Thoughts on Hymn Picking

As a pastor, I pick a lot of hymns. The goal of any hymn should be to confess Christ. This means that a lot of “old favorites” are not really appropriate for the Divine Service. No agony there. If it doesn’t clearly speak back to God what he has said to us in His holy word, then it is of no use. It does not teach the faith. It does not confess. It does not belong in the church service. (But I won’t object if you want to sing it around a camp fire. Having asthma, I can’t go to camp fires anymore.)

The agony comes when a hymn – which is a great hymn, clearly confesses Christ, and does so better than about  80 percent of the hymns in the hymnal, with a great, singable, well matched tune, is right next to a hymn on the exact same topic that does the same thing even better, with just as good a tune. What that means is that I can either pick a hymn that isn’t quite as good, even though it’s excellent. Or I can omit a hymn that is worthy of being sung.

Those decisions are the hardest. Usually, I pick the better hymn first, and save the second one for a couple of weeks later, if appropriate. Sometimes that works, sometimes the themes have moved on, and it just doesn’t fit. And so a great hymn gets missed for that season.

Then, I can only console myself with, “There’s always next year…” Sometimes being a pastor is a lot like being a Cubs fan.


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