Keith & Kristyn Getty: Authentic Worship
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Keith and Kristyn GettyKeith and Kristyn Getty have been writing hymns for more than a decade, bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary, and creating what is described as singable theology. Their songs, many co-written with Stuart Townend, have pioneered a new generation of modern hymns.
If we can’t sing, does musical worship still matter? Songwriters Keith & Kristyn Getty dig into the theology of how authentic worship shapes our families.
Keith & Kristyn Getty: Authentic Worship
Kristyn: The Lord values beauty, and He values poetry. He values every single part of what it means for us to be human. I think music triggers so many of those parts; and when we push it away, or we don’t harness the gift that it is, we are missing something/something very important.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: One of the things I find fascinating is people who are gifted by God to write lyrics.
Ann: Yes! Don’t you want to be them?
Dave: Oh! I’ve written so many songs, and nobody has ever heard any of them. [Laughter] You’ve heard a few of them.
Ann: They are good.
Dave: They are terrible; that’s why nobody has ever heard of them. But to write a lyric that millions sing—especially in a worship service—
Dave: —that is a powerful gifting from God.
Dave: Not just writing a song that somebody is going to sing in the shower, but someone is going to sing to worship and ascribe worth back to God.
We get the chance, again, today to be with Keith and Kristyn Getty, who that is who they are—they are prolific song writers, and they’ve brought hymns back to sort of the 21st century—so they are back with us today.
Ann: And they are great people, and they are fun to be with.
Here is where I am starting: “What about the people that we’ve talked to, that they say, ‘Oh, we’re going to skip the whole beginning of church, because we don’t sing; we don’t like that part of the service,’—what would your response be to that?” I know you’d be kind, but—
Keith: Well, I think there are several problems there:
- Number one, there is a theological issue, because all of us are called to sing; we are all commanded to sing. It is the second most common command in Scripture, so it’s an obedience thing. It’s a misunderstanding, theologically, of what we are as God’s people. The reason I sing on Sunday morning is, number one, because God is worthy of praise.
- Number two, because He has commanded me to sing.
- Number three, it’s because I love to sing, and it is a joy.
- But number four, it’s because my kids are beside me, watching me. I want them to know that I’m more excited about Sunday morning’s church than Sunday evening’s Super Bowl.
I want the person in front of me to know that, even though she’s ill and has got—she’s got to sit on her couch, because of the pains in her body—I want her to know that the believers behind her are singing—
Kristyn: —are singing for her.
Keith: —at the top of their voice and singing for her. I want the people around me—some of the young students who, if it’s anything like when I was a student, I have no idea where they are spiritually right now—I want them to know that we are encouraging them that, by our singing. We are bearing witness—“Where two or three are gathered…[Matthew 18:20]”—the Jewish people immediately knew that was a litigious comment; it was acting in the court of law.
So we sing because we are commanded; we sing because we are created; we sing because of what Christ has done for us; but we, also, sing because Sunday—it’s a part of the body—you know, there is a kid that sits behind us. I am concerned about a decision they are making at the minute; so me, singing, is a part of it; and me, caring enough for him is also a part of it. It’s being a part of the body and the church.
If we have a weak view of why we get together at church on Sunday morning, then that’s just a reaction to that. But I think there is more to that; I think there is a challenge, because I think, also, we’re singing bad songs. We’re singing effeminate, emotional songs that are actually compared—to a hymn-generation person—they would consider them narcissistic, and rightly so.
Also, our worship leaders are both leading services in very, very high keys, which are hard to sing. I think there are other issues too that need to be look at, and I think all of us need to look at those things.
Kristyn: The fact that the emotions become directed the right way and deeper because I think, well, our worship comes as a response to revelation. Authentic worship—Keith often says—authentic worship is an authentic view of the God of the Bible. It’s not how I feel, or my reaction, or my experience of something; but authentic worship is an authentic understanding of who God is. So if our songs are full of who God is, and what He has done, then our reactions are in the right place; and our emotions are in the right place; and they are focused in the right direction. It is an incredibly emotional thing.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness—that’s sung by my grandparents, sung by my parents at their wedding, and I sing it when I’m looking at my kids—there is something about this truth passed on that we share something bigger than ourselves. Our singing should bring a sense of commitment from us individually, but it should be a way of folding us in the community of God. It should provide this relief for us, actually, to take our eyes off of just ourselves to this shared experience of what it means to be the body of Christ. We face all of these things—we come in so bruised in many different ways—and it is the truth of God that revives the soul and lifts us up. Very often, the best way to express that is through the songs of God’s people.
