- Written by Sharon Philp, Director of Music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Millstadt, Illinois Sharon Philp, Director of Music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Millstadt, Illinois
- Created: September 30 2015 September 30 2015
Myth: You should only sing hymns you know in church.
Fact: Every person—pastors and organists included—has a favorite hymn or song and is convinced it should be sung often. Many people would be content to sing the same few hymns weekly. But in our hymnody, we respond to God’s mercy and speak the truths of the Gospel presented in the Divine Service. Our entire hymnody is rich in language and meaning, and to neglect a portion of it is to do a disservice to ourselves and to the church.
Fact: When we sing together in worship, we sing praise to God even as we speak to each other and back to God the truths of His grace. Additionally, our hymns address the challenges each of us face in life on a daily basis. On top of that, the series of readings for each Sunday of the church year drives the theme of each Sunday and the tone of our worship. Utilizing music based on those readings reinforces the theme of the day, especially the word of Christ as contained in the Gospel reading.
Choosing hymns for use on a Sunday morning can be difficult because almost all of us have personal attachment to particular pieces. But what happens when a favorite piece isn’t suitable for that Sunday’s worship? Repetitive singing of hymns a congregation likes to sing may lead to indifference to the text.
Repetition may also lead to boredom. One may tire of singing a hymn week in and week out. Singing from a limited repertoire weekly could, at best, lead to half-hearted singing and, at worst, prevent people from learning quality hymns that strengthen their faith.
The music may have a catchy melody, but that’s not the only consideration! A hymn that is useful in corporate worship, that can stand the test of time, is Christ-focused, not human-focused. It is firmly grounded in Scripture. It is written clearly in quality poetry that is grounded in reality.
It may seem difficult to break the rote rut. Congregations wish to sing hymns that are familiar because it can be hard to experience the anxiety and insecurity that accompanies learning a new hymn, especially when some seem so hard. It can be challenging to attempt to absorb the strength of the text while trying to figure out where the melody goes. But here’s the good news: taking the time and deliberate effort to add new hymns into a congregation’s repertoire will eventually result in those hymns becoming familiar, too!
Fact: The more we can add to our collective knowledge of hymnody, the better. Our hymns and songs carry so many theological ideas, comfort our fears and worries and even reinforce the Scripture for each Sunday. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better: when you learn a new hymn, you may just find a new favorite that speaks the message of the Gospel clearly. And it can’t get any better than that!
Adapted (with permission) from the September 2015 Lutheran Witness (Vol. 134, No. 9).