By Andrew Hébert
If I’ve heard these sayings once, I’ve heard them a thousand times.
- “Pastor, why don’t we ever sing such-and-such a song?”
- “Pastor, I wish our music was more traditional.”
- “Pastor, why don’t we sing more of the songs we hear on the radio?”
What is the rationale for singing the songs you do in worship? On what basis do you say yes to one song or no to another? For me, it’s very simple.
The songs we sing on Sunday are selected not based on a song’s style, but on the text I’m preaching.
One of the first meetings I have on Monday mornings is with our worship pastor to plan the theme for the following Sunday’s worship service. We determine the theme for the service based on the theme of the text I’m preaching.
Our Monday Morning Meetings
We discuss the theme or themes of the text and then select songs to reinforce those themes. For instance, if I’m preaching Romans 8:1, in which the theme of the text is that Jesus saves us from God’s judgment, we might sing “And Can It Be,” a song that contains the lyrics, “no condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine.”
If I’m preaching Ephesians 1, on the spiritual blessings we have in Christ, we might sing, “In Christ Alone.” The song set may include songs written 400 years ago, or 4 months ago.
The age or style of the song isn’t important. Its message is important. And the message of the music is determined by the message of that week’s text from Scripture.
After the selection of music, we then plan other elements of the service accordingly, all of which will reaffirm and reiterate those themes. We may have a responsive reading or recite a portion of a creed or a confession.
We may read another Scripture passage that coordinates with the message of the sermon’s text. Even the arrangement of elements such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism are carefully thought through to illuminate the gospel truths of that week’s text.
I’ve found there are a few benefits to organizing our services in this way. Here are four of them.
1. It allows us to submit every part of the service to Scripture.
My conviction about preaching is the text drives the content of my sermon. Thus, my preaching is text-driven. If I’m committed to text-driven preaching, why would I not also be committed to text-driven worship?
Why not allow the text for the week drive everything about that worship service?
2. It gives a sense of unity to the service.
Rather than having a sermon about one thing and music about something completely different, there’s a unified flow to the entire service that drives home the themes of that week’s text.
If I strive to have a unified theme in my sermon, why would I not also work to prepare our worship service this way?
3. It allows the selection of songs to be determined by something objective (the text) rather than subjective (style preferences).
We don’t make the selection of music and the arrangement of our services based on anyone’s subjective preferences. Style is subordinate to substance.
We don’t always sing my favorite style of music. That really doesn’t matter. At all.
What matters is that we’re singing songs that are God-centered. Style is secondary. I’m not interested in tickling the ears of my congregation members or having my ears tickled.
In other words, we don’t pick music based on how it sounds, but on the message it conveys. This protects us from being self-serving or people-pleasing.
The objective message of the text is what determines the particular songs we select on any given week.
4. It allows thematic variety in our services.
One of the benefits of preaching through books of the Bible is I’m forced to deal with topics and themes I might not otherwise cover. Expository or text-driven preaching helps protect against hobby horses or soapboxes.
There’s such a refreshing panoply of themes and topics in Scripture. If I preach through books of the Bible, I’ll eventually deal with all of them. This protects me against monotony.
Many preachers are known for pounding one drum and one drum only. Allowing the text to drive the sermon gives my week-to-week preaching a healthy variety. This is also true of the song selection.
We aim to find songs that work together with the text. This protects us from a “top 40” approach in which we only ever sing songs with a similar style or a similar message. The variety of the music, both in style and message, is as diverse as the variety of the texts preached.
The most important part of this approach is that by it, we seek to glorify God, submit ourselves to His Word, and do what we do intentionally. If worship is designed to show God’s worth, then we want the music not to be about us and our preferred choices but to be about Him, driven by Him and His Word.
Andrew is a husband, father of four, and pastor of Paramount Church in Amarillo, Texas.