Keith & Kristyn Getty: Find Your Voice
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Could hymns be an easy button to drive lifelong theology into your family? Songwriters Keith & Kristyn Getty share how to sink truth into kids through music.
Keith & Kristyn Getty: Find Your Voice
Keith: Every kid is going to have songs: so your kid is going to take it from Taylor Swift; she’s going to take it from Frozen; she’s going to take it from Katy Perry. They are going to take it from somewhere, because they are made to sing; so we need to be giving them better songs to sing as well. Let’s not miss this opportunity we have in our children’s childhood—whether we create a 50-hymn playlist on our Spotify®—and we keep/we just build it over the years, but let’s find the songs we want them to grow old with.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I’ve got a song lyric.
Ann: Oh, no!
Dave: I’m going to sing it real quickly.
Ann: I will not know it.
Dave: Yes, you will. You just tell me if you can tell me the title of this song.
Dave: I know you’ve heard it many times in church. It goes like this: “In Christ alone, my hope is found. He is my life, my strength, my song.”
Ann: Yes! I’ve heard that many times; it’s a great song.
Dave: Yes, what’s the name of the song?
Ann: I don’t know.
Dave: Come on!
Ann: I don’t know. [Laughter]
Dave: The first three words: In Christ Alone.
Ann: In Christ Alone; that’s it!
Dave: I thought you would get that so easily.
Ann: Now, I look bad on the program.
Dave: I could have gone to the middle lyric, without the title in it; but I thought, “You can’t miss this.” Anyway—
Ann: You set me up to fail.
Dave: Yes, well, you know the song.
Ann: I do.
Dave: It’s a beautiful song.
Dave: We’ve done it; I’ve played bass on it many times in our church, but do you know who wrote it?
Ann: Yes, our guests that we have on today wrote it. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, he was a part of a team. We have Keith Getty and his wife Kristyn today with us; but he was part of a team with Stuart Townsend who wrote it. But Keith and Kristyn are prolific songwriters. We’ve sung a lot of their lyrics over the years, and we are so excited to talk to them about worship in the family/worship in the home. It’s going to be a great day.
So Keith and Kristyn, welcome to FamilyLife Today. I know it’s been a while since you’ve been on, but welcome back.
Kristyn: Thank you for having us.
Keith: It’s always a privilege.
Dave: Well, fill in our listeners on what God has called you to do and be because you have had an incredible impact on the kingdom of God in all decades of your life, but especially recently. So tell us, really, what God has called you to do with your lives.
Keith: We started writing hymns in the year 2000 with the genuine belief that today, as parents, it is easy to get nervous about all the things that are going on around us/of all the responsibilities of bringing up children in a context that is actually different to every previous generation. Every generation can clear another course [from] the previous generation, but the shifts against Christianity are so huge. It is a daunting process for anyone listening.
But the fact of the matter is, if we take a bit of a wider pan, even sociologically, we do live in the most exciting generation in history to be Christians. There have been more conversions to the Christian faith in the last century than any in history. The Bible will be in every language for the first time in history in the next ten years. And because of modern communication, we have a chance of starting a song on a Tuesday, finishing it on a Wednesday, demoing it on a Thursday, and knowing that it is being sung on every continent in the world by Sunday. That is the world that we live in. That is a whole new opportunity. If that’s true about the opportunity—so are the threats—are equally there for all of us.
One of the things we became convinced, early on, was, if we want to be authentic, Christian believers, who not only survive but thrive, we need to be deep believers. We need to be deep in the Word. As we looked in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the church fathers throughout history—we looked at the Reformers; the Revivalists; the people who brought Christianity to America; the people who brought Christianity to the world through the worldwide, missionary movement—part of the depth is the songs that we sing.
Our generation has a slightly different view of singing; it tends to be more of an emotional release than part of how we learn our faith. We felt there needs to be, for the 21st century, a new generation of hymns that help build deep believers, deep families, deep churches. We started, in the providence of God, the first song that came out of the blocks was In Christ Alone. That gave us sort of a real launching pad to what we’re doing.
Then, over the past 20 years, Kristyn and I—and the wider team that we are privileged to work with—have continued to write songs, and record them, and introduce them to both: the churches in English-speaking language and beyond. Then, through events like, Sing! conference, and our tours and other partnerships—like what we have with FamilyLife Today—we have been able to share those songs.
Ann: Well, we can hear an accent. Give us a little history of where you’re from and even your family/how many kids you have.
Kristyn: Keith and I are both from Belfast, Northern Ireland; that’s where we met; where we got married. Then, after spending the first year of our marriage in Switzerland, we moved to America. We lived in Ohio and, for the first few years, had a very close friendship and connection with Alistair Begg in Parkside Church, which brought us there initially. He was a great champion of the hymns in the early days. We were meant to be there for a couple of years; we stayed four-and-a-half.
