A case for hymnals

by Sep 8, 2020

Technology and tradition

Our church loves hymns. When we meet together as a church family, we sing hymns – lots of them. Some are old, some are new, but all are filled with truths about the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And because we feel the urgency of corporate worship and the brevity of our time here on earth, we’re careful to avoid lyrics that are superficial.

Our church has sung from projection for many years. The benefits of projection are obvious: people’s heads are up, the words are clear and readable, the medium is flexible, and the message of the lyrics is emphasized. It’s for all these reasons that we continue to use projection as a valuable tool in the corporate praise of the church.

But what projection lacks is any sense of permanence. Of course it’s true that every generation produces music that won’t last. That’s not something we should lament, nor avoid at all costs. Songs that come and go are a reminder that, while culture and creative expressions are perpetually changing, Christ’s plans for His church will never fade away. And yet the church should seek out, as much as possible, those musical expressions of adoration and doctrine that are enduring. When we mingle new songs with ancient ones, we’re recognizing that our local church is just a small notch in the history of God’s people. We acknowledge that every saint of old who penned these lofty texts was someone “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17), prone to weakness and needing to be strengthened in their faith. There’s no substitute for hymn lyrics that have worn well, like these from a paraphrase of Psalm 23 by Henry Baker:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me!

Although projection is a helpful vehicle for prompting song lyrics in real-time, it’s fleeting. The words flash on the screen, and then they’re gone. Projection alone can’t aid in the process of settling these texts deep into our hearts, letting them take root until they become a familiar language of daily worship. The spread of recorded music has helped immensely, of course, and its expansion into the digital age has made it easier than ever for us to commit songs to heart through repeated listening.

But print media is also a valuable tool. When e-books first enjoyed their meteoric rise, the internet prophets predicted that printed books would diminish to a niche market. And yet, a decade later, e-book sales have slowed… while print sales are once again on the rise. It’s a reminder that, while technology is constantly changing and passing on, some things are built to last. And it’s precisely this feeling of permanence that a hymnal captures so well. It allows you to hold in your hand a collection of perhaps several hundred songs, spanning centuries, that give voice to our deepest beliefs and feelings: who God is, what He has done through Christ, and how we respond to Him in faith and obedience. As a devotional supplement, a solid hymnal is second to none.

A labor of love

A hymnal is a massive undertaking. Even though a local church can avoid the encumbrances of committees and marketing groups in such a project, the investment of time and resources is real. But that’s precisely what this is: an investment. The expected return is that these songs our church sings and loves will be more deeply written on the hearts of our people – and passed down to the next generation. For those young children growing up in our church, “In Christ Alone” will be to them what “The Old Rugged Cross” was to their grandparents.

But this can only happen if our churches make it happen. We’re surrounded by a culture in which everything is meant to be consumed and disposed of. It’s profoundly counter-cultural to cherish things that are meant to be preserved and handed down.

Make it your own

Hymnworks partners with churches and denominations to plan, typeset, and layout custom hymnals ready for professional printing, usually more cheaply than purchasing existing hymnals. Many churches we’ve worked with purchase extra copies for their congregations to use in family devotions, small groups, and other settings where projection isn’t feasible.

Contact us to find out how your church can create its own hymnal!

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