The greatest songs dedicated to worship are hymns. Over the course of hundreds of years, pastors, theologians, and church members have contributed to the church through their pen-ship and creativity. Writers such as Martin Luther, John Wesley, Phoebe Knapp, and many more were able to capture the beauty and glory of God. Every hymn was like a mini-sermon that contained rich theology,
That being said, one of the hardest things to do as a worship group is to modernize a hymn without coming off as pretentious or disrespectful. For a band to take a song that has been written with a specific message in mind and with great fear of the Lord to make it more modern can often times require greater reverence and fear of the Lord than the original writers.
The following list is personal; it is not intended to be a defining list for everyone, but rather just something to consider or inspire other worship leaders to take notice at how amazing hymns can turn out. These hymn covers not only respect the original, but can, at times, elevate the hymn.
10) All Glory, Laud, and Honor by Koiné
The cover borrows elements from the original with their own twist on the lyrics. However, while this may be problematic with other bands, this band was able to stay biblically sound and retain good theology throughout the song. Plus, they still keep most of the original words of the 1993 revision of the hymn. Overall it is a great listen and a great invitation of worship to the congregation, while giving all attention to God throughout the song. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “Praise him in tuneful measures who gave his Son to die; Praise him whose sev’n-fold treasures enrich and sanctify”
9) Nothing But the Blood by Citizens & Saints
The first time I heard Nothing But the Blood, a hymn on Christ’s redemption, it was accompanied by a piano and a choir. So, when I first heard an upbeat rendition of the well-known hymn, I was surprised. At first I didn’t know what to think of it. Now, I love the catchy piano riff and the up-tempo take on a classic. I will admit I still prefer the piano and choir version, but as far as covers go it is absolutely terrific. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; Naught of good that I have done, Nothing but the blood of Jesus”
8) Come Thou Fount by King’s Kaleidoscope
This hymn on its own is a great reminder to be faithful to God, even in our moments of wandering and suffering. With a great musical introduction and a fantastic arrangement, this cover takes a wonderful song with a nice Indie rock vibe. You can also feel the earnestness of the lead vocalist, Chad Gardner, as well as the connection he has with the words. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I’ve come; And I hope by thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home”
7) Great is Thy Faithfulness by Jordan Smith
I remember watching season 9 of The Voice and finding Jordan Smith to be a compelling person. He was a devout Christian (evangelical in fact) and had a powerful singing voice. When he performed Great is Thy Faithfulness on live television, I was blown away by his piano playing and great respect to the hymn by Thomas Chisholm. I was also surprised that it broke records on iTunes and hit the Top 100 charts on Billboard, and deservedly so. His cover was just plain amazing. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
6) In Tenderness by Citizens & Saints
In all honesty, I heard this song when I was fairly new to true Christianity, and I thought this was the original take. I loved the fast, alt-rock vibe of the music and the theme of election within the song (not to mention the amazing bass riff). Even though I found out Citizens & Saints were not the ones to originally pen the words, it is still one of my favorite covers. I really wish more worship leaders would hear this song since not only is it a perfect “opening song” for contemporary worship services, but it also contains sound theology. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “In tenderness He sought me, Weary and sick with sin; And on His shoulders brought me, back to His fold again”
5) I Surrender All by Ascend the Hill
I have mixed feelings about taking a song and making it upbeat just for the sake of it, but Ascend the Hill, in my opinion, pulled it off very well. No one would guess the song from the beginning drum line and guitar solo, but when the vocals begin the song captivates your attention. It is not just the shock value, but also the sheer musical arrangement that is done incredibly well, yet not too showy. As a bonus, they keep all the original lyrics. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “All to Jesus I surrender; make me, Savior, wholly thine; let me feel the Holy Spirit, truly know that thou art mine”
4) Be Still, My Soul by Page CXVI
This hymn cover is just phenomenal. From the chilling vocals to the calming trumpet solo, the rendition honors the hymn by sticking to the original lyrics. This song is a great modern take on a melody that reminds of us God’s goodness through hardships and the hope of Heaven. (Click here to listen.)
Lyrics excerpt: “Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on, When we shall be forever with the Lord; When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s joys restored”
3) Be Thou My Vision by Ascend the Hill
At six minutes and fifty-eight seconds, it is the longest of the ten listed, but the listening experience is worth it. Be Thou My Vision is a hymn that truly resonates within my heart, and Ascend the Hill does not disappoint with their outstanding arrangement, containing a lead guitarist who added depth to the melody rather than distract from it (a rarity in worship music). With great respect, they sing the words of a poem that reflects the message of perseverance in the faith. (Click here to listen.)
Lyric excerpt: “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine Inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, put first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art”
2) How Deep The Father’s Love by The Dispatch
This song always moves me emotionally and it is the one cover that I can honestly say is better than anything a choir and organ could do. I just love the harmonies between the vocals and the simple guitar riff. The Dispatch expertly combined elements of the Indie rock genre and the traditional writing of the hymn to create a quality listening and worship experience. In a sense, this song is more of a tribute than a cover for it honors the message of Christ’s sacrifice and gives the listener an emotional tug while conveying truth to the mind. (Click here to listen.)
Lyrics excerpt: “I will not boast in anything, No gifts, no power, no wisdom; But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer; But this I know with all my heart -His wounds have paid my ransom”
1) Rock of Ages by Dustin Kensrue
I must be honest: I am not a fan of the traditional hymn, my problem being mainly with the musical arrangement. So when I heard Dustin Kensrue’s take that was completely different from the original, I was overjoyed. His additions such as the refrain, the bridge, and the rock style did not take away from the song but instead added to the well written lyrics. It is the first hymn cover I ever heard and it will always be the best. It breaks all the rules by changing the lyrics, music, and style, but it still retains the core theology of the song and the overall message that Christ is the true source of salvation, and it even includes an added chorus. (Click here to listen.)
Lyrics excerpt: “Rock of Ages, No one takes your life; Yet you died that I might live, Costly grace you freely give”
If you have any personal favorite hymn covers, leave a comment and let me know.
May God be praised in every song intended for worship, and may the songs remind us of the knowledge of the One whom is praised.
Soli Deo Gloria.