Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns? / My First Hymnal

I found this post on Pastor Christopher Amen’s blog, Babblings. We at BJS are thinking of starting a listing of books that are recommended reading for our readers; feel free to submit reviews or suggested books to us here.

 

My brother-in-law sent me a book last year entitled “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.” It has quite a few interesting thoughts, many of which I think are spot on. These thoughts as well as things we had desired to do lead my wife and I to really teach our children the joys of the liturgy and the proclamation of faith in Christ in hymnody.

Further thoughts and observations. At our congregation we have been offering catechesis at a younger age than the previous 7th and 8th grade model, gradually lowering the available age by one year at a time. There has been expressed by some outside of the church that children this young cannot understand the truths of the faith leading to the faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper.

Why not though, what leads to this mentality? If the truths of the Christian faith, especially as expressed in the Small Catechism, are taught at a young age; if children are taught the joys of the liturgy and hymns; if children are taught to confess the faith and what these things mean, then what would prevent them?

It brings this father great joy to hear his 2 year old sing “On My Heart Imprint Your Image,” at random while we are out as a family. This child prays the Lord’s Prayer and is making attempts at the Creed and regularly asks to sing “Father Welcomes” and then read the account from John 3:1ff, as he refers to it as “the Nicodemus one.”

Is some of this by repetition that he has learned them? Of course. And yet, he knows when in the liturgy comes “Lamb of God” and when asked who the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is, he will say “Jesus” and point to the crucifix on his wall.

Faith comes to us by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So while we teach our children their shapes and colors and teach them to sing “Old McDonald” while teaching them animals and their noises, why not at this age hand over the Christian faith in Word and in song?

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

 

Purchase “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns” at prpbooks.com or at Amazon.

Purchase “My First Hymnal” at CPH.

 

Dr. Gordon (author of Why Johnny Can’t Preach and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns on Issues, Etc. (Thanks to Rev. Stephen Schumacher)

[podcast]http://issuesetc.org/podcast/897120611H1S2.mp3[/podcast]

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns? / My First Hymnal — 22 Comments

  1. Do the children minic us or do they really have an understanding and belief at a youg age. older kids I would venture to say yes . But younger ones around 3-6 might just be mimicing their parents. Does it make any difference, probably not. When we sing hymns they will probably just remember the tune and drag in some lyrics that are unentelligible. If they sing the Liturgy, which is more biblicly quoted I would say it would have more effect because of God’s promise that His Word will not come back to Him void.

  2. ” There has been expressed by some outside of the church that children this young cannot understand the truths of the faith leading to the faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper.”
    Which “adult” can truly understand this? We live by faith.
    What a great joy it is to hear young children singing hymns, reciting Luther’s Catechism, and saying by heart the Lord’s Prayer.

  3. @A Beggar #2 : Spot on!

    @John Eberhart #1 : In addition to what @A Beggar #2 said, I also remember a Luther quote (can’t quote it precisely), that said in essence that children should learn the words first, then learn the meanings to those words. Luther also said at one point that learning the Catechism was an every-day, life-long venture … there was always something new that a person can learn from the Catechism (and from Scripture, for that matter).

    Sadly, I feel, many churhes have migrated from liturgical worship to CoWo because, unwittingly, they have been leading their little ones to CoWo by singing some of the non-hymn, non-liturgy ditties that their music leaders teach them. Give these kids hymns to learn at an early age! They’ll learn from hymns for a lifetime, and they will be something they will hold on to for a lifetime.

  4. Maybe it’s just the Mum in me, but I think we need to remember how children, learn. Babies learn to say Mumma, Dadda, more, whassat etc, by watching & learning from us. Toddlers learn how to use crayons, playdough, & fingerpaint, by watching, listening, and following us.

    Hymns, prayers, liturgy, Bible verses, are no different. They learn those the same way. I see that as memorizing, teaching & training, not simply being a mimic.

    The Holy Spirit does some of His most wonderful work, in the youngest of Christ’s children. To say anything less, is repeating the same mistake the Apostles made & were chided for by Christ. “Suffer the little children to come to me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

  5. Purchased Why Johnny can’t sing Hymns yesterday for my kindle…honestly couldn’t put it down. As the music director for a large LCMS congregation, I see a larger problem with CoWo than is suggested and that is that the Pastors I meet with typically come preprogrammed with a set of expectations for CoWo. For example, when offered a position with another larger (1000 plus) member church, the senior pastor said over and over again in the interview that he wanted a praise and worship service that sounded like it was “on the radio”. No, this isn’t a non denominational church, but an LCMS church that is frequently cited as an example by the Texas district.
    Why is this? where does it come from? When LCEF holds a conference in Texas, why is the only option for worship contemporary? Last year, same confence, another LCMS pastor said to this question, “because the hymnal is archaic.”.

