What Should Happen
don’t know all the songs in our hymnal, so suggestions in what follows regarding ways to fix the problem apply as much for me as for anyone else. Perhaps we don't all need to know every song in the hymnal, but if a sufficient number of people in a congregation do, they can carry the others along. As one not fluent in music reading, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been carried along with others around me. If the music is not particularly difficult, I need hear it only once, and I’m on my way!
Suggestions and observations [Main Story]
Here are some suggestions and observations on the general situation:
1. Local churches with competent musicians should set aside quality time to teach their congregation the songs we have. A good time for this is the period immediately preceding the worship service, as people are gathering, or just after they settle. If there’s a choir, it might help lead the congregation in the learning process. Some churches may find it more convenient to do this in connection with an afternoon youth service, though the number impacted would likely be smaller.
2. Each church will set its own goal, of course; but a reasonable one might be to learn two brand new songs a month—24 a year. What a difference that could make! In time, a visiting preacher would be free to select just about any song in the book, and your church will be ready.
3. Ideally, you may want those 24 new songs to cover the 12 major subject headings at the front of the hymnal: “Worship,” “Trinity,” “Jesus Christ,” “Doctrines,” “Christian Life,” and so on. (I personally regret that the selections under those heads are sometimes meager. I noticed that not long ago, as I struggled to find something on the resurrection that was “singable” and that would create the mood I wanted.)
4. We should make an effort to develop the musical talents within the church, with emphasis on people who can lead out effectively in congregational singing, with or without an instrument. Sloppy singing leaves the wrong impression on all worshippers, and does nothing to attract visitors to our church. I’ve been in congregations where four stanzas of a song felt like 13, and in others where the singing was so rich, people were saying “Amen” (and even applauding) all over the place, as if it wasn’t they themselves who’d just got done singing. There’s power in the old songs. Listen, for example, to the Gaither Vocal Group as they sing: “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood.” And there are powerful, more recent songs that would blow you away. I dare you to listen to Richard Smallwood’s group do “Balm in Gilead” without goose bumps breaking out all over you!
5. Every available instrument should be utilized in the worship service to bring glory to God. (Instruments by themselves are not sinful; it’s the people handling them who sometimes make a nuisance of themselves.) The believers in Bible times used the instruments they had; we too should use what we have to the glory of God, not to the annoyance of the saints. (There’s more where that came from, but for another time.)
6. Part of the problem we have with singing our songs has to do with the decline in family worship. My sense is that we have a large number of dysfunctional Adventist homes, in so far as “the family altar” is concerned—no daily worship or family prayer, no sundown-Friday-evening welcome of the Sabbath, no formal close of the Sabbath on Saturday evening. It would be interesting to know how many Adventist homes today even own a church hymnal.
7. We borrow a large number of songs from the wider evangelical community—and that’s mostly to the good. But do you know of any they’ve borrowed from us? I suspect one reason there isn’t a two-way street here is that we’re not creating many—at least, not in the number and quality to attract their attention. Recently, I came across something called “Revelation Song” on the INO/Columbia label (sung by Phillips, Craig, and Dean), and the first thought that came to me was: Why doesn’t a Seventh-day Adventist musician compose something like that? After all, for whom, of all denominations, does the book of Revelation mean more? Here are these people singing about the exaltation of Jesus, about the sea of glass, about the mercy seat. Why aren’t we leading the way in this? How about some new, “singable” songs about the Sabbath; about the resurrection; about the heavenly sanctuary; or (following Henry de Fluiter of Voice of Prophecy fame) about heaven?
8. Whichever hymnal is in use where you are, develop your own favorites out of it. At the back of the hymnal I use at home (the family knows the brown hymnbook is the one Dad uses), I’ve listed over time more than 80 favorites. I end by sharing a few, at random—just so you can see if any coincides with yours: “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (85); “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (100); “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (250); “The Wonder of It All” (75); “Jesus, I Come” (292); “A Song of Heaven and Homeland” (472); “Nearer, Still Nearer” (301); and “Over Yonder” (431).