The Pastor and the Praise Book

The pastor in a Christian Reformed congregation has many responsibilities. Chief among his duties is the preparation for public worship twice each Lord’s Day. We thank God that pastor and people continue to regard the preaching of God’s inspired, infallible Word as the heart of the worship service.

Because the ministry of the Word is central in Christian public worship, everything said and done in a service must promote this central activity. Prayers, readings from Scripture, songs. and all other parts of the service are planned with the special message for that service in mind. Sometimes, of course, the pastor is pressed for time. Rightly, priority is given to sermon preparation; but too often the other elements are considered only briefly and included hastily.

The deadline of a weekly bulletin may suggest that careful preparation of the entire worship service is futile for the pastor who has two services to conduct every week. Under such pressures, everything in the service other than the sermon tends to be regarded actually as part of the “preliminaries”—as these stages of the liturgy were called until recently. We have come to realize, however, that all of the “preliminaries” must be completed before the pastor enters the pulpit. Everything that takes place from the salutation to the benediction is important and all must serve the ministry of the Word.

One of the pastor’s first steps in preparation for public worship should be to spend more time with the official praise book of his church—the Psalter Hymnal in the Christian Reformed denomination. This volume is almost a closed book to many pastors. They use their favorite songs regularly, the liturgical forms occasionally, and the several indices rarely. I imagine that most ministers wonder why they should bother at all with something like a metrical index!

The pastor who begins to spend more time with the praise book will want to know it better. He will begin to read all of the psalm settings and all of the hymns in the privacy of his study to increase his familiarity with them. He will adopt a plan by which, in due course of time, the congregation will sing every number in the book! I know from personal experience as a pastor that the entire Psalter Hymnal easily can be sung within a three-year span of services in the local church. Has this been tried systematically in your church?

As the pastor gets to know the praise book better, he will realize that much formality in worship can be avoided by a wise change of hymns sung as response. Not too long ago there were many congregations which knew practically no doxology other than “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” no other parting hymn than “May the Grace of Christ, Our Savior.” Actually, the Psalter Hymnal is full of psalms and hymns which can be used, as many pastors have realized, giving a virtually unlimited store of stanzas for the opening of worship, songs of penitence, doxologies, and closing verses. Has there been variety, carefully planned, in the selection of such songs in your church?

Much benefit flows from close consultation between pastor and organist—not just with respect to “special music” (perish the term!), but in planning the use of songs from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. The musically-gifted pastor may contribute much to the organist’s appreciation for the importance of song selection, while the pastor not particularly skilled in music will gain much from an experienced organist’s suggestions. Whatever the case, the pastor is responsible for setting the goals which should guide the music in public worship and he should study to work them out in consultation with the organist(s). Has there been this kind of cooperation and consultation in your church?

Any comment on the liturgical part of the Psalter Hymnal lies outside the scope of my present article, but I would like to add a few words about the index section at the beginning of the praise book. The pastor will appreciate reviewing the brief Preface, which gives the history of praise book development in the Christian Reformed Church. The Statement of Principle for Music in tile Church will furnish ideas for discussion between pastor and music committee, or pastor and organist(s), or even for a timely sermon bascd on a Scripture passage about the praise of God by his people.

The Index of Scriptural References in Hymns is brief. but it is worth consulting when songs must be chosen for the next Lord’s Day—especially when the pastor is just getting acquainted with Psalter Hymnal resources. A new, revised Index of Topics has been made available in mimeographed form and may be requested from the Christian Reformed Publishing House, 2850 Kalamazoo Avenue, Grand Rapids, Mich. 49508. The revised index is simpler to use and more comprehensive in its listings.

The three references which follow next—Index of Authors, Index of Composers, and Alphabetical Index of Tunes, may be of only occasional value, but the pastor will find many practical uses for the Metrical Index of Tunes. Despite the time-honored association between text and tune, as printed for each song, the pastor often may find a more felicitous combination of melody and verse by consulting this index. For example, at Easter the exuberant text of Psalter Hymnal 360, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise,” may evoke a new involvement when announced to the tune of selection 301. Both 301 and 360 have the same metrical pattern—expressed by the combination of numbers printed just under the song title at the top of the page. The metrical index enables a pastor or organist to “match” tunes and texts to suit the occasion. (Of course, this must not be done for the sake of novelty, but proper use may help create interest in the singing part of public worship.)

More can be said about the pastor’s part in preparing the musical portion of the Sunday service. hope, however, that we realize the wonder of it all that the Almighty God should be pleased to redeem sinners and call them into his presence with singing! This part of our communion with the Lord and with one another, as members of Christ’s church, can be cultivated—and much depends upon the pastor’s use of the praise book.

Dr. Van Halsema is a Christian Reformed minister presently serving as President of the Reformed Bible Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He served 10 years as secretary of the committee which compiled the Centennial Edition of the PSALTER HYMNAL, and recently prepared the revised INDEX OF TOPICS.