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More (modern) hymns, please 

Part of the development of deep faith is through the songs we sing, writes Keith Getty – I believe we need a new canon of songs that help teach the Bible, songs that are rich and passionate about the gospel and this incredible good news



“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

This opening line from the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, offers, I believe, a poignant reflection on the disparity in the church today. 

It is the most exciting generation in history to be a Christian. It’s also the most challenging. Globally, the church is growing faster than at any point in history. Yet in the UK we can feel incredibly disheartened when we regularly hear that church attendance is declining, how pews are emptier than they were just a few years ago. Just five per cent of the UK population attended church in 2015, compared to 11.8 per cent in 1980. And Barna’s recent report, The UK Church in Action, highlighted the ambivalence of non-Christians towards the church – 40 per cent don’t know whether the church makes a positive difference in the world today, and two in five UK adults don’t see a role for the church or can’t imagine what it would be.

But the challenge doesn’t stop at trying to tempt non-church goers to attend our seeker-friendly services or in trying to generate interest in an Alpha course. Even Christians can find themselves unwittingly caught up in the modern compulsions of our generation – individualism and consumerism – a struggle that can lead to a self-entitled approach to the gospel and to church. We find ourselves, albeit sometimes subconsciously, asking: Is my church meeting my needs? What can my church do for me?  

This infiltration of the secular to the spiritual is frequently left unchallenged especially when, all too often, our programmes and our outreach events and our preaching schedule is, sadly, a mile wide and an inch thick. When we focus on fitting in rather than standing out.  

And we can find this individualism and self-centredness trickling down into popular Christian songs – the average worship song has so few words and, increasingly, so little scriptural truth. The focus is often times on how the worship leader or the band performing the song sounds, not necessarily the content or singability. In recent years I believe there has been a subtle shift away from songs that work well when sung together as a congregation to worship music that sounds good on our Spotify playlists.  

But I believe another shift change has started.

Seventeen years ago, I met one of the UK’s finest Christian songwriters, Stuart Townend. That meeting heralded the start of something significant: a creative collaboration that resulted in the birth of the song In Christ Alone. Neither of us could have foreseen the impact that this song would have on the worldwide church – 16 years later it still tops many polls in the UK and the US as one of the most popular hymns ever written.

As we began the collaboration, Stuart and I came together with a great sense of purpose; we wanted to create a creedal hymn for the 21st century. A song that expresses the wonder, depth and transformational power of the gospel.

It’s difficult to know exactly why the song has been embraced by people and churches from such diverse cultures and denominations – it was even sung at the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 – but this song has opened the door for my wife Kristyn and I to do what we had longed to do for many years - to write hymns. And in doing so to start a shift change in attitudes towards hymnody and the role of modern hymns in the church today.

One of my deepest longings is for our generation to grow up with a deep faith, a faith rooted in sound biblical doctrine. Part of the development of that faith is through the songs we sing.

Ask any three or four year old to tell you want they learned at preschool today and you’ll likely get a shrug of the shoulders. Ask them to tell you want songs they sang, and they’ll likely reel off every word of a nursery rhyme verbatim. Songs stay in the memory – in our souls – the way that sermons do not.

We need a new canon of songs that help teach the Bible; songs that are rich and passionate about the gospel and this incredible good news.

In 2017 I was delighted and, admittedly, quite shocked, to learn that I had been awarded an OBE for my contribution to music and modern hymn writing.

It’s such an incredible honour to be the first contemporary Christian hymnwriter to be recognised in this way; to me it demonstrates that the love of hymnody is such a treasured part of British culture. And reminds us of the wonderful heritage of hymn writing and hymn singing that we have in this country.

It would be wonderful to see more Christian song writers contributing to this rich legacy by reinventing and re-popularising hymnody. In doing so we will reap great rewards: we will deepen our faith and provide a beautiful portrait of the eternal truth of God’s Word for a new generation.


Image | David Beale

Keith Getty and his wife, Kristyn, are modern hymn writers and global ambassadors for the genre. Perhaps best-known for the modern hymn, In Christ Alone (written by Keith with Stuart Townend), the Gettys have helped reinvent the traditional hymn form.

They have just released a children’s album The Getty Kids' Hymnal aimed at encouraging inter-generational signing and a new recording from their time in Northern Ireland North Coast Sessions urging the church to rediscover the importance of the Psalms and their relevance for today’s world.

Find out more on their website gettymusic.com

The Getty Music Worship Conference: Sing! was simulcasted around the world from 10-12 September. For more visit gettymusicworshipconference.com


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Baptist Times, 10/09/2018
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