How do you decide what to sing?

There are various ways you might decide what you are going sing in church. For some, some more general praise and worship songs lead up to the sermon, after which a suitable song of response will be chosen. Others will try to find a mix of songs that lead helpfully to the sermon. There are other ways of thinking these things through too.

As with many things, this is not a matter scripture gives a definitive prescription. We are asking a wisdom question. Given that we are called to sing, what is the best way to do so? What would best serve God’s people? What best accomplishes what we are trying to achieve?

As you may know, we have thought about our liturgy quite carefully. You can see how we have done that here. But we have a short welcome, perhaps an opening song to prepare us for the Word, and then pretty quickly get into our sermon. We want to communicate that, before we do anything else, we want God to speak. We are here to hear from him and to respond appropriately to what he has to say.

What that means in practice is the reading and sermon are at the front end of our sermon and almost everything else comes after as a response to what we have heard. We hear the Word read, then preached and in response to it we pray, we sing, we share testimony, we hear notices about how we will put it into practice and we share communion. All these things are geared up to be a response to the Word, which has the place of prominence in our meeting.

That being the case, the songs we choose follow a fairly straightforward principle: which songs most helpfully reflect the key themes of the sermon? Our aim is to reinforce through song what we have already heard in the Word. We believe in preaching changing God’s people as the Spirit does his work, but I am also aware few people go home singing the sermon. The songs we sing on Sunday are likely to be in the thoughts and minds in the week far more readily. It is our hope that the songs we sing, which should clearly reflect the main themes of the sermon, will help call to mind what we heard from the Word that week.

The other factor we want to consider is the range of ethnic backgrounds in the church. In particular, though we can all sing in English, we think it is helpful for a significant section of our church to be able to sing in their own language. So, we usually like to pick at least one song we might sing in Farsi alongside some English songs that reflect what we have heard from the Word. Whilst our primary goal is to reflect on what we have heard preached, we also want to reflect our diversity in what we do as a congregation.

So, any given week, we might have one song of praise to help us prepare to hear the Word. We will then have three (or so) English songs to reflect what we have heard from the Word. We will also have a Farsi song to help our Iranian brothers and sisters reflect on what we have been thinking about too.