Square Peg in a Round Hole: The Problem with Sermon-Centric Planning
I haven’t conducted a survey but, if I had to wager, I’d say the second most common method of planning a worship song set is to theme it around the sermon. It seems to be most commonly recommended. Why second and not first? Because #1 must surely be reserved for chaos. Haphazard. No plan at all. I’d like to submit that #1 is regrettable and #2 has shortcomings.
When I started out, I was taught to plan my song set around the sermon (and that was what preachers expected, too)…so the first half of my worship ministry career felt like I was trying to fit that square peg into the round hole… Sure some messages were easy enough: “Neil, I’m going to be speaking on God’s faithfulness this week.” Ok, yeah, I can plan about 3 sets around that off the top of my head. Other weeks, not so much: “Neil, I’m going to be talking about marriage…how the woman’s brain is like spaghetti and the man’s is like a waffle.” Ummm, should we sing “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed….”???
The problem with sermon-centric planning is at least twofold:
- Not every sermon carries a theme conducive to planning a worship set. I think this has been adequately illustrated!
- This method ignores the fact that worship ministry is responsible for it’s own set of themes. Look at your song list, the big one. What major themes emerge? Probably God’s faithfulness, God as Creator, God’s greatness, God’s grace and love, salvation, thankfulness, mission, surrender, etc. These themes–and others like them–are the essence of the Church’s worship, regardless of your pastor’s sermon calendar. If he does not plan to focus a single message on God’s majesty and power, for example, should God then be deprived of those songs? And would that even be healthy for your church? No and no. And these are responsibilities you share as a leader entrusted with your congregation’s together-worship!
But what about your pastor? Aren’t you supposed to submit to him? Isn’t the sermon important? Don’t I want the service to feel unified, to flow, to seem purposeful and planned? If I don’t plan around the sermon, aren’t my meetings with the pastor going to get a little awkward?! :)
I believe there’s a balance to be struck. There are solutions that deeply honor both your pastor & the message while giving you flexibility to plan responsible, creative, God-exalting worship gatherings! All I can really do is share how we’ve accomplished this at LifeQuest.
Basically, our worship service has two “movements”…like 2 parts of one symphony:
- The first part is worship-theme-centered. Here I’m free to plan around a worship theme or a model that might include elements like praise, confession, adoration, statements of belief. I don’t see this as a division apart from the message at all but rather an opportunity to engage the congregation in specific acts of worship that will, in fact, help prepare them for the message.
- The second part is message-theme-centered and usually includes 2-3 songs that are aimed at helping the church respond specifically to what they’ve just heard from God’s Word.
Disclaimer: Don’t just haul off and change things without first addressing this with your pastor in a healthy way! Pray & think through it. If you’d like to try something like this, share your thoughts with him or even point him to this post. If he seems reluctant, ask him to consider and discuss it with you again. Speak with authority but not at all with disrespect or arrogance. You’ve been entrusted with a great responsibility but your pastor has responsibilities of his own…and they include you!
Are any of you hammering square pegs right now? Or do you have a different solution than the one we worked out at my church? Share!