The return of the hymn?

By Keith Getty

My earliest memories of life are intimately associated with Christian music and worship. From singing along to records in the living room with mum and dad, to my earliest holidays, and of course, church, it would be hard to imagine a life without music.Â

So it is probably no surprise that as I have grown up, a central question in my psyche has always been about the role of music, and about what my role, in turn, as a musician, should be.

Through my university years, perhaps the most stern challenges came from thinkers in the arts – musicians and artists, theologians of various religions, lecturers and teachers.  Despite this, I saw that the God whom I read about, whom I struggled to understand (and struggled to believe in, at times) but who revealed Himself in Scripture, this God was both real and infinitely magnificent, and had a unique call on the human life.

But there was a huge paradox. People such as Steven Spielberg, amongst others, and more recently, JK Rowling, were grabbing the worldwide imagination by creating entertainment, stories and music about the idea of the supernatural, about a concept of God, and even about people coming to earth to save us.Â

But when I went to church, there was none of the wonder. Reading the Bible, I could see the mystery of the ages – God made flesh and dwelling among us – and just when I wanted to sing, shout, scream or create something in worship to such a God … we would sing songs about ourselves or we’d emphasize our own experience so strongly it would take our minds off God. Some of these songs seemed too trivial to be truly worship to the great God of the universe. They seemed to ignore so much of what He was about.

Not that this is all bad – the simplicity of worship is a wonderful thing in the stress of modern life. The basic truths put so well in some of these songs remain a daily blessing. But if that is all we sing, we are missing a very great part of the Christian faith.

What’s more, we are what we sing. In our college prayer group, I found people more inclined to pray – and even reason in Bible studies – using the language and emphasis of worship songs more than anything else. And while this was not unhelpful, it did make me realize that the issue had to be looked at once again.

I began to reflect on the purpose of Scripture and saw it to be in Romans 12, “the renewing of our minds.” Suppose we spend about 100 hours a week in social life, television, and secular jobs or education. That’s a pretty impressive education in society’s values, and it doesn’t leave much room for thoughts of higher things. In today’s world we need all the thoughtful Christian input we can get. So I started to work with a couple of pastors on writing modern hymns with more content for the church today.

In Romans 12 we cannot get away from the fact that our spiritual act of worship is the offering of our whole lives, and that this can only be done by the “renewing of our minds.” What we are trying to do with our music is to create material for the church that will bring a renewal of worship through a renewal of the mind. We are seeking to create hymns that engage the emotions by focusing the mind on the wonder of what God has done for us in Christ.

The hymns are united by a strong focus on Christ, yet they tackle many different subjects such as Christ and suffering, Christ and creation, and even Christ and communion. We have also focused on God and the many facets of His character – some of which are not so prevalent in modern music, preaching and culture. In this way we can both challenge our minds and gain a greater understanding of the God we worship.

A real strength of hymns is that they draw congregations together – they have a wide appeal. The future of the church is undoubtedly the youth within it, but there are also significant numbers of people who would benefit from music of a more ‘generational’ appeal. It is our hope that the hymns we create are accessible for people of all ages and denominations.Â

Hymns also have the ability to endure. The meaning in their words can be retained for years and so committed to memory. Every time I visit my grandfather he quotes hymns as well as Scripture. A pastoral friend of mine challenged me with this thought: ‘What will new generations remember when they are older if they only sing songs for two years at a time?’ He encouraged us to write both music and lyrics which are enduring, full of the unchanging riches of God and accessible to as many people as possible.

My hope for these hymns, under God’s blessing, is that they may have a legacy of mind-renewing worship that endures beyond our lifetimes, to the praise of Christ.

Keith Getty and his wife, Kristyn, are on a mission to revive the art of hymnody for a new generation. Visit their site at, with particular attention to the album In Christ Alone. This article was originally written for Rick Warren’s Ministry ToolBox. Copyright © 2007, Keith Getty. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.


About Mark Kelly

Jesus follower, Bible reader, husband/father/son/brother/uncle, rider, hiker, snapshooter
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One Response to The return of the hymn?

  1. aplogansr says:

    In my earlier seasons of service as a song leader, I often felt frustrated that our pianist and congregation were quite comfortable with hymns. My church music background wasn’t all that extensive; and included a large number of more contemporary praise and worship songs. Then I began taking piano lessons. Guess what I learned to play…hymns. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor! He was actually teaching me a lesson (again).

    Today, one of my favorite songs to play, happens to be a hymn (Blessed Assurance) that I play with a sort of George Jones-style layered into it. I’m convinced that the old hymns have an incredible anointing on them. I hope to be able to play well enough soon to enjoy more of them.

    Pastor Andy Logan

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