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A plea for singing hymns in family worship

It’s no secret that people sing much less than they used to. Generally, as a culture, we listen to a lot of music, but make very little. We leave music making to professionals. And this is to our loss as a society. In Wiser than Despair, Quentin Faulkner asks us to “Consider … the disappearance of community singing (whether in the family or in some larger communal gathering) in self-conscious cultures.”1 Think about it. When was the last time you as a family simply sang together?

As Christians, we ought to sing often. The Psalms are filled with the eruptions of praise of God’s people in song. Paul says in Col 3:16, 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. We are not only to be filled with the “word of Christ,” but we are to express that “filling” with singing. We as Christians and congregations should learn to sing again. For several reasons that are outside the scope of this article, I believe this will be done best through a cultivation and recovery of beautiful, traditional, and conservative hymnody.

But my focus in this article is to encourage Christian families to put this into practice as families. I want to urge you to consider singing Christian hymns together as families. Such a practice will help you learn to sing well, give you beautiful expression to your worship, help you to appreciate the glory of Christian orthodoxy and right affection in the great hymns, and, most importantly, give vent to your praise God together. Fathers, your children should see you and their mother get the pleasure of hearing you joyfully sing God’s praises together and with them.

One of the easiest ways to sing together as a family is in family worship. The time of family worship is one where the family is all together. It’s also a most appropriate thing in connection with the Scriptures being read and discussed. Joel Beeke described the “What” of family worship to include “instruction in the Word of God, prayer before the throne of God, and singing to the glory of God” (emphasis mine).2 It’s a most lovely thing for a family to sing God’s praises together. It may not always sound lovely (!), but it is a joy to have the singing of God’s praises a regular feature of a Christian family’s life together.

To do this well, you must have several copies of a good hymnal. You will not regret the investment. How much have you spent in the last year to entertain your family? You can make a much more fruitful and longer lasting investment in a good hymnal for a fraction of the price. Any good hymnal would do, but, having now used Hymns to the Living God for the last several months in my own home’s family worship, I can attest that it is a very good hymnal for such use. (I know that’s nearly a shameless plug; let me assure you that I think singing together as a family is a far more important than the hymnal you use to do so.) Good hymns work well in family worship because their tunes are often simpler and easier to sing naturally. When done with the right frame of mind and heart, the rich texts of versified Psalms and great hymns will almost always return wonderful encouragement through the truths being sung. I further recommend that you sing together without instrumentation. By singing hymns in family worship, fathers have a real opportunity to help their children learn and love great Christian hymnody, especially if they start while those children are still young.

One of the challenges of singing together as a family is that we can forget why we’re doing it. We are weak and sinful, so it is easily to neglect the great and chief end of our singing, even in family worship. That is, we forget that our singing is praise offered to God. But the problem here is not with singing, but with ourselves. The reasons not to sing are rather skimpy and flimsy compared to the reasons we should sing.

Let me encourage you to sing the praises of your Savior together as a family, and to do so in family worship. Fathers, you must take the leadership in this area. You must “buy in,” and then lead your family to “buy in.” If you do, I can assure you that you will never regret the times you as a family shared before God’s throne in song magnifying the Triune God.

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. Quentin Faulkner, Wiser Than DespairThe Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of Music and the Christian Church (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996), 205. []
  2. Joel Beeke, Family Worship (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 17. []