November 24, 2020

The Evangelical Liturgy 2: The Toolbox

tbNOTE: Read the intro? The first post? You ought to do so.

The “tools” for worship refers to the necessary books and literature giving distinctive evangelical content, flavor and boundaries to the worship service.

One of the problems with evangelical worship is that the entire “toolbox” is often the pastor and/or worship leader! That should never be the case. A Protestant church member or inquirer should always be able to turn to the toolbox of authoritative and non-authoritative content and understand what is being done in worship and even why it is being done.

For purposes of limiting the subject matter, I will be referring primarily to the toolboxes I am familiar with in my time in Baptist and Presbyterian churches. I am aware that other kinds of evangelicals will use other documents as well. I am also aware that for some of my readers, this is strange concept, but it is one that is very, very helpful.

So, what is the toolbox for the evangelical worship service?

1. The Bible. A congregation should promote the use of a single translation. Given all the factors that must be balanced in Bible translation, the ESV or NIV would be my translations of choice. (Don’t even think about having a translation debate in the comments.) Both are readable and dignified. I prefer the ESV for accuracy and the NIV for readability, but can work with either equally well in a public worship setting. Since, as we will see later, the public reading of scripture is an essential for public worship, this is the major component of the toolbox.

2. The Hymnal. I know, here we go.

The hymnal is a crucially important evangelical worship resource. While it can be supplemented, it should never be replaced. The education of a congregation to use and appreciate the resources in a hymnal will be the single post ecumenically broad, historically deep and theologically enriching experience most church members will have. There is more diversity, tradition, theology, church history and content in a good hymnal than almost any single book that you can put in the hands of a congregation. The hymnal represents and captures the journey of the church throughout history, and joins the worshiping congregation to the church around the world and throughout all time.

We are nothing short of idiots for getting rid of them, and I choose that word carefully. Who in the world decided that we would throw out two thousands years of worship because it didn’t fit in with our current plan to sound like the secular music of the last 40 years? Good grief, what a demolition job this has been. I know a lot of young people “like” the new music, but we have a responsibility to those who came before us, not to prefer or like what they did as much as they did, but to use it with respect and honor for the value that is in it. Handing the entire musical and lyrical heritage of two millenia of Christianity over to a “worship leader” to be eradicated in favor of contemporary music only is insane.

As a child, I spent hours in the hymnal during church. I learned vast amounts. Had the pastors and worship leaders used the resources of the hymnal wisely, it would have been even more enriching for me.

I want to commend the Lutheran Service book for putting the complete hymnal and ALL corporate and individual worship resources together. Having that hymnal in your hands- a tactile experience- is a significant part of worship we’ve underestimated. Use new music. Have the band from time to time. Project away. But the church of the past 2000 years is in that hymanl. In fact, we need more historically and culturally diverse hymnals, not more music for evangelical white people.

Hymnals vary widely in every way. Choose carefully and be forgiving of the inevitable flaws. The current 2008 SBC hymnal is a project involving both book and projection resources coordinated together. This is surely the direction of the future and holds real promise for ending the ridiculous war on hymns that evangelicals have perpetrated. We ought to hang our heads that we have become a generation more concerned that our children know the latest Hillsongs’ piece- which is fine and good- but that they NOT know the top 100 hymns in Christian history! Just reading the lyrics of Christmas carols is a theological feast.

For many evangelicals, the hymnal is the closest thing to a book of common prayer and worship resources they will have. Hymnals should be chosen carefully so they can be used t include calls to worship, litanies, creeds, etc. Keep making great hymnals out there, somebody! We need them.

Look at Bob Kauflin. Look at Indelible Grace. Look at good, blended worship at Piper’s church and conferences. Get a grip evangelicals!

3. The Creeds and Confessions. The creedal and confessional heritage of a church is a vital part of the toolbox. For Baptists, this can include the ecumenical creeds and our historic confessions, not just the current one. The PCUSA has a book of Confessions that includes a small library of confessional resources. Use them in liturgy and preaching regularly.

Every worshiping congregation should be regularly using these resources in public and private worship. Their value is obvious, and their absence in many evangelical worship settings is also obvious.

4. Worship books and directories. Some denominations publish supplemental books on public worship, such as the UMC’s Book of Worship, the PCUSA’s book of Common Worship and the Reformed Directory of Public Worship. These are not central, but are helpful for study and discussion. Congregations should be aware that they are in the background of worship formation.

5. Congregationally developed resources. Some congregations develop their own printed worship resources. A Reformed Baptist church I know has collected worship choruses and hymns not found in the Trinity hymnal, and this is available alongside the hymnal. Another church I know publishes a fully expanded and annotated liturgical service for each season of the church year. This allows anyone to participate fully in the service, AND read an explanation of “why” and “what.” This is very helpful.

6. The Church Covenant. The rural Baptist practice of displaying the church covenant in the worship center is ostentatious and unnecessary, but the church covenant is one of those documents that, along with creeds and confessions, should make a regular appearance in worship. It can often easily be added to the back of hymnal. Churches seeking to deepen the concept of church membership will develop liturgical resources that include the covenant.

