Baptist Hymnals 56 on shelf  Worship Leader, where is your hymnal? Don’t worry, this is not a throwback argument for pulling down your screens, or finding where the custodian stored the ’75 Baptist Hymnals that were falling apart when they yanked them from the pews. I do, however, want to point out some values served by hymnals that strengthen the worship life of the church. Worship leaders need to steadily engage in critical thinking about ways our planning and direction for worship affects the church. Hopefully this will help serve as food for thought.

Some Considerations on the Value of Hymnals

  1. Hymnals serve as a Worship Landmark

A hymnal codifies what the church is singing at a particular time in its history. John Witvliet says it is like “a cultural memory bank.” Inside the covers of the songbook are words and melodies that stamp our collective footprint of what we sing during a decade or two of our worship life as a church. It does not mean that we are not singing other things, adding to the repertoire newer songs that will vie for inclusion in the next hymnal, even as we continue to hold on to those songs that serve as foundational faith expression and continue to serve our community. (Lifeway Worship has compiled a comparison of hymns included and/or new to each of the Baptist hymnal publications beginning with the 1956 edition.)

  1. Hymnals encapsulate Words for our worship – public and private.

A hymnal helps worshipers to sing together, both when we are gathered in corporate worship, and when we are scattered to our daily routines. The printed page remains in our view as we sing corporately, allowing for reflection by revisiting thoughts we have along the way in worship. Owning a home hymnal promotes regular private and family devotions. Publishers and distributors will love to hear me say I believe congregations need to purchase hymnals not only for their pews in the worship center, but also sufficient numbers for each home to have at least one on their shelf in their home. Imagine your church family meditating on a worship song through the week after they have scattered to their separate homes. Imagine them returning for corporate worship prepared to join hearts and voices in singing that particular song. This just might help us follow the psalmist’s admonition to “sing praises with wisdom.” (Psalm 47:7), and follow Paul’s testimony to “sing with the spirit, but also sing with understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:15)

  1. Hymnals help Connect us to our legacy

My grandfather’s favorite hymn was Take Time to Be Holy. It was one of only a couple of tunes he would occasionally sit down and plunk out on the piano in his home. I hardly ever hear it sung in corporate worship anymore. It appeared in the 1940 Broadman and the 1956 Baptist Hymnal, was omitted in the 1975 edition, and reappeared in 1991 and 2008. I can still hear Grandpa wailing the tenor line in church so loudly that it turned the heads of those in the pew in front of us. The song stirs fond memories that remind me of a history laced with devoted Christ followers. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name exhorts the angels, all who have been saved, all peoples of the earth, and the “sacred throng” around his throne to join in the everlasting song of praise. My dad loved that hymn. The congregation sang it to the CORONATION tune as the family entered the sanctuary for his memorial service. My dad and granddad were two giants in my own faith journey. Every time I come across these tunes or texts of these hymns, I think of them and my heritage of Christian faith. These songs, like so many others I have sung, link me to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have known, and many more that I never knew. Having a hymnal in a rack in the worship center, or perhaps laying next to a Bible at home, may someday help to join a grandchild, or great grandchild to a legacy of singing faith.

  1. Hymnals reveal Direction of the present and offer Trajectory toward the future

A hymnal indicates something of where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed theologically, spiritually, and liturgically. A review of topical and biblical indexes that categorize hymns in a given hymnal help us grasp where we are theologically, and can provide leaders with means of singing our way toward a preferred emphasis in disciple-building, unity of fellowship, strengthened commitment, and missional living. The hymnal can serve as a sort of spiritual canon of our shared journey.

  1. Hymnals can serve the Flow of worship (liturgy)

Whether our liturgy is formal or relaxed, a hymnal can serve to advance our communion with God. Having words and music in front of the worshipers can aid our ability to know where we are in our shared conversation and move along together. In-hand responsive readings remain accessible to worshipers. The Baptist Hymnal includes “service music” located in one section (towards the back) of the hymnal, consisting of shorter statements that help move us along the worship journey from entrance songs to offertory statements to songs that send us on our mission.

  1. Hymnals provide songs that have been filtered through a Doctrinal lens

Songs selected for inclusion in hymnals pass through editorial boards who view prospective material with doctrinal affinity that agrees with the theological teachings of the denomination or group that will use it. This is no small issue as worship shapes and forms us into worshiping disciples. The hymnal helps seekers to know what this particular worshiping congregation believes and sings.

  1. Hymnals serve churches in the Biblical exhortation to sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 the Apostle Paul instructs the early church to sing. He gives insight to the kind of singing intended for followers of Jesus in the New Testament church. Singing is part of our following since we know Jesus worshiped through singing, even as a last act of community with His disciples before departing to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). The hymnal places a collection of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in the very hands of worshipers, and sets a pattern for worship singing.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship


  1. Carder, Jamie A Says:

    Since you have All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name listed, I wanted to share something with you. When I sing a solo or lead in worship, I want to make sure I know what all of the words mean and what they DO NOT mean.
    I asked the congregation if they knew what a diadem was–a few did; after all there is the word crown in the title! I related how one translation had defined it as “ the royal headband”.
    I also made sure they knew that the angels were bowing down, not sick …there is a big difference between prostrate and prostate.
    I asked if anyone knew what “this terrestrial ball” was. A lot of blank stares until I pointed out it was NOT a disco ball, but the earth.
    Finally, I said, how do we know that a Southerner wrote the words? Because it has the word YONDER in it, and I don’t know any “Yankees” using that phrase!

    So a song we had been singing for decades, several people said later that they would not forget the explanation and they would no longer trip over the language.

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