Ihave been asked on occasion how we can get teen-agers to appreciate and sing the great hymns and gospel songs of the church. There are many ways to encourage this, but the most basic principle of all is: Don’t wait to start this until they’re in their teens!
Each children’s program in the church, Sunday School, Children’s Church, week-day clubs, if you have these, should be regularly introducing and using hymns. Using hymns with children prepares them to have a fuller part in adult worship later on. Conversely, to use only children’s songs and choruses in children’s programming may handicap their later integration into the adult services of worship.
Instead of Heavenly Sunshine or some shallow contemporary song, why not use the first verse of a good hymn as if it were a “chorus” (or perhaps the refrain of a hymn as a chorus, if it can stand alone)? Later, other stanzas could be explained and added.
In some cases, you might have to define a word or explain a concept or two. But so much the better. How often have we taken a moment to do that with the adults? You could also tell a story about the author, or tell how the hymn came to be written. (Many such stories appear on this blog.) If this is done consistently, what children learn will help to prepare them for more meaningful worship with the whole congregation.
And there should be some system to it. Make a list of the hymns you want to introduce in a particular children’s program of the church. Solid hymns, ones that they will treasure in years to come. Then give some thought to how they are to be taught and used. Perhaps you could have a “hymn of the month,” or play a good video of the hymn. Or if you have a gifted soloist or instrumentalist in the congregation, perhaps he or she could drop in on the children’s program and sing or play the song. Or you could involve the children in a little drama, acting out the story of the song.
In addition to fine children’s hymns such as Jesus Loves Me, and Philip Bliss’s Jesus Loves Even Me, here are a few hymns for which the first stanza is sufficiently clear on its own:
My Jesus, I Love Thee (explain “follies”)
Ye Must Be Born Again
Wonderful Words of Life (explain “duty”)
O How I Love Jesus
Jesus Is the Joy of Living(refrain only)
The Light of the World Is Jesus
Amazing Grace (explain “wretch”)
Trust and Obey
What a Friend We Have in Jesus (explain “griefs” and “forfeit”)
Praise Him! Praise Him! (by Fanny Crosby)
Constantly Abiding (refrain)
Blessed Be the Name (explain “majesty supreme”)
With a little study of the hymn book, you will be able to think of many more, and you’ll find using hymns with children very profitable. It builds each child’s repertoire for time to come.