7. The Christian Year. A full explanation of the Christian year should be readily available. If the church (hopefully) follows a broad participation in the Christian year, then many questions will be asked. A description of the Christian year should be available so that children, young people and adults can consult it or leadership may use it when teaching about worship.

Avoiding the Christian year has made evangelicals shallow. There is nothing to restrict pastors from doing whatever they want when they want, right down to preaching on whatever the series topic happens to be on Easter Sunday. The Christian year keeps the theological themes of the Gospel as the driving force of preaching, and leaves half the year to do something else. It’s so wise I can’t understand any objections to it. (There are IM posts on this subject in the searchable archives.)

8. The Lectionary. Evangelicals have suffered greatly by not using the lectionary for preaching and the public reading of scripture. Many good lectionaries are available of both the one and three year variety. No lectionary is flawless, but this will provide a “first resource” for preaching and public reading of scripture. It has the advantage of syncing the congregation with thousands of other congregations, something Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans enjoy and many evangelicals completely miss.

9. Also appropriate for the toolbox: Common musical responses. Common devotional materials. Denominational emphases in worship. Materials on the church’s missionary commitments. Church history resources. Membership explanations. Prayer communication material.

10. (Humor alert) Some Baptists: Offering envelopes. Sticky name tags. A plastic church for the birthday offering. Crayons for the kids. Bible story coloring sheets. Lots of old denominational literature on a table. VBS posters. (That humor alert has already flown right by one commenter. Sheesh. Go have a coke.)


  1. Wesleyans and Nazarenes have offering envelopes and the plastic church for the birthday offering too! (for that matter oddly enough the SBC churches I’ve attended had neither!) ROTFLOL!

  2. Steve Newell says


    How does an “Evangelical” tool kit for worship differ from that of a Lutheran took kit? This looks like the things that I see at my LC-MS chruch. The only thing I would add is Luther’s Small Catechism. Of course, I’m a little bias in that item.

    As one who grew up in the SBC, many of these items were foreign to me. I only knew about items 1, 2, and of course 10. As time as passed, I have learned to love the things that were foreign since they help connect me to the Church catholic.

    • I just dealt with what I know about. My knowledge of other traditions is limited.

      I’d say the whole book of Concord is in the tool kit, and the SC is in the LSB.

      Encouraging some connection to the larger tradition is what I’m all about.

    • The toolkit described does look like the Lutheran toolkit, we don’t always have to look different than everyone else!

      The Small Catechism is in the Lutheran Hymnal.

      I think imonk’s list here is about perfect.

  3. Michael, Michael, Michael, There a reason you are named after an arch-angel. Your “toolbox” is brilliant. We have thrown out the baby with the bath water in our Protestant Churches. I might say many of the newer hymnals have tossed out the good theologically sound hymns in favor of theological popsicles. Which is why I use some of the older hymnals.
    Thank you for this rant. It’s one of mine as well. I’m going to point people to this article from my site as well. It’s too good not to share.

  4. ANd to be clear:

    I love a lot of the new music. Love it.

    I love a good band. And most any other group of instruments.

    I want churches to grow yada yada

    I am not a hymns only person at all.

    I know there are bad hymns and tunes.

    I also know that most evangelicals want to be spoon fed what they want and don’t want the responsibility of being part of history or the whole movement Jesus started

    The hymnal isn’t our savior. I can live with or without it.

    But what we’ve done in eradicating it and declaring it the enemy is idiotic. I choose that word carefully remember.

  5. ASU Mountaineer says

    I understand the virtues of using hymnals, and it is still one of the best aspects of visiting my in-laws PCUSA church, but I understand why they have been taken out in many churches. The first reason is that hymnals require some level of higher thinking and musical ability by the congregation, and that is looked down upon in certain circles (please note the sarcasm). Hymnals are also very unforgiving to poorly written lyrics. Imagine “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” taking up two or three pages just for how many time the same line is repeated in the chorus. It is more palatable when only two lines are seen at a time. Above all, in my opinion, hymnals (at least of the Baptist, COC, Presbyterian types) have been taken out because so many of them are terrible. Slowly, early reformation hymns are being left out, Eastern and Gregorian era music is gone (a major lament of mine), and all this had been replaced with great theological gems like “Come to the church in the Wildwood” or should I say “Come, come, come, come, come . . . you get the point.”

    • Yes, and they can be answered.

      1) Be discerning. There are good hymnals, even if not perfect ones. Avoid the attempts to put choruses in long musical settings. Amen.

      2) Teach music. Lots of churches did it. We can still do it. Doug Wilson’s church does it.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says


        I’m going to send you an email with a link to the Celebrating Grace Hymnal website so you can take a look at this and see if it might be something to talk more about after you’ve looked it over. The major premier on this is in Atlanta in March 2010 – it’s from the CBF and seems to be a very, very well done hymnal. I’ll stop the comment on it here until you’ve had a chance to look it over.

        The Guy from Knoxville

  6. Terrific posts!!

    It seems to me that problems with worship in the evangelical fold arise from the kind of hermeneutics evangelicals often employ when assessing a particular worship practice. Evangelicals want to be biblical in their worship (Amen!!). So far so good. It’s the way they envision what being biblical means. Typically contemporary evangelicals ask if there is a specific command or example for a worship practice. If one exists the practice is biblical; if one does not exist the practice is not biblical. There is another way to be biblical, however. The other way is to ask what the bible teaches and exemplifies concerning the nature of Christian worship. In this approach a specific command or example is really not all that important. If one follows this second (and more historically dominant) approach one ends up with many of the historic practices of Christian worship.

