Worship Leader Magazine’s latest issue (a GREAT issue, by the way) featured an interview with Hughes Oliphant Old (worship leaders should know this name) by Reggie Kidd. In a brief, two-page span, Kidd probed Old’s brain on the subject of what Paul means in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 when he refers to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” This is an ongoing and important exegetical dialogue that should be entered into by every worship leader. One of the questions and answers hit the subject that haunts every worship leader…whether or not songs should tie to the sermon. This is a perennial struggle and is often decided along the lines of how “liturgical” a given church is. Churches which are more “liturgical” tend to emphasize a song’s use within its liturgical function over and above its correspondence to the sermon. Sometimes there’s overlap because churches which follow the lectionary for preaching have a set liturgy which blends these two ideas. Evangelical, low church traditions usually steer toward emphasizing sermon themes. I continually wrestle with this issue in my worship planning because of the liturgical middle road we try to navigate in our convergent service. In it, we attempt to incorporate great aspects of liturgy and yet still provide a sense of free church worship. (Ironically, as I continue to read The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies, I’m reminded that the free church / high church liturgical divide has been part of the Reformed worship tradition since the generation after Calvin.) I copy that one question and answer from this article because I find much that I resonate with, knowing that such a stance alienates me a bit from the typical perspective taken in evangelical worship planning.
Kidd: How important is it that hymns support the sermon?
Old: This is a subject which I have given much thought and to tell the truth I think we give far too much attention to finding hymns appropriate to the sermon. While I would insist that one of the legitimate functions of our hymns is meditation on Scripture, I figure there are other functions. I have just mentioned the importance of hymns that hail Christ as our Lord and Savior. Another function is hallowing God’s name. In Psalm 100 we are told to enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. As I see it, the beginning of the service should feature a generous selections of hymns of praise or Psalms of entrance (like Psalm 95 or 100). This is one of the places I am most inclined to choose a Christian paraphrase of one of the Psalms such as Isaac Watts’ version of Psalm 84, “Lord of the worlds above,” or a metrical version of Psalm 121, “Unto the hills around do I lift up.” Of course the hymn following the sermon might follow out the message, but it does not have to. If one has but a single song after the sermon, this might be the place one needs to exalt the redemptive Lordship of Christ.
Reggie Kidd, “On Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs: An Interview with Hughes Oliphant Old,” Worship Leader Magazine, 19.2: March-April 2010, p. 28.