Why I Believe Hymns are Necessary

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

As a worship leader, I am in a quandary. At 50 years of age and after doing this for 30 years now I find myself in the unique position of having to find creative ways to be relevant to those younger than me while at the same time engaging those older than me. I am right in the middle of the challenge of leading a multi-generational congregation. I watch as many of my colleagues take one of two paths. One path is to focus their energy and time to be relevant to the under 30 crowd. They are learning new music styles, feverishly working to stay on top of the plethora of culture shifts in worship music, and aggressively recruiting younger team members. The other path  is to keep worship services relevant to the baby-boomer generation because they are the ones that built the church and pay their tithes and we can't afford to lose them. The problem is not that we are working to be relevant to either culture, but that we focus on just one. In doing so we alienate the other. If you structure your family this way you are headed for trouble. One of the challenges my wife and I have with our son is that as a teenager, he only has one living grandparent and we do not live near any extended family. As a result we have to be creative in finding ways to connect him with his family history. We have made a point to connect him with surrogate grandparents - older people in the church that can speak into his life and help him see the importance of being connected with generations before him. I believe this is healthy.

I also believe that we must adopt this thinking in our churches today in our approach to worship. This is why I firmly believe that hymns are a necessary part of our corporate worship identity. I'm not saying we must sing a hymns every time we gather, but we need to make them a regular part of our worship diet. Let me explain why.

  • They connect us to the past. If we cut out ties to the past then we run the risk of making the same mistakes our grandparents made as they navigated their growing and learning experience of corporate worship. We also run the risk of forgetting what they did right. They got a lot of things right that have stood the test of time and are still relevant today.
  • They enable us to literally walk in the same footsteps they walked in. There is something powerful about tracing the footsteps of the saints that have gone before us. Why do you think so many people travel to Israel every year? They want to walk on the same dirt Jesus and the Apostles walked on.
  • It keeps us humble. There are some wonderful, new changes that have taken place in the way we worship. However, it is easy to start thinking that we invented "real worship." Hymns remind us that there was good worship long before we showed up. No generation owns the franchise to worship. The opposite is true for contemporary worship. It keeps us older folks from thinking that our way is better and we didn't invent it either.
  • It draws the hearts of the children back to the fathers. Young people may not realize it and they certainly won't admit it, but they need us older folks and they can't make it without us just like we couldn't have without our parents. Hymns help the younger people in our congregation connect on a spiritual level with their parents and grandparents. The older I get, the more I value and treasure the heritage my parents left me. Those young people across the aisle may not see it yet, but they will one day thank us for leaving them a solid, spiritual heritage.
I want to encourage everyone to learn to embrace the generations above you and below you. To us older folks, I believe it is our responsibility to take the initiative and make the first move and embrace what is happening in our younger generation. You may not like the music, that is not the point. We have no right to demand that they embrace our old-fashioned music (hymns) until we first embrace theirs. If we can do this we will be amazed at how they will suddenly open up and actually enjoy our music. Young people, don't sit and wait for us to come to you because us old people can be stubborn sometimes. If you will humbly embrace what seems so foreign and out of touch to you, then you too will be shocked at how we embrace your music. It's what I call a "generational embrace." That is what my grandmother's generation got right and I want to get it right too.

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