Dave: I remember sitting in seminary, and my professor that day was talking about worship and theology; his name was J.P. Moreland. I don’t know if you know that name, but he’s written quite a bit since then. This was when he was actually getting his PhD at USC at the same time he was teaching us. I remember this comment—it was almost
40 years ago—I remember this comment that he made about worship.
He said—and I would love to hear your thoughts on this—he said something to this effect: “Worship/singing is a response to understanding and seeing the glory of God.” He said, “Yes, I think our worship songs in church should be sung after we open the Word of God and see the holiness of God and see the glory of God. We should then respond to that. Often, we sing before we open the Word.” Again, he wasn’t making a comment about how service should be structured—but he did—I’ll never forget that. I thought, “He is so right; it is a response.” What are your thoughts?
Keith: Yes, I actually think J.P. Moreland was making a comment about how our services should be structured that I agree with. [Laughter] Also, from memory, I think the point he was making was that, after we study the Word of God, we should respond in worship. I don’t think he was actually saying we shouldn’t do it beforehand; so I would actually, 100 percent, agree with him.
I like the Anglican tradition, which was—if you take denomination out of it for a second—historically, what the Anglican thing was when the Reformation thing happened; and then the services went into English. The first place was the Church of England that was founded. Cranmer organized the services so that they took the best of the historic liturgy, some of which went back to the Jewish times, some of which was historical Christian times; and then he shaped it up like the gospel:
- But in the middle of the service, you had the Bible read and then taught.
- Then you come out of that with prayers for ourselves, our families, our churches, our communities, the world around us.
- And then we sing in response.
- And then we do benediction and then celebration, so there was quite a lot of singing after the sermon.
I, 100 percent, agree with that. I think/you know, C.S. Lewis talks about it as completing the joy. It’s almost like when one of our girls—little Tally, our three-year-old at the minute—really is into art and painting. She’s actually pretty good at—because I was the bottom of my class all of my life—so it’s amazing to me. [Laughter]
Kristyn: She’s very little, but she has a little bit of a flare.
Keith: But her joy is not complete until—when?—the answer is: “When she actually shows it to us.” We weren’t artistically talented; we didn’t help her do the painting; we had nothing to do with it—but then she comes—and her joy is complete when she does.
If you imagine the things that you learned about the Lord in the sermon, that warms your heart or that challenges you to live a more holy life, the joy is complete when you sing it back.
Kristyn: That’s going to be a big theme this year at the Sing! conference.
Keith: The Sing! conference is actually all about that: is ordering our services and how we do that. I’m a big believer—like you have said and J. P. Moreland—that we respond in song; in other words, complete the joy. Actually—for all of you who are worship leaders or musicians—the singing is way better after the sermon if you do it—way better.
Ann: That’s so true. [Laughter]
Kristyn, you and Michael W. Smith have partnered, and you’ve written/is it a new hymn that you’ve written?
Kristyn: Actually, this is a hymn done by a number of our writers at Getty Music—Keith and Matt Boswell, Matt Merker, Matt—lots of Matts—[Laughter]—Matt Papa, and Jordan Kauflin. They worked on it quite a bit just before COVID hit a couple of years ago. It was completed a few weeks before that and launched the beginning of that season. It is inspired by the Heidelberg Catechism. It sort of maps out, throughout the song, where our true hope lies in life and death—that phrase—it was very timely. It was always very exciting that that happened right at that time.
We have—I have recorded it before, and the guys have recorded it at the Sing! conference—but this is a special new release, where Michael W. joined us to do a duet version; that will be out in May.
Ann: That’s going to be fun.
Dave: That will be pretty.
You know, as I’m thinking, so many families probably aren’t doing what you’re doing. I loved how you talk about singing with your family at church in a service; and yet, you do that during the week at home.
Ann: Whets the appetite for Sunday.
Dave: Help a family that’s listening, going, “Boy, we’re not songwriters. I can’t carry a tune. I’ve never, one time, sang with my family at home.” Where could someone like that start?
Kristyn: I think you just start playing the songs of the Lord—good songs—make good song selections in the places where life happens: if that’s around breakfast in the morning; if it’s in the car—just start feeding it in gradually, making it part of the soundtrack of life. It’s just amazing; that’s really where most of the learning happens, because it’s just sort of caught as they go around. I’ll just catch my girls listening or joining in.
But then it also needs to—you need to have that intentional component as well—so we just sort of folded it into our evening time with them, because it is the time when they sort of wanted to gather in close to us. It actually became lowing-hanging fruit for me, because I got so stressed trying to process all the things I wanted to pack in. We, actually, thought, “Maybe just singing a song might actually be the easier thing to do.”
