Continuity in the service-flow: Indexing your song database

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

Achieving a cohesive “flow” in the Worship Service is dependent more on the Content of the Words than the Key of the Music.  Our August Worship Column urged upon us all the Value of a Thematic Flow that carries the Congregation forward in harmonious unity towards God’s purpose for that Service. One (or two) Themes presented through various media – Scripture, Song, Supplication and Sermon. In this month’s Column we ask: In practical terms, HOW do we build a Thematic Flow into our Worship Service? 

1.  IDENTIFY A THEME:  The Worship Leader begins by consulting the Pastor or Preacher, to hear what God has impressed on their heart.  (If this is unknown or uncertain, then prayerfully try to receive a Theme from the Holy Spirit – who is the Ultimate co-ordinator of the Worship Service. Often we are amazed at the harmony between the Theme thus chosen and the subject of the Preacher’s sermon, and we praise God for His guidance.) 

2.  INFORM OTHERS:  those who lead in Prayer, those who choose the Scripture, and any others who will lead segments of the Service. Encourage them to harmonise their part in the Service, as best they can, with the chosen Theme(s). But do not force total conformity. For example, Prayer is wide-ranging, involving Confession, Intercession for those in need, for the church, for the nation, for the needy, and for evangelism/missions. As long as the prayer-leader is aware of the Theme, s/he can weave this into the prayer in appropriate and seamless ways. 

3.  INSPIRE WITH SONG: Choose some songs that will capture the Theme(s) and embed them in the consciousness of the Congregation. Some songs will be Vertical lyrics of Praise and Prayer. Remember that many of the Songs in the Service should be Horizontal, intended to “teach and admonish one another” with God’s Word (Colossians 3:16). It is in this Horizontal genre that Themes come into their own most effectively. In fact, the Song’s message can be more effective than the Sermon itself (Deuteronomy 31:19,21). So the Songs should be chosen with care and strong Thematic Purpose, for much effectiveness.  Effective Song-choosing depends on A WELL-INDEXED SONG DATA-BASE.  See below. 

4.  LIAISE WITH THE PASTOR/PREACHER: Good communication will ensure that the whole Service flows smoothly. All the Participants know how the components fit together, and commit themselves making the fit work well, so that God’s Word will be maximised into the lives of the congregation. God’s goal is achieved, His church built up, His people equipped for their service in the Monday-to-Saturday world into which the Saviour sends them. 

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THE SONG DATA-BASE 

Building a comprehensive Data-Base of Songs is essential to planning a Song-List that flows in harmony with the Theme of the Word of God each Sunday. Visualise the Data-Base as a “Repertoire”, or better, the “Reservoir” from which you select the Songs that will be on the Flow Programme for the Worship Service. 

First weed out those songs that have unworthy lyrics, those without Biblical and Theological basis, and those without coherent Meaning.  Then go through your Data-base again, in search of any with unsingable tunes. Those tunes which the average congregation would struggle to sing with fluidity. Those tunes with a mismatch of notes and syllables. The remaining Songs will be Biblical and Singable – the core criteria for any Congregational Song. (But don’t throw the others away. File them separately: Sometimes you can redeem them by amending lyrics and/or tune. Or, if the words are Biblical, use them as a Performance Item.) 

You have your Theme. You have maybe some 300 Songs on your purified Data-base. Give each Song a reference number. Or file them alphabetically based on the unchanging First Line (not the Song Title, for this is not as memory-dependable as the first line!) Now ~ How do you find those Songs that support your Theme? 

You need a Thematic Index – usually called a “TOPICAL INDEX”. Spend time, a long time, building this Topical Index. 

a. Go through the Songs on your Data-base and compile a list of the Themes which you discover in the Lyrics. Explicit Themes, sub-Themes and Allusions.  Alphabetise these for easy reference. 

b. Go through this List of Themes, and think of Themes that are found in the Bible that are not on your List. Maybe you will find there are no Songs on themes such as Pride, Poverty, Work, Marriage, Government, Missions, Persecution, Suffering or Money. Add these to your List of Topics, and plan to search for, and find, Songs that support these Themes. If a Theme is in the Bible, it should have a Song on your Data-base. 

c. You will probably find the Preacher’s Sermon Theme stretches your Topical List. You will add new Themes, for which you will need new Songs.  Where will you find them? 

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 gives 3 genres from which to choose: “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”. Living as we do in the 21st Century, most of our Contemporary Worship Songs fall in the third category. So, explore the wider range of Themes offered by the biblical Psalms and the Hymn-books new and old. You will discover gems of insight and poetic expression that unpack the Themes in soul-stretching ways. You will grow in understanding and applying God’s Word. 

To finally perfect your Data-base Indexing, prepare a SCRIPTURAL INDEX of explicit, implicit Bible passages and allusions. In my own songwriting (Lyrics to Lift your Life) I have indexed the 350 songs to 185 Topics and 513 Scriptures. My ambition is to cover all the Thematic Gaps. Take time to do the same with your growing Data-base. You will never regret it, and your Worship Services will be so much richer and more fruitful. 

Such a Song Data-base, indexed to Themes and Scriptures will enable you to compile a Sunday Song-List in a short time. Your Investment in Time will be amply repayed by the Time Saved in the future. 

You will be amazed, your Congregation will be edified, the Pastor/Preacher encouraged and God will be smiling when your Worship Service flows powerfully with an integrated Theme each Sunday! There will Continuity in the Service Flow!

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