HE HATED THE OPENING EXERCISES
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
The people next door took me to a Baptist Sunday School for the first time when I was thirteen years old. They were always ten to fifteen minutes late. I soon discovered the reason - the father hated the opening songs. So did his kids. So did I. We were all happy to miss those silly songs by walking in after they were over.
Years later, when I was pastoring a church, an elderly man named Dave always stood outside while we sang. After the singing, Dave came in and joined us for the sermon. One day I asked him why he did that. "I've always missed the opening exercises," he said, "ever since I can remember, back in Minnesota." Dave called the worship service in church "the opening exercises," a term he had learned years before as a boy in Sunday School. "But why?" I asked. "It's because they sing too much - and I hate standing up for a half hour, especially now that I have arthritis in my knees." We both laughed, and he knew by my smile that I agreed with him. He was a fine old man.
But there they were again this morning. Several of the people in our church use home-school videos to teach their kids. And there were the same silly choruses. I heard them, the same mawkish songs we all wanted to avoid fifty years ago! And they certainly haven't improved with age! As Dr. Tozer said, "Many of our popular songs and choruses in praise of Christ are hollow and unconvincing" (A. W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian, p. 129).
Why do kids need to sing this junk at all? How does it help them? Exactly how does it glorify God to have thirty or forty squirming children, with wandering eyes and vacant minds, croaking out noxious choruses like this?
A sunbeam, a sunbeam, Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
A sunbeam, a sunbeam, I'll be a sunbeam for him.
The kids can't even tell you what songs like this mean, much less why they are forced to go through the excruciating experience, gabbling out several of them each week in Sunday School, after which their smiling parents drag them into the "worship service," where they are forced to endure another full half hour of this stuff - standing all the while, mind you! Fifteen minutes in Sunday School and thirty minutes in a church service is just too much! Children go through this miserable "exercise" every Sunday morning until they are about eighteen or nineteen - and then they flee for their lives - and they don't look back!
Unspoken hatred of the "opening exercises" is probably a major reason Baptists and evangelicals lose 88% of their children by the time they are 21 years old. "Victory in Jesus" one more time? No way! They can't take the torment of it any more than a POW can stand the Chinese water torture - dripping on and on until it becomes intolerable. "The same week after weeka few songs that were never much to start with and have long ago lost all significance by meaningless repetition" (A. W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares, p. 12).
For the life of me, I can't understand why the "church growth experts" haven't figured this out! Children would like it much better - and would benefit far more - if most of the opening music were dropped, both in Sunday School and church. But that would require some original thinking, which is in short supply today.
There are thousands of Psalms and historical hymns which we never sing. These unknown hymns came out of the two greatest revivals of all time. Does your congregation sing "Arise! My Soul, Arise" by Charles Wesley? Do you sing, "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness" by Count Zinzendorf? How about "Come, Ye Sinners" by Joseph Hart, or "Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound" by Doddridge, or "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" by Henry Lyte?
Hymns like these have meat in them, and one or two stanzas would be worth more than forty minutes of the repetitive, tasteless choruses and worn out gospel songs that drive away our young people and bore the rest of us to death.