Sermon-Centric Planning?

Neil over at the Blue Collar Worship Blog has written a great post about the problems with planning your set list around the pastor’s sermon.

There are a lot of folks who think it’s vital to plan your message around the sermon, and a lot of good tools and software available to accomplish this. I think that no matter what you do, you need to have a good line of communication with the leadership of your church, and a clear understanding of what’s expected of you. The reverse is that the leadership needs to have an understanding that if they ask for certain things it will require other things.  You can read Neil’s prespective on not planning your set list thematically to match the sermon HERE. Here’s my thoughts on why I don’t plan thematically.


I’m not saying that people who use Planning Center or other tools aren’t spirit filled. I’m not saying that those who try and pick songs to match the pastor’s sermon are “quenching the Spirit.” I’m just saying that from my experience, I’ve never found a need to plan thematically, because the Spirit has often lead me to songs that fit the Bible study perfectly. I have literally seen songs that I picked out a month before answer a prayer prayed moments before the service started.

I’m not against planning or organization, and I don’t believe for a moment that God is either. But in my planning, I recognize that God will lead me in ways that I can’t see and down paths that I wouldn’t have gone on my own.


While some of my reasons for not planning Sermon-Centrically are spiritual, others are very practical. Churches that do Thematic planning, and do it well, often have a regular mid-week practice. They are free to go over a wide range of songs, so when they find out the sermon’s title or message until Friday or even Saturday night. Since they’ve practiced in the week, it’s not a big deal to show up, find out the set list, and roll with it. That works for some churches.

But the truth is that most churches I’ve served at do not have time in their weekly schedule for a regular band practice. Even if they did, they would loose too many players to make it a worthwhile choice.

This may not apply to every church, but I think those church for which it does should take heed. Additionally, people who champion sermon-centric set lists need to remember that while it may work in their church, not every church is set up to function the same way.


Now, in the above sections I’ve discussed some spiritual and practical reasons why I’ve never embraced sermon-centric worship leading. But what do you do instead? Its not enough to be against something, you need to be for something as well! My goal as a worship leader when I put a set list together is to offer a wide menu.

Our songs should embrace the joy, the pain, the anguish, the relief, the despair, the hurt, the healing, the hope all found in our world, our lives, and our faith, with all the answers for our joy and pain coming from our Savior Jesus Christ. Hopefully, out of the 5-7 songs I bring to the service, there were be elements that link to the Pastor’s message.


Easter. Good Friday. Christmas. These are the big three seasons of the church. Add to that regional or cultural events like Thanksgiving and a worship leader should be aware of the songs they choose. Coming up to Easter we focus on the cross and the resurrection. The birth of Jesus at Christmas, etc. Just because we aren’t interested in forcing the songs we play to spell out all 6 of the pastor’s sermon points, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be aware of the times and seasons we are in.


I’ve given you my opinions, now go do what Jesus leads you to do.

One thought on “Sermon-Centric Planning?

  1. Riley

    I don’t plan thematically, PLUS have a weekly practice. Two in fact! Best that way! Brett Williams says you need a multi-course meal in your set.

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