The Christmas season renews our acquaintance with some of the precious songs of the faith, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Too few preachers are aware that this favorite carol was written by Phillips Brooks, the well-known nineteenth-century Boston pastor.
Some of the most eloquent messages delivered by preachers have not been spoken but sung. Many of the greatest hymn-writers of the church have been pastor-preachers who recognized the significance of music for the proclamation of the gospel.
The Christmas season brings several such works. One of the most beloved of all carols, “Silent Night,” was written by Joseph Mohr, a German priest, for the use of the congregation he served; the tune was written by Franz Gruber, the church organist, and the first English translation was by John F. Young, an Episcopal minister (and later bishop).
Isaac Watts, often called the father of English hymnody, was a minister among England’s Dissenting churches in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Although he left three volumes of published sermons, Watts is far better known for his hymns, which include “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Jesus Shall Reign” and many more. During one two-year period he wrote a new hymn for each Sunday.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of 6,500 hymns written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and himself an effective preacher and evangelist. His hymns, which include “O For a Thousand Tongues” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” are as eloquent as any sermon.
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” was written by Edmund H. Sears, a Unitarian pastor who, interestingly enough, believed in and preached the divinity of Christ. Another hymn text he wrote while a student at Harvard Divinity School, “Calm on the Listening Ear of Night,” is still included in several hymnals.
If preachers of an earlier age saw the need to devote themselves to the writing of hymns, how much more is that true today. The combination of insipid language and shallow (or even faulty) theology that characterizes much of contemporary Christian music provides a compelling case for renewed involvement in this vital area of ministry.
Lest we think hymns unimportant, we should perhaps remember the study done by a religious organization several years ago to determine the favorite Bible verses of church members. The results were surprising, for a large percentage of the verses provided turned out not to be Scripture at all, but rather lines from favorite hymns. For many Christians, their hymns had become so basic to their spiritual lives and beliefs that they had become confused with the Bible itself.
Music is too important to the proclamation of the gospel and the development of Christian belief to be left to the musicians alone. It’s time for preachers to get back into the act.

Share This On:

About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

Related Posts