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Preparing for Sunday Worship

By David Peacock.

Worship is a powerful, emotive and problematic subject. The following critical comments are often heard:

'There is a lack of involvement.'

'We are listeners rather than participants.'

'There is a boring sameness about our services.'

'Much of our worship is not relevant to our needs.'

'Worship is too subjective and person-centred, not sufficiently objective and God-centred.'

'Services speak too much to the head and not enough to the heart.'

So what can we do about it? If we are honest we do not give enough time, thought and preparation to our leading of worship. This article aims to put that right. The danger of being restricted in our vision of worship should encourage us to think about creating a team to plan worship.


1. A Worship Planning Team

There is a role for a team which plans worship together and seeks God collectively as the the members consider where he may be leading their local worshipping community. It is necessary for the team to understand the form and flow of a worship experience. There is a wide variety of worship patterns not only across the world but amongst churches in the same locality. Yet there are some common ingredients:

worship anthems Bible-reading praise notices

baptism thanksgiving teaching dedication proclamation

testimony drama identity as God's body symbols

dance communion procession spiritual gifts response

music items inc. solos healing intercession being a community interview collection

Although clearly not all of these aspects of worship will take place in one service or in one worshipping community, it is a tall order to suggest that one person can put the pattern together on his or her own, or that one style of music is going to be an adequate vocabulary or that the same pattern will suffice for every Sunday.

A team puts us in touch with a variety of approaches, repertoire knowledge and creative ideas. It is easy to get into a rut even with two people planning. If you preach body ministry but donÕt practise it, do not read further. A church committed to body ministry should already be moving in this direction. Why should a minister, or a chief musician, be the only person to plan a service? Do they have all the necessary gifts?

Who then should be on a team?

I suggest the team could be drawn from the following members:


Worship leader


Chief musician

Another musician

Vox pop member of congregation

Drama/dance/banners representative

It is important that those on the team are sensitive to what God may be saying to the congregation, and have gifts of discernment. For All-Age Worship it may be better to establish a different team including representatives from the children's ministry.

An ideal to aim for is a weekly meeting, although the main planning may be two or three weeks in advance. Planning in advance is important. It gives time to think, pray, prepare, practise, arrange music, write scripts, look for suitable interviewees etc. In some churches the musicians have been badly served by being given inadequate preparation time by the worship leader. This can be very frustrating!

The timing of the planning meeting needs to relate to the particular membership of the group - for example an early evening or early breakfast meeting may be appropriate. If the collective time of worship has a high profile in the weekly ministry, then sufficient time is required for planning. An hour could be too short. Different structures are possible. A collective monthly brain-storming session may be useful, followed by a smaller group to build on the suggestions. The final meeting before the Sunday would fine-tune it all.

What can happen in a planning meeting?

It goes without saying that prayer is vital to discover God's will and for the Holy Spirit's motivation and creativity. Again, space needs to be given for this.

It is always helpful to begin worship where you left off the previous Sunday. Start by looking at the previous week's worship, to analyse its strengths and weaknesses, and then build on it. A meeting in the first part of the week has obvious benefits. It is important to ascertain the outcome we expect at the end of the worship service. What do we want to give God the opportunity to accomplish in the service? There will be many different outcomes:

e.g. praise, understanding, inspiration, spiritual and practical help for the next week, unchurched encouraged to return, confession, communion, heart response to God's love, greater awareness of needs of others, commitment, recommitment, intimacy, the immediacy of God's presence, filling and empowering of Holy Spirit, healing: physical and spiritual, correction and rebuke, teaching and learning.

Between one and three of these will usually be appropriate for each Sunday.

The planning team should focus on those aspects of the service to which it believes God may be leading the congregation to respond. What is the expectation? Where do we believe the people will be in their hearts and minds by the time the service ends? This will not only help frame the service, and the particular timings of the constituent sections, it will also give greater emphasis to the time of response. It may not always be best served by a final hymn and prayer!

