Photo above – Keith (at piano) and Kristyn Getty lead 7,500 attendees in song at Sing! 2018. The conference also featured an orchestra, choir, and 50 speakers and artists.
December 2018 – “Every family has a god,” wrote author and pastor William Boekestein in a blog titled “Family Worship 101” at ligonier.org/blog. And every day as our children leave home, they take the family’s god with them. It could be the god of success, self-fulfillment, leisure, or any number of things that might otherwise be good. But for Christian parents, the only god that really matters is Almighty God.
That’s why family worship is critical, Boekestein writes. And yet, the frequent lament of parents is that their best efforts often fall short.
Hymn writer Keith Getty and his wife Kristyn (See below.) faced that same challenge, so when the opportunity arose, he asked beloved pastor John MacArthur for advice on leading his family, which now includes four daughters.
Getty said MacArthur’s answer was simple: Start with filling your home with songs of the Lord, because that habit will undergird every dimension of Christian faith and practice.
Getty followed MacArthur’s wisdom in his home and ministry. Today, a significant part of his ministry is encouraging the church to embrace songs that paint a broad and deep picture of the character and nature of God.
In September, Getty Music held the second Sing! 2018 conference. It attracted some 7,500 people to Nashville, Tennessee. Getty discussed with AFA Journal the reason for the Sing! initiative.
AFA Journal: What has God been teaching you and showing you that has brought you to what seems like a greater focus on the importance of singing in a Christian’s life?
Keith Getty: I grew up in Northern Ireland with a bunch of friends who became pastors. We were all into Bible study and theology. And for some reason, I couldn’t quite take the plunge to become a pastor. I’m not sure if it was for good reasons or bad reasons, but I got into music.
What the Lord opened my eyes to see was that in our generation, while there was a tremendous renaissance in teaching the Word, there was very little renaissance – in fact, quite the opposite – in how we sing the Word. And so that’s been the place that I’ve found myself, being in church trying to influence the church.
AFAJ: How did the Sing! conference and book come about?
KG: Kristyn and I moved to the States in 2006 about the time that our first album came out and “In Christ Alone” was becoming well known. I remember going back to Alistair Begg, my pastor, and saying, “I’ve been giving these talks about congregational singing, and all the book companies keep offering me book deals, and they think I should do a book deal and a conference.”
And Alistair said to me, “If you write a book before you’re 40, I personally will break your legs with a baseball bat.” And so, fearing for my own joints, I decided not to write a book.
Then, when I turned 40, Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay, suggested I write that book. It was the year we were celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I realized what was true some 20 years earlier was still true – everybody wanted to talk about how the Reformation changed any number of areas of theology, but nobody seemed to want to talk about its effect on singing. So along with co-writing Sing! with Kristyn, we held the first Sing! conference.
AFAJ: Regarding the importance of congregational singing, what trends do you see in churches?
KG: In one sense, I’m primarily responsible for my family and the church we attend. I’m encouraged in those areas, and I’m encouraged by a lot of what I’m seeing at the Sing! Conference.
However, I have to say that in the wider evangelical church, what is being sung is frightening to me, because theologically much of it is shallow and self-obsessed. It is a small picture of the vast God of the universe.
Martin Luther said people are reformed as they are taught the Word in their churches. But then, they take the Word out of church through the songs they sing. He was saying that music is not a marketing tool to get people to hear the big preachers. It isn’t a tool to catch teenagers and young families. And it isn’t an emotional edge to boring preaching. Rather, it’s how God’s people digest their faith. It’s hugely important.
I’m also concerned with the artistry of the songs our congregations are singing. If a song is theologically sound, but not musically good, it is not going to have a sanctifying impact in your life. For example, a hymn like “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” is going to live with you for 70 years.
You’ll look at the expanse of the Grand Canyon or the trees in your backyard and say, “All thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.” Why are hymns like this so memorable? Because the artistry is good. You’re not remembering it because of the theology, but you’re ultimately remembering it because the music and poetry are wonderful.
AFAJ: In your book, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, you write that the unasked question from church music and worship leaders is often, “How did the congregation sing today?” Why is that such an important question?
KG: Because concerning music in worship, the goal is God’s people singing together. It’s an expression of what we are as a church.
Frankly, you don’t need musicians at the front doing it. To have musicians who play skillfully and help us is wonderful, but they’re a bonus.
When we gather to worship, we are creating a foretaste of heaven, where every tribe, tongue, and nation will sing to their Savior and Redeemer … “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
We bear witness as we sing. The Jewish people understood that phrase as a legal term. We bear witness to everyone all around us – believers, and even those who are yet to believe – about the goodness of God.
KEITH AND KRISTYN GETTY are the preeminent hymn writers of our time. Their songs are widely sung in both traditional and contemporary Christian circles. Their well known songs include: “In Christ Alone” (written by Getty and his long-time writing partner, Stuart Townend), “By Faith,” “The Lord is My Salvation,” “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God,” “The Power of the Cross,” “O Church Arise,” ”Speak, O Lord,” and many more.
The Gettys and their four young daughters live in Northern Ireland and Nashville, Tennessee.