As a follow-up to the last post about worship styles, I though I would share about the process I use at Journey for selecting music for worship. I’m sure a lot of people think that it’s as simple as me sitting in my office picking my favorite songs. (If only it was that easy!)
When it comes to traditional music, the job of picking worship music can be pretty easy. For churches that follow the lectionary (the series of prescribed readings for each Sunday), you can often find accompanying lists of hymns that fit with the various readings, giving you plenty to choose from. Many denominations also publish their own resources with suggested hymns for each week. On top of that, all the hymns used typically come from the hymnal – and nearly every denomination publishes their own hymnal with content that they consider theologically sound.
That’s all well and good for churches using a traditional liturgical format, but at Journey our style is non-liturgical. It keeps our worship fresh but it makes choosing songs a bit more of a challenge. Here’s what that process looks like at Journey:
- A couple of years ago, I completely overhauled our music library. We use Planning Center so all of our music is stored online where we can keep it organized and accessible to the worship team. I spent a couple of months pouring through every song’s lyrics and categorizing them first by their function (if it served as an invocation, statement of faith, confession of sins, etc) and second my their theological content. I did what happens at the denominational level when creating a new hymnal – the doctrine in each song is reviewed and cataloged. It’s important to note that before this time, I was not just blindly throwing songs together or using songs with doctrine that was questionable, but I took the time to go deeper into the songs and sort them by the theology they contained.
- If at all possible, I try to weave the theme of the message throughout all the songs. At Journey, we don’t follow the Lectionary. We don’t believe it’s wrong to follow it, we just take the approach of doing more message series than having every week be its own thing. While we feel this is a more effective way for us to present God’s word in our setting, it makes choosing songs a lot more time-consuming. Now, instead of choosing songs around a specific scripture passage, they’re often picked around a theme. Some themes are easy, such as love, forgiveness, or The Power of God. Others are more challenging, like building Christ-like relationships or dealing with doubt. When there are no songs that fit directly with a given theme, then I look to its place in the service (perhaps a song asking God to open our ears to His word before the message instead of a thematic song)
- Lastly, it’s important that those leading worship understand why we sing what we do. I’ve worked a lot with the worship team the last few months to really understand our whole process so they can see the bigger picture of the service. Helping them to understand why we’re singing the particular songs chosen for that week help them to pass that meaning on to the congregation. By associating scripture and deeper meaning to the songs we do, our worship experience is taken to a new level and it moves it from being a series of songs on either side of a message to one flowing experience with a common thread woven through.
It takes a lot more work to pick songs for our style of worship, but I think it’s totally worth it! Of course, you can also be this intentional about picking music for more traditional styles of worship as well. The more thought and preparation you put into your overall worship service, the more God can bless and use your preparation to impact his people!