    Thanks for taking this second way and showing how the worship received from our protestant forebears is in fact biblical and Christian — even if Paul didn’t practice the Church Year!

    • I have endorsed the Puritans in an earlier post, but I disagree with the strict regulatory principle and agree that worship should be shaped by our story, God’s gifts and our response.

      See Michael Horton, A Better Way. Excellent on this and the whole subject.

  7. Michael;
    I agree mostly with what you say about hymnals, and our short sided “idiocy” in throwing them away. One particular example is how a hymnal in use in worship and at home can bring a richness to family devotions that is strengthened by what happens on Sunday. Those rich old hymns have a lot to say about real everyday life. All Christians struggle with sin, death and pain. All Christians experience joy, love and hope. Hymns that have stood the test of time often speak to that very well.

  8. “two thousand years of worship”? Most hymnals I’ve ever seen have very little from before 1700, and most of the contents written between the days of D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday. (And most of what really old stuff there is was translated into English in that same time period.) As for chucking the past, the English-speaking Protestant churches–Anglican, Reformed and Presbyterian, as well as the later groups–have done that periodically. At the Reformation they tossed all the previous resources to sing the Psalms as Calvin and Zwingli said they should (It was actually against the law in England to sing hymns “of human composition” in church, and not just under Cromwell!). By the 1700s the Psalm singing had gotten pretty dismal; think what hymn singing got like in small rural churches in the 1950s. Hymns took over, spearheaded by Watts, Cowper, the Wesleys and some others. Probably 95% of those early hymns disappeared from the hymnals by 1950; only the best were kept. Charles Wesley has been credited with writing as many as 6000 hymns; try to find more than 5 or 6 in any modern hymnal!

    The biggest problem I’ve seen in 59 years in the churches of this country is poor use of the resources on hand. In the churches I grew up in the hymnal on hand had 500 or so songs, but 75-90% of the congregational singing was the same dozen songs over and over except for the holiday matter. I think this was a major factor in the popularity of contemporary music.

    • The point is well taken about the historical myopia of many hymnals published in the last century, but there are two responses I can see: (1) Not all of the recent hymnals are like that. The hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, for example, contains a blend of ancient hymns and reformation psalms and (2) ancient hymns in modern hymnals often take the form of rewrites, in which the author translates the work such that it rhymes in English and in some cases gives it a new tune. For example of this, see “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (by Bernard of Clairveaux), “All Creatures of Our God and King” (by Francis of Assisi), and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (from the ancient liturgy of Saint James). I see this as a legitimate use of our heritage and its rich tradition of worship.

  9. This is a great series. I disagree with parts of some of your specifics, but overall this is a heroic attempt.

    Protestants (like me) have thrown out the baby with the bathwater on this issue and refuse to even acknowledge we have a liturgy, ergo we don’t need to contemplate the results that our actions have.

  10. Michael,

    Have you ever checked out the Gather Comprehensive hymnal? It’s a pretty ecclectic mix of old hymns, spirituals, praise choruses, and those wonderful folk songs the Catholics came up with in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s the hymnal for the 9:00 “contemporary” service at my grandmother’s Episcopal church. It’s also got a lot of liturgical stuff in the front.

    When I’m preparing music at our Hebraic-flavored fellowship, I usually draw from four hymnals: Gather Comprehensive, the 2008 SBC one, the 1975 (I think) Episcopal hymnal that is attached to my BCP, and the 1991 Jews-for Jesus hymnal. Now that was a GREAT hymnal. Too bad it’s long out of print. J4J would make a mint if they’d re-introduce that thing. I just payed $50 for a used copy. The other copy that was on the internet was $85 used,

  11. when your done, this should definitely have a link on your main page to the series. Perhaps even a single pdf of the entire document (like CMP does at Pen and Parchment

  12. ok, one more post

    The hymnal isn’t our savior. I can live with or without it.

    But what we’ve done in eradicating it and declaring it the enemy is idiotic. ….

    Preach it brother

  13. Forgive my ignorance, but what is a church covenant?

    • A statement of church membership obligations. It is common in AnaBaptist/Baptist life, though underused in the past 50 years in many churches. Now being recovered. At one time, they were major church documents and were reaffirmed at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

      Significant because it wasn’t a statement of belief, but a promise of intended conduct and relationships inside and outside of the church.

      The polar opposite of the audience mentality we have today.

      • Also commonly used by church leaderships to lord it over the sheep by including unbiblical and extra biblical items. It can scare people away from committing to everything a church does. Sometimes, unless one commits to EVERYTHING a church does, the covenant bans believers from doing ANYTHING, thus creating an audience mentality. It can actually create the very thing it intends to avoid.

        I’m not saying this happens in even most churches, but I and many people I’ve known have experienced just this very thing. And these people have vowed to never sign another one again out of conscience.

