The Gettys and The Gospel Coalition
In the spring of 2013, the National Conference of The Gospel Coalition was held in Orlando, Florida, and was attended by some 5,000 people from more than 40 countries and 49 US States. Through sermons, presentations, and discussions, the assembly contemplated anew the peace man has with God because of and through Christ and considered application of the gospel in missions and in daily work.
The corporate response in music was led by Keith and Kristyn Getty and recorded for a new album. It is simply entitled “Live from The Gospel Coalition.” Traditional and modern hymns provide the repertoire, including several selections from the Getty’s well-known catalog. From upbeat hymns of praise and adoration, to moments of deep reflection and anthems of dedication, this compilation is not only a reflection of the conference but a tool for believers and churches around the world. Keith Getty was kind enough to take a few moments to answer my questions about this great recording.
PN: The Gospel Coalition has gained a huge audience in their online content. What was the experience like for the planning of the National Conference for TGC?
Keith Getty: It’s always exciting to work with an organization who shares your values. The Gospel Coalition certainly does and is excited about similar things that we are. My friend and pastor for many years, Alistair Begg, has been involved in TGC for quite some time. And, in terms of what I read, there are no two writers who have inspired my Christian thinking more than the founders of TGC, Tim Keller and Don Carson. So, there is always a joy found in being able to work with like-minded people towards similar goals.
As to planning songs for the National Conference, at a nuts and bolts level, Don Carson lets us choose the material and encourages us to be quite spontaneous with how we come in and out of the plenary messages, which gives us freedom to let the essence and direction of the message form our decision on the opening and closing songs. But, Don is not afraid to step in and make counter suggestions if he isn’t 100% on board with the musical direction we’d like to take. As a worship pastor and music director, we always see ourselves under the authority of the leader or preacher, and so we appreciate both the broad and specific direction Carson gives us, as well as the encouragement to be creative.
As you and Kristyn worked through the process of choosing songs for the conference, how do you make the decision about what to use?
The answer to this question comes right to the heart of the philosophy of what we sing. The artist is the congregation and the audience is God. Therefore, we try to choose music which is richly congregational, music the congregation can engage in and sing well, and music that exalts Christ and explores the deep, broad, and infinite riches that we understand about Him and this incredible gospel. The 3 general pieces of advice I would give to worship leaders are this:
1. Choose great songs. Great songs sing well. For instance, if you start singing Amazing Grace unaccompanied, the entire place can join in and sing richly and confidently of God’s miraculous transformation in each of our lives and in the lives of countless millions through His gospel. If we are going to add music and musicians to that, they need to encourage the congregation to sing even more and continue lifting our minds to things of God, not diminish those things in any way.
2. Learn from the shape of worship as sung by believers throughout history. Understand the basic liturgical structure of a service, which really is an out-flowing of common sense: a call to worship, an acknowledgment of God’s greatness, an acknowledgment of our sinfulness, a desire for repentance and forgiveness, and thanksgiving that those things are available in Christ through what He has done for us. Then finally songs that remind us of our response to God in this world because of this great gospel story.
3. After those two principles, choose songs that reflect the message. In my opinion, this is not as important as the first 2 points but does have a critical place in how we respond after the message. For example, I don’t think there is much point finding songs with the word “tree” in it because we’re studying about Zacchaeus, I’m more excited about singing the gospel story that transformed him. But if the message requires us to respond to God’s call in our lives, then we should have a sensitive song which responds appropriately and with integrity.
“Recorded Live at…” albums are done to give people who did not attend the event a chance to experience it. What do you hope listeners will gain by hearing this new CD?
Well, first we know that most people listen to music a significant number of hours a week. With that opportunity, we are excited and hopeful that people can use these songs to help fill there minds, voices, and emotions with music that points them to the Lord. Second, we also hope that these songs will both be useful in churches and that the arrangements on the album will be attractive and accessible for congregations to pick up and use to get some new fuel for their Sunday worship. And then for those who either attended the conference or who have since listened online to the talks, the songs that we used at the conference and recorded on this album were chosen to specifically fit around the messages of the conference; so, we hope the album is a reminder or reconfirmation of some of the things they learned.
What was the highlight of the conference for you?
The highlight of the conference was every time we got to sing unaccompanied. Some of the old hymns, for example “Holy Holy Holy” and “When I Survey,” were caught on recording with 5,000 people singing unaccompanied. Many of our new songs, like “Kyrie Eleison” and “Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed” were also made more rich by the congregation singing strongly along with Kristyn and the band. One of the best ways for any church to help their congregation sing better is to find places where they can sing unaccompanied. Either singing with just a drum beat singing in unison, or even better when they sing in harmony unaccompanied. This helps us build confidence; it is a rich, artistic experience and a symbol of the diversity and harmony of the Christian family together.
“Lift High the Name of Jesus” is a new song being released with this recording. Tell us the story behind the song.
The song was written especially for the Gospel Coalition’s missions conference. Kristyn came up with the initial line of the tune while I was writing songs with my fellow Irishman, Fionan de Barra. We started to work on it and develop it with Ed Cash and the next thing we know our 2 year old daughter Eliza was singing and dancing to it, so I figured it was connecting at some level! Kristyn continued her study of the missions conference talks and themes and priorities and put together the lyric.
I was recently in the Middle East and worshiped with a church who began their service by singing “Across the Lands.” With songs such as this, what is your hope for the church both in America and across the world?
We live at a very exciting time to be Christians. While Christianity is facing intense struggles nominally in western Europe and in the US, it is a very different picture around the rest of the world, as you know. Each of the other continents is seeing unprecedented Christian growth due in no small part to the unprecedented missional work of the last few generations from the west, and yet the average new Christian in China, India, Brazil, or Nigeria still does not yet know enough about the Bible to be able to have a truly deep grasp of Christian faith. We hope by writing songs that teach the faith in the tradition of old and new testament hymns, and the catechizing of Martin Luther, that we will create a new canon of hymns for the 21st century that help teach the global church the magnificent truths of God that are life-giving and life-changing.
What projects are you and Kristyn currently working on that we can expect next?
The next two years is the busiest period of writing thus far in our work as hymn-writers. We are working on our most comprehensive hymn collection yet, which will hopefully be released in late 2015 and before that we’re creating new collections of hymns for Christmas, Easter, as well as more diverse collections of choral music and children’s music for the church. We also have a fun little project of lullabies in the works which hopefully will keep us sane as we embark on our second round of sleepless nights with another daughter due in December!
As you look across the landscape of the church in America, what the lessons that you hope we will learn about worship?
Primarily, that worship in itself, as people are currently discussing it, is a ridiculously over-discussed subject. It’s almost like talking about eating as a mechanical exercise rather than the food itself. It is the subject of our worship that counts and how our lives radiate that subject in all its breadth and depth when we walk out the church door and live the gospel moment by moment, day by day.