Correcting the tendency for “personal” songs in public worship.

There is a common tendency when planning a worship service to handpick hymns and songs that only you like. Or your grandmother liked. And while there is certainly not necessarily anything overtly wrong with that practice, it does not necessarily fulfill the primary purpose of the worship service, which is, namely, a corporate recognition of the grace that is shared by all in attendance. The “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” which comprise the worship service ought to have as their foremost purpose the public acknowledgment and acclamation and adoration of Christ the Lamb, the One who takes away the sins of the world and who has promised to make all things new.

Consequently, I would say that there is very little room for “personal” flair when planning a worship service. Worship in the church is a public event, not an individual one. Such is why when approaching a worship service, contemplating the words that will be sung congregationally is just as important as preparing the words that will be proclaimed homiletically (in the sermon). Renowned Protestant minister John Henry Jowett explains:

Public worship is not a means of grace wherein each may assert his own individuality and help himself from the common feast: it is a communion where each may help his brother to “the things which the Lord hath prepare for them that love Him.” A congregation is not supposed to be a crowd of isolated units, each one intent upon a personal and private quest. The ideal is not that each individual should hustle and bustle for himself, stretching out his hand to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, but that each should be tenderly solicitous of every other, and particularly mindful of those with “lame hands” who are timid and despondent even in the very presence of the great Physician. And so the ideal hymn in public worship is one in which we move together as a fellowship, bearing one another’s sins, sharing one another’s conquests, “weeping with them that weep, and rejoicing with them that rejoice.”1

To that end, the anthems that fill the sanctuary ought to be those by which the entire church are moved and stirred. The shared voice of a church in song ought to be accompanied by a shared faith and a common experience of the grace that rescues sinners from the bleakest darkness.

1

John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), 164–65.