Hymn of the month


(Updated with correct link to ‘To God Be the Glory’ and link to Sandy’s post on ‘Amazing Grace’.)

Nothing gets a debate going like opinions on church music. But here’s an idea that’s found very little resistance at church; instead, it’s received lots of support: the hymn of the month.

The idea originally came from Covenant Life Church (founded by CJ Mahaney and now pastored by Josh Harris). Rather than relying just on contemporary songs, they saw value in hymns that have proven themselves over generations as true and powerful. They also saw memorizing hymns as one way to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16). They used a different hymn over 10 months, providing a brief background to each hymn and also making a recording of these hymns available for MP3 download on a free or “pay what you think it is worth basis”.

We followed their 10 hymns and then added a few others in following months. We’d sing the chosen hymn each Sunday of the month at each of our four congregations. (That means, in five Sunday months, I sang the hymn 20 times!) We found singing the ‘hymn of the month’ a unifying experience across our four congregations, which range in age and style from traditional over 60s to young adults and youth. Although we met at different times, it was something we could do in common. It affirmed our great musical heritage, and although the younger congregations still sing predominantly contemporary songs, the practice encouraged them to enjoy the biblical and musical riches from former generations as well.

After the first two, I began writing a 500-word article on each hymn to go in the church bulletin. Sometimes I focused more on the story of the hymn writer; Christian biography can be so interesting. But often I wanted to highlight which parts of the Bible the hymn’s imagery came from. As a result, I think the articles helped people pay even more attention to the lyrics (links provided below).

We included the last song because after reviving or introducing a dozen or so much-loved hymns of previous centuries to younger church members, I thought it was fair to ask our older members to share in one of the best modern hymns.

After having a break for a few months, we’re going to have another go. But I think now I would only use the hymn three Sundays in the month to avoid ‘wearing out the welcome’. Our next hymn will be one of my favourites: ‘To God be the Glory’. (We had it at our wedding, and I’ve put it on the list for my funeral too!)

8 thoughts on “Hymn of the month

  1. Thanks for the link to the Sovereign Grace page.
    It is interesting to note two of the hymns were published in the 20th century one from the 16th century and the others from the 18th or 19th century. The majority less than 200 years old in English praise.
    The fact that two songs from the 20th century can be considered as part of a neglected heritage of praise points to a telling dynamic in some areas of the contemporary church.
    It would be hard to identify any movement, let alone the Church, which has severed itself from continuity with its past as abruptly and effectively as some parts of the Christian church have achieved in their sung praise.
    And the reasons for doing so have not been theologically driven or particularly theologically examined.
    The effect of this is yet to be seen, both in the sense of disconnect with the historic church which it breeds, and in the absence of the considered Biblical understanding to which they testify and teach.

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    Matt, I tried the link and found it helpful. Mind you there are now some great hymn websites resources out there. In researching stories behind hymns and their authors, I have found it helpful to check more than one website, because I have occasionally found errors. It is also wise to check whether the lyrics are in public domain or in copyright, especially with more recent hymns, before re-printing lyrics, especially on websites, which are not covered by typical CCL type licences.

    Hi Gary, and thanks for making me think about the spread of dates. Being a pedant I discovered that of the twelve I listed, actually half were older and half were younger than 200 years age in terms of the date of writing (or where uncertain, first publication).

    I am not quite sure about your claim that hardly anyone has severed itself from continuity with the past more than parts of the Christian church in their music.

    Allowing for a bit of hyperbole, which we don’t mind around here, can you say a bit more about what you are getting at, and at what sort of churches the comment is directed?

    Do you think it applies to the sort of selection I gave? And if so, do you have some suggestions about classic hymns (i.e. warmly recognisable hymns with recognisable and singable tunes) from earlier centuries?

    And where would you think something (relatively) modern like Timothy Dudley-Smith’s “Tell Out My Soul”, from the 20th century but based on Mary’s song in Luke 1 fits in? Is that not a connection to the historic church and most importantly to the Scriptures.

  3. Sandy ~
    The comment about other movements and the Church separating themselves from the past was an attempt to express just how unprecedented the change in sung praise has been in the church over the last 30 to 40 years.
    This is not an old against new thing.
    There are churches that are not in the habit of singing anything that predates the 1970s. There’s a pretty famous Christian conference on in Sydney next week, I’m not expecting a lot of songs from before 1980 are going to be sung.
    This was more prevalent in Pentecostalism, but can also be noticed in evangelicalism and though the songs are different in lyrical content (sometimes), the justification for the change is the same.
    Some of this swings around the notion that hymns are a distinct form of music, different from contemporary songs. This seems to be tacit in your article and comments.
    ‘In Christ Alone’ and ‘God Has Spoken By His Prophets’ and ‘Tell Out My Soul’ can be recognised as hymns, even though written recently.
    There are a couple of generations of pentecostal, and now evangelical, Christians (including musicians and song-leaders) who have little first hand experience of singing hymns as part of worship.
    If hymns are being used, part of the selection criteria is their melodic compatibility with modern songs.
    I love all the songs mentioned above.
    As far as song choices go, I put one up on my blog every Sunday night.

  4. Hi Gary, yep I am clearer now what you are meaning and right with you.

    When I was on my long service leave in January, I attended a church, where my friend is the pastor. It was the first Sunday of the year, so many were away on holidays and I talked to a bloke after church and trying to be positive, complimented the husband and wife duo who led the singing on piano and voice. They did really well.

    The bloke I was talking to said that he didn’t find the music very inspirational at the church. I said that I thought they had a balance of hymns and modern songs (which reflected the variation in ages in the congregation).

    He said he wasn’t interested in anything more than ten years old! I kid you not. A ten year max.

    I explained about hymn of the month and how popular it had been, even with our evening service full of young adults.

    He indicated he was from a charismatic background. I said the idea came from a charismatic church (which Sovereign Grace is, albeit of a Reformed variety). That still didn’t cut any mustard.

    He eventually agreed others might quite enjoy older songs, but he just did not like them.

    I wish I’d had the guts to tell him church is not “all about me”, and read him Philippians 2:3-5. But I was a guest and was dumbfounded at his self-absorption and so left it at that.

  5. An after thought…

    Moore College’s Andrew Shead has a great article entitled “Is There a Musical Note in the Body? Cranmer on the Reformation of Music” in RTR (Reformed Theological Review) 69:1, pp1-16, April 2010.

    It’s an historical exercise but concludes with Andrew’s contemporary reflections which has calls “Cranmer on the Journey from Plainsong to Hillsong”.

    I reckon anyone with a responsibility for music, and an interest in our theological heritage, especially but not exclusively Anglican, should read it.

    Unfortunately RTR does not have a website. You can normally get it from Moore Books.

    Maybe I will see permission to blog his conclusions here.

  6. An after-afterthought…

    Some great ideas and good resources listed on introducing hymns to contemporary congregations in this blog article by a bloke who shares a great surname, James Grant, here.

Comments are closed.