Are Hymns too Rich for the Heart?

Bob Kauflin of the new book Worship Matters and worship at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland has recently responded to a question concerning hymns and congregational singing.

Question:

With the hymns being so rich in lyrical content and theological ideas, there are often times where we can get to the end of the hymn and think “Well, what was all that about?” let alone getting to a point of engaging our hearts in response to the truth. From your experience, what could we do in terms of leading and arranging hymns with weighty (not a negative term) theological and lyrical content to allow room and time for people to engage God in meaningful worship through the song?

Excerpt from Bob Kauflin:

Before I answer this, let me share a few thoughts on words in corporate worship. One of the primary purposes for singing praise to God together is to enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly ( Col. 3:16).Colossians 3:16 [16]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. (ESV)

That can’t happen when all the words we sing are shallow, vague, or completely subjective. On the other hand, too much information at one time can result in people singing songs with disengaged hearts. As much as I think that churches should be singing songs that are rich in theology and biblical truths, I’ve learned that just singing words doesn’t mean people are understanding or being affected by them. The words may be biblical, even profound. But unless there’s understanding, there won’t be much worship happening. It’s like feeding a baby a 20 ounce Porterhouse steak. There won’t be much eating happening. This is another example of those healthy tensions I wrote about in the third section of my book.

So how do you know if people are understanding what we’re singing about? And what determines how much “content” people can take in at one time, in one song, or in a single meeting? It can be hard to tell. But here are some of the things I think about when I’m trying to find the balance.

Another excerpt:

Over time, worship leaders and pastors should be training the church to think and sing in more biblical terms, without forgetting new believers and guests who may also be present on Sunday morning. My job as a leader is to make sure that there’s enough biblical truth in the words to stir people’s affections in the right way. I know people can genuinely worship God while singing lyrics like, “Fire, fall on me” or “Come and fill me up,” but I want to give them food to feed on, not simply an opportunity to express emotions, however sincere. I want them to clearly remember how great, good, glorious, and amazing our God is. That means my first priority in picking songs is words, not music. That’s not to say that music isn’t important. It’s just that music serves to support lyrics, not the other way around.

Read the rest of the post here.

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