Going through your “library” of songs that you typically do at your church – whether that means going through a hymnal, a drawer of sheet music, or an online collection of PDFs – can be enlightening. Why do we do the songs we do? Or, better yet, why do we, when seeing an issue with a song, either easily or not so easily part with the song? Here are some musings from the ol’ noggin of reasons/feelings that I have encountered from personal experience.
Disclaimer: This is definitely, definitely, definitely not only about “old hymns.” These apply to any song.
You are reading through a song you’re doing this Sunday. It’s a familiar song that you’ve done for a long time (does not necessarily have to be “old” in terms of when it was written!). Suddenly, something strikes you as being odd. You realize there is something in the song that you shouldn’t be singing, that is wrong, that is confusing, or whatever. What immediately comes to mind as you automatically want to “defend the song?”
The Other Situation
Many of these apply to a different situation; that is, we tend to not read some songs as critically or as closely as others … for the very same reasons. This will be rehashed below, but here’s an example; when’s the last time you closely read through Amazing Grace to make sure that it’s good? Maybe you’ve closely read through it on purpose before and are satisfied, and that’s fine. I can say that I had not until relatively recently. Why not? Well… primarily, I assumed it was okay because we’d always done that song and because so many other people do that song … so it must be fine! No need to read it carefully. It’s good.
Note: I do like Amazing Grace and we do sing it. There are some interesting things to note about it (such as what it does not say) that would give some instructive points about what we should complement it with.
1. We Have Always Done It
It was good enough in the past, why isn’t it good enough now? Or, nobody complained about it previously, why get rid of it now? Or, people don’t really think about it that deeply in the first place, so it doesn’t really matter. You might be surprised at what some of the songs we regularly sing say when you sit down to really think about it. What does this lead me to believe? That I typically turn my brain off when I open my mouth to sing. I assume, from talking to various other people, that others tend to do the same thing. We need to actively engage our thinking, we need to actively think about the marvels of grace, about the wonders of God, about the glorious hope we have because of Christ. And if we want people to actively think about what they are singing, we better make sure it’s worth actively thinking about. Having always done something doesn’t mean it’s worth thinking about, it just means we’ve always done it and gotten used to it, and, perhaps, have stopped thinking about it (or never started).
By changing and deciding not to do a song that we have done previously, we are inherently admitting that we missed something or didn’t read it as carefully as we should have or weren’t thinking it through. It’s inherently a humiliating experience. We don’t like going through it. So we defend the song.
3. It Has a Good Tune
A good tune makes bad words sound better than they are, or deeper than they are. Be careful not to let your love of music to get in the way of what we need to love more than music – truth. A good tune is a great asset, but solid truth is a necessity.
4. I Know Who Wrote It
Isaac Watts wrote this song; it must be good! … or, Keith Getty wrote this song; it must be good! Well, people make mistakes. People write for different contexts. People believe different things. We should still read it critically.
Sometimes, this takes a different form … such as not wanting to say “I don’t think we should do this song [for these reasons]” because someone wrote it. Who am I to judge such a great author as Isaac Watts?! Well … if those Berean guys could take what Paul said and compare it to Scripture and be praised for doing so, then I think I can take a hymn that Watts or Getty wrote and do the same. I am fairly certain that this is exactly what Watts and Getty would want me to do… if not, they’re in the wrong business.
5. Someone Really Likes This Song
This is hard… when someone really likes a song, or you know it’s an “old favorite.” Tact and very thoughtful and clear explanation is necessary here… but ultimately, would you teach something wrong just because you knew someone in your congregation held to that view?
Now, if it’s a well-loved song and you’re trying to get rid of it because, I don’t know, there are a few words that just aren’t “in style” anymore … that’s not good. But if it’s a clear biblical issue… then, in all love, grace, tact, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it should be addressed and not simply glossed over. People in your congregation think that the primary reason God came to save us was to give us a happy life? That should be addressed in teaching, right? Is there a song that teaches this? That song needs to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old favorite or if some of the congregation like it.
Of course, you do need to make sure that you aren’t misunderstanding the lyrics! If you’re the only one that thinks a song is saying something, there could be something wrong with your understanding. Seek out other opinions and counsel.