Music plays a major role in the corporate worship of the church. When we gather together to sing, we praise God, proclaim theological truths to one another, confess our sin and need for Christ, and spur one another on to preach the gospel to the nations. But how important is the integration of worship through song in the everyday life, and is it just for the individuals or families who have some musical talent? Below is a loose transcript of an interview excerpt between Radical and Keith Getty on the importance of music and singing in the home to foster a missional mindset among one’s children and family.
Thomas Bowen: This is Thomas Bowen. I’m the Engagement Director at Radical, and I have the incredible privilege to be joined by a dear friend of the ministry, Keith Getty. Keith, thank you for your time today, brother.
Keith Getty: Oh, thank you very much. It’s always a privilege to get to spend time with you guys.
Thomas Bowen: The topic today is the importance of music to foster a missional mindset in the home and among the family. Keith, many people know you as a modern hymn writer, and much of your work is aimed at building up the church in corporate worship. However, music also has a huge role to play in the home. We know your passion about the importance of music and singing in corporate worship, including the role it plays in the church’s mission specifically to reach the nations, but I wonder if you can help us understand how important is it in the home?
Keith Getty: Well, my wife always says that congregational worship on a Sunday is a feast that is prepared during the week in the home. We’re called as families to make sure our children, that the Word is planted deeply in our children. So much, right back from the Shema in the Old Testament, so much so that for example, the New England Puritans, who brought Christianity essentially, to the United States, didn’t allow man to take the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday if they were not praying and singing with their children every day. I mean, while it was probably theologically a little bit of an overreach for leadership to do that, to use that as a basis not to do it, the logic was, a man can go to work, and he can do his yard and look after his kids and be nice to his wife and be involved in his community, but frankly, if he’s not praying and singing the Word with his children every day—that’s his main thing—so he’s neglecting his main thing, but so important has it been considered throughout Christian history that we learn our faith in that way.
It was interesting you mentioned our interest in world mission. Of course, we got to know each other through the “Facing a Task Unfinished” project. One of the fascinating things, we either met with or spent time with or reread biographies of about 20 to 30 missionaries in our project. Missionaries tend to take two categories for the sake of this comment. One is, there are those who are radically converted as adults or in their teens from non-Christian backgrounds, but in all the ones who came from Christian backgrounds, which is probably still the majority, every single one of them talked about the hymns or songs they sang in their childhood, and how that helped plunge their love for Christ deep into their minds, their imaginations, their memories, their souls, their prayer life, their spoken life, and indeed how it helped them through times of suffering, through dark times. It helped give them the compulsion to go to the mission field of courageous places and helped many of them in the last year of their lives as well.
What happens to our children is so incredibly important. While the New England Puritan model might be an overreach, I do think it is safe to say that none of us, and I say this to myself every day, none of us has business leading our congregations and preaching or in worship if we’re not first of all doing that with our families.
Thomas Bowen: That’s a good word. Keith, how are you and Kristyn as parents intentional about the songs you sing in your home, with your children, to teach them about the gospel, and about reaching the nations? I imagine that Kristyn kind of walks down, floats down the hallways every morning like a song bird. That’s the image I think everybody might have, but –
Keith Getty: Hymn-singing Von Trapps, yeah?
Thomas Bowen: Yeah, yeah.
Keith Getty: It’s interesting . . . the short answer to what we do at the minute, is, for the most part, what we do is in the mornings, several mornings a week, we sing Scripture songs, high energy Scripture songs, and we compile them from lots of good recordings. Songs, a lot of the older ones that we love to sing, also we started the Getty Kids Hymnal, which is a series helping kids learn old hymns, new hymns, but then in the evening, that’s where the focus of our evening. Last thing at night, we teach our kids a new hymn every month, and they learn a new hymn that helps them learn the gospel better.
It’s funny, we did “Holy, Holy, Holy,” for example in February. Eliza, our oldest, she’s that kind of first-born overachiever, kind of people pleaser, that way.
Thomas Bowen: Sure.
Keith Getty: She says, “Can I go first? Can I go first?” She sings, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” She performs the whole thing through, then she takes a bow at the end, and then says were we pleased with her performance? Wasn’t it really good? Then she tells her sisters it was really good, so her maverick middle sister starts . . . she’s rolling her eyes. So I said, “Charlotte, will you sing?” “No.” “Okay, Charlotte, I can go to Gracie.” “Oh, I want to sing.” And then Charlotte, okay she’ll sing. Charlotte then sings, and she doesn’t really try as hard, she’s kind of casual, she finishes it. She kind “pfff” at the end, a little bit annoying, and then the youngest one, Gracie, she sings, “Holy, Holy, Holy. How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. Holy, Holy, Holy, blessed trinity.”
Thomas Bowen: That is so good.
