PT3: The Art of Squeeze
Updated: Feb 12
I've often heard the expression, "Placing a round peg in a square hole." By now you've gotten an initial farming of choosing music for liturgical contexts. Much of it has to do with what the lyrics are saying and syncing songs up to their relational liturgical component. In this segment we're looking at four parts of the service. I'll define each one briefly and give a few pointers on choosing music as we go along.
Processional. A well-chosen processional piece will provide a powerful frame for the entire service. Processionals should be a general call to worship (Come let us praise...) or a hard acclamation describing an attribute of the God we have gathered to worship. Processionals (and recessional for that matter) need to be God-focused and may include miracles of days gone passed, or hope for the future, in order to remind us of his greatness and who we've come to worship.
If your church follows a lectionary, or if your priest is moving the church through a preaching series of some sort, frame it with a great processional. By definition, processional songs would never be an "Oh how I need you," or "Take my life and let it be" kind of song. These type of songs are more appropriate later in the service. For now we are all about God - hischaracter, hisdeeds, and reminding our people who he is, what he's done, or what he'sgoing to do in the eschaton. There's not a lot of "me" in "he" hymns.
The Gloria. The gloria is also a time wherein praises and glories are lifted up to God, but with one big change: here we are ascribing directly to himthe praises of our hearts. Glorious praises for no other reason except for he is worthy of them. We're not asking, pleading, graveling in sin at this time. It's all about lifting praises to his Name, but now in a more personal way.
Some churches use this time in the service for an extended period of worship - which is ideal in my book. Then, after lifting up holy hands to his glory, you can choose a piece of music that has more of an invitational, "setting my heart before you," kind of lyric. The second song in the gloria set should be more intimate, and can have more of an adoration sensibility to it. In some churches, the conclusion of the gloria set provides a rich place wherein people can share words from God, impressions, or other manifestations of the Spirit.
I could give you song ideas for any one of these sections of liturgy but if you do a careful examination of your lyrical content, you'll see it for yourself. Indeed, if you are having problems finding songs that don't fit it, it's a good way to balance out your library.
Let me take a look at your song library and I'll show you what your theology is.A well-balanced song library will have good content ranging from gloria, exaltation songs, penitent songs, offering on one's self songs, intimate songs of love, and songs declaring the might attributes of the Father and his Great Commission call on the body.
Sequence. The sequence is the song that comes just before the Gospel is read and the sermon is preached. Some churches still have sequence (or gradual) hymns so let me say a bit about that. Here is a song that works best as an invitation for the church to listen deeply to what is about to be read or preached. Sometimes it's merely "traveling music," but this little time has great potential to get our hearts in tune with the Word. Simple alleluias, or even instrumentals work here, before or after the reading. In the case of longer songs, do verse 1 and chorus before the reading and finish up the song, verse 2 and chorus, after the reading. Then your people will be ready to engage the sermon with full attentiveness.
Recessionals. Recessionals like processionals share common ground in the sense that they both include a more formal approach in song. In the case of the latter, songs that invoke passion for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, a reminder of God's work in the work, or a reaffirmation of who he is as we go out work best in this slot. While songs that pleas for the Spirit's infilling or empowerment work well here, the gist of the the recessional needs to be outwardly focused, away from us, and onto God's mission in the world.
All this being said, how does this work out in choosing music. Here are some things that I'd caution against:
Choosing an "I Need You to Hold me" song as the first gloria selection. Why? Think of where the focus is. Music here needs to be God-Focused, not me focused.
Choosing an "O Come to the Altar" song for a closing hymn. Why? Invitational songs are best done in Communion, or at the Offertory. The recessional is a time to go into the world proclaiming the power of the resurrection, not a time to for invitation for me to draw closer to the Holy Place.
Bebop-ping from heto wesongs and back again throughout the service. This may need some explaining. The purpose of progression is to get us through the gates, reminded of who he is, extol him in our personal prayers, and get back into the world. At each stage different pronouns are suggested. We come into church reminded of him, a "he" song. We lift up praises and glorify his name ("he," "we," and "you" songs). See the progression? We've gone from talking about him to talking to him. For this reason my preference is that once you've gotten past the formalities and are now singing to him as a person, don't flip back around to talking about him, especially if you're linking songs within the same set. When I see my wife, I may call upon her to come to me, which she does. Once in my presence, I don't refer to her as a "she" any more, but a "you." Get it?
This re-redefining of choosing music for particular places in the liturgy is difficult, as it demands that we exclude a lot of great music that's floating around out there. But remember, this is only about choosing Sunday morning service music. There may be other times during the week or month you can toss the liturgy away and jump onto another worship paradigm and that's just as wonderful and glorifying to the Lord.
A second challenge is more pragmatical. If you look at the lyrical content of most of the worship music out there it won't take long until you begin to see a disturbing trend in the system: most of it is "all about me," my sin, my need, my dreams, his purpose for me, my forgiveness, what he's done for me, and so on right down the line. It's a sad commentary on the American CCM scene and I challenge you to present (or write) music to your congregation that expresses the height and depth and width of the multi-faceted dynamics of God. Like any good well-balanced meal, we need to be serve the full enchilada in our expression to him, else we become endemic.
So you may be thinking, "So what about the songs wherein we plea for God's deliverance, or where we commit our hearts anew to him, or we become lost in adorations to the Holy One? The opportunities are there, of course, and we'll take a look at them in our next segment.