Learn 29 hymns in 2 years! Not just any hymns, but good, faithful, Lutheran hymns! I know. It sounds like some gimmicky “weight-loss pill” commercial. But, it’s not a trick. I have nothing to sell. I’m only encouraging pastors and congregations to realize that it is possible to “teach old dogs new tricks.” Zion did learn 29 Lutheran hymns in 2 years, though.
Being Called to a congregation in the Florida/Georgia District that did not previously use or have the Lutheran Service Book, it was quite a challenge to introduce the Liturgy (an article for another time), and Lutheran Hymnody. Moreover, being surrounded by many Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational churches, and being surrounded by many LC–MS churches that already abandoned Lutheran hymnody, it was quite a task, to say the least.
Despite that, I had to teach this congregation the treasure of our Lutheran hymnody! We have the greatest hymns in the world. Sadly, many Lutherans don’t know or sing them. Throughout my life, I’ve heard many complaints about the difficulty of learning our hymnody. Regrettably, many pastors and parents have used “difficulty” as an excuse to learn, teach or sing them no longer. As a result, many have abandoned the faithful words and beautiful melodies of Lutheran Hymnody for easy-to-sing, American-Evangelical radio songs that fail to be true to the Word of God!
However, rather than cower away from the “difficulty” of teaching these hymns, we must all learn why Lutheran hymns are beneficial, first. Lutheran hymnody is worth learning because it faithfully preaches God’s Word and causes us to remember it. Pastors shouldn’t teach hymns simply for the sake of teaching hymns; rather, they should teach hymns because hymns teach!
The Purpose of Hymnody:
The purpose of hymnody is to teach. Hymnody is the combination of theology and music. The Church does this because words set to music are easily remembered and recalled. Therefore, to help members remember the True Doctrine revealed by God, it has been set to music!
Since music is powerful—in the sense that it causes us to remember words—we must be careful which words are set to music! If the True Doctrine of God’s Word is set to music, then it is the most beautiful and comforting treasure! However, if false doctrine, frivolity (the absence of any doctrine), or a mixture of Truth and half-truths are set to music, then, this is extremely dangerous and damaging to the Christian. It’s hazardous because it harms the soul. Regularly hearing lies about God and our neighbor will eventually kill both faith and love. We must be careful which hymns we teach God’s people: we want people to forget man-made false doctrine; we want them to remember God’s Doctrine! Good hymnody is distinctly efficient at doing this!
Knowing what is beneficial, we must also concern ourselves with how to teach it! Before teaching, you must learn it. Pastors should study, and sing these hymns to themselves, to their families, and to their sheep. Now, even though the benefit of these hymns outweighs the “difficulty,” for many, they remain a challenge. However, they are “difficult” mostly because they are “new.” I say, “New,” because, for the most part, many Lutherans have not heard them before (even though these hymns are about 500 years old, or older). As with everything unfamiliar or unknown, it is a challenge. But, it’s not impossible.
The Hymn of the Month:
So, to teach the wealth of our Lutheran hymns, I implemented a “Hymn of the Month.” The idea only puts into practice the adage: Repetition is the mother of learning. This is how you can learn 29 hymns in 2 years:
- Create a list of faithful, Lutheran hymns. Once you have that list, organize the hymns from the simplest melodies progressing to more challenging ones. I started in August 2014 with LSB 754, “Entrust Your Days and Burdens.” Make sure the hymn is appropriate to the season. Look up the chief hymns, or the hymns of the day, for the year, and use that as a list. This way, you can teach before or after the service why you are singing that specific hymn.
- Give the list to the Organist to practice. The chances are that if the congregation hasn’t sung the hymn, the Organist doesn’t know or play it either. However, if you give this to the Organist with enough time, depending on his ability, he can begin practicing a month in advance. Sadly, a poorly played hymn becomes distracting and many will not “like” it. Many love the hymns when they are played as written!
- Inform your Congregation about the Hymn of the Month. Tell them that you would love to teach them these great Lutheran hymns and that this will be a good way to learn our hymnody! Write about the theology of the hymn in the Newsletter, if your church has one. Include notes about that hymn in the Bulletin on Sundays.
- Play the Hymn music as the Prelude, and during the Offering each Sunday. Have the Organist play the melody before the service, and during the collection of the offering. By hearing the tune twice before singing it, they will be a little more familiar with the hymn when it is sung.
