Two Are Better Than One: How a Pastor and Musician Plan Worship Together

The moment is charged with excitement and anticipation—the beginning of the most important hour of the week. The council has had their time of prayer for this worship service. The prelude is well underway. The worshipers are in their seats, and the pastor is seated on the platform. Everything is planned and prepared and ready for worship.

But this Sunday, as on most Sundays, few people will notice all the careful planning and preparation that went on behind the scenes. That work was done primarily by the two people who share the responsibility for the quality of each worship service—the preacher and the musician.

Yes, it is possible for preachers and musicians to work together well! In fact, it's not only possible, but it's absolutely necessary for a healthy worship life.

To be successful, however, two major ingredients are necessary: Each must respect the other highly and be able to honor the contributions each is able to make. Both must be willing to plan carefully… and in advance. Last-minute, Lone-Ranger-planned worship services will inevitably be of inferior quality.

We are convinced that the pattern of advance planning has some very significant benefits. At the very least, it's a courtesy to all of the other participants in the service. It raises such planning from drudgery to fascination, provides for a better integration of all the elements into the healthy "flow" of the service, reinforces each form of ministry, and helps avoid the "performance-syndrome" that so easily creeps in. We're also convinced that it sends a needed nonverbal message to all worshipers: "We consider worship to be vitally important, and you should too!"

We have developed a method of team-planning that we find most satisfying. Both of us at first prepare independently, then we merge our efforts and continue our planning jointly.

Pre-Planning by the Pastor

The primary responsibility for setting the direction of worship rests with the pastor. He must do some careful study and advance planning before the team planning begins.

My practice is to take the summer months and chart out the entire church year, from September to June. All special events are located on the chart—Advent, Lent, communion Sundays, Pentecost—along with any special events the local congregation has decided to include. Such charting helps me begin to determine what themes will be appropriate.

Then I sketch in the blocks of time that will be needed for the sermon series I plan to preach during that year. Though the specific title and text may not yet be available, the general theme is. Those themes shape the focus of the coming services.

I then give this chart to the director of music, who uses it as the guide for the year. She has been doing her own preparation and now begins to merge the two.


Pre-Planning by the Director of Music

The preliminary planning for the music ministry season is completed jointly by the director of music and a music task force. Together we determine how often the choirs, small groups, and individuals should participate within the services. Our policy and practice is to develop and use the gifts of the members of our congregation.

After I have received the chart of upcoming sermon series from the pastor, the Junior Choir director and I chart out the schedule for all choirs for the season. Involvement in sanctuary services by the children's worship center is also scheduled at this time.

Having the choir season and sermon series blocked out allows me to focus on music preparation. I set up a file folder for each special event of the church year as well as one for each sermon series and each sacrament. I also spend a lot of time exploring the hymnal, choir files, periodicals, and my personal music files. As I find organ, choral, bell, and congregational materials that I feel might be appropriate to a particular service or series, I place them in the individual file folders.


Seasonal Coordination

At this point, we're ready to sit down together and combine our work. Approximately once each quarter we spend an afternoon of planning for the next three months. We work with master planning sheets to combine the special events, sermon series, and scheduled music ministries, and to note the themes that will characterize each service of worship. Together we decide on theme hymns for the sermon series and on which services we want to target as special worship events. We also look at services which are lacking in obvious participation from congregational members, and we try to remedy that.

Our worship committee meets monthly, and though they are not involved in planning every service, they are drawn in at this point. The schedule for the next few months is provided for their evaluation and suggestions. Each month, two or three of the services are presented to them for their contributions and suggestions. They brainstorm ideas for these services, and the two of us use their contributions in the final planning.

Each month a "monthly worship schedule" (see box) is printed and given to all those who have a part in worship leadership. In that way each participant knows the theme of the service, has a synopsis of the message, and understands what music and special events will be part of worship that day. Each is expected to integrate his or her role in light of the service's theme.

Wednesday Is the Day

Each Wednesday afternoon is a strategic time of the week. Both of us have been well aware of what the services will involve, and now we're ready to put it all together. We both sense that our excitement and anticipation of Sunday worship begins to build at this point.

