Published May 4, 2010

Paul's Epistle...

Last weekend's broadcast, as you know, was composed entirely of new versions of favorite old hymns of the church, all sung, of course, by some of today's leading Southern Gospel artists.

I've already heard from several of you who especially enjoyed this program. I did, too, I assure you. I grew up on hymns like these and am blessed to attend a church where the old hymns are still sung regularly. Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

The other day I found a column online written a few years ago by Chris Edwards, an elder and worship pastor at Hill Country Bible Church in Hutto, Texas. In it, Edwards, who's in his mid-30s, describes how he once dismissed hymns – until he realized the depth of meaning, not just in the lyrics, but also to individuals in the church who, like me, grew up on them. His "discovery" is something I wish more of today's church music leaders would find, too. With his permission, his column is reprinted below.

"Underestimating Hymns"
by Chris Edwards

Are you underestimating the value of hymns? I did. But now I have seen the light.

We planted our church just over a year ago. During that time I only scheduled hymns occasionally. To be honest, I always feared them for several reasons: The chords were extremely difficult to play. The words (i.e. "Thy", "Thee", "Fount", "Ebenezer", etc.) seemed so antiquated and confusing. They just weren't the latest "new shiny thing." But most of all, I wasn't familiar with most of them.

I was wrong. If you look at the reasons I didn't schedule them more often, each one comes back to me. What is easier for me? What type of lyrics ministered to me? Was I getting to play those new songs everyone else was playing? What music was I familiar/comfortable with? All of these are the wrong criteria for evaluating what songs to select for the congregation God has put in my care.

At the National Worship Leader Conference I attended a session by Buddy Owens (Pastor of Spiritual Growth at Saddleback Church) called "Creating a Culture of Worship." One of the biggest things I learned during this talk is that songs become a part of the people who sing them. Think about the music of your high school days: It brings back many memories. When you hear it, it puts you in that frame of mind. That music is a part of you. Hymns are the same way. But the memories they evoke for those who have sung them in the past are memories of worshiping God. It puts them in a worship frame of mind. Isn't that what we are supposed to be doing?

I also have been reading "Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God" by Bob Kauflin and Paul Baloche. From it, I have realized that the music I select will affect the beliefs of the congregation God has placed under my care. The congregation is going to remember the words and take them as truth. What truth am I choosing to put in them through the music I choose? And is it true? Hymns are deep with truth. Some contemporary songs are as well, but hymns are historically deep with teaching and theology.

The book made the comment that your iPod is a poor place to select songs from. It's not about the musical feel, but the lyrical content. Check the content first, without the music. If you just wanted musical feel, you could pick whatever secular songs are popular and call that worship. It doesn't work that way.

So for the last two weeks, I have started including hymns in our services. The first week was an amazing time of worship, for that, and for other reasons. This last week was great as well. We played "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and I was blown away by how loud the congregation sang. I could barely hear them through the other songs, but when we hit that hymn, it was as if everyone decided to sing loud! My wife was in the congregation and observed a lady near her weeping with tears of joy! It affected the congregation a lot.

I stand humbled. Worship is not about what I like. Its not about me at all. Its all about God. Its about bringing praise and glory to the creator of the universe. Get to know your congregation, not just those your age, but the older people as well. How can your song selection help ALL of them to worship God more fully? Do not deprive any segment of your congregation with the opportunity to worship in a way that fully engages them.

If hymns honor God, don't neglect them. And don't underestimate their value based on your own preferences.

-Chris

PS: Chris wrote that column two years ago and continues to include hymns. In an e-mail to me, he reiterated one key point: "Oftentimes, the words of our songs are remembered by the congregation more easily than the words of our pastors. Therefore, the words of our songs are theology to our congregation. It is our responsibility to ensure that theology is correct. Hymns are often a great source of good theology." Absolutely.

If you have a church music leader who could benefit from Chris' column, you are welcome to pass it along.

- Paul

Comments on this? paulheil@thegospelgreats.com

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