It’s Monday afternoon. Two weekend services are completed, rehearsals done, chord charts recycled, PowerPoint presentations moved into the archive folder, song list a thing of the past, and the clock ticking until the time when the next service starts this Saturday. I’ve got to do it all over again.
What songs, what key, what order, what theme, how to transition, what to say, what to repeat, what song to introduce, what new song to reinforce, what arrangement to use, how to begin the service, how to respond to the sermon, is the band able to play these songs well, is there a hymn that I’m forgetting about that could work, have we done this song too many times, does anyone besides me find this song helpful, are these songs doctrinally sound, how might the Holy Spirit want to move through the singing of these songs? So many questions. Every week.
Early on in our marriage, I asked Catherine: “what goes through your mind at night when you’re trying to fall asleep?” She said something like: “probably our marriage and how we’re doing with each other. How about you?” I said, sheepishly: “the song list”.
Every week I feel a burden to choose songs wisely, carefully, and sensitively. I’m learning how to relax and not think about it all the time, but it’s certainly one of the responsibilities I take most seriously. The songs I choose this week will be sung by about 1,000 people this weekend, will shape their theology, will stick with them long after they’ve gone home, and will consume about half of the meeting.
So every Monday, with a blank screen in front of me, I pray: “Lord, what songs do you want us to sing to you this weekend?” I’ll spend a few hours each day from now until this Thursday (when I finalize the list) asking him to help me discern his leading as I look through a list of a couple hundred songs. This question, a simple prayer, is a good way to start.
There are a few other questions I find helpful to ask the Lord each week as I seek to choose the songs we’ll be singing corporately.
What will you be saying through your Word?
This weekend, October 17th and 18th, the assigned readings are Ephesians 3:1-13, and John 5:1-9, with the Ephesians reading being the sermon text. The sermon title is “Grace and Power” and John Yates is preaching. Now that I know this information, it’s my responsibility to read through these passages carefully, talk with John either in person or via email, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help, so that I have an idea of what God might say through his Word preached and read. Once I have that – it will help me know what direction the songs should go, particularly following the sermon.
What have you been saying these last few weeks?
Since September 13th, our weekend sermons have been walking through the book of Ephesians. Last week (yesterday), we looked at Ephesians 2:11-22, and remembered how God, through Christ, has made us his own and sealed us with his Spirit. I might seek to reemphasize that amazing truth this coming Sunday as we gather to sing.
What songs do I seem to be gravitating towards?
When I’m gravitating towards certain songs, it may be because I just happen to like those songs, but it may also be because God is directing me towards them. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to put the right songs on your heart.
How can I best serve the congregation?
I want to choose specific songs for each specific group of people at each specific service. To help me do that, it’s a good idea to take into account as much information as I possibly can that will help me choose wisely.
There is no such thing as a perfect song list. There will always a song that might have worked better in a particular slot. But spending time prayerfully seeking God’s guidance will make the difference between a random batch of songs and a Holy Spirit-inspired song list.