LEAven Blog


Using Hymns to Teach the Faith

Part II – The Hymn of the Month

Why We Study Music and Hymns in Lutheran Schools

 It should probably go without saying that we study music in Lutheran schools because Luther was a strong proponent of music in general and hymn singing in specific. Luther said: “I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise.”[1] Luther not only played musical instruments (lute and flute), but he sang tenor and wrote many hymn texts and music to accompany them; the most famous of which is A Might Fortress Is Our God.[2]It is no wonder that the Lutheran Church is nicknamed, “The Singing Church.”

 Luther’s hymns helped common people to “sing the Scriptures” and understand the doctrinal/theological messages of the Bible texts on which the hymns were based. Singing hymns in our schools and, more importantly, knowing what they mean, is what Luther tasks us to do.

The Hymn of the Month: A Way for Children to Learn 81 Hymns in 9 Years

 I encourage schools to adopt a “Hymn of the Month” method of teaching hymns to all children during their years in Lutheran schools. Please remember that the hymn’s proclamation of the Gospel should be of prime concern in all the following suggestions:

  • Have the teacher in charge of school music, in consultation with the rest of the faculty, select nine hymns of the month to be sung by the entire school;
  • Seek suggestions from the children and parents (perhaps by classroom and family voting for favorite hymns) so they have ownership in the process.
  • Each month one hymn can be learned and sung[3] in: all classrooms, weekly school chapel services, Sunday worship service, family devotions, school choir rehearsals, and at other appropriate times;
  • The hymns can also be taught as memory work. I emphasize the word “taught” because memory work needs to be taught and not merely assigned—more about this in later blog;
  • Its vocabulary and poetic imagery needs to be studied just as one would do with any poem;
  • A hymn talk can be given either by their teacher or by one or more students in every class in age appropriate ways;[4]
  • Modify the structure for teaching and singing the “hymn of the month” as necessary to fit your school’s needs.

Martin Luther Would be Pleased!

 This simple and intentional way of learning about hymns will help students to understand what they are singing and provide them with both head and heart knowledge of the theology found in the great hymns of the Church. I think that Martin Luther would endorse enthusiastically these kinds of hymn teaching/learning experiences. I’m sure that he’d encourage you and your students to learn hymns and study the scripture passages they are based on for use in personal and family devotions, and as means of strengthening faith and proclaiming the Good News to each other and the world.

be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart… Ephesians 5:19b

Next time: Remembering Hymns or Teaching Memory Work to Children through the Hymnal

Followed by: Student Written Hymns or Poetry with a Biblical Base

[1] See: What Luther Says: An Anthology (1959) Ewald M. Plass, ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, #3091.

[2] See: Lutheran Service Book #656 & 657 (The #657 translation is easier to understand, especially for stanza 4). It also includes a Spanish translation. The music of #656 is the rhythmic version composed by Luther; #657 is an isorhythmic setting by J. S. Bach. The LSB contains 27 of the 36 (approx.) hymns written by Luther – see pg. 1000 of LSB for its list of Luther hymns.


[3] See http://www.lutheranquarterly.com/uploads/7/4/0/1/7401289/timelineleaver.pdf This article, from the Lutheran Quarterly, by Robin A. Leaver, is an excellent exposition of “Luther on Music.” Read especially pages 127-129 regarding the importance of singing hymns and how doing so relates to faith.

[4] See recent LEA Burkart Blog: Using Hymns to Teach the Faith and other Subjects – Part I – The Hymn Talk. Note that a hymn talk can be presented as a cooperative learning project by students.


Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart, former Associate Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry and Coordinator of Lutheran Teacher Education, now serves in retirement as Emeritus Professor of Education and Artist in Residence at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN. He is a nationally known teacher, author, speaker, dramatist, poet and musician. Dr. Burkart has over 200 publications including 12 books, numerous professional journal articles, book reviews, chancel dramas, Christian musicals, hymns, poems, CD recordings, films and videos.

Before coming to Concordia, St. Paul, he taught in LC-MS elementary, junior high, and secondary schools in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. He and his wife, Martha, have three grown sons (Jonathan, David and Andrew) who all are proud graduates of King of Kings Lutheran School and Concordia Academy, Roseville, MN.

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