Then, around the time—really wanting to have a family; it wasn’t quite happening—we knew that we wanted to travel less. It seemed like a good moment in time to shift to Nashville where, if we weren’t travelling as much, we would have a good community of creatives there that could speak into what we were doing—knew writers and musicians to work with—if we weren’t on the road so much.
The day after we moved to Nashville, we found out we were pregnant with our first daughter, Eliza. Then, subsequently, we’ve had three more daughters. So you see before you two parents of four daughters.
Dave: Well, you write such beautiful songs. I remember—I don’t know what year; you would know—but I was playing bass in our weekend service on In Christ Alone. I’d heard it; I’d learned it. We were in rehearsal; and I remember having this thought, “How have I missed this hymn?! How did I miss this?” It was so well-written and sounded such like a hymn from decades or, actually, centuries ago. I started to think it was a hymn that had been buried, but it wasn’t; it was current.
But how did you write it? As you wrote it—and much of your music has that feel that is so beautiful—it’s current; yet, it’s tapping into something in our history.
Keith: First of all, that song was co-written by Stuart Townsend. He deserves hugely, significant plaudits for that. I was/I’ve always thought of myself as the apprentice and him as the sorcerer in that; but at the same time, I think all of us are creative beings, and the things that are put into us in life ultimately come out. So what that means, in the spiritual sphere—like what we are putting into our girls now, ultimately, is going to affect them in their lives—similarly, in art.
I was an Irish kid; I grew up studying classical music. I grew up in a home, where my parents were church musicians. You think of an Irish and traditional church music and hymn singing, and you think about classical music. Then I was Presbyterian, so we learned to think theologically. From a pastoral point of view, I’m doing more for my kids, or the people in my congregation, if I give them a hymn that has been around for a long time, or a hymn that will be around for a long time; because, pastorally, that will continue to work in their lives.
I think all of us, as parents, have to be thinking: “What are the hymns that we can teach our kids, or have playing in the background in the house, that actually will go so deep into them that they have them for 50 years?—that they are songs to grow with, that they are songs to travel with, that there are songs for the hard times, and there are songs to die to; because it is such an important, vital part of our faith.”
If we simply treat Christianity as something that we read and listen to sermons and then the music is just an emotional expression, then we are missing a whole vital aspect of what the Bible considers important. Twenty percent of the Bible is poetry and songs; so the Bible, obviously, considers it important.
Kristyn: Our three goals have been sort of:
Theological depth but biblical richness, and then songs that have melodies that congregations can sing—and not just one particular group of people—but across generations particularly. If you take a hymn like Great Is Thy Faithfulness or Amazing Grace:
- That clearly work through an idea of what grace is or what God’s faithfulness is.
- Then it’s married then to a melody that lots of people can sing. They can sing it with a big band and an orchestra or many of these hymns can be sung without any musical accompaniment at all, which is the experience for a lot of, if not most, congregations around the world today, particularly in the developing world.
- Then the third thing is trying to go after an artistic integrity—something that is not just sing-able but is beautiful—something that people want to sing, want to hold onto, and can be markers for people’s lives. As Keith said: hymns they can carry through life.
Those have been the principles/the approach we have taken when it’s come to trying to write these songs. I’m one that has come to advocating or championing some of the hymns of old, which we have done as well. That is sort of the way we have gone—it’s not so much going after what sounds good today: “What is the sound of the moment?”; or even sort of a contemporary, Christian radio: “What is the thing that is working at this moment?”—it’s just sort of seeing that longer approach: “What are the songs that feed the church over a long period of time?”
It’s a lofty goal. And we, of course, don’t always meet it; but that’s what we are heading for/that’s what we are aiming for.
Dave: How do you—I know a lot of our listeners are parents, and they are wrestling with: “How do I bring worship into my family?—into my home?”—how do you coach us on doing that?
Ann: How do you guys do it?
Kristyn: Well, one of the things is to see singing as being the call of every believer/every part of the family. Every generation is to sing. Rather than considering it a special subject to one side—that if you are good at it, or you enjoy it, or any of those reasons—that’s not actually the heart of it. The Scriptures command us to sing, and we are created to sing.
As parents, we want to try and put singing—where we teach them to pray and we teach them to read the Scriptures—that we teach them to sing. That’s a part of what it means to be the body of Christ. Our kids have various different abilities in it/different interests in it, but we sort of take the approach there: “This is what we do. If we follow the Lord—and we, as this family—this is a part of our life that we sing together.”
