the context of the battle against breast cancer. Songs to be used during healing services, bible classes, and personal devotions. We even wrote two songs that used traditional hymn tunes with completely re-imagined and updated lyrics.

The music seemed to connect with folks. Many members of the congregation shared their appreciation for the songs. People in the wider community seemed to enjoy the songs when we played at open mic nights. The online community was supportive of the music when we posted it on Facebook and YouTube. Plus, we played for a lecture that Brian McLaren gave in town. We knew there was a niche for progressive music.

Before long, we had recorded and released the songs on our debut album called “On The Way.” Today we share our music at various churches, coffee shops, art festivals, church camps, and special events. It seems that people are thirsty for progressive Christian music. And that makes our hearts sing for joy.

To sample our album, click here.


Here are some reviews / endorsements that I (Kurt) found on their website:

“Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing these! These songs deserve to be heard and enjoyed widely!” – Brian McLaren

“On occasion I find music with depth, sensitivity, and faith. Sara does just that. It is good to know bringing God into a song is not always accompanied by shallow reflection and syncopation!” – Tripp Fuller

“Sara Kay sings with mind, heart, and soul. It’s rousing, emergent music for an emerging church!” – Philip Clayton


You can connect with Brian and Sara at their blog: Sojourning Spirituality (after you check out their music of course).

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  • AmyS

    After 20 years of leaving hymns behind in my childhood church, I have come back around to a deep appreciation and enjoyment of hymns. My mother has often made comments about the depth of theological content included in hymns, and the Christian education that is inherent in the form. For a long time I rolled my eyes or argued with her about the irrelevance of hymns in our contemporary context. But the older I get, the more I love the hymns–old and new, formal and folk–and hope that we never abandon our rich tradition of congregational singing. 

  • Nice music. But, doesn’t sound progressive to me. Sounds kinda like old-fashioned folk music. I dunno.

  • I just checked out a couple of those and I have to agree with Greg that I don’t find these particularly inspiring.  The guitar is a wonderful instrument, and in the right context I love it.  But for it to have be come as de regeur for contemporary Christian music as the organ was a century ago, is not progress to me.

    On the positive side, this songwriter does at least comprehend the notions of melody and meter, unlike (for example) David Crowder.  She also borrows a number of (good) hymn melodies as settings for her new words.   But quite frankly I find the language pedestrian and the lyrics lacking in much poetic quality.

    By contrast, the worship leader that the church we now attend has taken to using some of the old hymns but infusing them with a rock-n-roll sensibility circa the late 70s, and comes up with an inspiring remix that I enjoy quite a bit…”How Great Thou  Art” with a driving gallop beat on the drums can really wake you up!

    But in the final analysis, I dislike *any* musical focus that chooses only one genre or sound for every service, every song, every Sunday.  I don’t choose the same types of music for my mp3 player, my cd collection, or my worship.