A Progression With Purpose
Have you ever finished a strong worship set but it seemed to fall flat? Why is that?
Each song was carefully chosen.
The band was well rehearsed.
The transitions were smooth.
But still, when you finished singing something felt disjointed and incomplete.
Flow Is King
If you've come up as a worship leader during the contemporary worship movement you know at least one thing. Flow is king. Fluidly gliding from song to song is the all-important goal. Song Key, Tempo, and Time signature take top priority when choosing the order of your songs.
But this thinking is backward. A progression with purpose is much more important. Musical flow is helpful and achievable, but ordering your songs with a progression in mind is the place to start.
Different Kinds Of Song
We typically call every song we sing in church a "worship" song. And while it's true that we are worshipping God through each song we sing I've found it helpful to categorize songs a little more specifically.
Gathering songs act as a call to worship. Similar to the Psalms of Ascent, their purpose is to begin to turn our hearts to our King. They may state the purpose of our gathering, encourage us to sing aloud, or invite the Spirit of God to meet us.
Songs of praise are often upbeat and celebratory. They declare what God has done. His mighty acts and marvelous deeds.
Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 both tell us to sing to one another - encouraging one another through songs. Testimony songs speak of the love and faithfulness of God toward us. We tell one another what a mighty God we serve. Musically these songs could either be upbeat or more slow and anthemic.
Songs of response give us the opportunity to sing to the Lord about ourselves. Thanksgiving, Commitment, Devotion, Confession, and Repentance are all ways we can sing in response to what God has done.
If songs of praise declare what God has done than songs of worship declare who God is. These are songs of pure ascription. Nothing about ourselves or what God has done for us. We simply worship God for who He is. Immortal, invisible, God only wise.
Thinking of songs in these terms helps up order or gatherings in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
The Tabernacle Model
The Old Testament Tabernacle provides a helpful outline for planning our progression.
1. The Ascent
A call to worship through song, Scripture or spoken encouragement.
2. The Gate
Thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4)
3. The Courtyard
The place where the individual joins a community. Songs or elements of God's faithfulness. A time to tell one another what God has done for us. (Psalm 145:4)
4. The Holy Place
The place where we prepare to encounter God. Songs or elements of response, confession, devotion, and communion.
5. The Holy of Holies
Vertical Worship. Pure Ascription.
You'll notice that this progression follows the categories of songs I outlined above.
In part one of this Setlist Checklist series, I share the importance of a vertical destination. Getting to the place where we're singing pure ascription to the Lord. If your worship services are falling flat it's probably because you never arrive in this place of vertical worship.
The Gospel Model
Another model of ordering our service is retelling the Gospel story.
Zack Hicks gives us a simple, three-movement outline in his book The Worship Pastor.
The Glory of God
The Gravity of Sin
The Grandeur of Grace
In Rhythms of Grace, Mike Cosper offers this format:
Creation - Call to worship, Praise & Adoration
The Fall - Confession, Lament
Redemption - Words of assurance, Greeting, Pastoral Prayer
Consummation - Communion, Commitment, Benediction
Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship offers a similar progression
Put It All Together
I've used and enjoyed both the Tabernacle and Gospel models. But they're just models. A helpful structure to hang the real substance. There is no perfect formula - and worship should never be formulaic - but our leading must be thoughtful and intentional.
Let me give a few examples of a three-song set list.
Song 1 - Testimony
Song 2 - Response
Song 3 - Response
We begin by singing to one another about ourselves (what God has done for me) and end singing about ourselves again (what we will do for Him). This set will fall flat.
Song 1 - Praise
Song 2 - Praise
Song 3 - Testimony
We're off to a good start but don't finish well. We never reach pure ascription. This set will fall flat as well.
Song 1 - Praise
Song 2 - Response
Song 3 - Worship
This is an excellent set list. We start with God. Respond to what He's done with our devotion. And finally, we simply worship Him for who He is.
Catch up on Part 1 of the Setlist Checklist series. A Vertical Destination