Preparing for worship is a privilege, but also a heavy responsibility. Those to whom this task has been given always need to look carefully, not only at the Proclamation of the Word, to which proper and faithful attention must be given, but also to every other aspect of worship, including the choice of hymns.
Some congregations' repertoire is very small and consequently it is difficult to enlarge on this. This can be very limiting to anyone who desires that a particular hymn be sung in that service of worship. Nevertheless, choices must be made and hymns chosen to make worship inspiring, challenging and meaningful.
What is required is a careful and prayerful study of all the hymns which could gain acceptance for a particular service. No doubt the capabilities of the given congregation have to be borne in mind, but this hymn book should provide sufficient hymns to suit all occasions. The following are some suggestions which could be helpful in enabling a repertoire to be increased:
- hold a Presbytery area conference on worship and hymnology and invite organists and sessions to attend. New hymns could be learnt there, as well as guidance offered on how best to sing some of the hymns;
- have one or more persons learn a hymn and sing it as an anthem - but always as being appropriate to the service of worship;
- conduct a special praise service from time to time at which new hymns would be introduced. For example, there is a wealth of hymns in 'Rejoice!' on 'Thanksgiving and Praise' and these could be interwoven into a service where, through the reading of Scripture and the singing of a hymn, folk are nourished in the faith. The preaching of the Word would then highlight this aspect of our Christian witness;
- ensure that organists do their homework, in studying the music and the words together so that congregations are enabled to worship accordingly. Hymns were never meant to be a 'relief or a 'break' to worship, but a real and integral part of that special time people have together as the Body of Christ;
- spend adequate time in the actual choosing of hymns, with concern for the Proclaimed Word, the needs of our people, their capabilities to sing particular hymns, the over-all theme of worship and an appreciation for the theology of a hymn to express the concepts, doctrine and challenge required at the time.
- introduce a new hymn to the congregation by explaining its relevance in the service and telling something about the author, if known and relevant, asking the organist to play the tune through completely while the congregation sings the first verse 'to itself,' before singing the complete hymn together;
- it is advisable to introduce only one new hymn at any given service. With all of this in mind, congregations can be led to appreciate that new hymns con- tribute greatly to the whole of worship, and to see how their participation in fellowship is enriched, their faith nourished and above all, glory given to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many congregations are blessed with competent musicians whose skills can be utilised in worship. Psalm 150 for example refers to the 'sounding trumpet,' 'harps and lyres,' 'strings and flutes' and even the 'clash of cymbals' - all of which were in use proir to the invention of the pipe organ. Why not use the talents of one's congregation to praise the Lord?
It is our belief that hymnology needs to be understood, appreciated and practiced so that worship is enhanced and blessings ensure. Everything done in worship is for the glory of God and consequently must be offered after proper preparation and prayer amd as expression of a faith in Jesus Christ, the only King and Head of the Church.
Steps in Choosing Hymns
- Preparation of the Word for proclamation.
- Decision regarding format of worship, having worked through the reasons (theologically) for what is done in that regard.
- Choosing hymns suitable to the theme, being mindful of the various aspects of worship and the needs of the congregation to appreciate and be involved in the 'total diet of worship.' This involves looking thoroughly at your hymn book and using its indexes appropriately.
- Offering it all to the Lord in prayer. 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.' Psalm 150:6 (NIV)