Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why We Sing What We Sing When We Sing

I realized this past week that I've done a poor job of communicating one of the most central things I do from week to week when putting together worship set lists at Redeemer Church. It came up when someone asked why we couldn't just switch two songs since one was more of an energetic "opener" type song than the one I'd picked. The grid or the filter that I run every set list through every week is foundational to our worship flow, but I'm ashamed to admit that most of my church probably doesn't even know it's there.

Every week, my goal is to tell the story of the gospel through the songs we sing. I know, it sounds obvious, sounds simple, maybe sounds redundant if we're already singing worship songs. But let me explain. There's a certain flow, a certain order or progression to the gospel, and rather than just pick songs strictly by the energy level of the song, I've begun picking them based on where they fall in flow of the gospel story.

The gospel story as we tell it is this:
  1. God exists, creates, rules, reigns supreme.
  2. We were created, have fallen, have sinned, and are now a broken people in a broken world.
  3. Jesus lived the life we couldn't live, died the death we should've died to bring us back to God.
  4. We are offered this substitutionary life, death, and life again to be made right with God and live changed lives.
  5. Based on this, we should be living lives of love, lives on mission, lives filled with Jesus' Spirit.
When I pick our five songs each week, I am intentionally picking songs that will fit into that grid. So my song selection goes something like this:
  1. Adoration - These songs focus on proclaiming God as he is. These songs are necessarily vertical and don't have a lot of "I" and "we" and "us" in them. I want to start every service every week confronting all of us anew with the grandeur and majesty of God. (ex. "How Great Is Our God", and "Holy Is The Lord")
  2. Confession & Lament - These songs will speak honestly and openly about our sin, our guilt before God, and the divide that results between us and God. It also mourns the brokenness and futility that came upon the whole of creation as a result of man's sin. However, these songs almost always hint at the coming remedy. (ex. "Come Ye Sinners")
  3. Assurance & Thanksgiving - These songs proclaim the heart of the gospel. Again, that Jesus' life, death, and resurrected life on our behalf has accomplished all that is needed for God to begin making for himself a people from every tribe, tongue and nation. The cross is almost always explicit and present here. (ex. "At The Cross", "It Is Finished", and "Thank You God For Saving Me")
  4. Communion & Reflection - It is not by accident that we take communion when we do in the flow of our service or that we take it every week. Based on the proclamation of the gospel in our first three songs, and the gospel presented in the preaching of the word, we now sing songs that express a time of reflecting on and responding to the work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf--either for the first time (in salvation) or in remembrance (communion). (ex. "Because of Your Love", and "How Deep The Father's Love For Us")
  5. Response & Charge - At this point, we all should be asking ourselves, "If this is true, what next?" The final song aims to point us in that direciton, usually in terms of our renewed commitment to God and Christ-likeness (vertical) and our desire to be loving and serving those inside and outside the church (horizontal). (ex. "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder", and "Reign In Us")
I hope this will be a helpful insight into why I do what I do, and in the bigger scheme of things, a reminder of why we all do what we do. So on the weeks that I actually remember to share the setlist on Facebook before Sunday, you'll notice I've put these five elements into the order of worship just as a way of helping us think about our song flow in these categories.

These ideas are by no means original to me, in fact there's more written on this idea than I can even reference here, but here's two in blog post form ("Sing the Story" by Matt Papa) and in book form (Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper).

Every week when we sing we are singing the gospel, we're rehearsing the gospel, we're telling each other the gospel story.
This post was originally an email sent to my worship team, but I felt the ideas were important enough that I wanted to share it with the rest of the church as well. Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday and retelling the gospel story all over again!

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