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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.