When the armies gather for the so-called "worship wars," it's usually safe to assume what each side will look like. The wizened and gray-haired will form in defense of hymns; the shaggy-haired and blue-jeaned young folk will argue for praise and worship music. But a pair of young Irish song writers is changing the terms of the battle.
At just around 30 years old, Keith and Kristyn Getty are both fashionable and energetic. They look as if they could be the next big thing in pop music. But they are committed to a higher calling: writing modern hymns in a contemporary idiom that teach the faith and bring the generations together in worship.
Keith and Kristyn met in Northern Ireland (where both were born and raised), when Keith was just completing college and Kristyn was just beginning. After several years in a successful secular musical career, Keith collaborated with songwriter Stuart Townend ("How Deep the Father's Love for Us") and wrote "In Christ Alone." This experience confirmed Keith's calling to put his musical training to use writing modern hymns. Kristyn brings to the partnership her training in English literature, a gift for writing lyrics, and a beautiful soprano voice.
The Gettys worship at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where Alistair Begg is pastor. They spend most weekends traveling, sharing their music with churches around the United States and abroad. Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien spoke with Keith and Kristyn about their work and ministry and how they understand the place of hymns in worship today.
(For best results, read everything that follows in a charming Irish brogue.)
What trends do you see in worship that compel you to write hymns?
Keith: They say that in every culture, the signs of the church on the slide are, first, that the church becomes decreasingly knowledgeable of God. Second, the church becomes increasingly obsessed with itself. Third, the church views every part of the spiritual walk for what they can get out of it—its therapeutic value. We see that happening today. So we want to write songs that address this shallowness by articulating the deep truths of the faith.
In addition, I think the goal of congregational worship is to be congregational.
As the church's influence began to slip in Britain, the churches tried to use music to attract people. They moved music to the front, with professional choirs, and held well-developed and well-rehearsed services. In the short-term, it worked. But it ultimately distanced the front from the back, so that churches lost a sense of both community and what real worship is actually about. Worship music changed from something sung by the people to something done from the front by professionals.
Kristyn: That's why we have a lot of empty cathedrals and churches that are being sold as restaurants.
Keith: And although everything is contemporary in style in America, I think the pattern is dangerously similar. So we want to write songs that everyone can sing—songs that are truly congregational.
You're committed to the hymn. What are the musical and lyrical elements of a hymn?
Keith: There's no scientific difference between a hymn and a song. We just run with "hymn" because we couldn't think of a better word. For us it boils down to those two simple principles: songs that teach the faith and that the whole congregation can sing. So musically, a song has to be easy and inspirational to sing, and lyrically it has to teach the truth of God in a way that is emotionally engaging and poetic.