December is an especially busy time for Christian music artists Keith and Kristyn Getty. The couple, known for the modern hymn “In Christ Alone,” have been in the midst of their eighth annual Christmas tour. But Keith was quick to downplay the couple’s hectic schedule just a few hours before the tour’s opening concert.
Screen capture from BP video
Keith Getty discussed a range of topics in an interview with Baptist Press that included the Getty’s Christmas tour, Billy Graham, his favorite hymn writer, writing a song for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, next month's Evangelicals For Life event, and where churches are going wrong with music.
“Are you kidding, my kids are at the aquarium. This is an off day,” Keith said with a hearty laugh and a slap of the knees as he fielded a few questions from Baptist Press (BP) in Atlanta.
Getty discussed a range of topics that included their tour, Billy Graham, his favorite hymn writer, writing a song for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, next month’s Evangelicals For Life event, and where churches are going wrong with music.
‘Tis the season
Getty noted their annual Christmas tour – Sing! An Irish Christmas – wasn’t originally “part of the plan.” The couple’s 17-city tour wraps up this week in Nashville. Getty said the concept for the tour began years ago when Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea invited the couple to do an event featuring evangelist Billy Graham.
“Which was really 40 minutes of music and it was the great hymns of Christmas with some of our modern hymns,” Getty said. “And they said, ‘Tie it all in an Irish bow….’ It was a wonderful night and that sort of became a main tour.”
Since then, the couple has performed the concert across the country with what Getty describes as a “fantastic reach.”
“We were able to take the deep hymns of Christmas, which I believe are the classics, and have this massive audience … to encourage Christians today to sing the hymns of the faith,” he noted. But Getty also sees it as “a window to … tens of thousands of non-believers by media to millions who are yet to believe. So it’s been an interesting thing.”
Singing and the church
Getty shared how he grew up in Northern Ireland in a Christian home listening to classical music. Three things were a constant in his life, he recalled: conservative Christianity, classical music and Ireland.
As the gospel spreads around the globe, Getty believes many churches are missing a tremendous opportunity with music.
“We have a very clear sense,” he noted, “that the 21st century desperately, desperately needs deep, rich hymns to help build deep, rich believers.”
Singing is not as respected as it should be in worship, he said. A lot of Getty’s friends in the ministry, he noted, “have underestimated the power of music, to their detriment.”
Many church leaders, he said, focus on “preaching, on doctrine, on governance.” But they show “carelessness” and “lack of care and wisdom, and actually, love” for their congregation through their “apathy” toward singing.
Getty discussed how singing in churches has changed through the years. Part of it is culture, he said.
“Singing as a group is less cultural than it was 50 years ago,” he said. “In the 1950s, western education believed the making of the gentleman was in part learning to sing.
“You sang in choirs, in assemblies,” he said. “And so it’s no longer part of culture…, but I think also it is bad teaching and bad leadership of pastors. I think that is a number one issue.”
He said congregations need to teach that it is obedience to sing.
“We also need to understand that we are created to sing,” he said. “God has created us to sing, created us to praise.”
Getty later added, “my hope would be that the late-night TV shows mock Christians for their passion of singing. Right now they sure don’t.”
‘Trying to grow’
Getty said he spends at least 100 days a year writing songs. And at the end of that year, three to six of those get used. Among the songs that have made it through the writing process is “For the Cause,” which Getty dedicated to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president Danny Akin in 2016.
Writing music is about continually “trying to grow,” Getty noted.
“You’re constantly listening to new music, trying to play fresh sounds, bring in new collaborations to try to energize what you’re doing,” he said. “So I write hundreds of melodies every year. I would doubt we use one percent of my melodies of the things I record or write down. They’re not very good. Trust me.”
And many of today’s worship songs, Getty said, have “enhanced the narcissism of younger generations.” This is because worship songs “are largely about what affects me as opposed to how God is God.”
The key, he said, to being the best Christian hymn writer – or Christian anything – is to “make sure your faith is always growing faster” than your craft.
He noted during the interview, “Always be asking yourself, is the energy I’m putting into my music, into my journalism, my being a mother, being a business person, into being a pastor, is that energy being acceded by my desire to be more holy?”
He acknowledged, “And of course the answer for me is no, it’s not. But the question is always there.”
Evangelicals For Life
In January, the Gettys will perform at the pro-life event Evangelicals For Life in Washington, D.C.
“Kristyn and I are parents to four daughters,” he said, noting they “aren’t particularly political.”
“But … it was the importance of sanctity of life that is so important,” he added. “That is the core of it … the protection of that is a huge conviction for us.”
‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’
And who is Getty’s favorite hymn writer?
“I’m always going to come back to Martin Luther,” he said, noting the impact of Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” a paraphrase of Psalm 46. “… Ultimately because I think that the sheer grit that he had is just remarkable to have written and to write. … Just that passion which he would have stood and sung, that knowing that the bounty was on his life because he did it.”
Watch the full interview below.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is editor of Baptist Press. Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.)