William Chong – interview on hymns, roots and wings (STAND 2013)

Jun 26, 2013   //   by William Chong   //   Blog, Interview, Seminar, STAND 2013  //  No Comments

William Chong - leading singing

On Saturday morning and afternoon, STAND 2013 attendees will get the chance to participate in two out of six different seminar sessions. We previously had Costa and Rob share a bit about what they’ll be talking about in their afternoon seminars.

This year, William Chong will be leading the third afternoon workshop, titled “Hymns: Roots and Wings for the Next Generation”.

William serves at Howick Baptist Church by planning and leading worship services to help celebrate the person and work of Jesus (a topic he talked more on in a previous workshop).

He answers a few questions about what he’ll be speaking about this year.

1. Briefly share your testimony of conversion with us.

I grew up in a loving home that prized reputation, comfort and success as ultimate goals in life. After spending most of my teenage years chasing after them all without lasting joy, when I was 17 I was invited to a Christian rally. There, someone walked me through a tract explaining how I was a sinner in need of a Saviour to reign in my life for true satisfaction. I turned to follow Jesus that night and have continued to trust and grow in Him, whether in feast or in fallow.

2. Why do you think what you’re teaching on is an important topic?

Someone once said, “Show me your songs and I’ll tell you your theology”. It may not be intuitive to us as worshippers, but what we sing does more than articulate what we believe; they also shape what we believe.

The best hymns are texts written to help walk us through the implications of Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection, in order to shape our understanding of what the normal Christian life is like.

Yet whether and how we sing these hymns is often a divisive issue among Christians. At the extremes, those in my generation may dismiss anything written before we were born as outdated musically and practically, while older Christians may cling to “the old hymns” with disdain for any attempt to alter them.

3. What do you hope will be filling people’s minds and hearts as they walk away from your message(s)?

Hopefully we’ll end up more convinced there are hymns out there worth passing on to the next generation of believers, and also come away with some ideas on how to rediscover, embrace, sing and lead them – whether you’re 17 or 70.

4. Is there any passage of Scripture that sums up what you’ll be sharing?

No – but we’ll certainly explore how good hymn texts can help us in letting “the word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col 3:16), and in “telling to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 78:4).

5. Can you expound on one point that you’ll be making in your message?

Hymns aren’t just for singing. Many hymns were birthed out of the practice of Scripture meditation – thinking a truth into our hearts, and then thinking out the implications in our life. Yet this is a spiritual discipline that most of us today have never even heard of! One way to rediscover this is to learn and sing hymns originally written for this very purpose: to take a truth, explore it from different angles, then suggest how it should change our lives.

For example, in his hymnwriting, Isaac Watts responded to Galatians 6:14 by surveying the scene of the cross (“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died” — as if Jesus were crucified before our very eyes), then considering how Jesus’s death should impact one’s life (“my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride”).

6. How has what you’re going to speak on affected your own life?

The first years of my Christian life was characterised by either extreme self-doubt or emotionalism. When struggling with indwelling sin or other trials, worshipping in song seemed shallow and trite because most of the contemporary praise choruses I knew at the time painted God as a cheerleader to get you from one emotional high to the next.

It wasn’t until I arrived at a church that sang mostly from a hymn book that I began to learn how profoundly my ideas of God and were shaped by the songs I had been singing. Connecting with the voices of faithful men and women who lived hundreds of years before me was exactly what this 20-something young adult needed: roots into a historic, credible faith, and wings from singing words presenting Jesus as more believable and beautiful than anything else this world offers.

7. Can you recommend any books, articles, websites, or materials on this topic?

A.W. Tozer once said that, after the Bible, the next best companion for the soul is a good hymnal. There’s many, but ones worth looking up include the Trinity Hymnal, John Newton and William Cowper’s Olney Hymns, and Gadsby’s Hymns.

For an easy-to-read introduction into several well-known hymn writers and their hymns, try Faith Cook’s “Our Hymn Writers and Their Hymns”.

I’ve also learnt a lot from Kevin Twit’s lectures and articles on hymns.

8. What would you say to someone who is trying to decide whether or not to come to STAND 2013?

STAND conference is a highlight for me each year as I get the chance to serve and build relationships with men and women from across NZ (and overseas) who share a common love for Jesus.

This year it’s only $30, and for that, you get a weekend’s worth of fantastic teaching, new and strengthened gospel friendships, and wonderful times of gathered worship (though we won’t just be singing hymns!)

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Would you like to join William and others in singing about the wondrous power of the gospel?

For more details and to register for STAND 2013, visit: http://www.standforthegospel.org/conference/stand-2013/.

Update: William’s seminar can be found here.

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