Monday, April 7, 2014

Sermon Preparation with the Bible in One Hand and the Hymnal in the Other

Karl Barth's pairing of the Bible and the newspaper is well known: "We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." True enough. But I would like to make a similar suggestion to my fellow preachers. Preachers should prepare with the Bible in one hand and with the hymnal in the other.

Let me explain what I mean. If you are a preacher and you do not use the texts of hymns (ancient or modern) to illustrate the truths you preach, you are failing to take advantage of an incredibly helpful and powerful means of illustration. Here are five reasons why incorporating hymn texts in your preaching can prove beneficial.
  • Hymn texts, and especially familiar hymn texts, often have deep emotional roots in the hearts of believers, which makes them particularly effective (and memorable) for vividly illustrating a biblical truth. 
  • Hymn texts are poetic in nature, and poetry can have a strong oratorical effect.
  • Hymn texts, in and of themselves, teach us something theologically (sometimes good, sometimes bad). So, why not utilize the good ones to help teach our hearers the truth that they are singing, and how the truth in that song is based on the truth of God's Word? This helps connect the biblical and theological dots for them - both in the biblical text and in the hymn that they may have sung hundreds of times before but never really thought about until you pointed it out to them. 
  • Hymn texts that are used well in a sermon illustration will be sung with much more understanding and appreciation the next time around. In other words, using that hymn text as an illustration makes that hymn even more meaningful for your hearers, which means you are helping strengthen and reinforce the importance of congregational singing (as well as the importance of singing good theology). 
  • Hymn texts that are quoted in a sermon, when those hymns either have been sung or will be sung in the same worship service, unifies the worship experience and teaches the congregation something about the holistic nature of public worship.