    • Our is posted, rurul baptist church, and it is read aloud at least twice a year. A good concept, but ours has a passage that “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage” it needs updated

      • So are you affirming something you don’t believe in?

        And I want the question to be much less snarky than it sounds.

      • In Austin’s defense, that covenant is supplied by the denominational publishing house and is generally never adopted by affirmation and discussion. Churches who use covenants today are increasingly writing their own and not chasing those moralistic rabbits.

  14. Here’a an intro and example:,,PTID314526|CHID636896|CIID1679104,00.html

    Capital Hill Baptist Church Covenant:

    Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.

    We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

    We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

    We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends

    We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.

    We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.

    We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.

    We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

    May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the

    Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.

    • Very nice, iMonk! I especially like: “We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.”

      Sounds like a wonderful place.

    • Hmm. That sounds really familiar. Probably because it was written by the same people ours was. They are, after all, a daughter church.
      At FBC-DC, we read (some recite) the covenant out loud before taking communion. It’s the first Baptist church I’ve been a member of where the covenant plays such a promenant role. I think the churches I knew growing up were self-conscious about their rural settings and wanted to be more cosmopolitan. As a result, I had no idea why the church was together and what they expected out of one another. At FBC-DC, many of our membership questions have been resolved by the simple “can they agree to the covenant?” Since we are very theologically diverse congregation, it is our bonding agent and quickly settles the issue.

    • Now, this is a statement that I could sign on to. I was afraid it would be some kind of ingrown-sounding, controlling document. This one seems a very healthy, biblical statement.

      And rather foreign to my current fellowship, I might add…

  15. Celebrating Grace is working on a hymnal that I’m looking forward to seeing.

  16. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Michael.

    In our church, we have Bibles available under the chairs at all times (NRSV in our case, though I won’t start that translation debate) even though we make heavy use of the projection screen. In fact, lately we have been refraining from putting our main sermon texts on-screen in order to encourage people to take the Bible into their hands.

    Having said that, I wonder what is so special about a physical hymnal. It doesn’t get the “sacred book” treatment (or it shouldn’t, anyway), so assuming a church actually uses the creeds, sings the ancient and semi-ancient texts, and follows a sensible, meaningful liturgy, all you’ve lost is four vocal parts. (You mention Indelible Grace, but many times the tunes have been changed.)

    The reality is that having the hymnal there doesn’t ensure that the church will actually use it; as one commenter already suggested, lots of churches brand themselves as “traditional” and pride themselves on using the hymnal, but their actual canon of sung hymns isn’t much deeper than the latest Now That’s What I Call Worship! album. I love hymnals and the richness they contain, but just having them in a toolbox doesn’t guarantee the nails are going to be driven home.

    • “Having said that, I wonder what is so special about a physical hymnal. … all you’ve lost is four vocal parts. (You mention Indelible Grace, but many times the tunes have been changed.)”

      You can pick it up and read it. Projected songs are gone when the lines are sung. I think iMonk and I did the same thing as kids. When the sermon was boring I’d ready through the hymnal. Better than fighting with my brothers. 🙂

      Burt seriously. There’s a lot of good messages in a good hymnal.

      • butterflymom says

        i agree, often as a child in the Lutheran church I would read hymns and the other stuff in a hymnal. And to have one at home, I love it, hymns, prayers, orders of service all right there and easy to use.

    • You can read the texts.
      You can read the indices.
      You can see the scriptures that go with the songs.
      You can learn to sing and to read music. (I did.)
      You can learn the composers and writers.
      You can discover there are Catholics in your Baptist hymnal.
      You can discover cultural diversity.
      You can discover history.

      Pragmatists. Argh! 🙂

  17. What is a lectionary? Not being funny here. Most of us in rural West Texas SBC churches don’t know any of the terms except Bible and hymnal. Some of us are hungry for more meaningful worship services, so I am enjoying these posts. Look forward to the rest of the series.

    • It’s a reading cycle. The most common one has a 3-year cycle with an OT reading, a NT reading, a Gospel reading, and some psalms for each week. I like using the 2-year daily lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer for my daily readings.

    • Some of purposes of the lectionary include (but not limited to)

      – keep the Pastor from preaching on his hobby horses (no more 38 weeks on Daniel)

      -to present the whole of Christian Doctrine over the period of a year (or at least the high point – for example the many Church Year cycles contain “Trinity Sunday”, so at least once a year the doctrine of the Trinity is hit upon)

      -to present the life of Christ on a yearly basis (Christmas through Easter/Pentecost)

      -to move our lives to a rhythm based on Scripture – besides our secular calendars – in a sense an attempt to “redeem the time”

    • The lectionary is a collection of the Scripture readings for Sunday and daily Masses (there are actually two lectionaries; one for Sundays, and one for daily Masses). There are four readings: a reading from the Old Testament, a responsorial Psalm (the lector reads part of the Psalms and the congregation responds, e.g. last Sunday it was Psalm 33 (34) and the congregation responded “Taste and see that the Lord is good” as the refrain), a reading from the Epistles, and a reading from the Gospel.

      This is done on a three-year basis for Sundays: Year A, Gospel of Matthew, Year B, Gospel of Mark, and Year C, Gospel of Luke. St. John’s Gospel is read during Easter and at other times throughout the year during the liturgical seasons.

