A few weeks ago I bookmarked an article to read, and finally got to it this afternoon. In “Sound Theology: Teaching Your People Through Music”, Bob Smietana interviews Keith Getty about the importance of congregational singing. I hope you’ll take the time to read through the entire article, but I’d like to highlight just a few things here as well.
First of all, there are few men living whom I admire as much as Keith Getty. His insistence on pairing beautiful, singable melodies with doctrinally rich lyrics has made his music an invaluable resource for today’s churches. And his emphasis on the value of teaching our congregations through music is one I share—which is why I had originally launched my other writing project (which I hope to also resurrect soon!), Systematic Hymnology. I deeply value the work of the Gettys, and commend to you all of their albums, particularly the latest: Facing a Task Unfinished.
It starts with the Bible
In Smietana’s interview, note Getty’s observation that the mandate for instructional singing is biblical. He mentions the song of Moses from Exodus 15, also a particular favorite of mine (one of the song studies on my other blog is based on Aaron Keyes’ modern musical adaptation of this biblical text, which we’ve recently begun singing at FBC Powell). Scripture is full of examples of music being used educationally, and of exhortations to sing songs like this.
We have a long way to go
Getty shares an anecdote about Irish hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander, who composed a book of Hymns for Children in the mid-19th century, to help children learn the doctrines of the faith. He laments the extent to which modern evangelical churches have lost our patience with songs which eschew musical novelty in exchange for lyrical depth:
You take these hymns, shortened down to five or six verses, and they’d still be considered “unsingable” in many large, modern evangelical churches, because there are too many words. Yet these songs were written for 8-year-olds.
If we’re going to build a generation of people who think deep thoughts about God, who have rich prayer lives, and who are the culture makers of the next generation, we need to be teaching them songs with theological depth.
Isn’t that sad? I’m grateful to serve in a church which celebrates these type of songs, but am simultaneously convicted that I don’t sing enough songs like this, either in church or at home with my own children.
Sing great songs
This can’t be said too often! The Internet is full of articles lamenting the lack of congregational participation in singing in our churches. Everyone seems to have advice on how to correct the problem: Turn the lights down, turn the lights up, find a more dynamic worship leader, grow your choir larger, etc. Yet it seems to me that Keith Getty’s solution—by far the simplest, cheapest suggested remedy, and one which can be immediately implemented in churches of any size and budget—makes the most sense.
When we evaluate our worship services, we must always ask the question, how did our congregation sing? If the answer is, as it seems so often to be, that they did not sing much or at all, we must then ask ourselves whether the songs we sang were great. There are plenty of good songs out there, but as T. David Gordon writes in Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (my review), there is no reason to settle for merely good songs when there are so many great songs available to us. And so Getty is right: “Great songs sing well. Bad songs do not. So sing great songs.”
Again, please hop over to Lifeway’s “Facts & Trends” blog to read the full interview here. It’s so good! Just makes me that much more exciting for the upcoming release of Getty’s first book, Sing!: Why and How We Should Worship, which you can pre-order here. (I’ve written asking for an advanced reading copy for review… so hopefully you’ll see a review here ahead of its September release!)