We have great Christian camp called Beulah Beach affiliated with our church, and it’s only about an hour and 10 minutes away. That is – if you know the short cut.
The after a short jaunt north of town, the route abandons Highway 13 for something called Fitchville River Road. This is the kind of shortcut that your GPS girl eventually stops sweetly saying “recalculating” and finally just blurts, ‘Fine. You’re on your own!” in a darkly sarcastic, yet still pretty Elaine Benes voice.*
Eventually this shortcut requires a turn onto Joppa Road, then finally a right on Hwy 6 before reaching the camp.
Returning home by this route is a tad more dicey. There’s a place where Fitchville doglegs to the right when you’re heading north on the way there. On the way back, however, that dogleg is less apparent because a new road continues straight while Fitchville veers to the right. After a few minutes, you realize your mistake when you find yourself dead-ending into one of Ohio’s finer cornfields.
Once you’ve made the mistake a time or two, you know just to backtrack. There’s no direct route from that cornfield back to Fitchville River Road. And don’t ask for Elaine’s help – she’s still bitter from the drive up.
Why go into this pretty-much-pointless travelogue about my Bible camp shortcut?
I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of worship being a journey. I’ve come to the conclusion that the songs of our worship services are a lot like a highways on a trip.
Any road trip worth taking requires multiple turns. Every highway, interstate, avenue or cow path serves a specific purpose in moving us towards our destination. It’s up to us the leader/guide/Sherpa to choose the right ones. (I'll admit the Sherpa metaphor now seems a little over the top since I’m talking about backroads in the second flattest part of Ohio.)
Think about the songs you use. If you use a tune like Today is the Day by Brewster/Baloche, where do you put it? Yeah, usually at the beginning. It gets people up and sets a tone for the service. If you started the service with O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, you’re in for a much different service. Not saying that’s bad, it just sets a different tone.
Most worship leaders intuitively get this. The problem is, our intuition usually plans two fast songs, a mid-tempo anthem and a power-ballad as our default commute to the throne room.
That’s OK. It’s a progression that works – but it’s just using tempo, dynamics and feel to move us along. What about the over-arching theme** of the lyrics?
During my coaching with worship leaders, I take time to look at their song selection and service flow. I often see thematic left turns that probably gave their congregations whiplash. They’ll be singing down a six-lane highway about God’s greatness, and then BAM—a Dukes of Hazard fish-tail turn onto an intimate garden path that talks about resting in the arms of Jesus.
Or if I can use another word picture, it’d be like taking a Jason Bourne chase scene and cutting to a tender moment in a Nicholas Sparks movie.
To keep our congregation's GPS from continually saying “recalculating…” during our worship services, we need to be intentional about our service design – specifically song planning.
There’s so much we could discuss about this subject, but let me give you a few questions to ask yourself as you’re planning worship services.
1. What’s your destination?
Not just in general, but in this particular service, where do you believe God might want you to take his people?
2. What’s the focus of the senior pastor’s message?
Not every song needs to point to that theme, but if you can journey towards it, you’ll be helping people prepare to hear God’s Word.
3. What lyrical paths will move me to my destination?
Ignore tempo, dynamics, keys, etc. for a minute. Just look at the lyrics of songs. Thematically, where will they take us? Towards God’s greatness and transcendence? Or maybe towards his tenderness and intimacy with him? Or maybe towards a celebration of the cross?
And by the way, you can have all those themes in a single worship set – it’s a matter of how you move from one to the other. Which is the fifth question. But before we ask that one…
4. Overall, are the musical and lyrical paths taking us to the same place?
Does the movement through tempo, dynamics, keys, etc. reinforce the movement through themes? We need to recognize and wrestle with this tension every time we plan worship.
Fortunately, most good worship tunes have prosody – that’s a songwriting term for the music matching the lyrics. The built-in song prosody helps us in this journey.
5. Is there some connection from one song to the other, both thematically and musically?
If there isn’t, and the turn feels a little too sharp, how can we connect them better without giving our congregation whiplash and sending their GPSs into a tizzy?
The next in this series will deal with segues - getting from thing to the next. But in the meantime, let me know how you plan worship songs as a journey.
What sort of frustrations do you run into?
What sort rewards have you seen by doing this?