      Michael will be glad to know that, as this is Year B, we’re going through Mark’s Gospel at the moment 🙂

      The lectionary was overhauled at the Second Vatican Council in order to ensure that the four Gospels would be read through in their entirety over the three-year period. Before then, there were set readings for all the Masses and no variation so that from one year to another, there would always be only one Gospel used on any particular day so unless you read the Gospels yourself, you wouldn’t be exposed to the others.

      I have also become aware that there are slight differences between the daily and Sunday readings; apparently, if a portion of the Gospel is read on Sundays, it is not read during the week (even if another part of that same Gospel is being read). I have no idea why this is, since I am not a trained liturgist; maybe they thought our heads would explode if we heard the same verse twice in one week or something 😉

      I only mention it because I saw some mild veering-towards-conspiracy-theory discussion of this on a Protestant blog, to the effect that the Catholics are deliberately leaving out some Gospel verses in order to change the meaning or something. I had no idea this was being done, nor why, until I found out completely by accident on an unrelated site that yeah, if the daily reading and the Sunday reading are from the same Gospel, the same verse is not included in both.

      Nothing conspiracy going on here, just no duplication 🙂

      • The Revised Common Lectionary is a great tool, but it has a habit of selecting and omitting verses so as to not offend certain parties. I always recommend ignoring those omissions and reading the entire selection. Omitting verses is just wrong.

        • Yeah, I tend to agree with that. I have never understood – is it supposed to be on time constraints or what? What always makes me laugh – well, laugh and wince both – is the times when they have the Gospel reading printed in the missalette with “Parts in brackets may be omitted”.

          Why? Oh, noes, the Gospel is a bit longer than usual? If we read it all, it might add a couple of minutes on? Don’t understand.

          All things considered, it’s a miracle they allow the Long Gospel for Passion Sunday to be retained – having to stand all through the whole reading of a much longer-than-usual Gospel, even if it is only once a year? Wonder of wonders! 😉

        • I’m OK with the lectionary, and we are enjoying it now that we are in a different kind of church, but as one who also respects the Bible in the form God gave it to us and studied and taught it that way for decades, I miss good solid exposition of Biblical books at times. Not that “good solid exposition” is all that common either!

        • Oh, yeah! Our pastor was very dubious when I insisted on reading ALL of Isaiah 56, not just the portion in the lectionary. He wasn’t terribly thrilled about the subject of eunuchs and dry trees being brought up in worship. But really, the lectionary passage lacks substance without the whole thing.

          I had people come up to me after amazed that this was the Old Testament God talking about bringing social outcasts “in My house and within My walls.” But that was the entire point. Talking about God’s house being a house of prayer for ALL people is just a nice phrase without the muscle of the entire chapter.

  18. Following where Phil and Scott went — i’d gently demur at the weight put on hymnals, and add my thumb to the scale on denominational service books, which have been, are, and continue to be crucial even though too few people know they exist, let alone use them.

    Hymnals, as we’re talking about here, have maybe 140 years of history behind them. Often less (depending on tradition/communion in question). Those older than that are compendia of hymn texts with meter listings (maybe). And they were privately owned (household by household) and little consulted during worship.

    There’s nothing to prevent homes/households from owning hymnals, other than the general a-literacy that has fewer homes owning books — i know many books and booklike objects are sold, but the day to day reality is that many, many homes still have no books in them, versus earlier eras 1600 to 1800 when even a relatively non-literate household was likely to have a Bible, and Aesop’s or Weems, Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and a hymn book like Watts’ or Wesley’s or Campbell’s. Now we have homes with hundreds of unread books and homes with large screen TVs and no books in the house at all.

    If the use and awareness of a worship book gives a grounding to the music and structure of worship through the seasons of a church year, including selection of worship & congregationally sung music, that’s much more important than each worshiper having a hymnal in a rack in front of or under their seat. What may be more important than we’re realizing by the distraction about hymnal use in worship is the act of having and reading hymn texts in personal devotions and family worship at home, which we lost much longer ago. The projection screens make sense enough to me to not be a bother, since we’d already stopped really paying attention to what the words were well before pastors worried about lumens and image throw.

    I guess what i’m trying to say is if i had the choice before me of half the homes in our congregation having a service book or hymn collection at home, or everyone having a hymnal in front of them in worship, i’d go with the former everytime, even if you asked if i’d go down to a quarter. And with the internet, there’s access to the words/lyrics in almost every home — what’s missing is a sense that reading and meditating on those lyrics has spiritual value . . which is where i ask if the emphasis would go better upon pastoral and worship leadership awareness & use of a service book, one that helps you lift up and interpret what the words/songs are saying about God and how the year unfolds and unveils the story of the Christ to the congregation.

    • To add two cents to this discussion, there are examples of hymnals (like the CRC Psalter Hymnal) which serve the role of a denominational service book.

  19. Michael, please clarify – when you refer to the “hymnal”, are you referring to a collection of the hymns themselves, or are you also referring the format of binding them all in a book, with musical notes, for people to hold while they sing? Is the format itself important?
    In other words, if a church sang those same hymns perhaps using some aids other than a hymnbook (overhead projection, or maybe just memory), would you deem that sufficient for the liturgical toolbox?

