The pastor’s sermon and the congregation’s singing are wed together by the Word. We proclaim God’s truths in song and we receive God’s truths in the sermon. But how intentional should we be about making sure the sermon and the song selections are on the same page?
I’ve handled this a couple of different ways in my ten years as a Senior Pastor so far. The first eventually gave way to the second and I think about going back but I’m not sure I necessarily will. This post will apply more to those of you who allow your worship leader to make the selections, but it will still be relevant to the pastor who chooses the songs himself.
More Intentional Coordination
What I used to do is feed the worship leader the text that I will be in and give him a general description of where I’m going with the sermon and the basic themes that the passage will be dealing with. The expectation was that he would then choose songs that coincide with the sermon based on the information I gave him. I think there are some advantages to this:
- It keeps the worship leader in sync with where the ministry of the Word is going as far as the preaching is concerned.
- It allows the sermon to drive the service; for the preaching to really be the backbone of the liturgy.
- When it works, the congregation can reflect back on the selections (or back on the sermon depending on the order of things) and see how what was sung was taken directly from Scripture.
- It provides a thematic continuity in the service; a cohesiveness that can enhance the effect of the service’s ministry to those gathered.
Less Intentional Coordination
Recently, I’ve not been very intentional about coordinating with the worship leader. Some of this is the difficulty I’ve been having with mapping out my pericopes far enough in advance. I probably shouldn’t be admitting that on my own preaching blog… Yet, I’m not finding any problems whatsoever. In fact, we have found that the sermons and the songs often times match up just as well as if we had planned it. Maybe better. The worship leader can only attribute so many tags to each song. I’m not saying this is the better way, but I am saying I have found some advantages:
- There is less stress on the worship leader who can now pay more attention to other concerns such as matching chords for the transitions, introducing new selections and working with the musicians and vocalists.
- There is less pressure on the worship leader to continue expanding the repertoire at a rapid pace. He doesn’t need to find songs that match the endless themes that sermons may address. He can just incorporate great, faithful, gospel-saturated songs when we find them.
- There is less stress on me as I am more free to make last-minute adjustments late in the week – it happens!
- There is less concern with setting up the closing song in the sermon or setting up the sermon with the songs – we just sing and preach!
- Our song rotation can be based more on frequency and favor as opposed to Sunday’s “theme.”
- We can still choose songs that fit well with a book’s overall theology without worrying about every single song’s connection to each individual pericope or sermon.
- I have found that none of the advantages I mentioned under the first approach have been compromised.
Why It Works
I will likely return to getting at least the passages and rough drafts of each Big Idea to the worship leader well in advance. But I’m not rushing to get back to it and I’m not worried about it. And my worship leader hasn’t asked about it once. Nor have either of us received any complaints from anyone about the service not feeling cohesive or anything of the sort. How have we been able to get away with this lack of coordination?
I’m not sure how to answer that exactly. But I think I have an idea. Perhaps it’s not that we have no coordination. Perhaps it’s that we have an inbuilt system that renders weekly coordination unnecessary. Here are some of my thoughts about why this might be the case for my church:
- Our sermons are gospel-centered. Every message finds it’s application in Christ and the faith we must place in him to obey Scripture successfully. No matter where we are in Scripture, the gospel is ultimately the primary theme.
- Our songs are gospel-centered. One might emphasize more of who God is and what he does, has done or will do. Others might emphasize our unworthiness or our gratitude or our growth in Christ through the Spirit. But they all work from different angles to drive home the gospel theme.
- The subject of the gospel never gets old. It doesn’t tire and we can never plumb its depths. It is what we need weekly, daily, hourly. The gospel is more than a suitable foundation for every service – it’s a necessary one.
- The subject of the gospel is not so narrow that the services feel redundant. We are coming at it from varying angles from one sermon to the next, even from one song to the next. There’s always another way to say it, another way to approach it, another way to drive it home, another aspect to emphasize. We’ll never finish unpacking it. But it still provides a unifying theme that ties everything in the service together – not just the sermon and the songs.
If everything is centered on the gospel then there already is coordination. I might get behind on my sermon preparation and, sometimes, I might realize late in the game that I should shift direction in my sermon in order to be more faithful to the text. Ideally I would like to get way ahead as I have in the past. But I’m not overly concerned about it. Sometimes I’ll look at the set our worship leader has selected and I’ll ask for a different closing song that I think might match better in terms of mood. But this has been really rare. Our services have been great and I’ve felt more relaxed. I’m sure my worship leader has too.