It’s tempting to plug in a list of popular, catchy songs that people will enjoy (hopefully) and feel like the set list is complete. But there is a teaching component to our leading that should call people to something deeper than immediate enjoyment. Here are my steps that I go through to consider all elements of the service and create a total worship experience.
Pray before you work on a set list, as you prepare a set list, and as you lead! Don’t treat this as a formality. God’s included in this process! Ask Him to speak however He sees best fit (even songs that suddenly come to mind, etc.) and give wisdom. Expect Him to move both as we plan and as we lead (this is not an either/or scenario). Pray alone. Pray with your band. Lean into God. Don’t merely pray as a formality, but pray expectantly and be attentive to things God might be doing; don’t be afraid to risk and change things up!
Study the text for that Sunday. As you study & meditate on words, write song + liturgy ideas down that come to mind. Make notes on your phone.
Brainstorm alone + with others! Quick side note here: Discipleship looks like bringing people along in this process too… Talk to worship leaders you’re developing about the set! Make a list of songs you’re considering for each movement of your liturgy. Here are some of the lenses I look at things through:
Consider what text we’ll be in that Sunday. Find out if preacher has a particular emphasis. Also consider the emphasis of the week before. Was there anything we should encourage the congregation to respond to? While allowing the sermon text to speak into the text, it is one of many voices that speak into the process (not the only one). However, since the Communion & Response song are after the sermon and seek to help people respond to God, those songs should be more thought out and connected to the sermon. Ask yourself, “If I could sing a song of response to this sermon, what would I sing/pray?”
We’re generally in a particular book of the Bible. Are there any themes prevalent in this series? Any songs that help others engage with general themes (ie God’s authority, the church, etc.)? Create a “series songbook” for quick access for yourself and others.
Christian Calendar Year
Similar to the sermon, whatever Christian Calendar season we’re in should color our songs & liturgy. Seek to grow more familiar with each season.
At Park Church, we follow a simple pattern of Call To Worship, Confession of Sin, and Assurance of Pardon. As you consider songs, before aware of each movement you’re in. Are you in the Call To Worship? Confession? Assurance? Pick songs appropriate to that movement. Plan narratively! Certain songs could fit into different movements.
Has God been laying any songs on your heart? Has God being doing any particular work in the last week/month at Park that we should be aware of that should affect our leading?
Songs Familiarity (Never Done vs. Over Done)
Have there been songs we’ve done or overdone? Did someone do a new song the week prior? Try to incorporate that into the set for repetition sake. If people come for a month to Park, they should recognize some similar songs.
Are there any other choruses or bridges that you could tie into this set that would help engagement or flow? Can you tack them on in the same key as another song you’re doing for ease of transition & engagement? For theological clarity?
We think the songs spoken of in Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 (psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs) reflect diversity. We generally want songs pulled from three streams on a Sunday:
- Local (within) – songs we’ve written and have flowed out of the life of the local church.
- Global (without) – songs the “capital C” Church is singing, often on radio.
- Historical (beyond) – hymns and songs that were written decades/centuries ago
Streams aren’t the only determinant. Even songs within the same stream have very different emphases. Here are a few ways to categorize our songs so we don’t overdo a certain category.
- Description vs. Devotion
- Subjective vs objective (How we feel or respond vs. what is unchanging and true)
- Indicative vs. imperative (Reminding what Christ has done vs. what we do in response)
- Celebratory vs. contemplative (both lyrical content and musical mood)
- Complex vs. Simple
- Individual vs. corporate (I and me vs. us and we)
- Revelation and response
How skilled are they? Can they play the songs you want? Consider simplifying or changing songs or playing without the band if you feel like you should.
Whole counsel of God
What parts of God’s character are we not addressing? Are there songs/themes that we should incorporate (i.e. suffering, death, holiness of God, lament, the love of God, the cross of Christ, the justice of God, evangelism, the Holy Spirit, etc.). Perhaps asking others: where are we weak? This is a strength of going through different books of the Bible and trying to be faithful to highlight themes within each one.
Worship, don’t just make a worship set list
Don’t just make the set list, but also engage with the songs personally. Worship! I’m saying this to myself just as much as you all. You cannot lead people to drink from a stream you have not come to drink from yourself. There is such thing as “overflow leadership.” We lead from the overflow of our lives. The songs + liturgy will be lifeless because you’ve found no life in them; you haven’t met God through them. Look for windows of “selah” & breath & heart engagement in the set. Build in inefficiencies and interruptible moments into your set. You want to remember to be attentive to what God’s doing and what’s going on with the people. Generally find 1-2 spaces that feel good to lead out and slow down in. Just because that window is there, doesn’t mean you need to linger there or do anything. It’s just a place you think might be a good spot to lead out more intentionally.
How many of you write have more elements than just songs on a Sunday (responsive readings, Scripture, etc.) Consider the text for the day, general themes in the texts, songs you’re singing, and other books (“Worship Sourcebook”, “Valley of Vision,” “Prone To Wander”, “Book of Common Prayer,” “Awed To Heaven, Rooted in Earth”.) Any fresh ways of calling people to engage in the liturgy? Perhaps consider silence during assurance or call to worship instead of confession of sin, or don’t do silence during confession but make the confession song the prayer. Incorporate assurance into a song and read the text during the song and then sing a bridge or chorus again. Also write transitional phrases! Include phrases from songs before or after. Look over the Park Church master list to get ideas. Memorize so can speak generally the same thing but look out at people as you lead.