Quick, name a recent song celebrating missions. Not so easy, is it?
I was posed with the question a few months ago, “Why are there no new hymns on missions?” This is an interesting question, and the answer can truly only be speculative. However, to assert opinion, it behooves us to gather as much empirical data as possible.
First, there has been a substantial drop in missions hymns in our denominational hymnal. The 1940 Broadman Hymnal had 23 hymns listed as “Missionary Hymns.” The 1974 Baptist Hymnal grew the number to 26 listed as “Mission Hymns.” This amount exploded for 1991’s The Baptist Hymmal reporting 39 “Missions Hymns.” However, in the 2008 Baptist Hymnal, the number plummeted to 14, even though this particular hymnal contains more hymns than its predecessors.
Second, in looking at the CCLI Top 100 songs, only one or two could be seen as remotely having a missions emphasis.
So, where did they go? Again, being speculative, my guess is it has little to do with our love for missions. I believe that we Missouri Baptists, and Southern Baptists, are a mission-loving people. It has more to do with forgetting two key passages in Scripture that are nearly identical: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, where it tells us: “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”
Most songs in modern worship are very vertical, which is highly appropriate, but there is a need in our congregations to also be horizontal in our worship: to “speak to one another.” It really is like the greatest and second greatest commandments: Love God, love others. We could say: Worship God, and sing to others.
Why is this important? Our worship is not only a sweet offering to the Lord, but it should also be formational and discipling. When we sing to one another with songs about missions, giving, discipleship – we encourage missions, giving, discipleship. Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher once famously said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” Music, in its sublimity, allows not only praise to come from our lips, but saturates our mind with the truth of the lyric (provided it is truthful).
Let us use songs and write songs that not only exalt the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but also disciple others and drive them to passion for Kingdom work.
Let’s sing about missions! (Songwriters: Accept the challenge!)