6 Reasons I Miss Singing Hymns

Let me put all my “cards on the table” for this post. First, I like various styles of worship music, provided they’re done well. I don’t like any worship style that’s done poorly. 

Second, I prefer contemporary worship to more traditional worship. I enjoy praise choruses that echo with the Word of God, and I appreciate the freedom of worship I often find in more contemporary worship services.

With that said, I miss singing hymns. I realize some hymns could use theological refining (and that we must do), but I still miss them. Here’s why:

  1. Many hymns teach the gospel. As agonizing as the message can be, I love singing about the blood of Jesus. Hymns like “There is a Fountain” and “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” return me to the cross. Praise choruses can do the same, of course, but the hymns I first learned years ago still grab my heart.
  2. Hymns help me see that I’m part of centuries of Christian heritage.  Earlier this summer, I visited the church of John Newton, author of Amazing Grace. As several of us sang the hymn together, I was reminded that I stand on the shoulders of believers through the years.
  3. Hymns take me back to my first years as a believer.  More than 40 years ago, we weren’t singing today’s choruses. We were singing songs like “Down at the Cross” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The gospel was completely new, fresh, and alive to me, and so were the songs.
  4. Hymns remind me of my calling. God called me to preach the same day He saved me. It was a few years later, though, when I vividly sensed His reinforcing that calling as our congregation sang, “Rescue the Perishing.” Little did I know then that God would later make that calling a global one for me.
  5. Hymns help me remember people who’ve influenced my life.  I sing a song from years gone by, and I remember the people who were around me at the time. My first Sunday school teachers. The associate pastor who taught me about evangelism. My teenage friends who are now leaders in their own churches. It’s just nice to remember them.  
  6. Hymns are just comforting to me. I’m 54 years old, though I don’t feel that old. I think I fit in okay with my much younger students. At the same time, though, something in me longs for yesterday as I get older. As the world changes so rapidly around us, the memories of a hymn, of old friends, of my home church, and of my first hearing the gospel are indeed comforting.

So, am I asking for a return to hymns that are poorly done, that are so slow that one could fall asleep between stanzas? Do I want us to return to hymns that are barely singable?  Not at all.  I’ve already said that I generally prefer a contemporary worship style.

What I’m asking for is an occasional theologically rich, well-done hymn, even updated in style if needed.  We might find that it teaches the young generation while ministering to my generation as well.

22 Comments

  • This list is helpful. Chiefly, perhaps, as a way for pastors, especially young ones, to appreciate the depth of investment many older people have in hymns.
    That said, with the exception of a couple, most of these are about sentimentality. How much weight should a pastor give to sentimental feelings for songs? Where is the line between serving someone’s needs and accommodating their preferences?

    When I was a pastor, we did the best of the old songs (typically 100+ year old songs) and the best of the newer songs. But we probably didn’t do a lot of songs that were sentimental favorites, but less weighty in their content. That may have been a mistake on my part, i’m not sure. I do know the songs sang were good. But this is helpful to think about.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Greetings, Kevin. I’m not arguing for sacrificing content for sentimentality. On the other hand, sentimentality is not automatically a bad thing. The day will likely come when today’s young folks will long for the songs they sing today, and sentimentality will be part of their reasoning, too. 

  • Joan Ray says:

    I miss the old invitation songs that convict you – not just something that pleases you in word and in music.
    “Oh do not let the word depart, and close thine eyes against the light, Oh sinner harden not our heart, be saved Oh tonight.” When, if ever have you heard that? “Shadows are gathering, death beds are coming, Coming for me and for you.” These get you in your gut, I believe, and should be used.

  • Greg J says:

    Wow, 5 of these reasons are the same reasons I like contemporary worship music:
    1. Contemporary worship songs teach the gospel
    2. Contemporary worship takes me back to my first years as a believer
    3. Contemporary worship music reminds me of my calling
    4. Contemporary worship music helps me remember the people who’ve influenced my life.
    5. Contemporary worship is just comforting to me.

    My point is not bash but to point out that the reasons listed in this article seem to come more out of a subjective place, maybe a desire for nostalgia and personal preferences.

    There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with these things, but they aren’t really distinctive reasons to prefer hymns over modern music (or visa versa).

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      No question that there’s subjectivity here, but that’s the point. Any congregation that has multiple generations will have both groups of people. 

  • Ron Moody says:

    I would argue that hymns are songs that have stood the test of time. I love to worship and feel that many of the songs the church sings today are powerfully anointed. At the same time, I believe that few if any will remain twenty years from now, much less a hundred. Hymns allow us to incorporate what God had done through church history into modern liturgy, and bring significant benefit.

  • Worship joins the past, present, and future through remembrance of what God has done as seen in the pages of Holy scripture, through hearing of His work in the lives of people and His church in present-day testimony, and shows the promise of His coming acts revealed through His Word. Hymns are part of our past, sing testimony along with current worship songs, and proclaim the certain hope in Christ’s ultimate victory. However we stylize them (done well), congregational worship needs the hymns, including the new ones.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Paul. Good to hear from you.

  • I am a collector of hymnals and am only 18. I do agree with you hymns are very comforting, and I enjoy them intensely. Favorite: Nearer My God To Thee

  • Debra says:

    I love the new hymns Keith and Kristen Getty are writing and old ones they are updating. If you haven’t heard them you might check them out.

  • Linda says:

    Why are the contemporary church’s afraid of hymns?

  • Larry Raney says:

    How many millions went to Heaven on the old hymns? That is reason enough to use the hymnal.

  • Nancy W. says:

    Music is a powerful learning tool…without hymnbooks we can’t read notes on the staff and harmonize. Repetitive, mindless choruses can be like chants…the dumbing down of the church…sometimes appealing to a desire to be entertained or experience an emotional high. We need to search God’s Word and ask, What worship is pleasing to God?” instead of taking a poll and choosing what the majority wants. Salvation should lead us toward purity and holiness and churches should not have a marketing perspective to try and attract people or placate them. We are to focus on glorifying God, not on having a carnal, emotional party. Sometimes the delivery is carnal…if you turned off the sound and just watched the movement, there’s no difference from a rock concert or bar. All worship music should be scrutinized for accurate Biblical content. This issue is splitting generations into separate services…that’s a big warning sign for the church. There’s no excuse for bad worship music…what is done for the Lord should be done with excellence.

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