  20. Kudos on another delightful post. My question is what your thoughts are on written catechisms. My own denomination (the URCNA) uses the Heidelberg Catechism to guide the education of members, new and old. I don’t want to soapbox for my own tradition, but I think that most of that catechism (with one or two exceptions in sacramental theology) is very catholic and would make an excellent resource for evangelicals interested in recovering both the heritage of the Reformation AND the heritage of the church catholic.

  21. People asking what is a lectionary: Google.

    People saying their hymnal only has the last 140 years in it: Get a better hymnal. I’ll agree hymnals are slanted to the last 150 years, but my 1956 Baptist hymnal is loaded with hymns older than that.

    People asking if we can project the hymnal: Yes, but you will get far fewer benefits. Why don’t we just project the Bible and everyone can avoid actually having one. Then their hands will be free to twitter the sermon 🙂 No, seriously. Let people have a book in their hands if they want. Teach the music. Let them browse the indices so they don’t say things like all the hymns are the last 140 years. Let them read the small print and the liturgical resources.

    I learned how to read music following along in my hymnal. I can’t believe people are saying “well no one reads music anymore.” Really, let’s put the Bible on audio because these non-readers are killing me.

    I commended the Lutheran Service book/hymnal as a great idea.

    Projection is fine, but eliminating the hymnal is not.

    Nate: I don’t know what you are tweaked about. I said I was going to give my views of a typical liturgy for a typical Protestant church. And it’s just me talking. I hold no authority as of yet 🙂

    More art: I mentioned it in the #1. I said it was reflective of the particular tradition. Baptists can have great stained glass- see the Highland Baptist links in #1- but we aren’t going to have a crucifix.

    And most churches where you are use this toolbox? Beyond the Bible and the hymnal? Wow. You don’t live in Ky.

    And finally, again, I am not talking about what churches “build” because I said in #1 that many evangelical won’t build.

  22. Wow, Michael, you have said a mouthful! What you said about “projecting the Bible” really resonates with me, as the church we have been attending of late does that very thing. I am one of the few congregants who still brings an actual, physical Bible to church, and I feel out of place – an anachronism.

    This series is food for my soul!

  23. I realize many of my liturgical friends are going to say they don’t bring their Bibles and they hear a lot more of the Bible in church than I do. And I know that it seems goofy to project AND ask people to bring their Bibles, but I think we need to count the cost of losing the Book. You will not replace the book or create actual Bible readers with iphones, Kindles or projection. We need the book. I know we can work without it, but GOOD LORD after ALL that has happened in Christian history to get the Bible into your hands how could you want anything more than a congregation using their Bible at every opportunity?

    This has been an interesting thing with my wife. A big Bible toter, and now an RC where it’s jut not done. I bought her a small Catholic Bible and she takes it. I know she’d feel “undressed” for church without it.

    If we let the physical books vanish- Bible and Hymnal- we are going to regret it. I’m unashamed to be curmudgeon about this.

    Reading is a particular form of thinking. Learning to use my Bible was the single biggest step forward in my spiritual growth. Nothing else close.

    • I’m in great agreement with this. Nowadays, no-one (or hardly anyone) ever brings a prayer book to church because they get the printed missalette there instead.

      I had a prayerbook as a child (traditionally, you got one for your First Holy Communion when you were seven) and it taught me so much – what you say about hymns is one of them. We never sang half or a quarter of the ones printed in the back, but reading them expanded my horizons.

      I have an old Missal from 1964 and it isn’t a huge big book by any means, but it contains: the Liturgical Calendar 1964-1974, the Order of the Mass (Latin on the left page, English on the right) with the rubrics (“say the black, do the red” as the saying goes), headings explaining which part of the Mass is which, e.g. Mass of the Cathecumens), the readings for the principal feasts throughout the whole of the year,Masses for the anniversary of the dedication of a church, Nuptial Mass, Mass for the dead, the most necessary prayers, evening prayers, devotions for confession, devotions for communion, vespers for Sunday, various devotions (the Rosary, litanies, prayers for the dead etc.) and introductory pages explaining everything from “The public worship of the Catholic and Roman Church” to the liturgical seasons, the ministers of worship (three major and four minor orders), the colours of the vestments, the names of the vessels on the altar, the priest’s vestments and what they represent…

      Loss of books means loss of so much background and depth.

    • “If we let the physical books vanish- Bible and Hymnal- we are going to regret it. I’m unashamed to be curmudgeon about this.”

      What about all the folks carrying around one or more bibles in their iTouch/iPhones?

      • I do that, but I wouldn’t read more ‘n I have to this way.
        A physical book is different.

      • So in effect, you’re carrying your Bible everywhere you go. That’s rare indeed when it comes to a physical copy. Interesting point.

        Carrying the paper version to worship seems more appropriate, but that’s just a few hours a week, if that.

    • I’ve been told that the Word of God is to be heard as it is proclaimed – not read in church. But I just don’t absorb it as well unless I read it while it is being proclaimed. As a Catholic who has been disappointed at the lack of biblical literacy in the RC, I would love it if Catholics were told to open up a Bible and find the readings before they were read. We might actually learn how to open a Bible up at home!