- Place the Hymn of the Month as the final hymn in every service. When we first implemented a hymn of the month, it was at the beginning of the service. However, I quickly learned that it did not give anyone enough time to hear the melody beforehand. The congregation would forget it. So, place it at the end of the service; this becomes the last hymn they hear before leaving. Many of my members told me that they would find themselves humming the melody of this hymn during the week, while at home and work!
- Introduce it on the first Sunday of the month. After the congregation has heard the melody during the Prelude and the Offering, it would be helpful to have the Organist play the whole tune once, as an introduction. Then, on the first Sunday it is introduced (or, as needed), the pastor or the choir can sing the first stanza of the hymn alone. Then, the congregation can join in with the second verse. If done in this way, the congregation will have heard the melody four times in about an hour before singing it themselves. As the pastor, turn the microphone up or sing loud for the remaining verses as well. The beautiful thing about hymnody is that the melody repeats each verse. If it’s hard for the congregation to learn, then continue each Sunday of the month with the same routine. By the third Sunday of the month, everyone will know it well and sing it confidently.
- Keep the hymn in the rotation. After the month, the congregation will know the hymn. Continue to use this hymn during the services of the next month as well. For example, you do not have to sing it every Sunday. But, for one or two Sundays of the next month, have the congregation sing that hymn during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. Continue to bring up the newly learned hymns 2 to 3 months after learning it. In about 5 to 6 months, you can use all six hymns in a service! Sing all the new hymns!
You might have noticed that Zion learned 29 hymns in 2 years, instead of 24. It’s because I chose some hymns that had multiple words to the same melody. For example, I picked LSB 453, “Upon the Cross Extended,” during Lent, which is also the same melody for LSB 880, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.” So, for Vespers or Compline, we could sing LSB 880 comfortably.
Also, I used the same concept of a “Hymn of the Month,” for Advent and Lent. During our Midweek Services, we would learn a hymn appropriate to Advent or Lent in the same way we learned on Sundays. When you add all of this up, Zion did indeed learn 29 hymns before the Anniversary of my 2nd Ordination. The hymns that were once unfamiliar to them are now what we sing on a regular basis. Be faithful, and persistent. Teach these hymns that teach God’s Word. Many, sadly, will not remember the sermon you preached last month; but, many will remember these hymns the rest of their life.
The list of hymns will depend on and vary with each congregation. Some congregations know some Lutheran hymns; some do not know any at all. Though this might not apply to your congregation, here’s a list that might help get you started:
- August: LSB 754, “Entrust Your Days and Burdens”
- September: LSB 594, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”
- October: LSB 546, “O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild”
- November: LSB 585, “Lord Jesus Christ, with us Abide”
- Midweek Advent Services: LSB 889, “Before the Ending of the Day”
- December: LSB 334, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”
- January: LSB 402, “The Only Son from Heaven”
- February: LSB 760, “What God Ordains is Always Good”
- Midweek Lenten Services: LSB 453, “Upon the Cross Extended” (also, LSB 880)
- March: LSB 438, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”
- April: LSB 458, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”
- May: LSB 556, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”
- June: LSB 708, “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”
- July: LSB 865, “Lord Help Us Ever to Retain”
- August: LSB 581, “These are the Holy Ten Commands”
Here are all the hymns we learned in two years:
• Entrust Your Days and Burdens (LSB 754)
• God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It (LSB 594)
• O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild (LSB 546)
• By All Your Saints in Warfare (LSB 517/518)
• Before the Ending of the Day (LSB889)
• O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (LSB 334)
• The Only Son from Heaven (LSB 402)
• Jesus, Refuge of the Weary (LSB 423)
• Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee (LSB 573)
• Upon the Cross Extended (LSB 453)
• Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow (LSB 880)
• Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (LSB 458)
• Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (LSB 756)
• Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart (LSB 708)
• Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy Lord (LSB 777)
• Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (LSB 683)
• Evening and Morning (LSB 726)
• Dearest Jesus, We are Here (LSB 592)
• Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (LSB 585)
• From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (LSB 358)
• O Bride of Christ, Rejoice (LSB 335)
• O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (LSB 395)
• What God Ordains is Always Good (LSB 760)
• Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior (LSB 627)
• Christ, the Life of All the Living (LSB 420)
• The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done (LSB 464)
• Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556)
• These are the Holy Ten Commands (LSB 581)
• Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain (LSB 865)