I am swooning with love over a booklet I received in the mail today, about which I was tipped off by Jonathan Powers at Theology in Worship.
The booklet is S.T. Kimbrough, Jr’s Songs for the Poor: Help Us Make the Poor Our Friends, a compilation of thirteen hymns written by Charles Wesley to help the church grow in its theology and practice related to the poor.
At the time I’m writing this, there is only one copy–used–remaining of this book on amazon.com. Were I you, I’d snatch it up before you finish reading this post. I mean, it’s $6.00 plus shipping.
As to what this has to do with helping your nonprofit help churches grow in your cause, let’s turn first to the thoughts of the aforementioned Jonathan Powers, who begins with the genesis of the original Methodist hymn book:
[T]he purpose of this collection was to be a daily devotional guide as much as a musical book used in worship. John Wesley writes in the prologue to the hymnbook that its purpose was to provide “a full account of scriptural Christianity” and “the experience of real Christians.”
Thus, the hymnbook was used to help focus an individual’s spiritual growth from the time of conversion to the incorporation with the fellowship of believers. The content Charles Wesley wrote was broad in theme, ranging from lyrics on the Eucharist, Trinity, and Holy Scriptures to lyrics concerning Easter, Church calendar, and other Church celebrations.
Very few of Charles’ writings on poverty made the hymnbook. In fact, many of his poems and hymns dealing specifically with the poor were never published at all. These hymns most likely were circulated around to nearby churches and pastors, but they were never bound into a collection. Yet, we do know through collections of sermons and letters that both John and Charles had a deep conviction for the poor, and often preached very bold sermons warning on wealth and extravagant living.
Charles Wesley wrote hymns as theology. The hymnal, thus, was more than a collection of songs printed so that people knew what words to sing. It was a devotional guide, given to people to meditate on and think about not only when they were in worship but when they weren’t.
The invention of the overhead projector and Powerpoint didn’t make that obsolete.
(Side note of pastoral privilege: There may be very good reason not to use overhead projectors and Powerpoint in your church worship services. Imagine purchasing or creating hymnals that church members are instructed to bring to church with them, along with their Bibles, and to take home with them when they go–for the purpose of daily singing-studying certain select songs for the coming week’s worship. Korean Christians use a combined Bible/hymnal for just this purpose. And one major denomination recently undertook just such a “take your hymnal home” campaign.)
(Second side note of pastoral privilege: And why keep switching the songs in church every week, anyway? Why not pick four songs for the month, introducing one each week and practicing it and digging into the theology of it until the church actually learns it and the theology it contains? OK–now back to the nonprofit world.)
So what’s the payoff here for nonprofits seeking to help churches grow in relation to their cause?
Develop a hymnal booklet containing hymns (for singing in congregational worship and personal devotion and family worship) related to your cause. Share this with churches rather than your brochure. Stop talking about your ministry and start supporting churches to learn how to think Scripturally and theology about your shared cause.
Talk about a useful leave behind! There’s a far greater chance that parishioners will get cause-related hymns stuck in their heads that motivate them to action than that they’ll actually do anything with that glossy prayer partner card of yours, anyway.
Got to love Charles Wesley’s lyrics. Why didn’t these ones make the main hymnal?
Ye pastors hired who undertake/The awful ministry/For lucre or ambition’s sake/A nobler pattern see!/Who greedily your pay receive/And adding cure to cure/In splendid ease and pleasures live/By pillaging the poor.
Imagine the pastor’s face when you lead the congregation to sing that one during your visit to church on Sunday.
Which of the Christians now/Would their possessions sell?/The fact that you scarce allow/The truth incredible:/That saints of old so weak should prove/And as themselves their neighbors love
And why are we stuck just preaching and showing Powerpoint during our presentations? Why not take the time to teach the congregation a cause-related hymn that they don’t know?
Savior, how few there are/Who thy condition share/Few who cordially embrace/Love, and prize thy poverty/Want on earth a resting place/Needy and resigned like thee!
Your cause need not be poverty. I’m already thinking, for example, about a hymnal booklet related to Christian persecution for our Seoul USA work related to North Korea. How many persecution hymns do you know, after all?
Oh–and if you’re the lucky person who gets the last copy of Kimbrough’s book from amazon, post a note in the comments section and let me know what you think of the book. It was my first book purchase of 2011, and I wouldn’t even be disappointed if it turns out to be my best all year.