It’s always a high to come off a service and have someone tell you they loved the music in church that morning. Especially if you picked it, performed it, or both. What makes it so rewarding is knowing how much work went into choosing it in the first place. Here are some steps I use in selecting Sunday service music.
- Choose from a solid repertoire of songs. Building this repertoire – if you prefer, “playlist” – deserves another post. Knowing what songs will fly with your church members and which will flop is critical from the start. If you’re not a staff church musician, how many songs are in your personal playlist? What songs draw you to God?
- Meditate on the Bible passage(s) for that service. Is your pastor preaching on Hebrews 1? Fill your heart with its message of the magnificence of Jesus Christ, far surpassing angels in majesty. Will he preach on 1 Corinthians 13? Meditate on the beautiful picture of love Paul paints – and how important love is among members of the church. If your worship team is given a topic, then all the better: you can immerse your heart in so many related passages and songs to match.
- Pick more songs than you’ll use. Sometimes a song that seemed great at first won’t hold a candle to another song that comes up later. Another key, a different speed, a text that draws out what the others are missing: these all help us handle the challenge of diversity and unity in the same service. Digging a little deeper or looking a little longer is worth the effort.
- Balance eras, keys, and tempos. Eras: when was the song written? Church members can get tired of songs all from the 1910s, or the 1980s, or the 2010s, or the 1770s. Mix it up! Keys: if you’re not a musician, find a musician to help you here. Keys give you the power to flow seamlessly from one song to the next, to direct us into a new thought, or to shift into something else entirely. Tempos: ever hear a slow song start the service and worry that you’ll be there through dinner? I’d wager that over 90% of services begin with fast songs (This Is Amazing Grace / O Worship the King) and save the slow songs for the end (Oceans / Jesus Paid It All).
- Root the songs in your heart. If you put together a great string of songs, praise God! But don’t forget to praise God! What could be more important in the church of God than singing His songs for His praise? Our task is not excellent craftsmanship but eager worship, and leading others in that worship as well. As Richard Baxter prays, “O Lord, save us from the plague of hardheartedness ourselves, or else how shall we be fit instruments of saving others from it? Oh, do that on our souls which Thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others!” (from Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls).
In America our abundance of church music makes this a glorious challenge. What a privileged burden to narrow down the songs we sing from one week to the next! May you be encouraged, strengthened, and sharpened by this task as you serve the people of God for the glory of God.