Worship means much more than “songs that we sing on Sunday morning.” To me, worship means “giving worth to God as the people of God,” or “showing God how much we love him,” or “celebrating God for his own sake.” And that can take lots of different forms, not just through music.
For a few years now, I have had the privilege and responsibility of planning our Sunday morning worship services at Mt. Haley. Today I would like to draw back the curtain a little bit, so that you can see what goes into these preparations and what I hope we can accomplish as we worship Jesus together.
Each week, I begin with a clean slate; I start with nothing but a basic structure of the service in mind. Usually this involves our typical pattern of worship, which mixes together songs, scripture readings, offerings, prayers, special music, and a sermon in an orderly fashion. Once every other month, we share the Lord’s Supper (communion) together, and on those weeks I start with a different structure in mind: we do our word-based things first (like scripture readings and the sermon), and then we do our table-based things (like communion).
My starting point in planning the service is always scripture. I begin with the sermon text, a second scripture reading, and our responsive reading (which is usually a psalm). All three of these typically come from a resource called the Revised Common Lectionary, which many churches use and which helps us read most of the Bible together during a three-year cycle. Scripture forms the basis, the content, and the theme of our worship services.
I then think about what those scripture passages have in common with each other, what they communicate about God, or what they say about our spiritual journeys. I try to come up with a short, simple theme for the entire service based on these passages of scripture.
With that theme in mind, I then begin to think about music, the songs that we will sing together as a congregation. I am committed to three principles in this area:
- We must sing songs together. In other words, the songs I pick must be songs we can sing or learn. If the song is beyond the interests, tastes, or abilities of the congregation, then I don’t select it.
- We must sing a variety of songs together. I make an effort to bring variety to our musical diet. We sing old songs and new songs; we sing familiar songs and unfamiliar songs (which is not the same as the previous statement). We sing songs that older adults treasure; we sing songs that our young people love. We sing all of these songs in order to please God, not to please ourselves.
- We must sing meaningful songs together. The lyrics of our songs matter a great deal. If a song communicates something that is untrue about God or misleading about our spiritual lives, then I do not pick that song. If the song simply lacks content or just “fills time,” then I choose a different song.
When I select songs for us to sing, I try to arrange them in a way that makes sense from a spiritual perspective. For instance, in this coming Sunday’s service, the songs are arranged in a natural progression: we begin by singing about the greatness of God; we sing about God as a refuge for his people; we then narrow the focus to God’s love as a source of refuge for his people; finally we sing a personal song of devotion about finding refuge in God’s love. Each of these ideas springs out of the scripture readings which we will share on Sunday morning.
Here is the order of worship for next Sunday. Take a look to see what I have in mind:
- Welcome/Announcements – We take care of the business of the church.
- Opening Prayer – We invite God to be attentive to our worship.
- “How Great is Our God” – We sing about the greatness of God.
- Responsive Reading: Psalm 71:1-8 – God is our strong refuge.
- “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” – We celebrate the safety God provides for his people.
- “Our God” – We sing about how God provides for us in many ways.
- Offering – We give to God a monetary offering out of thanksgiving for his goodness.
- “Your Love, O Lord” – We give thanks to God for his personal attention and love that he extends to us.
- “In His Love Let Me Hide” – We sing about our desire to hide ourselves in the refuge of God’s love.
- Prayer – We lift up our deepest concerns to the Lord.
- Special Music – We meditate on God’s love while we listen to one of our friends sing a song.
- Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 13 – God’s love never fails.
- Scripture Reading: Luke 5:1-11 – Jesus calls Peter and others to follow him and become “fishers of people.”
- Sermon: “Good News: Transforming Guilt” – We explore how God’s love causes us to live free from the pain of guilt.
- “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” – We commit ourselves, through song, to follow Jesus with our lives, like Peter and those before us.
- Benediction – We dismiss in peace and with a reminder of God’s love.
Take a look at the sequence of songs, in boldface above. See how they move from broad to narrow, from God’s greatness to our refuge in his love? They are specifically chosen and planned to highlight and enrich our reading of scripture throughout the service.
Every part of the worship service above – not just the music, but the scripture readings, the offering, and even the benediction – are acts of worship by which we express our devotion to God and gratitude for his love.
It is my hope that you will take a few moments before each Sunday’s service to prepare your heart for worship. Each Thursday, I try to post the next Sunday’s order of worship on our website (www.mthaley.org) and Facebook page (www.facebook/mthaley), just like you see in the bullet point list above, so you can begin to prepare for our worship experience. As you sit down in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, read through the order of worship and try to discern the theme of the service. If you have questions or suggestions, or if you would like to be involved in the planning of our services, please let me know! I welcome your input, because worship is our joint effort, and we need to be on this journey of faith together.