Compiling a song list for true worship

[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]

A number of writers on “How to Lead a Worship Service” suggest that the SONG LIST be drawn up. Excellent idea. But well known Worship Leader Bob Sorge goes on to say that the major unifying factor is THE MUSIC. Terrible idea.

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How does Sorge compile his ‘Master List of All the Songs the Church Sings’?  In “Exploring Worship” (Oasis 2001) he writes: “The system that is most helpful to me is to divide my List into “Fast Songs” and “Slow Songs”. I then divide my “Fast Songs” into two sub-divisions:

  • the individual Key in which each song is sung, and
  •   songs of the same Tempo.

One can then move from one song to the next by remaining in the same key and tempo.  The “Slow Songs” are divided into “Keys” and “Topics”. He then reproduces his own personal listings under these divisions.  He lists 13 Keys he uses. In the “Same Tempo” section he lists 40 Song titles.  The total in his entire repertoire is 75 fast + 65 slow = 140 songs.

What fascinates me most is that he only recognises 4 TOPICS: Love, Communion, Altar Call and Missions. These comprise a total of 59 Song Titles.  But of these only 42% of the 140 songs on Bob’s Song List are categorised by Topic. And, of the scores of Topics available, Bob chooses only four. He doesn’t think of core Christian topics such as Creation, Christmas and the Coming Again of Jesus Christ. He ignores the Easter’s Resurrection, the Holy Spirit, Prayer, Suffering, Marriage, Death and Heaven. How truncated his Worship Services must be! But that’s because he is fixated on the Music, not the Message.

Singing the Word
The Holy Spirit loves Music, and when He fills the life of a believer, Music pours out (Ephesians 5:19,20). Spirit-filled Christians “make Music in their hearts to the Lord”. Notice that this Music carries Song in three categories: “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”.  These same three categories are listed in Colossians 3:16: “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”. The Music and the Singing has Lyrics ~ Words that are sung. These Words that are sung are the “Word of Christ”. Their hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled with the Word of Christ. They are “singing the Word”.

For Music is not an end in itself. It is not even ‘the main thing’. It is a vehicle that carries the Word of Christ, a Word that “dwells in us richly”, a Word that “teaches one another” and a Word that “admonishes” us where we go astray and brings us back onto the right path.

This is the Word of Christ that shows us that Bob has got his Worship Song List all wrong. He has made Music ‘the main thing’, and is concerned that our songs should move freely in the same Key and Tempo ~ but within a limited range of only four Topics. Musical technicalities are his main focus. He actually devotes a whole Appendix to “Chord Progressions in Worship”.

What have “chord progressions” got to do with “Worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24)?  On page 65 Bob defines “Worship” as “essentially a Feeling”. This explains his preoccupation with Music, for Music creates “Feeling”.  Music has “chord progressions”, that create musical feelings, which (for Bob) are the essence of “Worship”. Even when he hints at a measure of Objectivity on page 73 in “Obedience as worship” (Romans 12:1), he quickly slips back into the Subjective feelings around Worship — the emotional valleys which Job and David experienced, emotions that moved them to Worship. For Bob, Music must be dominant because Music moves the Emotions, and Worship is mainly an Emotional Experience.

Sorge should learn the lessons Matt Redman captures in his song “When the music fades”, and he should “bring something that’s of worth” and  “come back to the heart of worship”, saying “I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about You, Jesus”. Back to Lyrics that are “rich in he word of CHRIST” (Col. 3:16).

How then should you, as a Worship Leader, compile your church’s Song List?  Because God wants us to sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs to each other as we teach and admonish one another from the Word of Christ that is dwelling richly in us, we should compile two major Song Indexes within these three broad categories:

1.  A Scriptural Index, in which a sequential list of Biblical references links with all the expositions and allusions in each Song.

2.  A Topical Index, in which an alphabetical list of Biblical Topics link with each Song.

For example, in my “Lyrics to Lift your Life” (self-published in 2011) nearly 300 Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs are indexed to 513 Scriptures and 185 Topics. This kind of Indexing enables you to compile a meaningful Song List for every Service.***

And so, in this way, the message of “the word of Christ” in song is let loose in the congregation to accomplish God’s purpose of “teaching and admonishing one another”. The songs in the Worship Leader’s Song List must be themed by Scripture and Topic to integrate the Praises, Testimonies, Confessions, Prayers, Offering and Sermon into one glorious Worship Service. We sing to one another in the presence of God. We sing to God in the presence of one another. Objective Truth and Subjective Feeling blend together as Music and Words, “Spirit and Truth”, provide the complete Worship which our Father seeks. (John 4:24). 

*** Contact for information on how you can order an electronic copy of “Lyrics to Life your Life”.


  1. Yes let us focus on God, Jesus & the Word. The index should be very helpful to all who choose the music.

  2. Music is the wonderful means that God has given to us to connect simultaneously with our mind and our emotion. Singing the truth of God’s word should stir up emotions like joy, gratitude and even repentance. Not empty emotion, but response to the sung word. The appropriate music adds the right flavour but the sung word is the nourishment.