      • Joe, I like reading the Bible at home very much. But when I go to Mass, I prefer to listen to the readings and not read them. It’s just a personal choice I guess. I actually learn better by reading than by hearing, but at Mass, I just want to listen for some reason. I really like praying the prayers together with the people assembled too. It just feels very special to me. As I get older, the liturgy becomes more filled with meaning for me. As a teenager, I had doubts about things and sought out wisdom in many unwise ways. I am glad that God has called me back to Himself.

  24. “Who in the world decided that we would throw out two thousands years of worship because it didn’t fit in with our current plan to sound like the secular music of the last 40 years?”

    I don’t care what denomination you are, this is one thing we can ALL agree on 🙂

    • Most churches have thrown out the music of earlier time. I haven’t heard much Byrd or Tavener recently, never mind Gregorian. 🙂

      Actually, some Anglican churches (in the UK) are deciding that the Victorian rejection of the ‘choir’ (a village band made up of whatever instruments were to hand) and hymns set to folk tunes for the innovation of classical tunes and the harmonium (or pipe organ – something previously only seen in larger urban churches & catherdrals) was a mistake and are looking for a more vernacular form of worship.

      The difference between secular and sacred music is a recent phenomenon any. As is the Hymnal – coming with incresed literacy and printing.

    • No we can’t.

      I mean, I can, but our church leadership (official and unofficial) doesn’t. It’s all about being modern, and having a concert-style service, with LOUD rock music and lights and gobos (can you believe this?) and videos and the place so dark during the sermon that I can’t even SEE my bible.

      I’m trapped on the worship team, since I seem to be the only guitarist in the church who can rock, and actually show up to practices. And I hate it. Hate it. If we didn’t have a bunch of family connections in the church, we’d be gone yesterday.

      Any pastors reading who are contemplating dumping all semblance of a church service in favor of turning it into a pseudo-Jesus Rock Concert, please reconsider. And don’t assume that reluctant participation implies buy-in.

      I’m with Michael on at least 80% of this topic so far. Keep it comin’!!!

  25. “As a child, I spent hours in the hymnal during church. I learned vast amounts. Had the pastors and worship leaders used the resources of the hymnal wisely, it would have been even more enriching for me.”

    Exactly! My mom was the music director so I grew up with a hymnals all over the car, house, etc. It is so cool to read obscure passage in scripture like Lamentations and say, wow, that is what that old hymn was about. Precious connections are made that last a lifetime.

  26. Listening to your favorite album on vinyl in your living room is a different experience from listening to it on your iPod with headphones. But it’s the same songs in the same keys with the same words. There will always be people who prefer LPs, but your average high school junior is never going to hear “Dark Side of the Moon” unless you give it to him in MP3 format.

    The same is increasingly true for digital versions of a text; whether it feels the same to you or me is probably going to be irrelevant in 25 years, maybe much less. And it’s not all bad; for example, searchability increases dramatically.

    • Steve Newell says


      It’s hard to up entire hymn on the screen of a iPod or smart phone. Since I like to sing baritone or bass, I want the entire score on the screen. Of course many “contemporary” songs are sung in unison with no harmony, more like a campfire song than like a hymn. Just more dumbing down of worship to the lowest common denominator.

      • Sorry if I was unclear: I didn’t mean to suggest that we put hymnals on iPods or smartphones. I was speaking more about ebooks and reading text from a projection screen.

        Ten years ago, the notion that anyone would be able to live without a physical CD player was absurd, and yet it’s entirely common now. (The only person in my house who owns one happens to be a five-year old who likes audiobooks from the library, and more often than not, he listens to them on “his” iPod.)

        As digital book readers approach commoditized pricing, we will see the same trend occur with printed media as we did with recorded media, Michael’s snark about it being white and 20something notwithstanding. My point is that it’s the same text regardless of whether it’s ink or pixels—there is nothing holy about the paper.

  27. Three things

    1. For those of you who think the “Baptist Hymnal” is shallow, try spending 30 years usign nothing but the redbook “church hymnal” multple Mulls #3 #5 etc camp meeting hymnals. I felt like our church had been given the keys to a great vast theological ware house when a local first baptist just gave us 90 excellent but used baptist hymnals when they got the new ones.

    2. The church year makes perfect sense. My church doesn’t observe it per se, but their pastor does. 🙂 I mention pentecost on pentecost, transfiguration on transfiguration. It just makes sense. Much better than the year being organized around Homecoming, Decoration, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving.

    3. The Revised Common Lectionary rescued my ministry. As a bi-vocational minister that was trained that a man was supposed to spend multiple hours staring at this bible until the Holy Ghost divenly revealed to him what to preach, I was about to lose my mind and burn out since I have a family, job and small children. Now, 99.9 percent of the time I look at the Lectionary and spend the hourse I used to spend looking for the text, actually studying the text. It has been a blessing. I have acutally been in Easter or Christmas services where it seems the preacher was purposely trying not to preach on the day.

    • Austin,

      So have I, about the Easter service not being about the Resurrection. I was in an Evangelical Free Church, and heard the pastor preach on the “sign of Jonah” that morning. Being in the choir, I actually heard it twice.

