Using Hymns to Train Up the Next Generation of Worshippers
By Jen Mulvihill
In a culture of ever-changing, newer-is-better approaches to music in the church, teaching your children traditional hymns becomes increasingly important. Although there is excellent contemporary Christian music, the timeless melodies of the hymns are increasingly replaced with newer, louder music that lacks the spiritual depth that was sung by the generations before us.
Hymns teach us timeless truths about God and the Christian life. It is in the hymns that we sing lyrics such as, “All I have needed, your hand has provided;” “I will not boast in anything—no gifts, no power, no wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection;” “He tells me that I am His own;” and “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”
When we sing, these melodies and truths become imprinted on our children and us in a powerful, lasting way. Hymns open the eyes and ears of young people to core doctrines, biblical lyrics, timeless musical melodies, and hymn writers, many of whom are heroes of the Christian faith.
It takes effort to teach children this music. Hymns require more intentionality, as they are often sung with less regularity within the walls of our churches and homes. The lyrics have greater complexity, often with multiple verses, including artful and poetic language.
Whether you are teaching hymns to your children and grandchildren, familiarizing yourself for the first time, or revisiting them again after a prolonged absence, the following ideas will help you and your family learn hymns with excitement and vibrancy.
Create a simple top-ten list of hymns you would like your family to know. If you’re not sure where to start, feel free to use our family’s list. If you don’t know the words or melodies, learn them alongside your children or grandchildren.
“A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” Martin Luther
“Amazing Grace,” John Newton
“Be Thou My Vision,” Dallan Forgaill
“Blessed Assurance,” Fanny Crosby
“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson
“Doxology,” Louis Bourgeois
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Thomas Chisholm/William M. Runyan
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” Reginald Herber/John B. Dykes
“How Great Thou Art,” Carl Gustav Boberg
“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” Stuart Townend
Find arrangements of hymns that suit your family’s style. Hymns do not need to be learned in dull musical styles! Modern arrangements, unique instrumentations, and vocalizations are readily available. Utilize music streaming apps to sample and listen to multiple versions of the same song. Download what you enjoy, and make them into a playlist. Listen to them often, at strategic times such as during family worship, in the car, or in the background while cooking or playing board games.
Purchase a hymnal and use it. There is a deep aesthetic to singing hymns using a hymnal that is different from how young people are commonly trained to worship through music in the church. Today, we learn music by reading a screen one line at a time. Using a hymnal gives way to something special and distinct. Holding the songbook in your hand, turning the pages, finding the song, observing the song titles by category, exploring the assortment of genres, reading the text in its full context, and seeing the written notes on the page are hands-on and personal. The tactile act of using a hymnal brings learning hymns to a greater level of understanding and knowledge.
Teach a specific hymn correlating with a certain season. For example, teach “Jesus Paid It All” in the weeks leading up to Easter by playing and singing it with greater frequency.
Learn a hymn per week, month, or year—whatever time frame is comfortable for your family. Study the composer, the history of the time the hymn was written, scriptural parallels, and application for today. Listen and sing together!
If your church is more contemporary in its worship style, kindly ask your pastor to consider incorporating hymns into the weekly Sunday gatherings. Many hymns translate well into contemporary styles and blend easily with a wide variety of music.
Host or attend a hymn sing with friends and family at your home or church. Select 10-15 hymns to sing during your time together. Your song selections may be theme-based, such as Christmas or Easter hymns, songs about the character of God, or adoration and praise. If possible, provide copies of the music and lyrics for each participant.
When gathered, sing joyfully, without worry about musical perfection. Hearing the voices of those singing around you provides a sharp contrast to only being able to hear the worship leader, as is common in large worship services today. Singing in unison with others requires vulnerability, but it is a beautiful display of Psalm 150, which instructs us to “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
Utilize books to read about hymn writers, the historical context, and theological implications. Reading will surely make hymns come alive! Excellent resources include Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan, the Hymns for a Kid’s Heart series by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada, and Great Christian Hymn Writers by Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson.
For those of us who grew up in the church, there is a warmth, familiarity, and comfort that comes from singing hymns. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are singing hymns in corporate worship with my parents and grandparents on Sunday mornings, and it is a joy to sing these same songs with my own children today. Teaching and passing on the tradition of singing hymns is giving a spiritual treasure to the next generation of worshippers, which will be a blessing for many generations to come.
Jen Mulvihill is a veteran educator and mom to five children. She is married to Josh, and together they are passionate about training children and families to know and love Jesus Christ. Jen has a degree in music education and has taught music for twenty years, most recently launching The Wings Homeschool Bands. Jen is the co-author of two books: Discipling Your Grandchildren and 50 Things Your Child Needs to Know Before Leaving Home.