Preaching is therefore an important part of the whole. The team needs to ask the preacher where he/she is ending. This in turn means the preacher will have to be somewhat prepared in advance of the meeting. Sometimes this is impossible two weeks in advance. The weekly meeting, which fine-tunes the previous week's more detailed planning, may have to be altered as the outcomes become settled. Whatever, it is no bad thing for the preacher to start begin focusing early on the main aim of the sermon!

In planning the response time the team needs to be aware of their particular congregation Ð how many will be there, the corporate mood, any particular pastoral issues which have surfaced which will influence the feel of the congregation. For example, if there has been a bereavement in the church it may not be appropriate for worship to be very lively.

2. Establishing a Pattern

For churches used to a more liturgical pattern the framework will be well-established; in this context the structure and length of each section or movement of worship within the liturgy will have to be analysed as to the particular emphasis and expected outcomes of the service.

For churches not committed to a liturgical pattern, it is good to have a framework on which to hang the particular ingredients for the service. This is basically: PRAISE & THANKSGIVING; ADORATION; THEME/WORD; RESPONSE

Sometimes it may be helpful to have a regular pattern to the service ensuring some essential ingredients are included within the weekly community worship. The sections may be changed in order and some will be of different length and emphasis each week:

PRAISE & THANKSGIVING praising God for who he is and thanking him for what he has done

CONFESSION repentance of sin

CELEBRATION assurance of God's mercy

PROCLAMATION affirmation of belief

HEART WORSHIP vocabulary for expressing love towards God in response to his grace towards us

WORD scripture, theme, talk

RESPONSE to theme, talk, etc.

This pattern is appropriate to many types of community worship experience.


3. Choosing the Music

The music should be chosen because it provides the best vocabulary for a particular aspect of the worship pattern. It will not necessarily be governed by style, e.g. Victorian hymn-tune balanced by worship songs. That is not the issue - although it still surfaces in many congregations! If I want to express the majesty of God it may well be that Bach would be more appropriate than Hayford. Why? - for variety, or to please the back row? No - because it's the right music, in our context and will help our particular congregation best express a particular aspect of worship. It will be the right vocabulary.


We need:

Â¥ music to help us celebrate the good news of the gospel;

Â¥ music not for plaster saints but for wounded human beings;

Â¥ music covering the range of themes in the gospel (birth, cross, resurrection, as well as God's hatred of sin and his tenderness towards us, etc.);

Â¥ music reflecting the creative Spirit of God, authentic to the times we live in;

Â¥ music to build up the body of believers.

All of this cannot be covered by one style. I believe we need to move away from defining hymns, songs and psalms by their musical characteristics; rather, our choices should be governed by the texts.

In compiling a range of books covering these genres, we have defined a hymn as a text which takes a particular theme and develops it in a logical sequence. If Philippians 2 is an example of an early hymn then pipe organs, four-part Victorian harmonies and mauve-covered hymnbooks are not an issue. A song usually dwells on one particular theme and does not necessarily develop it. A psalm not only originates from the songbook of the Bible but also shows how God meets us in human experience e.g. suffering, alienation, oppression.

All these make up our musical diet. I offer these definitions as suggested guidelines but if we use only hymns then we get constipation and if we use only songs then we have inadequate nourishment. Sometimes we may want to praise God in depth for his holiness - then the hymn 'Holy, Holy, Holy' would be appropriate; at other times we may want to rest in the fact that God is indeed holy and not be cluttered with the many and varied reasons for this - then the song ' the Lord' may be appropriate.

We surely need all three categories of items. They serve different functions. They are not there for musical preferences. Hymns for example can be accompanied by either informal or formal music.

There are many hymnbooks which are now being published with extensive indexes, which are so valuable to worship planners. However, there is always a danger that 'everything has to be related to a theme'. Not all the praise and worship items need to be related to the theme in every service! They do need to relate to the sections of the worship pattern - i.e. we need to ensure that the vocabulary used is in the right place in the service, e.g. in the God-focused praise section, it is out of keeping to introduce vocabulary concerning our relationship with one another.

