Leading Worship In the Shadow of Tragedy

1Yesterday’s mass shooting an at elementary school in Connecticut is the kind of tragedy that makes everyone – Christians, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics – take a step back and wonder how and why something so awful could happen. The fact that everyone who will be walking into your Sunday morning services has been asking those questions should give worship leaders and pastors reason to think very carefully about what they’re going to sing and what they’re going to say.

First, worship leaders, don’t attempt to be the consoler-in-chief tomorrow. You might be the first person “up”, but that role falls to your pastor. It’s appropriate for you to say something like “This morning as we stand to sing, most of us are singing with heavy hearts after what we’ve witnessed this past week. So as we stand, let’s declare what we know to be true: that God is faithful, God is good, God is sovereign, and God sent his son to rescue a very dark world”. That’s all, roughly, that you need to say. Let your pastor do the rest. And let your songs preach.

Secondly, it’s not too late to change your song selections for the morning. Here are the songs we’re singing at my church tomorrow in case this is helpful.

1. Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman)
– Opening song
– Helps us articulate praise to God in the midst of joy and sorrow
– “Blessed be Your name… when I’m found in the desert place… on the road marked with suffering… though there’s pain in the offering…”
– “You give and take away…”
– We will keep the arrangement of this from getting too rocky

2. It is Well with My Soul (traditional)
– Song after the welcome, where our pastor will have people be seated and will address the tragedy and lead in prayer
– The 4 traditional verses assure us that when we experience peace, or sorrow, or trials, because “Christ has regarded (our) helpless estate, and shed his own blood”, we can say “it is well”. Verse 4 reminds us that one day Jesus will return.

3. How Long? (We Have Sung Our Songs of Victory) (Stuart Townend)
– Offering
– The verses contain cries to God like “Lord we know your heart is broken by the evil that you see…” and “…but the land is still in darkness and we’ve fled from what is right. We have failed the silent children who will never see the light”.
– The chorusses echo so many places in the Psalms and say “how long… before the weeping turns to songs of joy?”
– The last verse gives hope: “But I know a day is coming when the deaf will hear his voice, when the blind will see their Savior, and the lame will leap for joy. When the widow finds a husband who will always love his bride, and the orphan finds a Father who will never leave her side.”
– The version on iTunes that you should buy is the one off of the “Pour Over Me” album
– We’re singing this during the offering, and not expecting people to sing along.

4. There is a Higher Throne (Keith and Kristyn Getty)
– Communion song
– A song about the hope of heaven, where Jesus will “…wipe each tear-stained eye, as thirst and hunger die…”

5. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus (traditional)
– Communion song
– “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee…”
– We will take the chorus from the old Vineyard song “All Who Are Thirsty” with the simple lyrics “come, Lord Jesus, come”, and use it as a chorus on this hymn.

6. Everlasting God (Strength Will Rise) (Brenton Brown)
– Closing communion song
– A song of faith: “Our God, you reign forever. Our hope, our strong deliverer… You are the everlasting God… You do not faint, You won’t grow weary.”

As Bob Kauflin tweeted this morning (12/15/12), we should be regularly singing songs that help us lament the brokenness and darkness and fallenness of this world. But particularly after tragedies like this, when everyone has been shaken by seeing evil on display, pastors and worship leaders have to be willing to change their game plan and help people not only grieve, but grieve with hope in a good and faithful God, who sent his Son to suffer and die in our place, who knew grief and loss, and who was raised to life, ascended to heaven, and will run day return to “make all the sad things come untrue”.

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