why your pastor won’t let you sing “amazing grace” every Sunday and other disconcerting tales of woe

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You pastors put up with a lot. We beat you up. We tear you down. We dump stuff on your plate. We cry to you. We babble. We tell you why you’re wrong. We tell you why we’re right. We dissect your sermons. We fall asleep during your sermons. We think you only work an hour every week.

Yeah. We’re pretty sure we could do your jobs a whooooooole lot better.

Whoops. Forgot one.

We also think your hymn choices are pretty ridiculous.

______________________

That’s because each of us, at best, has about four hymns that we really like. And those are basically the only four we ever want to sing.

I know my four. And if we never sang another hymn other than those, I’d easily live the rest of my life in peace and contentment.

But my pastors don’t let me wallow in what I like. That’s not their job. Mostly their job is to tell me things I don’t like: that I don’t love my neighbor like I’m supposed to, that I despise God’s Word, that I like setting up false gods because they seem to have more shine and more bling, that I don’t believe my sins have consequences.

It’s also why they choose hymns that aren’t on my Fab Four list. They choose hymns that I haven’t sung before, that are hard for me to wrap my vocal chords around, that cause me to have to work at singing them.

_____________________

They do that because the hymns are worth it, because they teach the faith in ways I haven’t understood before, because those hymns confess what I believe even if I’ve never articulated it that way until now.

And that’s when their job of telling me what I don’t like becomes exactly what faith in Christ does like, what it reaches out and grabs hold of with its sticky little hands:

By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; My soul, believe and doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: By grace you too will life obtain. (LSB 566:1)

God said to His beloved Son: “It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of My crown, And bring to all salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free; Slay bitter death for them that they May live with You forever.” (LSB 556:5)

Christians, to the Paschal Victim Offer your thankful praises! The Lamb the sheep has ransomed: Christ, who only is sinless, Reconciling sinners to the Father. Death and life have contended In that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, Reigns immortal. (LSB 461)

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander; The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, Who would not know Him. (LSB 439:3).

See? Four new awesome hymns. Right there.

Aw, man. Now I’m already up to eight.

My pastors could just let me sing the same four hymns every Sunday. But that would be the same as my husband telling me to eat Skittles every night for dinner. He could do that, but he knows there’s more food out there and food that’s good for me too, that there’s steak and broccoli and milk and that each one of them is good for my health in a different way.

Pastors, I’m sorry we give you grief. I’m sorry we snark about your sermons and dump all the sin of our lives on your doorsteps. And I’m sorry that we give you a rough time when you introduce a new hymn simply because it’s not something we’re familiar with.

Because while I love Skittles, I’m also a new, big fan of broccoli.

And until now, I never even realized it.

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22 thoughts on “why your pastor won’t let you sing “amazing grace” every Sunday and other disconcerting tales of woe

  1. Makes me giggle!!! As a member of the Worship Planning Committee (you probably have one, too, just don’t realize it), I know how difficult it can be to find a balance between the old favorites and a newer hymn, all in accordance with the lectionary (the day’s prescribed readings). We dove in and used “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came” this year (the announcement to Mary) and were pleasantly surprised to find that, with leadership from the choir, the congregation “got it” by the end of the first verse!

  2. I guess I’ll be the voice of dissent here….can we just please please please sometimes sing one we already know? I feel like we can go weeks singing only new hymns…..

    • msh60-you have to remember, that a “favorite” of yours might not be a favorite of another; one that is familiar with you might not be familiar with another; one that you don’t know, might be well known by another.

      • That’s certainly true, everyone has different favorites, and just because I have never sung a particular hymn doesn’t mean that others in church haven’t also. One of the challenges for our congregation is that the vast majority of folks do not read music. (We are a small congregation, so we pretty much know everyone sitting in the sanctuary with us on any given Sunday and I am comfortable in proclaiming that as a true statement). I think we would really benefit from singing the same hymn several times in any given month/church season/quarter. There tends to be very little singing when the hymn is not familiar, it is not unusual to not hear any voices above the sound of the accompaniment – I mean, I can hear myself singing, but that is about it. I think the repetition would help. Hopefully people are reading the words even if they aren’t singing. I’ve also wondered if it would be helpful to sometimes have new hymns played on the piano instead of the organ while we are learning them, as perhaps we could hear each other a bit better, and be able to help each other along. I feel for those in charge of choosing hymns for the services – it can’t be an easy task.

  3. I like to note the Scripture citations listed in the lower right corner of the hymn. (I write them on my bulletin where the hymns are listed). Then, through the week, I look them up. It’s a nice way to meet God in His Word.

  4. Nice insight on this. My Mom and I used to sit in the pew before church started and look at the words of the hymns and memorize the alto part; I have a great love of Lutheran hymnage (is that a word?) because of that. When you have a great organist on a great organ belting out the foundation for a great hymn, written on Scripture, it can’t get any better.

  5. When I became a pastor 14+ years ago (at 62), I told the congregation that I was not a trained singer but loved to sing and… here’s the tough part… if I can sing a hymn and it fits the message of the day, they can sing it! Last year we sang 151 different hymns in worship. The most repeats were 6 for “Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word.”

  6. Kantors do a similar service to their congregations. Without hymns, it seems to me that Lutheran theology would be hard to unpack for unbelievers.

  7. My husband has had great success with a hymn sing Sunday. When there is a fifth Sunday in a month the congregation gets to pick the hymns in service, on the spot. Thankfully we have some very talented organists. I’ve actually been surprised at the variety of the songs picked. Especially from the children.

    It also really cuts down on the complaints about how we never sing that one hymn that is close to someone’s heart.

  8. I miss having a Pastor to shepherd me and my family. Christ the King Lutheran Church & School, in Redlands, CA (if you’re reading this)- any chance Pastor Smith wants to relocate to the Northwest?

    How do I get a Pastor to come to the Northwest and LEAD! I don’t need a “poll the audience” shepherd….there are still lost sheep out there that desire pure doctrine and want a strong shepherd to keep them AWAY from the wolf’s snare.

    God will provide, no doubt….and I have been strengthened through this all.

    Thanks for the reminder to appreciate our shepherds and to not try to inject our silly opinions into that which they were called to do.

    + soli deo gloria +

    • Perhaps you have already seen this, but Lutheran Liturgy is a great place to find other congregations who are committed to traditional worship and teaching. There are great pastors and congregations in the PNW… unfortunately there might be a few miles between them, but they are there.

      http://www.lutheranliturgy.org/

  9. And if on a specific Sunday I picked all your favorite hymns would you come here and say stuff like this with coffee and donuts with Skittles on top before and after Bible Class and then before the Divine Service and again afterwards in the Narthex? On a fourth Sunday there would also be a Potluck!
    Thanks again Adrianne. Keep it up. Send it in to the Lutheran Witness as a letter to the Editor. 😉

  10. My pastor is seriously one of my favorite people ever — and this post helped to solidify that. It makes me feel borderline guilty for turning to him when things get hard, though, when I realized how many other people expect so much from him!

    Nice dose of perspective. And yes, I’m creepy, reading this pretty much as soon as it posted. Sorry?

    • Your pastor or priest’s job is to support the parish/congregation…from what I understand, the challenge in that job is when they’re taking constant criticism. Needing support and dishing criticism are different things. If you get good support from your pastor/priest, something I’m told they appreciate a TON is a note telling them that you appreciate it and what it’s done for your spiritual life. A little appreciation helps to balance out some of that criticism!

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