Hymns should be written with local church in view, Getty tells students

Communications Staff — February 16, 2009

Last year, Keith Getty wrote or assisted in writing more than 700 songs, yet only eight of them will ever be recorded for use by local church congregations.

Getty said songs must strike the perfect balance of biblical truth and easy “singability” to make it onto one of the albums which he and wife Kristyn, along with writing partner Stuart Townend, produce for a single purpose: to be sung in local churches.

The Gettys visited The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary last week, playing a live concert Feb. 5. Keith Getty delivered two lectures for Southern’s Institute for Christian Worship.

Getty said he, his wife and Stuart Townend began collaborating to write new hymns in 2000 with two goals in mind: to teach the truths of the Bible through songs and to package them with melodies that could be sung by most any evangelical congregation.

The desire to write solid songs was born out of the realization that most Christians knew little about the faith they ostensibly believed, Getty said. Songs help people to memorize biblical truths in ways that sermons do not, he said.

“The words that we give people on Sunday have got to be the most important words of the week,” he said.

“So the most important thing in our services is that we sing really good material. Pray over and think over deeply the words that you sing and the words that people are committing to memory because preaching does not have the same luxury of committing words to people’s memories. When people are old, the teaching they have had will have built them up their whole lives, but it is the songs that will circle in their heads…When you don’t feel like praying, it’s where your default mechanism will go to, so choose the songs carefully before just writing for writing’s sake.”

Getty told the stories behind several of their most popular hymns, including “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross.” As is typical of their approach to song writing, Getty said they attempted to tell a story with each of those hymns—the life and death of Christ with “In Christ Alone” and Jesus’ walk from Gethsemane to the cross with “The Power of the Cross.”

“We were advised not to write these songs because there was no way to bridge the postmodern generation and the modern generation with the traditional generation,” Getty said.

“One (generation) wanted to sing theology and truth and one wanted to sing about experience and didn’t want theology. But when you give them a story, when you feed something through a story, it helps them to understand that the Bible itself is just one great story.

“If we are always teaching the Bible, if we are always teaching the faith through this same story, if we are reasoning our struggles in life and other people’s struggles in life through this great story of redemption, it helps people. We are made to understand life through the truth of salvation…We tend to tell stories in songs and it’s something I encourage when it’s done well, whether you are a worship leader or a pastor.”

Getty encouraged pastors and music ministers to write their own songs, but to make certain that they are solidly lashed to the teaching of Scripture. Above all, Getty said they should write for the church.

“While there is a skill and a craft, I think a lot of the craft in song writing is a passion to teach the truths of the Word in the church every week,” he said. “And, knowing when you stand up on Sunday, if the whole congregation can’t sing this melody, you’re [not writing well]

“If any of you are worship song writers, do not waste money making a studio demo with your songs to see if it sounds good, because all you are doing is paying somebody to make it sound good. That’s irrelevant; it’s whether people can sing it in church and whether the words are actually edifying to people. Instead, get them sung in church.”

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