We have developed our own "Worship Planning Manual," which contains the helpful resources we have accumulated and includes a "Planning Guide for Worship" (see box on next page) for each worship service. The previously prepared calendar furnishes all information about special events. Howard provides the themes of the service on the basis of his preaching plans; Norma provides all information concerning the music ministries and their role.

We each come with a list of songs that might be appropriate, and then we jointly evaluate each of them and select the ones that we want to include. We find the "Coding of the New Psalter Hymnal for Congregational Use" (included in the Psalter Hymnal introductory packet or available from CRC Publications) to be particularly valuable in that selection process. If a particularly appropriate hymn seems too difficult for the congregation, we make plans for a choir or an individual to introduce it. From there we weave the entire order of worship together so that there is a healthy and effective progress from opening to closing and a high degree of integration within the service.

Fine-Tuning on Saturday

We print the entire order of worship only occasionally, so we reserve the right to make any changes right up to the last minute, which we often find is necessary. We're very sensitive to the fact that a worship service must be a smooth and integrated whole. Therefore, we're always analyzing the service for parts that "flow well" and those that don't. We don't want to go into a worship service and discover there are weaknesses that we haven't rooted out.

Our Saturday morning conversations usually include finalizing which verses to include, what kind of introductions and transitions to use, and how we can aid each other in making each item meaningful in its own right. We make note of any special signals and cues that will be necessary during the service. And we're very free to make any additional suggestions if something we planned on Wednesday looks like it won't work. Special instructions are then formulated for all others who will be assisting us— choirs, ushers, sound operators, and so on.

We love to worship, and we love to plan worship. We're convinced that worship ought to be well-planned because the worship of God is such a holy task of the church. Something that holy may not be done poorly. And as those who have been chosen by our congregation to lead them, it's our responsibility before God and the congregation to see to it that it's done well.

Two services from Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church are included in this issue of RW. See pp. 40-43.

June Worship Schedule

A sample from our monthly planning


The Powerful Spirit Series: "The Spirit and Us—#1," Acts 1:8

—Our celebration of Pentecost will focus on the resource of power available through the Christian Church at the outpouring of the Spirit. We will see how that power is exhibited throughout the book of Acts and ought to be experienced in the church today.

—The red sash will be on the pulpit.

—Lay readers of Scripture will be included.

—Preparatory for the Lord's Supper

—Norma on the organ

—Senior choir will sing


The Quiet Spirit Series:
"The Spirit and Us—#2," John 7:38

—Sometimes the best evidence of the Holy Spirif s presence comes not in striking and dramatic ways but in the quiet expressions of growth, maturity, and fruitfulness. The Spirit is sometimes reticent, desiring that attention be focused on the Christ.

—Norma on the organ

—Junior Bells will be paying.

—Worship Center children will be singing.

—Sacrament of baptism for the Johnsons


The Assuring Spirit Series:
"The Spirit and Us—#3," Romans 8:15-17

—Only by the influence and testimony of the Holy Spirit can we reach the assured conviction that Christ is ours and we are his.

—The Lord's Supper—9:00 and 11:00

—Norma on the organ


Spirit-Busters Series:
"The Spirit and Us—#4," 1 Thessalonians 5:19

—Our disobedience toward God or resistance of his influence can actually serve to reduce the work and impact of the Spirit in our lives.

—Norma on the organ

—Infant Baptism

—Ordination of elders and deacons

Planning Guide for Worship

Date                                                              __AM __PM


Service Theme


Sermon Title


Confession reference                                            Text

Sermon Theme

Children's Message

Special Events

Supplementary Music

Congregational Hymns


Bible Song

Children's Hymn


Descants (Source)




Norma de Waal Malefyt is now retired having served as the Resource Development Specialist in Congregational Song for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Rev. Howard D. Vanderwell (d. 2018) was the Resource Development Specialist of Pastoral Leadership for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the author and editor of The Church of All Ages and Caring Worship: Helping Worship Leaders Provide Pastoral Care through the Liturgy, and co-author of Designing Worship Together.

Reformed Worship 19 © March 1991, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.