So we just play it before they go to sleep. I would say:
- “Here is the chorus. Why don’t we hum that chorus together a little bit?” or
- “That’s an interesting line: ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing.’ What do you think they mean by that? Do you think we have a thousand tongues? I don’t think we have a thousand tongues; but I guess, when we all gather with the church or we gather—thinking of those who are in heaven—gosh, that’s thousands of tongues singing the same thing,” “What is it we are singing?”
Using it to sort of talk through some of the ideas, so that became an easy guide for me. I just followed the lyric and used it to start conversations; we did that. It does help a lot when the church is affirming the everyday practices of the families that make up that church. I think our church would send out songs to us in advance.
And we found out, actually, during COVID—it was interesting because so many families were with their families in their [living rooms]—for the first time after so many churches had split up, determined on age. COVID brought us all together, across the ages. Suddenly, very much more than ever, we were standing with our kids in our living room, looking at the screen, singing. I think it created a brand-new opportunity for people to actually hear their [kids’] voices—maybe, they hadn’t heard them for a while—and encourage their kids in that.
I think it’s something we just start a little bit, and we gradually build it up. And anybody, who is a pastor or music leader, being intentional about inviting the family into the process: “Why do we sing?” “Why is it important?” “How can we help them at home learn these songs?”
Keith: Someone once said to me—I never thought of this—was: “What is the most important part of this?” It was a children’s expert/a family expert like yourselves. They said:
- “Kids love what their parents love; so if the parents love doing it, the kids will love, by some level of extension; it will connect closer.”
- The second thing was: “This is not a new idea.”
For those of you of you listening, I mean, we were meeting Dr. MacArthur once. And what do you call the coffee shop in—some coffee shop—
Kristyn: —a coffee shop.
Keith: —a coffee shop in California—
Kristyn: There are many.
Keith: —my wife hits. I always get into these side conversations about what the coffee shop is called.
Kristyn: It’s the Irish blarney: you know, you just keep talking and talking.
Keith: It’s a chain, but it’s not Starbucks; it’s the other one. Anyway, we were—it begins with “P”—
Kristyn: It doesn’t matter.
Keith: —Panera Bread!
Kristyn: Okay. [Laughter]
Keith: It was Dr. MacArthur; and I asked him, “Any advice on kids?” because we had like three kids. I think Kristyn was pregnant, and we were in some hotel in the middle of California, with the noise of cars everywhere. It was your ultimate family nightmare. I said, “Any advice on kids?”
He pretty quickly went to/he goes, “A lot of it begins with the songs you fill your home with.” So even people, better known on the teaching side, are saying, “The way to actually teach these doctrines deep with your kids—
Kristyn: —“is to sing them.”
Keith: —“sing them.”
Ann: It’s interesting; we have six grandkids. We were recently with one of our sons who has four. They pray every night before bed. The oldest is seven; the youngest is two. But if he [their son] doesn’t sing to them before he leaves the room after prayers, they will remind him: “Dad, you didn’t sing over me tonight.” That’s just become so sweet; it’s like a blanket of God’s grace and security over them as they sleep.
We also had an eleven-month-old granddaughter, who had had a 45-minute seizure.
Keith: Oh, my word!
Kristyn: Oh, my word!
Ann: It was awful, and it was traumatic. But in the hospital, they needed to do a MRI; so she couldn’t eat for eight hours. My daughter-in-law was frantic: “She’s not going to be able to go that long without eating; this is going to be a nightmare.” We prayed, “Jesus, You are the only One who will be able to do this.” She was crying: the baby was fussing; she was hungry.
I took my phone out; this is—sometimes, there are some great things about our phones—I put worship music on. It was miraculous; God just sweetly answering this prayer. She fell asleep, and she slept for two-and-a-half hours; this girl has never slept more than forty-five minutes. That son and daughter-in-law went home, and they constantly have worship playing in their house. There is something beautiful; what is that?!
Kristyn: Well, music has a beautiful healing quality. The Bible shows us instances where that has been important. We think of King David, how he played music to try and calm the terrors of Saul’s soul.
It’s important too—we’re not just facts-and-figures people—we are moved; things impress themselves upon us deeply: “Why is the sunset important?” “Why is it, when we have a meal, we don’t serve it to each other like we would a dog?—in a bowl on the floor? We sit up: we are interested in the colors, and the taste, and the experiences we share as we are gathered.”
We’re different—we’re made in the image of God—and the Lord values beauty, and He values poetry. He values every single part of what it means for us to be human; I think music triggers so many of those parts. When we push it away, or don’t harness the gift that it is, we’re missing something/something very important.
