I don't even check for a sermon topic (horrors) unless I'm providing a closing song. That's the only song that people will (usually) connect with the sermon theme anyway.
I ask God for the songs that the people need to sing for that day, and like others have found, it's amazing how much they fit into the whole service package without trying to do so.
In reality, most people view the worship time as a separate thing from the sermon time, and rarely connect the two events theme-wise. I guess you could label one as preparation and the other as receiving. But I know some feel strongly about this, so this is just my way of doing it.
I agree Rick and I try to just simply follow God's leading on selection.
Oh, I love it........., but like Rick says, some feel strongly about this, and I have come up against a fair bit of opposition for choosing worship songs this way. It hasn't swayed me though, and unless I hear from God to do otherwise, I will continue to trust in this way of doing it. I very rarely plan past the first song, let alone a worship set, and even then, I can change my mind at the last second.
Again, thinking about what Rick has already said, this is my way of doing it, so I'm not saying you all have to do it this way or else..........ain't half exciting though! : )
Try to pick songs that relate if it is a special service.
Otherwise usually it is songs that the leader, singers, musicians know well enough to play/sing together!!!!
In most other churches, the Pastor preferred to work independently -- the Lord would give us sermon and song which would complement each other. So I found a quiet space by a little Gothic window, with a sheet of paper and my encyclopedic list of every song the church had ever sung.
In a new church, the Pastor writes out the sermon and tells me the subject on Tuesday morning. I have no requirement to make anything "match", but I like to, just as before. And even with this pre-preparation, it still seems just as adventurous.
It's cool that you created this discussion just now; I got to preach last week, and, having a little time this evening, opened up the WTR site to start a new discussion by throwing out my sermon subject to see what sort of songs people would select for the music/worship time!
In our new church, it's tricky, because we have only a hundred songs that we know for sure the people know, and the worship team scales back its practices in the summer. So for the service to have both musical and thematic integrity, it takes some doing. Here's last week's effort, as an example:
Message: "Nicodemus" John 2:23-3:21, (3:16, primary Scripture) and the children's sermon illustrating new birth and joy of new life with maple tree propellers spinning all over the sanctuary. One of my emphases was to show how Jesus truly lived, died and lives for all people; and how the Holy Spirit effects real change in our lives, not just cosmetic, and how it boils down to Love as the dividing factor.
Exact musical fits: very few in our current collection. If I had thought of Baloche's "Hosanna", which has strong thematic links, I propbably would have chosen it (it builds up the idea of crowd-praise of Jesus which sets the scene for Jesus' putdown of Nicodemus' flattery; and it speaks strongly of newness of life). But I chose:
open: "Holy is the Lord God Almighty" (Tomlin et al) for the crowd-sentiment idea and general service-starting praise.
1st set: "I Am Free". The freedom to do right, to want people to see God's love in action, figures prominently (John 3:17-21). Also, the childlike, rambunctious character of this John Egan song fits the subject.
* Greeting Time
"More" (Doerksen) The connection is more abstruse; but needing and loving God more than anything is necessary to make the sermon passage a living reality in one's life.
"Holy of Holies" (Dave Browning/Petra) This sets the physical/social scene - Nicodemus, venturing at night past the stale, critical priesthood to Jesus himself. The powerful symbol of the coal from the altar figures into the empowerment to live from God's spirit.
* Children's sermon and offering
"All Who Are Thirsty" (Brenton Brown) An invitation to life in the Spirit of God, followed by a short chorus,
"Flow Like a River" (Billy Funk, his real name, and quite a good songwriter), a song new to us, but which the church people here love, and continued the "spirit/water" theme (don't forget that John 3 is a segue from Cana, the water into wine, and leads directly to the Woman at the Well).
Looking back at your Discussion Question, I'd say my intent is to match, or better, reinforce and complement the substance of the pastor's message (a title may yield only part of the story).
I hope this description of my own process in choosing songs may be helpful to you!
Sometimes I know the theme or topic other times I don't. But though prayer we usually end up with just the right set! This week I did know the topic which was about blessings. We also had a guest trumpet player which also influenced what we did. This was the set:
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (hymn)(Trumpet Solo opening the set)
For All You've Done
Thank You Lord
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Hymn)
tagged with the chorus to How Great Is Our God
Invitation: Thank You Lord
I try not to know what is being spoken so that I can just select the ones that seem 'right' at the time. Normally I'll work through a list of a couple of hundred songs, trying to be sensitive and 'hear' which ones we should use. I'll also often do this early on the Sunday morning or the night before if it's a mid week (I've sometimes thrown half the set and re-done it an hour before the start).
Very often songs will line up really well.
There was a time when I lead a worship team that I'd try to get the worship leaders to 'hear God' a week or 2 in advance so we could practice, but TBH it didn't really work that well. The pre-prepared songlist would often feel contrived and the worship would be a bit flat. Quite often the other guys would bring a modified set list anyway, and that would have a bit more life to it.
It's a curious situation, because clearly God is unchanging and knows what is going to happen at any given time of the week. In addition, I'd like to think most of us can hear God just as well on a Tuesday evening as they can on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was just about us, and bringing something fresh was much more important that just getting the 'right' list of songs. Whatever it is, I seem to find the most anointing on songs with less forethought and more spiritual spontaneity.
"Seeming right" is a valuable resource for a musician. Even when I am just playing a piece of music, all the notes are in front of me, but I'm most happy if I play them in a way that seems right.
So for all my yakity-yak in a previous post about how I chose this and that, 90% of the time I just pray and think and go with what seems right.
Like many others, I leave it in God's hands. Usually the night before the service I'll sit and write out a list of songs that I then e-mail to the team. We generally sing 5 songs before the sermon and have 1 afterwards. However, we do go with the leading of the Holy Spirit, so last week, I felt led to pick 6 opening songs which we then played and got through in the normal time it takes to play 5 - but still with opportunities for the congregation to share and sing in the Spirit.
I then changed the closing song as there had been a lot of mention of restoration during the service, so I put in "Restorer of My Soul" and then played the closer during a time of individual prayer and ministry at the end. So, to answer the question, in a sense we do pick a set of songs that will roughly fit in with the time for the sermon, but we also worship as the Spirit leads, and so if we run over (or run short!) there's not usually a problem because it's Spirit-led.
Just for the record, last week's set was:
Praise is Rising (Hosanna) (Paul Baloche/Brenton Brown)
God so Loved this whole World (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah) (Godfrey Birtill)
Holy, Lord God Almighty (Graeme Harvey)
Shout to the Lord (My Jesus, My Saviour) (Darlene Zschech)
You Are Beautiful (Mark Altrogge)
This is the Air I Breathe (Marie Barnett)
The Lord is Here (Restorer of My Soul) (Graeme Harvey)
This is My Desire (Reuben Morgan)