The following indices are useful and can relate to material found in a variety of worship books:

Music BookBible IndexThematic Index Baptist Praise and Worship &nbsp* &nbsp&nbsp Hymns for Today's Church &nbsp &nbsp*&nbsp Hymns for the People &nbsp* &nbsp*&nbsp Hymns and Psalms &nbsp* &nbsp&nbsp Songs of Fellowship &nbsp* &nbsp*&nbsp Mission Praise &nbsp &nbsp*&nbsp Let's Praise! 2 (Music edition) &nbsp* &nbsp*&nbsp Church Family Worship &nbsp* &nbsp&nbsp Carol Praise &nbsp* &nbsp*&nbsp Carols for Today &nbsp &nbsp*&nbsp

The Hymns and Songs List from Hodder Headline gives a good thematic guide for a variety of hymn and song books. A new book of indices for songs, psalms and hymns, covering most of the major books, is being compiled by Michael Perry for a worship resource to be published by HarperCollins.

4. Ensuring Variety

Sometimes it is difficult to maintain a broad vocabulary of musical expression, especially if you rely on one or two source books, each of which is generally committed to a particular same style.

One can try a repertoire list covering a whole range of material in style, mood and subject. This can be arranged in overall sections e.g. praise, worship, response or more specific sections, such as:

gathering/call to worship




seeking/thirsting for God


spiritual wellbeing






It is helpful to have on this list between perhaps 100 and 120 hymns/songs/psalms. This is the main list you work with every week. It can be updated monthly with one or two items added and the equivalent number deleted. This is the list the musicians work to: in rehearsals they know the introductions, the style of playing each item; perhaps instrumental parts have been written for a number of the items, some of them will be memorised and adaptable to different keys, etc. You may need to create a separate list of material relating to the current preaching themes. You need flexibility to include items for the day that may not be on the list.

The advantages of this system are numerous:

Â¥ it ensures you look at a variety of styles and moods when planning worship;

Â¥ it gives the musicians material to work on that they know will probably be used;

Â¥ it ensures you don't learn an item and then forget about it;

Â¥ it helps towards the gradual introduction of new items for the congregation to learn.

This list can be arranged alphabetically by computer and photocopied for different use, such as highlighting items with different colours to match moods, to show particular items which flow well together, to emphasise thematic links, etc. All musicians need a list so that they can practise the items on their own. All the worship leaders should have this list and one should be placed on the stand or pulpit area from where the service leaders work.

It is always helpful to keep a record of all the items used. It can be entered on a computer database and related to themes, for easy retrieval at a later date. Alternatively, it can be placed on a card index. Record on this details such as context used, difficulty or ease of learning, items it followed or preceded, way in which the item was used.

If the worship leader is planning a flow of worship and is not perhaps sure before the service of the order of the various planned sections, then I suggest making out a list of possible items and passing it to the musicians, perhaps arranging them as follows:




This list will probably refer to more songs than will be used. The musicians should confirm the keys and sources for music. Items will need to be specified which will be used in a flowing capacity.

Experience shows that it is wise to begin with familiar material; some would choose a longer song, others a short song done with variety over a longer space of time to settle the congregation in. If there is material new to the congregation, plan with the musicians how you are to introduce and teach it. Musicians and worship leader MUST spend time together before the service and go through the suggested order in great detail. At the end of a planning session, it will prove helpful to check on the material chosen for the service:

Â¥ What is the nourishment value of the items?

Â¥ Are the items all vertical or all horizontal?

Â¥ Are there too many climaxes?

Â¥ Is there too much alternation between fast and slow songs?

Â¥ Are the choices right for my particular worshipping community?

Â¥ Is there the breadth of vocabulary for all who will be present?

Then pray! If, to paraphrase the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the main purpose of all people is to worship God and enjoy him forever, then these suggestions will enable us to get in as much practice as possible before we get to heaven!

David Peacock is a full-time Christian musician based in Torquay, Devon. Secretary to the influential Jubilate Trust, he has edited the music for such key publications as Carol Praise, Hymns for the People, Let's Praise I &II, Church Family Worship, Jesus Praise, World Praise.

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You are reading Preparing for Sunday Worship by David Peacock, part of Issue 4 of Ministry Today, published in June 1995.

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