“Just get ‘em warmed up with a few great songs and put me on!” I was the worship planner asking the chapel preacher for the text, theme, purpose and mood of the sermon so that the rest of the service would guide the minds and hearts of the congregation in the same direction. His response to my request was refreshingly honest.
Other preachers had dutifully answered my questions, but many seemed surprised, even suspicious of why I needed to know so much about “their part” of the worship service. At least this guy said it out loud-- “Hey, music leader, you do your thing and I’ll do mine and we’ll get along just fine.”
You’d think that those instructions would be ‘music to the ears’ of the worship leader. After all, I can pick my favorite songs, make sure they are all in the key of G (there’s cohesion for you!) and get the congregation emotionally charged up for the speaker. But you’d be wrong. The idea that Preacher and Musician can or should “do their own thing” is wrong for both practical and pastoral reasons.
With the myriad of songs or other pieces of liturgy available, a worship planner is drowning in a sea of unconnected ideas until someone--often the preacher--says, “This is the text, this is what the text says, and this is what we are going to say to God’s people about this text.”
At that moment, thousands of irrelevant songs and liturgical ideas fall away, leaving merely several hundred to play with. Only then can a thoughtful worship planner begin to piece together the best songs and prayers and readings of supporting scripture.
Besides the practical implications, this notion of ‘separate-but-equal’ worship planning lacks pastoral care. Recent studies have confirmed that, much to my own dismay, people simply cannot multitask. Jerking our congregants’ brains and hearts from one idea or emotion to another unrelated idea or emotion reduces their ability to retain enough knowledge or feeling that could lead to a change of life.
Yet this idea that everything outside of the sermon is simply “warm up” persists. Maybe not with the same brusque clarity as the chapel speaker, but week after week many preachers send the same message. They keep their sermons to themselves until Sunday morning, leaving the worship planners and/or musicians to guess and grope for appropriate pieces to help God’s people find their way to clearer understanding of the text. Preachers preach and Worship Leaders lead worship and nobody bothers to check with each other about what direction they are going.
We Reformed Christians are ‘people of the Word.’ But God’s word is not reserved for sermons alone. Worship planning--done rightly--links the text throughout the service so that each part carries the congregation along toward the appropriate response to God.
Do you value cohesion in your worship? If so, what practices help to connect the pieces of your service?