  6. @Chris Winston #6
    Lutherans used to be people who treasured three books: Bible, catechism, hymnal. Now pastors who have been catechized in the CG model believe that the hymnal is actually a barrier to growth. (The catechism probably has been relegated to a dusty shelf somewhere too.) If archaic means a tool used to express and preserve the sound doctrine passed down to us, then I will take archaic.

  7. Chris,

    Hang in there with solid worship. The former president of the Texas District is now not president of anything. The tide is turning.

    The worship at the next Synodical convention should be refreshing.

  8. “Now pastors who have been catechized in the CG model believe that the hymnal is actually a barrier to growth.”

    LOL, the fastest growing group of Christians in the US are the Amish!

    The barrier to growth definitely isn’t anything archaic.

    The US population is pretty mobile so maybe some see our worship style as a barrier to luring in folks new to the neighborhood who come from churches that used contemporary worship style. I mean if you want those folks to transfer into our churches, we need to appear more like their old church.

  9. When our kids were young we asked the pastor to include in the church bulletin the hymn list for the next Sunday. This let us teach our kids over the course of the next week some of the stanzas that they could then sing in church even though they couldn’t yet read. Since our congregation utilizes a core of hymns that changes only slowly over the years, our kids (and their parents!) have been able to continually expand on that early learning. Having stable liturgies and hymnody is a great blessing in allowing young kids to both participate and to learn solid material that will benefit them for the rest of their life.

  10. Kantor Dennis Boettcher :
    @Mrs. Hume #9 the fastest growing group of Christians in the US are the Amish!
    Where did you find those statistics? That one blows my mind!

    Amish have roughly doubled in number in the past 20 years by just accepting the people that God gives them not using any marketing campaigns or strategies. I am not suggesting we close ourselves off like they do, but our outreach needs to consist in teaching what we believe to the world, not bringing worldly methods into the church.

    http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2010/07/amish-baby-boom.html

  11. @John Eberhart #1
    John,
    I am going to have to disagree with you a bit. 🙂 My 3 year old granddaughter expresses her faith very well. At the death of my sister-in-law she prayed at her nightly prayers that “Aunt Maria” (the daughter) would be strengthened by God. She asked God to guide grandpa (me) as he preaches at her funeral.” All of this without suggestion from Mom or Dad.

  12. Pastor Sterle #14,
    Great answer & great story! With little ones like that, it’s amazing that, most of the time, it is without a parents leanings?!
    Is it wrong to say, that this might be forgetting something, or rather a someOne? The Holy Spirit, maybe?
    When little ones do & say those wonderful things, it shows us, long in the tooth, grown up’s, that He is working & evident in them, too? I think sometimes, we tend to focus, on the practical w/kids, not really the Tactical, as in the Holy Spirit.

    Is this okay to say? If so why & if not why not?

  13. I could lecture my 5 year old about the importance of recycling. Alternately, I could save the speech and have him always throw away empty plastic bottles and cardboard in the recycle bins in the garage. He now makes a habit of putting trash where it belongs. It is his job, and it requires little effort or thought on his part. He knows it is the right thing to do. It would not take much to explain the reason why we recycle when he gets older — but only if he has questions.

    Do I need to explain the liturgy to my little boy? Nope. How much understanding is needed in order to believe.

    I know my son believes, but it would be nice to be able to articulate our prayers a little better. A CPH publication on bedtime prayers for a 5 year old would be ideal. Does anyone have any recommendations for a prayer book? Thanks in advance!

  14. Young children repeat what they’ve heard which is a good reason to be careful of what they are hearing! Any mother who’s heard a pre schooler talking to her dolls in phrases she (the mother) has used herself, knows this.

    Meaning comes later, though I wouldn’t venture to say exactly when. We are learning the faith our whole lives (if we don’t get the idea that we “graduated” at confirmation).

  15. Mrs. Hume :

    Kantor Dennis Boettcher :
    @Mrs. Hume #9 the fastest growing group of Christians in the US are the Amish!
    Where did you find those statistics? That one blows my mind!

