There’s many creative ways to plan the music for any worship service: drawing songs out of a hat, throwing darts at your pile of sheet music, singing whatever feels good on Sunday morning and hoping the band can keep up. As worship leaders, I think we sometimes get exasperated by the week-in, week-out task of being purposeful in our worship planning and sometimes resort to the “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” mentality. But there are some basics that we sometimes have to revisit to make sure we are giving our congregations every opportunity to connect with God.
Getting beyond the music
I sometimes fall into the trap of placing songs within a service because I know the music will sound good in that situation and everything will “flow”. But I need to slow down and think about what Joe Churchgoer (who might not be involved in church like I am…who might be going through a hard time in his walk with Jesus) will be hearing when he comes into service AND what I want God to do in the short time we have.
When it comes down to it, there are three different types of worship songs and how I organize those types of songs can increase (or decrease) the likelihood that true worship is achieved. I think these song types are so important that they should all have some representation in each service I plan.
Songs of Invitation
Since most ministry leaders are at their churches 24/7 (or so it seems), it’s easy to forget that people have had to deal with a week’s worth of berating bosses, looming deadlines, family struggles, etc. We expect them to show up and immediately be transported to this intimate place of worship with God with little to no preparation. But we are table setters. We show the bountiful feast that is in store and invite them to partake. In addition, we can invite God to reveal Himself to us. These songs are best used at the very beginning of worship or perhaps the beginning of a communion.
Some Favorites: Awakening (Hillsong United), Presence (Newsboys), Abide With Me (Indelible Grace)
Songs of Acknowledgement
Think of worship like writing a thank you letter to God. You wouldn’t write a friend and spend the majority of the time talking about yourself. If they are truly your friend, you would explain how much their friendship has meant to you and how much you admire and love them. The same can be applied to our worship of God. We need to spend some time praising Him just for who He is…His love, His mercy, His justice. These songs will rarely, if ever, mention ourselves as we want God, and God alone, to be the sole object of attention.
Some Favorites: Your Great Name (Natalie Grant), God You Reign (Lincoln Brewster), and of course How Great Is Our God (Chris Tomlin)
Songs of Relationship
This is probably the biggest category, especially in Contemporary Christian Music. We can use songs to drive home the point of the pastor’s message, further explain a Scripture verse or help carry the theme of other songs. Whatever our purpose in choosing them, these songs reveal how we relate (or wish to relate) to God. I frequently put these around the pastor’s message or at the end of service so people can leave thinking about their personal relationship.
Some Favorites: Scandal of Grace (Hillsong United), Nothing Ever Could Separate Us (Citizen Way), More Than A Friend (Jeremy Riddle)
Of course, none of these are absolute. Most songs cross in and out between the lines of these three categories. We need to mix up when and how we do songs. That’s where we get to be creative and have fun planning.