What Makes a Great Hymn?

Recently I posted about what makes a great sermon. That led me to start thinking about what makes a hymn great. I talked it over with my husband, and here are some of the qualities we found important.

  1. A great hymn should be singable–and when I say that I mean by average people not just professionals. Martin Luther introduced congregational singing and it has always been an important part of Lutheran worship. In fact, Lutherans have been called, “the singing church.”
  2. A great hymn should teach something. It should be theologically and biblically correct and the focus should be on God, not man. Going back to Luther again, because many people were illiterate at that time, he used hymns as a tool to help them learn and memorize basic theological concepts. A good example is the hymn, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come,” which my husband calls a sermon set to music.
  3. A great hymn should inspire. My favorite hymn is “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling” because it puts feet on my faith. It makes me want to go out and serve others for Christ.
  4. A great hymn should touch hearts in a way that makes the faith become real. Anyone who has attended a Via de Cristo weekend will understand the power of music, and the important dynamic it adds to the retreat. Many who have been Christians for years are moved to a closer connection with God through singing “Just as I Am” or “Have You Seen Jesus, my Lord.”
  5. Great hymns withstand the test of time. Although there are modern hymns that I love, too many praise songs used today are trivial, repetitive and focus on “me” more than God. For some great modern hymns, I would recommend music composed by the Getty’s (www.gettymusic.com).

Is there a hymn you love that meets these criteria for greatness? If so, please comment, I’d love to hear about it.

For more posts about music in the church see:

Music Teaches, lastĀ installment

Martin Luther on MusicĀ #2

Lutherans and Music