    Amish have roughly doubled in number in the past 20 years by just accepting the people that God gives them not using any marketing campaigns or strategies. I am not suggesting we close ourselves off like they do, but our outreach needs to consist in teaching what we believe to the world, not bringing worldly methods into the church.
    http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com/2010/07/amish-baby-boom.html

    From the article: “The Amish marry within the community, and the total number of converts nationwide is believed to be less than 100, he said.”

    Of course, but all of the inbreeding has contributed to a HUGE number of babies born with birth defects that absolutely no one wants to discuss. It would make more sense for the Amish to adopt most of their babies in order to introduce new blood. (A few Amish are already doing that.) The Amish do not practice birth control, nor engage in family planning. “Many hands make work light”, indeed!

    The Amish could become a formidable group similar to the Mormons only if they were to believe that education beyond 8th grade, musical instruments, and ballroom dancing were good things. Imagine an Amish university comparable to BYU and bearded missionaries riding bicycles!

    By the way, with only an 8th grade education, the Amish are competing with barely literate Hispanics for manual labor jobs. Not good. With the exception of a couple of insignificant sects in northern AZ, the Mormons have a monolithic church. By contrast, the Amish are split into a myriad of competing sects, which are scattered in isolated pockets throughout the country.

    I DO like the fact that the Amish speak a German dialect and also conduct their house services in German. The services are very traditional. No contemporary worship can be found among the Amish!

    Maybe the LCMS needs to buy tens of thousands of acres and encourage “LCMS members only” self-sufficient family farming. Give those farmers a salary for working the church-owned farm, and let them make all the LCMS babies they want! Instead of Amish beards, they could grow Harrison mustaches.

    Recommended reading: Rumpringa by Tom Schachtman

  16. LOL, I am not promoting the Amish!

    Just saying that growth is definitely not linked to doing stuff a new way, because they aren’t doing anything new, but are growing.

    It is like people have forgotten where people come from or how people learn stuff etc.

    If kids sing hymns, they will know hymns.

    If they watch cartoons, they will know cartoons characters.

    If people have more kids, there will be more people.

    Just stating the obvious. Nothing profound or new.

  17. I have a question. I pray it isn’t a red herring. Been here for a while, but the one subject, which I haven’t seen discussed; how the Solas, Confessions, & Liturgy, are juggled, with Confirmation.

    I’ve seen it the juggling, but that subject never seems to be addressed or discussed. By either CoWo nor by us Confessionals. We teach hymns, liturgy, Solas & Concord thru the liturgy. Confirmands, must learn, memorize, & be publically examined by those. If the Liturgy & Confessions, are out of date, or not relavant for seekers, the unchurched, or those who don’t care for Church, who do they handle Confirmation?

    It is the next step, the most important day for a child of Christ, apart from Holy Baptism.
    Why is this never approached, discussed, supported, or decried? By either side?

  18. One more thing. We cannot think, that quia vs quatenus, does not & cannot filter down, to the youngest, smallest, of our Synods, Districts, Circuts, Congregations, and thus, our individual families, & parents.

    I can state publically, & am willing state thus, as most certainly true, that it most certainly does.

    Otherwise, why would there ever be a need for a My First Hymnal.

  19. Mrs. Hume :
    LOL, I am not promoting the Amish!

    Of course. My point was that a religious denomination can use church-owned property to encourage converts

    In the case of the Amish, who do not have to worry about insurance or college savings plans for their kids, family farms are effective. Marry early and have lots of babies to help out on the farm or family business. Save money to buy additional farmland. Repeat. Worship is definitely not contemporary. It is in German and is distinctly Amish.

    Regarding the Mormons, the Mormon church (LDS) has millions (billons?) of dollars in real estate investments. They use the proceeds from those investments to promote and expand their religion. The LDS drills young people that to be a good Mormons, they need to marry early and have as many kids as possible. The costs of attending BYU are heavily subsidized by the church. Note how BYU has different prices for church members versus non-church members:

    http://saas.byu.edu/catalog/2011-2012ucat/FinancialInfo/Tuition.php

    I would wager that Mormon worship is also traditional and distinctly Mormon.

    By contrast, the LCMS wants to convert all of its congregations into non-denominational gatherings per the directives of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and TCN. Lutheran identity is being displaced by Evangelical worship and study materials. The LCMS sells Lutheran radio stations and campus ministry properties. It runs the Concordias like secular universities. Few people attending the Concordias or any state school that has an LCMS campus ministry bother to become LCMS Lutherans. Ask why.

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