Gospel Centered Worship

We introduced a retuned hymn several weeks ago at my church called “God the Spirit”. While the music is new, the lyrics are actually 151 years old, written by Samuel Stone in 1866. As I learned more about Stone, I was encouraged and challenged by his pastoral approach to worship leading.

Samuel Stone - An Ordinary Pastor

Samuel Stone was a pastor and hymn-writer in the Church of England during the mid and late 1800’s. He served two churches over the course of his life and wrote several collections of hymns – most notably a series of hymns published in 1866 called Lyra Fidelium, based on the Apostle’s Creed.

This hymn collection was birthed during his first pastorate when he observed that his congregation was confessing the Apostle’s Creed week-in and week-out, but had little to no understanding of the truth they were proclaiming.

While there were theological books and articles that explained the Creed in detail, Stone believed them to be too academic and inaccessible for his average parishioner. He set about writing Lyra Fidelium to help his congregation understand and take to heart the truths found within the Creed

Five Pastoral Takeaways for Worship Leaders

As I reflect on his ministry, I see pastoral wisdom for our churches’ worship and song today.

1. Our Songs Teach Theology

The songs we sing teach theology to our congregations, regardless of their style or genre. Songs have a way of settling down deep into our bones and getting stuck on repeat in our heads. Stone recognized this when he used his hymns to teach theology to his church. Colossians 3:16 says that we teach and admonish one another when we sing, and so we must always be mindful of the words and doctrine that fill our songs.

2. Comprehension in Worship Matters

Having correct doctrine is of the utmost importance, but so is comprehending the words that we are singing. Stone’s congregation was habitually reciting the Apostle’s Creed without realizing what it actually meant. A current example of this is found in “Come Thou Fount”. It does a disservice to our people if we sing verse 2 “Here I raise my ebenezer, here by thy great help I’ve come” and no one knows what an ebenezer is. We need to take time to explain definitions, or update the wording when pastorally appropriate. Either way, the goal has to be comprehension and gospel clarity.

3. Our Songs Should Be Saturated With Scriptural Truth

Stone writes in the preface of Lyra Fidelium:

“The testimony of Holy Scripture has also been adduced (cited) to authorize the doctrine and sentiment of almost every line, and to show the oneness of the truth of the Bible and the belief of the Church.”

By using language and truth clearly drawn from scripture, Stone was both teaching theology and building biblical literacy in his congregants. In the same manner, the songs we sing should point people back to scripture and reinforce the truth found there. As Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.”

4. Songwriting Should Have the Local Church In Mind

Worship songs today are written for a multitude of reasons and for a wide variety of audiences. In recent years, many worship songs have been written predominantly for use in radio airplay, stadium tours, conferences, and record sales. While none of these reasons are inherently wrong, the glaring omission in this list is the local church. What I love about Stone was that he wrote hymns first and foremost for his local congregation. He wasn’t thinking about “making it big in London” or getting a spot on the next worship conference tour. His primary audience and reason for hymn writing was his local church.

5. We Must Pastorally Know Our Churches

If there is a final word I can say on Samuel Stone, it is that he obviously knew his people pastorally. He was intimately and lovingly aware of their weaknesses. He saw where they needed to be shored up and strengthened in the gospel and in the Word of God. And he took action to lead them in that direction. If we are to be worship leaders who think and serve pastorally, then we must be actively involved in our people’s lives so that when we get up to lead on Sunday mornings we know how to serve them with song and scripture (1 Peter 5:1-4).

In Closing

I hope and pray that the Lord raises up many more like Samuel Stone in our churches. We need worship leaders who love the local church, serve pastorally, and lead songs with gospel clarity. And if history is any encouragement, God always has and always will provide for His Church.

References & Further Reading:

  1. Lyra Fidelium
  2. Hymnary Biography: Samuel J. Stone
  3. Hymn Stories: The Church's One Foundation
  4. Critical and Biographical Essay on Samuel Stone

by Calvin Hemphill

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