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Singing and the Life of the Church: Talking with Keith Getty

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Editor’s note: In this interview, we asked Keith Getty some questions about the role of singing in the life of the church. 

1. Why do we need to sing about missions?
We need to sing about missions because the Psalms sing about sharing our faith with the world. We sing because it’s the soul’s expression of our desire, and Christ’s last command to us was to fulfill the Great Commission. If we’re not singing about it, it’s less likely that we’re thinking about it, emotionally engaged in it, let alone weeping and praying about it. 

2. What does singing have to do with the health of the church?
God’s people have always been a singing people, from the beginning of the Old Testament, through the Psalms and prophets, on to Christ himself. When Paul writes letters to the New Testament church, he commands them to do four things: fellowship together, pray, study the scriptures, and to sing. Those are the four things that we’re called to do as the body of Christ. The Bible makes it very clear in this modeling that singing is part of what it is to be healthy people. 

3. How has teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs been neglected?
When there’s singing in the Bible it is rarely something that we do as an individual to satisfy oneself or purely as a personal response. So when we hear someone say “The worship didn’t move me,” or “I didn’t get anything from that,” as a response to worship, we should immediately be suspicious of that person as a healthy Christian. The scriptures talk about singing to one another. The reason we sing to one another is the same reason that we go to church: to be a part of God’s body of people. We sing to express that. Singing all kinds of different songs about the Lord to each other serves as a way to remind each other of what is true and to encourage us regardless of what season we are in.

4. What is the purpose of this tour?
The Sing! Conference is primarily about helping churches sing in ways that are more Biblical, more beautiful, and that join families and congregations together. The follow-up tours are focused more on the events but will illustrate the same things in accompaniment with events during the day. This year is year three of the Sing vision, the previous years being focused on Singing, then the Psalms, and this year the Life of Christ. The next two years will be Singing the Scriptures and then Singing Through the Ages.

5. How can church leaders apply what they experience in a larger concert setting to the local church?
First of all, we think a concert can only do so much. With that, we focus teachings around concerts through daytime events, as well as adding online learning so that churches can continue to learn throughout the year. Concerts help introduce us to songs that are useful, as well as thoughts and ideas and thinking that are modeled well by those speaking at our concerts. We want these to be places that you will be able to invite your kids to because there are people there that you can look up to. Concerts tend to inspire us by featuring people who are specifically gifted with great music. Lastly, concerts have a way with the sheer volume of people and the beauty that comes out of it that should send us back into our local churches to encourage and inspire us to be better.

6. What role does the gathered church singing play in compelling us to obey the Great Commission?
The gathered church singing is part of what it is to be Christ’s body and to live an obedient life to fulfill the Great Commission. Singing also has a way of strengthening us. Paul often uses the analogy of being in a battle, so soldiers who are in battle, putting on the full armor of God, need strengthening. Singing and reminding ourselves of the truth of God’s beauty, compassion, and strength have a way of encouraging us to pursue the Great Commission. 

Singing itself is a witness. It was in the Old Testament for God’s people against their enemies, as well as in the New Testament for Paul and Silas. Throughout history for the Reformers and Revivalists, singing also served as witness. The singing of Christian believers living in communities who had never seen it before found it extraordinarily compelling.

Finally, singing about the Great Commission should fire us to the Great Commission. When we did the Facing a Task Unfinished project in 2016, it was amazing how many of the missionaries we look up to spoke so deeply and so regularly about the songs that they sing. They would long for deep worship, and would recall their favorite hymns in times of need, questioning, discouragement, and aging. It would spur them forward on a weekly basis.

7. What counsel would you give to pastors who are in churches where there has been a void of singing good theology or where it is difficult to recover congregational singing?
I believe this is best tackled by a senior pastor first, and then by worship leaders working with him. That’s why we have to talk to the senior pastors first about what’s being sung in churches. We should also be realistic just like we would in physical activity. Any physical activity takes time to grow, just as anything in life that’s worth doing requires sacrifice. While singing in one sense is natural, it’s also very spiritual. 

In terms of building our congregations to sing in more deep and rich ways, I usually encourage people to set targets that will gradually increase the number of those deeper hymns. For instance, start with 4 the first year, 8 the second, 12 the third, 16 the fourth, and then 20 the fifth year. Churches that follow a pattern within five years are singing 60–70 deep songs. It’s something we build over time and let the roots go in deep. 

Lastly, I think it’s so important that after the pastor teaches, the musicians have an immense responsibility to help build the musical culture in the church with congregational singing.

— To learn more about the Sing! 2019 Conference, go here.

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