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Teaching children hymns: recommendations

Last week I argued that, if we are committed to conservative worship, it only follows that we should be committed to perpetuating conservative worship in the next generation. We want to continue developing this theme as we post at the Religious Affections blog. What hymns might we teach children? Before I name some specific recommendations, there are some important general ideas to keep in mind.1 With respect to texts, it is good, particularly with very young children (who cannot yet read) to teach them hymns that have texts that are easy to remember or have repetition. It is not necessary, to my thinking, that the hymn texts be very simple. For one, great Christian hymns provide themselves a great opportunity for instruction in important Christian doctrines, and this is an opportunity we should not let slip through our hands. So even if a child does not comprehend all that the hymn is trying to say, they can be taught some of the basic truths being expressed. Indeed, how many times can one sing a hymn like “Abide with Me” or “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee” without discovering some well expressed truth of the Christian faith previously unnoticed? I still find in great hymns significance or allusions to passages of Scripture or well-expressed emphases that I had not noticed before. So if we, as adults, do not catch everything, why should make this a point of entry for children? That children (or adults) do not comprehend all that is in a hymn on the first, second, or twentieth time is not a reason for casting it aside and excluding it from corporate worship. Still, we should, I believe, take pains to instruct the general truths of the hymns we are teaching to our children. Since the younger children are in most cases forced to memorize the hymns they are being taught, hymns that lend themselves to memorization more easily should be given greater weight. The tunes accompanying the hymns we teach our children is an important matter as well. One of the good things about many of the great hymn tunes is that the tunes are often relatively simple. Even so, we should be inclined toward hymns that do not have great leaps in the melody line or whose range exceeds that of the children. So, let me close with a quick-and-dirty list of ten hymns I would recommend teaching our children:

  1. Holy, Holy, Holy (Nicaea)
  2. All People that on Earth Do Dwell (Old One Hundredth)
  3. O Worship the King (Hanover)
  4. He Who Would Valiant Be (St Dunstan’s)
  5. O God, Our Help in Ages Past (St Anne)
  6. All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night (Tallis’ Canon)
  7. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Hamburg or Rockingham)
  8. All Creatures of Our God and King (Lasst Uns Erfreuen) (the range here may tax some voices)
  9. Come Christians, Join to Sing (Madrid)
  10. I Sing the Mighty Power of God (Ellacombe or Kingsfold)

What do you think? Are there some you might add to this? Or perhaps some you might take away?

Ryan Martin

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. I do not make these statements purporting to be an expert. My chief experience comes as a father and a brief time directing a children’s choir. []

3 Responses to Teaching children hymns: recommendations

  1. Thanks for the list, Ryan. The only one on here I haven't taught our children (or our church's children in Illinois) was "He Who Would Valiant Be," but I agree that it would be a good one as well.

    I have found that "Holy, Holy," "I Sing the Mighty Power," and "All Creatures" are among the favorites for children I have taught. Interestingly, they loved "A Mighty Fortress" as well, especially the boys.

    A number of years ago I sat down to compile a list of hymns from our hymnal that were accessible for children, and after a while, I decided that just about any hymn would work!

    My children's favorites right now are "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Kate) and "How Firm a Foundation" (Caleb). Focussing on the holiness of God and the faithfulness of God's Word are great topics for small children, wouldn't you say? :)

  2. We've really enjoyed "O Worship the King" and "O God Our Help". Singing and praying with the children each night at bed time is something the look forward to.

  3. Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. And a hearty "Amen!" to your desire to teach the great hymns of the faith to children. And, when you can, tell them a little about the hymn's author, or the circumstances under which it was written. This can be a blessing too. At one time I actually taught a short course on hymnology at a Christian school (Grades 7 and 8). Parents reported afterward how it increased their children's participation in the worship services. Keep up the good work.

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