I recently received the following question via e-mail:
I am the youth pastor at _______ Baptist Church in _______. I really enjoyed your article “Train Your Child’s Heart Before His Head.” My wife and I have begun to teach hymns to our children’s programs. I guess I’m wondering what you did, how you did it and how you sold your pastor on the deal. I would be grateful for any thought you might have. Thanks. at home, but I have often wondered about the songs they are singing and learning at church. My pastor is often hesitant to “rock the boat” with things like changing the way we have always done things in our children’s programs. I guess I’m wondering what you did, how you did it and how you sold your pastor on the deal. I would be grateful for any thought you might have. Thanks.
This is an excellent question; one that deserves a full answer, but I’ll just give some introductory suggestions here. Here are just some of the things that I did in our church to move toward eliminating silly children’s songs and teaching our children hymns.
1. I first felt a burden for this when, at a men and boys campout, I realized that none of the young boys knew a single hymn. When asked for favorites around the camp fire, all they could come up with were silly children’s songs.
2. The first point I stressed was our church’s goal of encouraging unity among the congregation. I emphasized the fact that our church should be all singing the same body of hymnody. There may be a place for simpler children’s songs, but it is important that our children be comfortable singing the same things as their parents.
3. The second point I stressed was the fact that by entertaining our children regularly in church, we are teaching them to expect entertainment, and we cannot expect them to change when they grow older.
A friend once pointed out to me that the stages in life when we often lose our young people is at the transitions from childhood to adolescence or adolescence to adulthood. Part of the reason for that is likely the fact that they are shocked with all of the “new stuff” they are expected to participate in, new “adult” music being one of the primary ones. In other words, it really is no wonder that teenagers think hymns are “old and fuddy-duddy” and want more entertainment in church – they’ve been entertained in church for all of their childhood, haven’t they?
4. The third point I stressed was the fact that sacred things should not be treated as silly. There may be a place for children to be silly, and there may be a place for silly children’s songs, but not sacred silly songs. God deserves more than that, even from our children.
5. Finally, I stressed that church (even in children’s meetings) was a place for singing about God and his Word. There may be a place for songs about discipline and character, but church is for God.
6. I met with those leading singing in our children’s meetings, and stressed each of these points. Initially, I asked them to limit what they sang songs about God. I even further limited that later (more on this in a moment).
7. The next important step, which may not be possible in every situation, is that I took over leading our Wednesday evening children’s program. The first 15 minutes had always been dedicated to singing, and so I took advantage of that time.
8. I progressively began to teach the children (3 years through 6th grade) to use a hymnal. I taught them what things on the page meant, how to use the index, how to find hymns, etc. The older children helped the younger children, and after a while they began to enjoy using the hymnal.
9. We began learning one new hymn per month. At first I just randomly chose hymns, but after we began using the Kids4Truth program, I started choosing hymns that fit the doctrinal theme of the month.
10. With these practices, I got some real resistance from both the children and their parents at first. But I held my ground, continued to stress the principles listed above, and I also stressed pastoral authority in something as important as the music that was sung in church.
11. Eventually (after several months), the children began to love singing hymns. It wasn’t long before they knew two dozen hymns by heart, knew how to use a hymnal, and when asked for favorites would choose songs like “I Sing the Mighty Power,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “A Mighty Fortress,” and “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.”
12. The parents soon came along. One father who had originally expressed some resistance soon said to me, “My kids are singing hymns together in the car! I realized that now when they grow older, they’ll look for a church that sings these same kinds of things!” Exactly.
13. Another important thing that I did was to sing a non-sacred silly song at the beginning of each Wednesday evening. I wanted to teach the children that it was OK to be silly, it was OK to sing non-sacred songs, but it was not OK to be silly about God. I think they got it.
14. During each bi-annual children’s program for the adults, we made a big deal about the hymns they had learned. The congregation was amazed.
15. The congregation began to notice that the children (as young as 6 years old) were opening their hymnals in church services, and belting out the hymns they knew. It became a real highlight of our church life.
16. Eventually, I put together a list of the hymns we had been learning and were planning on learning in the future, and distributed it to those leading children’s singing in other venues, asking them to use those hymns. Even so, when the children now were asked for favorite in those venues, which had been a regular practice, most of the time they’d choose hymns. In fact, the other children’s sacred songs that they sang in Sunday School, for instance, were usually chosen by the teacher and not the children!
17. All in all, the whole musical culture of our church changed through all of this, I think. As the children began to learn and enjoy singing hymns, their parent and others in the congregation began to follow. It was wonderful to see.
18. At our going away fellowship on our last Sunday in Rockford, they gathered all of the children together to sing a hymn as a farewell. One of the older ladies in the church looked at me and said, “This is your legacy.” I couldnt’ have asked for more.