I’ve talked before about which hymns work best in contemporary worship. Another step to fine-tune your hymn usage is to choose which verses of the hymn are the most appropriate for contemporary worship.
Some churches are plagued by the tradition of singing all verses to a hymn, period. I recall the contemporary Presbyterian church I attended in Nashville, where in the middle of their praise set they would launch into some cryptic Presbyterian hymn and sing all 12 verses. That’s a great worship flow killer, right there.
Some hymns tell a story and all verses should be sung. For instance, it’s hard to decide which verse of the carol The First Noel should be left out since the entire song tells the entire Christmas story.
Most hymns have a different thought for each verse so it’s easier to cut one and not destroy the continuity. For me, three verses of a hymn usually feels just right, and I’ll often repeat the chorus at the end. Sometimes if the hymn is upbeat I’ll repeat the final chorus with a more worshipful, stripped down feel.
If all four verses of a hymn are so good that I just can’t leave one out, like Jesus Paid It All, I’ll start sparsely on verse 1, pick it up with a slight groove on verse 2, continue the groove on verse 3, break it down on verse 4 and get big on the final chorus. The more verses you do the more variety you need in the accompaniment.
Which verse(s) should you leave out? There might be a verse or two that has antiquated language. Here’s an example of a hymn, I Love to Tell the Story where I think three verses are a “home run” and one verse… not so much:
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me,
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.
I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
Verses 1, 3 and 4 are winners – good words that are still singable for the modern worshiper. I’d cut verse 2 because “golden fancies of all our golden dreams” sounds antiquated, and sing verses 1, 3 and 4, repeating the refrain again at the end.
Bottom Line: There’s no law that says you have to do every verse of a hymn. Choose the best verses that are meaningful to the modern worshiper.
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