Just picking up on a comment from elsewhere...
I have come across this in quite a few worship leader circles/discussions; when it comes to song selection, the first point of call is asking the pastor/preacher what the theme is for the service and/or sermon and start to shape the songs around that.
I tend to actively avoid knowing the theme of the service as I have found that things tend to fall into place when it comes to the service...i.e. there is more often than not something within the songs that have been chosen that ties in anyway.
I guess my approach is to see the songs as the element within the service that plays the role of 'spiritual coffee' that 'wakes' people to God's presence and His voice so that when the sermon is preached our ears are open to Him.
This means that the songs don't have to tie in with the theme, they only need to point us to Christ and encourage us to open our spirit to His Spirit.
But I know there will be lots of other perspectives out there...would be great to hear how this works in other churches...
Yeah, I don't find out until the bulletin MSWord file comes out on Thursday or Friday what the scripture or sermon title are, so I've accepted that there's no way for me to try to tie in with the theme... and I HAVE asked the pastor in advance and she just doesn't reply. The way it works for us, I send a song list to the office on Monday, long before I know details of the service, and even when we have "planned" a sermon series in advance, the actual service changes about half the time.
I've thought about taking the lectionary (an annual set of readings, 2019 will be Year C for us) and planning around that, but even there, there is an OT reading, a Psalm, a Gospel and an Epistle, and even guessing which one of those might be used in the service is beyond me.,, and beyond that, even if I knew we'd be doing the Gospel lesson each week, predicting what the sermon might say ABOUT that scripture is beyond me.
Yeah, me grumbling again, but if I didn't have this place to come and grumble with a semi-sympathetic audience, I'd have probably tossed my church key on the pastor's desk and gone off to do something else long ago. So thanks for putting up with me...
I've bounced around both sides of this issue over time. There are times where focusing on a theme can be effective, but I'd have a hard time saying that it should ALWAYS be done. As you said, I have often found myself in the middle of a worship service noticing lyrics or elements of a song that tie in to that day's message that I didn't even think about... as I didn't even know what was being preached that day ahead of time. :) That's always very cool!
I don't think it hurts or is wrong to plan around a theme... as long as you don't get too stuck in it. Usually as long as the end of the set lands around that theme, it can easily be transitioned into the message. The main focus is to pray and seek God's direction as to what HE wants you to do.