Joe Ed Furr, Texas Normal Singing School
Most leaders plan public worship around a theme. A theme becomes a central idea that unites songs, prayers, scripture readings, sermons, and sometimes the Lord’s Supper. Themes are most often determined by key words. A key word is a single term or phrase that is at the heart of the theme.
The Bible contains 10,000 key words and phrases. If the Bible is the source of themes, then the planner of public worship has a large vocabulary of possibilities.
But hymnals are not so richly blessed. The average hymnal has only about 4,000 key words that can be accessed for the selection of songs. Singing is a vital component in public worship, so our singing becomes the limiting factor in developing themes for worship.
Hymns are also limiting because the average church does not know every song in the hymnal. The worship leader can find many songs that would be “perfect” for a given worship theme except for the fact that nobody knows the song.
Many worship leaders often try to build the worship theme around the preacher’s sermon. The preacher is given the prime initiative to determine what subject (theme, or text) he wishes to address in a given assembly. After the preacher has made his choice, then song leaders, prayer leaders, and others try to follow-up on that theme.
But sermons are often impossible to follow in a song service. Our present world is cursed with the major moral problem of divorce. Your preacher may wish to address the subject of marital faithfulness and divorce. This subject creates major problems for the song leader. Let us use this sermon topic as an illustration of how many worship leaders try to make the song service blend with the sermon that focuses on a subject that is hard to match in songs.
In Howard’s hymnal, Songs Of Faith and Praise, there is only one song that directly speaks to this subject — God Give Us Christian Homes (843), and many churches do not know this song. There is a second song that addresses this theme only in the last stanza — Thanks To God (466). Other songs only address this subject in very indirect (ambiguous) ways. These include Home (855), Get Right, Church (975), and In The Kingdom Of The Lord (899). To include all these indirect songs would require some creative planning to clarify ambiguity and make them seem relevant. Each of the songs in our list come from a different style of church music. So, if we tried to use them all our church would require a high level of cultural flexibility in the styles of song the church is willing to sing.
The best solution to this problem is to allow the songs and prayers to follow themes that differ from the sermon. The separation of the sermon from songs and prayers allows worship planners to have more freedom to follow the major themes that songs and prayers have in common.