One simple thing we introduced a few years ago was a hymn of the month/the family hymn of the month. We just highlighted one, and we would sing it. I have a little chalkboard just inside the kitchen, and we will learn it as the month goes on, and use it to inspire questions from our kids, and explain what words mean, and have them singing these things before they go to sleep.
It’s not something we do perfectly; it’s not something we do every single night. For example, last night, I was not feeling well; so we didn’t sing last night. But there are many nights—more nights than not—that we reach in those things to help grow our kids and their understanding of the faith and connect them to the church as a whole; so that on Sunday morning, when they look over at me, and Great Is Thy Faithfulness is playing, they say, “Oh, we know this one!” They are singing with us; that really excites them.
Dave: I know one of your quotes—and it is so good—is: “What we sing becomes the grammar of what we believe.” Help us understand how that works.
Keith: As Kristyn already said, singing is so important to God. It is the second-most common command in Scripture. It is 20 percent of Scripture itself is songs, so singing is profoundly important to God. It is not something which is there for the emotional people, or the people who went to piano lessons when they are young; it is for everyone.
When we are thinking about being futuristic for the next generation, and helping our children be relevant and strong in modern culture, the first place we need to go is not where the most cool music is that is really cool right now; because really cool music right now is actually 2025’s really uncool music; do you know what I mean? The core for us, as parents, is: “Let’s make sure we have 50 hymns that, when our kids leave our home, they know backwards; and they know why they sing them; and they know them, because by then, you will have given them 50 songs that they sing deeply into their heart.
Kristyn: —with a wide breadth of theme in them.
Keith: And they know about God; they know about the Scriptures; they know about His promises. And that’s hard—I mean, we’ve got Gracie’s good football; Eliza’s starting lacrosse this week; Eliza’s piano teacher is tonight; Charlotte’s: tomorrow night is violin/we may have to move it to Zoom because of timetabling—they’ve always got so many different things in a day.
All of these things are good things; all of these things are a chance for us to rehearse and show the love of Jesus to them; but so much more direct is those ten minutes that—when my wife actually just plays a hymn twice in bed at night beside them, and they sing it through—and we do the exact same hymn every day for a whole month—and by the end of the month, they know the hymn.
Kristyn: I mean, we started a little resource last year where we put together that family hymn of the month; I wrote a little devotional around it. The lyrics are there, and a track to play, and a devotional and a story behind the song, and a prayer and a memory verse—just expanded the idea a little bit, just over a year ago, for families who might want to do this.
Dave: Have you ever had your kids say, “Mom, Dad, no; we don’t want to sing today/tonight”? Have they ever pushed back?
Kristyn: Yes, but they do that about sometimes going to church; about going to school; about brushing their teeth; about “Stop with the sugar;”—
Keith: —eating their vegetables.
Kristyn: —eating their vegetables; about being nice to their sister: parenting is one long referee match.
Actually, Bob Lepine was great about this. He talked about teenager kids. He once said—a lot of people came—we were yet to be there; but one of the things he found when parents came to educate: “They are thinking this,” or “They are doing that.” He said, “Very often, it’s just stepping back a little. Keep on parenting, because that’s what you have to do; but a lot of things work themselves out, and we can’t just react the first time.”
So when our kids: “I don’t want to sing,” we’re like, “Okay; well, we’ll try something else,” or “We’ll just do it anyway.” The next day, they are different; and it’s another sister that doesn’t want to because of another reason. But they don’t want to learn violin every day, and they don’t want to pick up trash from the floor. Part of it is just: “This is what we do. Somedays are better than others; but over the trajectory of a lot of years, while we have them, we’re just going to keep plodding away.’
Ann: I recently heard a dad talking about the family devotional that he would do with his kids. He said all they would do—they would take, as you said, even just ten minutes: they would read Scripture; they would sing a song: and they would pray—it took ten minutes.
He said, with his kids, a lot of times, they were groaning; sometimes, they would complain. He had one daughter—she never ever said, “Thanks, Dad!” or “This was amazing,”—never—but at her high school graduation, the kids that were graduating were supposed to say something or give a thanks to their parents. What she said was: “Dad, thank you for doing a family devotion.” She started crying so hard because she said, “That is what has changed my life.” That’s so funny because the dad said, “I had no idea!”
But I thought that was so fascinating; because sometimes, we don’t know because kids aren’t going to: “Hey, thanks! That was amazing tonight.” They could, but generally speaking, they are kind of doing their own thing. I like what you are saying: “Just do it, because it is marking them.”
Kristyn: And to say that, obviously, you constantly find different ways. Like when we had one of our daughters—found it hard to concentrate, when she was much younger—someone suggested, “Why don’t you sit closer to her and rub her back or something just to keep her engaged with you?”—finding different ways and always learning.
