“Let all things be done decently and in order.”—1 Corinthians 14:40
One of the many responsibilities of a music director is to prepare the order of service. This task, though seemingly simple and mundane, can have a huge effect on the spirit of the service. We want to do everything for the Lord with excellence. Here are a few exercises and thoughts to consider when preparing an order of service.
1. Maintain a Working Music Schedule
The order of service flows from this schedule. This exercise saves you from last-minute scrambles. Nothing communicates a lack of excellence and preparation to a visitor like a song leader standing by the piano, frantically scrolling through the hymnal to select the songs for the service. Maintaining a three-to-six-month music schedule will save you from these kinds of moments.
This also relieves pressure during busy seasons of ministry. Some seasons or events demand more of our attention and time than usual. I have found that weekly, routine responsibilities are most easily pushed to the back of my mind during a time like this. Having this schedule in place will free your mind to focus on the task at hand, without fear of overlooking this important detail.
Finally, this allows for some flexibility in planning. This schedule is always subject to change at the pastor’s request. Changes, however, are much more easily accommodated when you have a plan in place. If one of your musicians gets sick or unexpectedly has to leave town, you have a list of people from which to choose, since they are already preparing for upcoming services.
2. Develop a Service Template
Work with your pastor to develop an order of service that fits his vision for the service. Some pastors always have a choir opener at the beginning of the service; others prefer to open with congregational singing. Some pastors always want a solo before the message. Whatever the case, get a model or template working for you, then you’ll always know what specials/songs/positions need to be filled each week.
Maybe your pastor would like a different template for each service—Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and the midweek service. With your pastor’s approval, try to experiment with different options. Ask questions like: “What went well?” “What didn’t work out?” “How could this flow more smoothly?” “How did the congregation respond?” All of these experiments and questions will help you create an order of service that best fits your pastor’s heart for the service.
3. Think through Important Transitions
Many details affect the flow and order of the cue card. The music director should take the time to think carefully through these details. Failure to do so could result in confusion, dead time, and disorder. The best way to do this is to personally walk through each step of the service, thinking through every transition. I have included some questions and examples below.
Predetermine when your choir will enter and exit. Should they enter during an opening congregational song or during the prelude? When will they exit? Have you positioned a congregational song at the right point to provide them sufficient time to leave the choir loft?
Think through the culture of your ministry. For example, the members of Lancaster Baptist Church have grown accustomed to sitting down after the offering prayer, opening prayer, or Scripture-reading prayer. They are also accustomed to standing during congregational singing. Suppose our music director completely ignored those tendencies and put a congregational song directly after the opening prayer. The result would be confusion and disorder.
In some cases, you may need to have a congregational song before the offering in order for the ushers to get into place. Sometimes you need to think about how to get the special groups or ensembles into place. If they are supposed to sing after a congregational song, how would you avoid having dead time between the song and the special? Will they move during a prayer?
Since there are several different methods employed by different churches, the answers to these questions will vary from place to place. What is important is that someone is thinking these things through. If anyone should be, it is the music director.
4. Be Excellent
The pastor’s main concern should be the order of service and his message, not the misspelled word or wrong song number on the cue card. These things can be a distraction. Consider this scenario (if you’re like me, you’ve been through this a time or two):
The pastor is in the pulpit and has just concluded the opening prayer. He glances down at the cue card and announces, “Now we’re going to sing song number 180.” Because the song title is misspelled, he sounds uncertain as he clarifies, “I believe that is supposed to be ‘All Hail the Power.’” At the same time, the pianist hears him announce song number 180 and thinks she is on the wrong song because she has turned to “All Hail the Power,” which is song number 18. In her confusion about the wrong number, she doesn’t realize the pastor actually announced the correct song title. So, she’s frantically turning to song number 180 while the song leader stands behind the pulpit waiting for her to begin the introduction. After several awkward moments of silence, she asks, “What song are we singing again?”
All of that could have been avoided if the one responsible for the cue card had just cared enough to check the number and the spelling of the text. Remember, “If better is possible, good is not good enough.” That is the spirit of excellence.
5. Follow Through
Type all the information into a nice, easy-to-read document. Half-sheet-size paper is ideal. Give it to the pastor for final approval. Once it is approved, email it to any staff or musicians who need to know. Then, at the appointed time, distribute cue cards to all necessary locations throughout the auditorium (sound booth, pulpit, piano, orchestra stands, etc.). I highly recommend you do this Saturday night for Sunday morning, then early afternoon for Sunday evening and the midweek service. This gives you some margin if, for any reason, you are pulled in other directions right before a service.