Let’s stand and worship.” Each Sunday, music ministers and worship leaders say these words, and their congregations rise to sing from psalters and hymnals or words projected on screens.
For some, it is a joyous experience. For others, a chore to be endured. But whether loved or loathed, one fact remains: This simple act—singing together unto the Lord—is vital and powerful. By doing so, we rehearse our beliefs with one another and celebrate God through melody and lyrics. It is also a bold act of witness to the non-believer, a way to teach him about our faith and the God who gives us reason to sing.
In short, our worship matters. And according to singer/songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty, we must do it well. The Gettys have been making music together for more than a decade, creating dozens of popular contemporary hymns such as “In Christ Alone,” “By Faith,” and “The Power of the Cross,” and also reintroducing timeless songs of the faith to a new generation of Christians. In Touch’s Jamie A. Hughes sat down with the couple to discuss their thoughts on worship music and its role in the community of faith.
Jamie: You call yourselves “hymnwriters” rather than “songwriters.” Why is that distinction important to you?
Keith: We’re not obsessed with title, of course, but we write music for the church, primarily for a congregation to sing. And for us, there are three essential things music crafted for this purpose should do.
Simply put, when we sing, we tell others what we believe and why we believe it.
Number one, it should draw on the richness of the Bible, because through hymns, we can learn much about our faith and how to live the Christian life. Second, it should equip worship leaders and embolden congregations, so we try to create melodies and lyrics that allow everyone to sing. And third, it should be something people can carry with them through life. The illustration I’ve often given is my grandfather, who, in his 90s, still knew old hymns even though his mind was going. And that just doesn’t happen with songs you sing only for a season.
Jamie: Do you approach writing church music in a different way than other pieces of music you create?
Kristyn: We always strive to craft songs that are an extension of what we believe and what we think is important to say. So we don’t really approach things from a sacred- or secular-only mindset, but rather the Lewisian view—that all things belong to Christ. We are always excited to use our gifts to proclaim the truth of the gospel, to testify to what is beautiful and what is true, what is good and what is right. It’s a wonderful thing to be creative, and whenever people are, they show what it means to be made in God’s image. I think it is incredibly honoring to the Lord when we serve Him with our gifts—in everything we do.
Jamie: You create a great deal of instrumental music. Do you think it can teach people as much about God as songs with lyrics?
Keith: Well, I would say that God’s people gathering together to sing together is a holy activity; it’s really both a duty and a delight. And while we don’t have to have instrumental music, I think it adds to a wider life. It’s a musical expression of the faith. At a broader level, that type of music reminds us again of God as creator and of the enormous sense of beauty and longing in the world. That’s why we try to make all our music rich and moving, because ultimately people will catch a phrase (either melodic or verbal) that just moves and inspires them—and that gives it value in my mind.
When we sing with others, the words break down some walls and remind us that actually it is by God’s grace that we’re here at all.
Jamie: Singing is only one way to worship, of course, but it is a vital one. As worship leaders, what would you like to tell Christians about its importance?
Kristyn: Well, we’re commanded to sing; it is a way that we proclaim our faith. It allows us to praise the Lord as well as to encourage each other. It’s also a way we can testify to people who don’t yet believe in God or know exactly who He is. Simply put, when we sing, we tell them what we believe and why we believe it.
To me, musical worship is an incredible thing—an apologetic of sorts—and everyone is responsible for fostering a church culture that values it. You know, we’re all standing together. Because of how the body is constructed by God, with many parts that all work toward the same goal, some people have a microphone in front of them and some don’t. But we’re all doing the same thing, regardless of our respective roles in the church.
Jamie: How does corporate worship strengthen the church as a whole?
Keith: I’m willing to bet that of the 50 passages of Scripture you know best, the majority are ones that you’ve sung. For instance, many people can’t quote Lamentations 3 verbatim, but they probably know most of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which includes verses from that chapter (see vv. 22-23). When the words are paired with a melody, they work their way into our hearts. They become a part of us—become strength to our bones, so to speak.
And, of course, singing together is a picture of the future. What we’re doing is essentially a microcosm of what heaven is all about. There, people—regardless of their backgrounds or what they’ve achieved in life—will be gathered together to sing God’s praises. And they’ll only be there because of the grace of Christ, not because of anything they’ve done. So it should be something we’re excited about in the here and now. It should be a priority in our lives because it helps us understand something of God.
Kristyn: It’s such an expression of unity; we can share a melody like we share the bread and wine or even the air we breathe. When we stand up and sing with others, some of whom might not always agree with us, suddenly the words break down some walls and remind us that actually it is by God’s grace that we’re here at all. It helps us to live—and live better together—when we sing together.