Then there are just the days, where you’re like, “You know what? Tonight, I’m going to pray, and we’re all going to go to sleep. The best thing we can do for our family right now is just to shut the thing down.” [Laughter] Being pragmatic and not being so straight-jacketed and everything; finding those good rhythms as you can. With little kids, it’s not perfect; as they get older, it’s different again.
I think part of our urgency right now is, from our understanding, those little years particularly up until they are about ten or eleven are just gold; so we continue. Our kids are pretty receptive; but we know—and we can get a little taste of it—it’s not always going to be that way.
So part of it is: “What can we do?” “Well, let’s get these songs; read a little. Let’s do the things we can, while they are there and you have their ear.”
Dave: I can remember, when I started a church 30-some years ago up in Detroit, my cofounder/he said, “Some of my greatest memories were standing in church, beside my dad, and turning to him as we were singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness or even Amazing Grace and watching him weep.” I know I’ve wept at Amazing Grace at times. As simple as that song is, I’ve wept.
I’ll never forget when my youngest son came home from a Christian conference and introduced me to a current worship song that had impacted his life. It was the simple song by Chris Tomlin, How Great Is Our God. I’ll never forget it—it was just the simple chorus, “How great is our God…”—I started to weep, you know, as I sang this lyric. Again, it was just a simple lyric; but it reminded me, in that moment: how great He is, how majestic, how holy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, because you live in this world: the power and even the emotion of worship singing.
Keith: God made us to love songs. Now, that’s okay; what does that actually mean for 6:30 at my house in the evening when I’m having that nightmare hour with my kids? It’s actually very significant; because what it is saying is: “We are made to sing.” Every kid is going to have songs: so your kid is going to take it from Taylor Swift; she’s going to take it from Frozen; she’s going to take it from Katy Perry. They are going to take it from somewhere, because they are made to sing.
I’m not, for a minute, kind of suggesting that we ban that. We love all music to be in our house. Kristyn has discussed all the Frozen lyrics with our girls; we’ve discussed. Our girls actually laugh at them; because we go, “We love the tune, but this is not Christian.” They’ve been able to work out—okay, they’ve been able to smell; because she taught them the principles—they can smell something that isn’t Christian; but they can still enjoy the music of it. The point is we need to be giving them better songs to sing as well.
That’s the challenge to our generation is: “Let’s not miss this opportunity we have in our children’s childhood,”—whether we create a 50-hymn playlist on our Spotify that we keep, and we build it over the years—but: “Let’s start today.” Whether you take Kristyn’s model of a hymn each month, or whether it’s just songs that are just passively in the background, let’s find the songs that we want them to grow old with.
Kristyn has done a beautiful, new version of Be Thou My Vision; it’s on YouTube. It’s very special to us; because its venue is on the Northern Antrim Coast, where we are from in Ireland. Her brother, who is a very famous movie director, came and directed it for her. I remember watching the proof of it. I had to get up early one morning, because the guys needed to cut it up; and I had no [inaudible]. I drove my girls to school that day; and I thought about:
“Be Thou my vision, O Lord, of my heart”; and the idea that we want each one of them to say that one day. I thought about taking them to school—and all the knowledge that is being fired up by education, by the internet, by iPads®, by all the different places they go—I thought, “I want these girls to say, “Be Thou my wisdom and Thou my true word.”
I thought about the day they will leave us—and will go to college; or go out on weekends, and they won’t want to hang with us—and I want them to sing, “Be Thou my breastplate and sword for the fight”; I want them to remember these words in temptation.
I thought about their lives when they go beyond that—if God blesses them with life: some will have success; some might have less success; some might have no success; some might have amazing success; some might have disappointment—but we want them all to say, “Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise.”
Then all of them, for sure, will one day have bad health and die; so we want them to sing, “High King of heaven, after victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Son.”
I think that is why Kristyn started this children’s hymnal and why a hymn of the month is such a vital thing—just that each of us will think—“What are the hymns that we are putting in our kids’ minds, in their emotions, in their hearts, in their memory banks, and their psyche and their subconscious that will continue to flow out of them as life’s tapestry?”
[Be Thou My Vision playing]
Shelby: That was Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Keith and Kristyn Getty on FamilyLife Today. You’ll find the links in our show notes to their performances of Be Thou My Vision and their new recording with Michael W. Smith called Christ Our Hope in Life and Death. Again, the links are in the show notes or at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Can you imagine your family singing songs of praise together at home? If that sounds weird, well, maybe, it is; but maybe, that’s a good thing. Keith and Kristyn Getty will join Dave and Ann Wilson, again, tomorrow to talk about singing together as a family. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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©Song: Be Thou My Vision
Artist: Kristyn Getty
Album: Confessio: Irish American Roots (2021) Getty Music Publishing (BMI)
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