Connecting God’s Word to Our Setlist with Themes

Curating & Planning Worship Column with Jason Whitehorn

One of the most common struggles I hear from Pastors I talk with is helping their worship leader curate song choices to fit key passages from the message each week. One of the greatest tools we can use is to thematically bring the Word from the weekly message to life in song to help reinforce key points throughout our congregation’s daily life. Music and lyrics are a great medium to do this. Here are the steps I give worship leaders and pastors to team up and curate better sets and messages to go along with God’s Word.

Start with The Word

We could sum everything up by saying, “Ask your pastor what Scripture s/he is speaking on, find a song that might reference that Scripture, and you’re set!” In reality, though…we need to dive deeper. Ask your pastor what key Scripture is planned for use and then spend a few days dwelling on it. Send the Scriptures to your entire worship team so that they can begin praying on it and letting God find ways to work it into their lives.

Start Curating

When it is time to start collecting songs, I begin by asking: “What seems to be the central theme of the verse or passage?” I would then ask the speaking pastor, “What theme are you going for along with this passage?” Then, it’s off to Google and a blank piece of paper for ideas. Let’s say the verse is Romans 10:13

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“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

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Let’s assume our pastor has said that the theme of this message is going to focus more on calling on the name of Jesus, so my theme might be more focused on the name of Jesus as well. CCLI has a great resource available to SongSelect members at songselect.ccli.com/search/themes where you can search for songs by Themes. I can also search “Songs about the Name of Jesus” or “Songs about Romans 10:13” and take note of the songs that I get as a result. 

Plan It Out

Not all the songs that you come up with will fit. Perhaps a song will not work for congregational singing. Perhaps one song just isn’t your congregation’s style…but it has some amazing words that fit the theme. Keep all the songs that fit the theme on a list. Then arrange the songs by key, fast, medium, slow and craft them into your set. You will likely have quite a few left over—and that is perfect—we will use those later. Send out your setlist to your team but ask them to pray over the words before they even play the first note. Remember, these songs weren’t picked at random, so they should be carefully thought about as we prepare to play and sing them. The more focused on the songs we are before going into them on a Sunday, them more deeply we will be prepared to connect them with our congregations. 

Connecting The Dots With Playlists

Remember the other songs we aren’t using but we thought fit the theme? They aren’t wasted. Take a moment and create a curated playlist of those songs to be played as your “pre/post-service” music. Before your attenders and visitors even hear the message, they are already, subliminally, being prepared for the theme and the Word that your pastor and your team has been preparing for God to plant in their hearts!

Guide to Connecting God’s Word to our Setlist:

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1. Ask your pastor what key Scriptures they are planning to use and then spend a few days dwelling on them in prayer and meditation.

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2. Send the Scriptures to your entire worship team so that they can begin praying, looking to God for revelation and application in their lives. (They may end up having a suggestion for a song you missed, so check back with them later in the process.)

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3. Begin song collection process by asking, “What seems to be the central theme of the verse or passage?” And clarify with speaking pastor the central theme he wishes to underscore in his sermon.

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4. Boil it down to essential elements and search songs related to the theme. If you are a CCLI member, search songs by themes.

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5. Prayerfully pick the best, most suitable songs for your congregation and service, then arrange them musically and lyrically to create a setlist script from beginning to end. 

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6. Send songs to your team for reflection, preparation and prayer before they play the first note.

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7. Organize songs that don’t make main playlist, but are still relevant, for pre/post-service music.

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Glenn Packiam (Doctor of Theology and Ministry, Durham) is the associate senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the songwriter of more than fifty worship songs, including “Your Name” and “Mystery of Faith,” and the author of several books, including Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus and Discover the Mystery of Faith: How Worship Shapes Believing. He is also a visiting fellow at St. John’s College at Durham University and an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary.
Packiam preaches at conferences for pastors and worship leaders and has spoken at Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University, Biola University, Asbury Seminary, Calvin College, and Trinity School for Ministry. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife, Holly, and their four children.

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