Several months ago, I attended a large gathering of worship leaders and during one of the sessions, someone introduced themselves by saying, "Hi, I'm __________ and I'm a recovering thematic worship planner." I didn't realize that thematic worship planning had become taboo and lots of questions began to flood my mind.

Why in the world would he say that? And what did he mean? Have worship leaders really begun to abandon the potentially beautiful connection between the music and the message? Doesn't that do a disservice to the people we lead?

After gathering my thoughts again (and pondering the value of thematic planning for weeks afterward), I began to realize that there are still compelling reasons why I continue to plan worship thematically. Each week, I prayerfully, assiduously, and deliberately choose songs that will help reinforce the message that our church community will hear from the Word of God. And I do it unapologetically. I still believe that thematic worship planning has remarkable benefits and while some are the obvious ones you might expect, not all of my reasons are simply for the congregation at large.

Thematic Planning Reinforces the Message
This one is most obvious. Particularly in America, where it seems Biblical literacy is at an all-time low, anything I can do as a worship leader to help underscore any piece of truth from our weekend teaching is worth it to me. Music and the spoken word have the ability to dance together in perfect form and when one of our songs complements a teaching pastor's message perfectly, our people connect to God's truth on a different level - one that I believe is helpful.

Thematic Planning Helps Our Teams
More than actually having Truth reinforced, many times our intentionality helps our teams understand the purposeful nature of our leadership and planning. When my band rehearses one of the featured songs that we'll use immediately following the message, they know that it's been selected with care and we talk about how it's connected to the teaching. And when we have a greater sense of purpose moving into our weekend services, we have a higher level of unity across all of our teams. We know that there's a particular theme that we're trying to help our attendees understand and we're working together to accomplish that goal.

Thematic Planning Helps Us Grow as Artists and Creative Leaders
It would be really easy for me to quit planning thematically. I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of working with my teaching team to learn about their messages. I wouldn't have to pour over music for hours on end looking for the perfect song for a particular subject matter. And I wouldn't have to have extra meetings for the purpose of creative and thematic planning. But I feel like it makes me a better leader. I feel like we honor God in the process. I believe that my teaching pastors are going to great lengths to understand God's desires for their weekend messages and that knowledge demands the same investment from me as a creative leader.

I can't help but wonder if somehow the desire to abandon a thematic worship experience has something to do with an increasingly strained or distant relationship between the worship leader and senior/teaching pastor? I will not deny the fact that thematic planning is hard work and it requires the constant, intentional, and sometimes challenging work of connecting otherwise independent planing processes.

We've gone to great lengths to make that happen. Our teaching team gathers regularly to assemble brief synopses of upcoming series and messages, which they provide to our Creative Arts Ministry. Then, we "move the ball down the field" for a while, always circling back to our teaching pastors when a creative idea may require a particularly strong and intentional connection to the message. And early each week, many of our full-time ministry staff gather to hear a more detailed concept of the upcoming weekend's message from the teaching pastor. From there, small group curriculum is refined and creative direction for our weekend services is confirmed.

We're certainly not perfect but we're learning more and more with every season of ministry we experience together on the journey. Our team remains committed to the concept of thematic planning and we believe it's meaningful to our church on many levels.

So if I could offer one practical solution, it would be this: intentionally cultivate the relationship between the arts ministry leader and teaching pastor. Begin conversations. Ask the hard questions of one another. Dream about what it could be like when you're working in synergistic fashion. Understand the unique pressures and realities that you each face. Commit to one another. Embrace the tension. Work through it. Celebrate the times when you nail it together. I don't think you'll regret it.