Dave: Hey, I’ve got one last question. I think it applies to families and parents as well. One of my favorite lyrics in your song, In Christ Alone—and I’m sitting here with the authors of it, so I’ve got to ask this question—I love the line/I love singing, “What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My Comforter, My All in all; here in the love of Christ I stand.”
“What is in there, as you wrote that? What are you communicating?” I love that lyric, as a parent who often strives, it’s a comforting lyric to remember: “In Christ alone is my peace.” I’m putting words in your mouth; I’m wondering what you thought. [Laughter]
Keith: Well, it was Stuart’s lyric, to give Stuart his credit on it. The big concept of the song is to try and join what we believe—is to make a creedal hymn with a difference—“Let’s sing the creed with a difference.” The idea was we are going to take the fact that: Christ was born, that He lived, that He taught and died, that He rose, and that He is returning again. Then what we do is we tie every part of life to that as you go through the song. It’s told like a journey; it’s told like a story. Then, by singing it, hopefully, we can sing it to ourselves.
But if you want to ask Kristyn and I if we live all of those things out every minute of every day, that would be a whole different question. [Laughter]
Kristyn: That is what is so great about—even just the craft of hymn writing—is trying to find a way of taking these great, timeless truths and just spelling them in such a way that we can remember them. They go deep, like you suggested, those few lines. The song that Stuart has written is just so rich in gospel truth about the connection to real life. I have probably sung that hymn more than anybody on the planet. [Laughter] I’ve been singing it for 20 years, and it’s been such a great privilege. I’ve often reflected that, if there had been one song that I would have to sing every time anybody asked me to sing anywhere, I’m so glad it’s that one.
Personally, as I sing it—because it is the gospel, and it is connected to real life, and it’s alive—every time I sing it, I can connect it in fresh ways. I’m not trying to conjure up some sort of emotional place; because I’m stating wonderful truths, that he’s beautifully put, that make sense no matter how I am feeling. I don’t have to try and push myself into a certain place. I just love the fact that song finds you, where you are, and you just go for it.
I have also loved being able to watch thousands and thousands of people, over the last 20 years, see their faces as they sing it: see the conviction; see how the gospel floods in and causes those strivings to cease as we focus on what the Savior has done, and how He calls us into His kingdom and into His story and into His grace, whoever we are, wherever we are, whenever we are there.
Dave: Well, Keith and Kristyn, on behalf of Ann and I—and really, the whole community of Christ-followers—thank you. Thank you for what you do/what you offer. You are an inspiration even today. I can imagine, as Easter comes up—Good Friday/Easter weekend—I can see thousands/hundreds of thousands of families—I hope they are inspired, like we were, to be standing on Easter Sunday, with their children around them and their grandchildren, singing at the top of their lungs like they would if their team won the Super Bowl.
Dave: I mean, it’s more important than any victory; it is the victory. You’ve given us a language and an emotion to lead a family with.
Ann: My hope and prayer, for our listeners/for us, is that it wouldn’t just be for Easter. This would be something that we are doing every day—that we’re listening, that we’re pouring this into our kids, and allowing them to soak it in—it’s discipleship. This is an easy thing that we can do. It’s not like we have to be theologically going to seminary. This is something that we love—it’s in us; it’s in our soul—it is how God has made us.
Kristyn: And it is what we have always done—what the people of God have always done—what they will do. We’ve been studying a little bit in Exodus and trying to write some songs into the songs of Moses. When the children of Israel crossed that Red Sea, and they are standing, Moses has this beautiful song. Miriam joins, and the women are singing. It’s thousands of people singing—every single generation—“Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider, He has cast into the sea.” It’s the gospel story there. It’s little tiny ones, and it’s old people looking and singing what God has done—and then acting for us what it is for God’s people to celebrate this triumph/to celebrate this victory—they do it by singing.
Ann: Yes. Thanks, you guys. That was so good.
Kristyn: Thanks for having us.
Keith: It was an absolute privilege. Thank you.
Kristyn: Thank you.
[Be Though My Vision playing]
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Keith and Kristyn Getty on FamilyLife Today. You’ll find links in our show notes to their performances of Be Thou My Vision and their new recording with Michael W. Smith called Christ Our Hope in Life and Death. Again, links are in our show notes or at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Do you think God just cares about our souls, or does He care about our bodies too? Pastor and speaker, Sam Allberry, is going to be joining Dave and Ann Wilson next week to talk about just that. Spoiler alert: It is both.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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©Song: Be Thou My Vision
Artist: Kristyn Getty
Album: Confessio: Irish American Roots (2021) Getty Music Publishing (BMI)
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