I recently visited a church who prides themselves in always doing their praise sets after the sermon. In fact, the Sunday I visited, the pastor explained in great detail why they do this (does this explanation happen every Sunday?) – they want to give the congregation the opportunity to “respond” to the message (as in musically – we’re not talking about going forward while singing “Just As I Am.”)
Great! So let’s see how this works out in real life. I sat through a fantastic sermon that really got me thinking – it hit home in a powerful way. Then, the praise set started and the feeling that immediately came over me was one of… annoyance.
I felt literally annoyed to be singing. I did not want to sing. I did not want to learn new songs (I recognized one out of the three songs in their praise set.)
What I wanted to do was think about the message.
Now whether you do your music before or after the message is neither right nor wrong. However in this case, the church’s actions (worship after the sermon) completely thwarted their intentions (helping me reflect on the sermon.) Surely I’m not the only person in the congregation to have had this reaction. After over twenty years of church work, I’ve noticed church leaders can sometimes come up with ideas that look absolutely marvelous on paper but don’t work so marvelously in real life. Then, they dig in their heels and continue on that not-so-marvelous path with absolutely no course correction.
There’s a practical reason why most churches I’ve visited and worked in do their praise sets before the sermon:
Worship warms the soul. Sure, music is more than a warm-up to the sermon (although many a pastor really doesn’t believe this) but the time-tested paradigm of music+message just… works. The classic contour of a few upbeat songs that cool down into a worship ballad or two simply arrests, then engages a crowd who mostly arrive in a frenzy after having fought with kids to make it to church on time. Now just how often have you felt that “sweet spirit” in the congregation after an exceptionally touching worship ballad – then the pastor gets up to deliver the sermon and has their undivided attention?
To this church I’d say: if you want to plan your service this way, fine. But must you follow the same order every single week? Try changing it up on occasion – how about three weeks with music after the sermon and one before? The same churches who would denounce a dead, unchanging liturgy have actually created their own contemporary version.