Planning Worship Music
Leading worship music is not in my skill set. But since I serve as the pastor of a local church, I take it as a personal responsibility to be involved in our worship planning. As our worship pastor looks ahead from week to week, we work together on the order of the service, what elements to include, and the overall tone of the service. Working from the passage of scripture for the message, he crafts a worship service that we then collaborate on for what will occur on Sundays.
In choosing the actual songs for the service, I’ve adapted my ideas from several friends, mentors, and teachers in the area of worship. My friend Keith Getty has been particularly helpful to me. So when it comes to the specific issue of choosing songs for our congregation to sing, I like to operate in these three ideas.
Substantive lyrics. What we sing is both declaration to God and discipleship for people. What we say or sing about God should be true and meaningful. We should sing deep truths that honor God, His work, and our happy submission to Him. In it, we are also teaching people what to believe and how to live out their beliefs. It has been said that worship music is the first theological teacher of the church. Choose songs that speak the truth.
Singable notes. In general, people are not musically educated. Therefore, we need to sing music that is easily engaged by normal people. The songs of the church must be in a range of notes and a cadence of rhythm where everyone can participate. If you try to sing the “key of Tomlin” then most men will be lost in the mix. A strong worship leader can place any song in a key that the whole congregation can sing. But, it is also important that we choose cadences that are familiar to the ear as well. There are several ancient songs and modern songs that I love, but are difficult to get the rhythm right when singing them as a group. So, those are best left for praise teams, soloists, or choirs. Choose songs that everyone can sing.
Socially contextual. Our work is to help disciples make disciples. It means that we can speak and sing deep ideas but should do so with the mission in mind. Entering a worship service should not mean time traveling. Both believers engaging in worship and unbelievers being introduced to worship should feel as if they are doing so in a way that is relevant to daily living. For example, if an American church sends a missionary church planter to Japan, we would tell that person to lead through the language and customs of the new land. We don’t ask them to import English as the language and our culture as superior. The same should happen in our local contexts of worship. Lead people to worship God through the contemporary language and cultural styles that are appropriate for honoring Christ.
Crafting worship services is not easy. It requires leaders to communicate eternal truth through the voices of contemporary people who all have personal preferences. Choose wisely how you speak to God, about God, and to the lost that have yet to meet Him.