I’m in the middle of finishing a book on worship for Crossway. The first draft is due the editor May 14. I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard. Which either says I’ve had a very easy life, or writing a book is really hard. Maybe both are true.
In any case, blogging is low on the priority list right now. But I thought I’d post a section of a chapter on "Planning Songs." This is a first draft, so any thoughts are welcome. This is the last of seven points I make about planning songs for a Sunday…
Most of us breathe a sigh of contented relief when Sunday is over. The band played well, people seemed to be engaged with God, and the new song went over great. What we normally don’t realize at that moment is that the clock immediately starts ticking for next Sunday. If you’re the only worship leader in your church you might try to put off that realization for as long as possible. But eventually it hits. Sunday’s coming.
How do we break out of the rut of always feeling behind in our preparation? Well, the first thing we can do is trust God rather than ourselves. He’s the faithful one, and is more concerned about people worshiping him next Sunday than we are.
But it also helps to realize that a meal isn’t the same thing as a diet. God doesn’t want us only to be concerned about this Sunday. He wants us to keep the big picture in view. Although songs are only a part of that, they’re an important part. We need keep the long term effect of the songs we sing in mind. Here are some of the ways we’ve tried to do that.
Keep a record of the songs you sing and review it. For years I’ve kept a list of the songs we sing in a Word document. I can do a quick search to see when we last sang a song and how many times we’ve sung it. Software programs are available now that provide that information and more. But if you can’t afford them, a Word document works fine. Reviewing your songs can answer some important questions.
- Are any themes missing or lacking?
- Are we falling into a rut musically or thematically?
- Are God’s Word, worthiness, and works being proclaimed in our songs?
- Are we worshiping a triune God in song?
- Are we conscious of the Gospel each time we sing?
- Do we need more songs of celebration or reverence?
- Are we doing any songs too frequently or not often enough?
- Do we have a healthy blend of deep and simpler songs?
- Are there any songs we don’t do any more that we should start doing again?
Plan for two or more Sundays in advance rather than just the coming one. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but in the end it doesn’t require that much more time and there are numerous benefits. We’ve planned from the next two to six Sundays at a time. Are there songs we want to sing multiple times? Are there any songs we want to sing once for a unique Sunday? Any creative elements we want to add? Are there any songs we should learn now to teach later? Once a Sunday is sketched out, we can always change the specifics. And we’ll often plan more than we actually end up doing. But starting with a plan makes the final planning easier and helps us keep the song diet of the church more healthy.
Sing great songs often, weak songs less or not at all. When we only plan from Sunday to Sunday we can lose perspective. Some songs are worth singing more than others. If we’re intentional we can repeat the best songs so that they become a part of our collective memory. Since one of the purposes of music in worship is to help us remember God’s Word, it makes sense to do songs often enough so that children and adults are able to commit them to memory.
A good measure of how we’re doing in this area is what I call the “twenty year rule.” If someone was born in our church and grew up singing these songs, how well would they know God? Would they see that he is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know him as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer? Would these songs give them a comprehensive and broad view of God, or would they only be exposed to certain aspects of his nature and works? May God give us grace to choose our songs in a way that reflects God’s care, wisdom, and faithfulness.