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A Plea to Teach Children Hymns

Evangelicals bemoan the fact that a “generation gap” exists between older and younger professing believers. But could it be that the older believers have actually created the problem?

Two problems exist: Children and teenagers do not care for solid hymns or long sermons, and modern young people’s sacred music has been severely dumbed down. Which came first: the dislike of hymns or the dumbing down of sacred music (the chicken or the egg)? The answer to that question may not be so easy to determine, but it is clear that parents must provide the solution.

The first issue contributing to the problem is that parents (and adults in general) do not give children enough credit. For some reason, they assume that young people cannot handle deep, biblical truths or solid, doctrinally rich hymns. They have bought into the secular psychology that says, “Children will be children.” In other words, do not expect too much out of young people. Adults seem to assume that children need silly, trivial music and activities to keep them occupied. Parents who defend their children’s immaturity are actually encouraging the generation gap.

That leads to a second issue. Parents fuel the problem by exposing their children only to the trivial, light, and shallow. They assume children can handle nothing more than Bible stories and simple verses. They allow their children’s music tastes to be shaped exclusively by trivial choruses and silly songs with slight truth. These same songs comprise the musical selections of Sunday Schools and other children’s gatherings. It is no wonder children do not know good, historic hymnody. It is no wonder the same songs children grew up with are now being included in hymnbooks for adults. Young people, however, are very capable of understanding and appreciating deep truth. They can be trained to sit under lengthy teaching. They can be taught to enjoy good music. The problem is not lack of ability. The problem is lack of education.

There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with simple truth and enjoyable activities for children. But when children are not stretched—when they are not encouraged to expand their knowledge and preferences—how can they be expected to grow to maturity? From their child’s earliest years, it should be the parents’ goal for their children to grow out of the shallow and trivial. Yet parents actually encourage the opposite, encouraging their children to remain immature well into their young adult years—and beyond.

The solution is to expect more from children. Teach them deep truth and solid hymnody. Certainly, present the truth on their level, explain the content, and make sure they understand it. Use terms and illustrations they can readily identify. But hold high expectations, not low. Expect much, not little.

The church needs to take responsibility, too. Sunday School and other children’s gatherings should not be times to encourage and promote silly songs or immaturity. Those gatherings are the perfect times to immerse the children in great hymnody, to teach them what good hymns mean and why they are good. The goal for children should be to train them to remain in the worship service, actively participating in what is going on. Using Sunday School to prepare them for what is coming will help them to participate more actively and to appreciate true worship.

Adults must stop catering to the immaturity in young people. If they want to bridge the so-called “generation gap,” they need to expect more of children, train them to understand and appreciate deep truth and solid hymns, and help them grow to be mature by weaning them from trivial expressions of praise to God.

This essay is excerpted from Worship in Song: a Biblical Approach to Music and Worship.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.