Keith Getty: There’s an important image in it, because as a dad, my heart is so warmed by all of them. I just couldn’t care, I just couldn’t care that one of them’s over performing, one’s under performing, and one can’t tell the difference between “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Do you know what I mean? It’s important to understand that for all of us, it’s not … we don’t have to be a musical family. Our Heavenly Father delights in all of our singing, no matter how good it is. If it’s true for me, it’s a million times more true for our Heavenly Father.
We start from that theological point of view, that we sing because we’re commanded to sing. We sing because Christ’s love just compels us. How can I keep from singing?
My wife always says, “When you’ve had a bad day, we start today.” Parenting is so difficult. We start today, and so I would encourage everyone whether you’re a really musical family, whether you’re an engineer who thinks music is for the Fruit Loops in your church who are just emotionally a little bit unleashed, unhinged. For all of us, let’s fill our homes with songs of the Lord, that our children’s memories, that their minds, that their hearts, that their song and the melodies, that are in their lives, will be filled with the Lord and His work.
Thomas Bowen: That’s such a good word for families or tips for struggling parents to start with songs. What are some practical tips that you could give to parents or caregivers or family members, who, they want music to play a greater role in the spiritual growth of their families? Do you have any counsel for those who are not gifted musically, they don’t play an instrument, they can’t sing, what are some things that they can do in the home to nurture this family worship?
Keith Getty: I think in the home, there is a little bit of chicken and egg. Ultimately, when our kids come to know faith, singing will become much more important to them. Before that, we can still teach them to sing. We teach them to sing the songs of the Lord and learn their faith. I think, number one, we have to care. We have to fill our homes with songs of the Lord, however that works for our family’s identity. If that means Rachel, as our daughter, and she’s 12 years old, and she plays the piano, and we get round the piano, that’s what we do. If we’re hyper musical, and we want to sing hymns a cappella, knock yourself out. For most people, it will be finding iPhones that you play the songs on, and they’re played in the background, we play them over and over again.
I think we just begin by filling our homes with songs of the Lord. I think a second thing is, when we get together in church, I think we sing well as a family. Daddies that don’t sing is not a good thing. So we sing, and we get our family excited about singing, and we remember that we’re singing to one another. I think that’s hugely important. I think third of the content of the songs that we sing, it’s worth getting to sing songs that speak into life. I told you about teaching the kids, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Well, that was important because we want our kids from the start to know the beauty of holiness—because that’s real beauty, and that is pure beauty—and that our Lord’s beauty is above all other.
This month we started teaching our kids one of our little Christmas carols this year, “Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven,” because it actually explains the gospel to children, and what Christmas is all about so they can easily memorize. Here’s a song that easily memorizes what Christmas is all about for our kids. That’s really important.
Fourthly, I would say if there is a chance to exercise children’s musical gifts, that’s good.
Then also, I think being able to share why it’s important. We should sing the songs that we love and explain to them why we love those. I think it’s an interesting mistake, and it’s been made multiple times, it was made in large part by charismatics, as well as by some of the newer reformed, as well as by the seeker sensitives, and that is they get so obsessed with saying, “You must understand every word of the song, that we have to make the gospel clear, or we have to be relevant, or we have to have no obstacles to anybody else. It’s got to be simple so we can focus our emotion.” Whatever their reasoning was, and I think that’s a very dangerous thing, because Christianity is not simple answers to difficult questions. In education, children learn and ring. C.S. Lewis talks about the ring process, where we gather information and then we build, the rings build on each other as we understand something.
For example, Tolkien, when he wrote The Lord Of the Rings isn’t trying to over-explain the magic to the children, or the mystery, or all the personal interaction. It’s actually intensely complex, and yet it connects with children. While in the mornings, we’re more likely to play the “B-I-B-L-E, Yes That’s the Book for Me,” or “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” or “I John 4:7 & 8,” we’re more likely to play those songs because our kids are high, and they want to sing fun songs, even though we’re actually implanting the Bible in them. In the evening, we do sing some of the more complex hymns. They don’t understand all the words, but they’re getting the gist of it, and it’s a growing understanding as well.
I think as a final word, just so we can be relevant to what else is happening in their minds, it’s important to listen to the songs our kids are singing. Whether it’s our kids when they got obsessed with Frozen. It’s interesting ’cause I grew up with the great Disney musicals of the 80s, which were essentially love stories. While they weren’t Christian, they were really just love stories, and you just have to realize your wife isn’t Heaven, but it was largely just love stories. Whereas now, so much of it is about personal fulfillment and being yourself, and you are essentially god of your life, and you are essentially immortal and all that kind of thing, and you’re all that matters. We really have to listen to the other stuff that’s going into their minds as well. That’s an extension beyond congregational worship, but as sort of a P.S., that’s a challenge Kristyn and I have had in the last three months especially.
Thomas Bowen: No, that’s such a good word, and in fact more than tips on harmonizing or instrumentation, I think your insights and bringing Ephesians 5:19, that we’re speaking these songs to one another addressing your family, as well as your congregation in these hymns and spiritual songs is the much greater insight. Keith, it’s always a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.
Keith Getty: Thank you so much sir. Thank you, it’s a privilege.