      That was the last Sunday I spent there, I started actively church seeking again.

    • Austin,
      The Lectionary actually rescued my devotional time. I am not Catholic but I use their online Lectionary that is produced by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s simple and covers the OT, Psalms, and NT readings.

  28. The main objection to hymnals in the circles I run: Hymnals prevent hand clapping, lifting of hands, dancing, playing of tambourines (in the audience), etc. In some churches where hymnals are used, these forms of worship are frowned upon, if not expressly forbidden, although the Bible advocates worship of this sort.

    I speculate that hymnals have been tossed aside because of the revival and renewal movements of the recent past. However, the excitement and attendant social good of these movements is largely lacking in the churches who take inspiration from them. Similarly, the wildly spiritual movements that gave birth to many of the hymns in the hymnals available, from Reformation to Anabaptist, no longer fire the excitement of the present-day congregations, either.

  29. One of the benefits of having an anthology of music such as a hymnbook is that you can start to see patterns emerge as you flip through it. For example, most hymns written up to the early 1900s will have a last verse that talks about the leaving this world, the second coming, being in heaven, etc. By the time we get to mid-century, that seems to have largely disappeared. (Perhaps our increased lifespan and standard of living made us more interested in the here-and-now?)

    Only recently have newer songs (Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone”, Phil Wickham’s “Beautiful”, etc.) revived this tradition of concluding a song by singing about future things. A hymnbook can help us rediscover those patterns.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      For example, most hymns written up to the early 1900s will have a last verse that talks about the leaving this world, the second coming, being in heaven, etc. By the time we get to mid-century, that seems to have largely disappeared.

      Now that’s odd, Steve. I would have expected the trauma of World War One and its aftermath to put strong pressure in the opposite direction. That shock changed Victorian optimism to 20th Century pessimism, and in Christian circles changed the dominant eschatology from Post-Mil/Amil to Darbyite Pre-Mil/Pre-Trib, from building the Kingdom to passively awaiting the airlift out, from Tikkun Olam to It’s All Gonna Burn.

  30. Meant to say this earlier; I love the title of this post.

    Toolbox is exactly right. Tools for the job.

  31. Amen, Amen, and Amen!

    That said, you should hear the new song I’m working on with Scott Hill.

  32. The idea of hymns on the congregations iphone shows just how white and 20something we can be. Good grief. “Turn in your ihymnal…”

    • The congregation won’t have to turn in their ihymnals—they’ll all be centrally controlled by a computer over wifi, and the proper hymn or scripture passage will just appear at the right time. 😉

  33. Went to our former non-denom evangelical church this morning for “worship.” Boy, I wish they had your toolbox. I love the people there, but what they cobbled together and called worship…


  34. A fantabulous list of resources. I shall endeavor to include as many as possible when planning worship. My current church employer had retired the hymnals before I showed up, but I am planning on attempting to re-integrate them into the service along with the power point just for the sake of getting people to actually open them up again.
    You seem to have a good knowledge of hymnals. Perhaps a post on the different ones and their usefulness? Or service/liturgy books from the Book of Common Prayer/Worship/Discipline etc…

  35. AMEN!



    Oh, did I say….. AMEN!

    (Clicking Submit to go get my old, red Lutheran (LCA, circa 1960s) hymnal…)

  36. I so agree with much of what has been written, especially about tossing the hymnal. What a sad thing, what an amazing resource that we have simply discarded. The music, the responsive readings, the order, history, etc. Idiocy is a strong word, but I hear you. One encouragement is that I recently visited an emergent church in our area and they had a beautiful liturgy. While there were no hymnals they nonetheless made very tasteful and impressive use of their overhead projection system.

  37. I find it humourous that some hymnals contain contemporary (I’ll not refer to some of them as modern) praise choruses in them. They sound really lame with just a piano or (I’ll bet) an organ to them.

    I don’t mind hymns at all. But they should be accompanied well and in a respectable tempo. Too many singers or pianists or organists think that “hymn = slow”.

    Further, since most of the congregation can’t READ music, let alone 4 part SATB harmonies, let’s save paper and only put the melody and chord structure (letter) to the notes. And make sure that the accompanist has all 4 parts because there really isn’t acompaniment to most hymns. Just the 4 parts.

    I do not think we need church (membership) covenants. Maybe I think too low of churches as “organizations”, but I see the temptation to make the Church Covenant into a doctrinal statement about morality, including (but not limited to) abstension from the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products, language use, dancing, etc.

    I might be off in that.

  38. Michael, I know I am posting in this area late, now that we have gone on to other newer posts. But I just had to write regarding the “Lectionary.”

    I am re-reading a book by Thomas Keating who is a Catholic priest and monk who teaches centering prayer/contemplative prayer. The book is The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy As Spiritual Experience. In the preface, he writes, “Each year the Liturgical Year provides a complete course in moral, dogmatic, ascetical and mystical theology. More importantly, it empowers us to live the contemplative dimenion of the Gospel — the stable and mature relationship with the Spirit of God that enables us to act habitually under the inspiration of the gifts of the Spirit both in prayer and action.”

    I will try to refrain from quoting him too much, but I do love him. I think between C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright and Thomas Keating, I am all set!