One-on-One with Keith Getty on Congregational Singing in the Global Church

The very act of congregational worship is a symbol of unity

Ed: Where do your ideas come from when you write?

Keith Getty: What a wonderful question. Two things, and both are related to my Irish upbringing. First, my musical childhood was church music, classical music, and whatever influences of Irish “folk” music I imbibed. Second, the young crowd of Presbyterians I grew up with were interested in discussing the Bible and theology and many became pastors. There was a desire in all of us to know Jesus deeply and to help other people know him deeply, and so much of that happens in the songs we sing. When you put these two ingredients in the juicer, out comes modern hymns.

John MacArthur once asked me, “Do you realize what a gift it was to be born Irish? Irish music is the easiest to sing as a group…” I always encourage Irish musicians to embrace our extraordinary musical culture rather than always trying to sound American or British.

Ed: Why are hymns important for society and for the church right now?

Keith:We live in a time when much around us is uncertain, where emotional breakdown and suicide are at record highs, and where family breakdown and confusion have left whole cultures crippled. Even common decency—whether a form of cordial manners to neighbors or the ability to have meaningful discourse on social or political issues with each other in person or online—has all but died. Our political leaders,celebrities, and media are pathetic examples to all of us collectively. In this time, what could be more beautiful than God’s people singing together?

What could be more inviting than the joy of a community singing with joy and love to one another? What could be more radical than song breaking down generational, socioeconomic, and political ideology …

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I Grew Up in a Ministry Family—and I Hated It

But as I poured out my anger on the world, Jesus was waiting to pour out his perfect love.

I was born and raised in a Christian home. My great-great-grandfather was Louis Talbot, a famous author, one of the founders of Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, and a preacher who worked closely alongside Billy Graham.

Yet despite this lineage of faith, I grew up as a “moralistic therapeutic deist,” in the language of sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I believed loosely in a divine mind that created the world, and I believed that this being would want us to be good and nice to each other. But I knew this “thing” wasn’t especially involved in my life.

I attended my family’s church until I was 11 years old. In that time, I acquired a certain cynicism about religion and ministry. The word religion, at its root, means “to bind back,” and I witnessed person after person trying to somehow work back to God through good deeds and moral effort. In many ways, ministry became an idol in my home, and it often kept us from being a close family. Good things, like serving others, inevitably became “God things.” Our home life was emotionally arid and devoid of intimacy, and I grew to hate whatever god would allow this.

Anger and Depression

By the time I was 12, my mother sought to get us plugged in with the local Baptist church youth group. She desperately wanted me to be around Christian friends. I went to youth group begrudgingly, all the while growing increasingly bitter, angry, and repulsed by the idea of a god. My anger drove me headlong into pornography.

Around age 17, I began my first serious romantic relationship. But this girl quickly became my idol. It only took a few months before I was pouring my anger onto her. I became what I …

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Four Ways to Put Preferences in Their Proper Place, Part 2

Giving up your preferences and reminding your congregation to do the same is not an easy road, but it is worth it for the sake of the gospel.

Third, exegete the culture.

If you are going to take the steps to walk through what it looks like to engage a culture wisely, then you need to exegete the culture. Exegeting a culture helps keep your preferences at bay. You need to step back and consider, “What is the culture we’re trying to engage, and how can we engage it?”

Think about the context of your church and what expressions of biblical practices will most appropriately engage your cultural context. For example, how would the people you are trying to reach in your community best engage in worship that is both filled with Spirit and truth? This is not always going to be comfortable, because the contextualized preferences are not always going to align with what your preferences are. That’s okay because Scripture reminds us to sacrifice for others and to hold onto our vision.

Of course, some will object to this, but generally not if they’ve been on a mission trip. They have probably already seen what such applications look like.

Exegeting your culture means loving and learning about the community around you, deferring your preferences to see others come to Christ and be changed by the power of the gospel.

Finally, be a model for preference deferral.

It can be a lot easier to tell everybody else to defer their preferences rather than giving up your own. But to lead well, we need to lead by example. We must be willing to sacrifice our favorite worship style or style of dress so that our churches will be most effective for the gospel. Instead of asking yourself, “What do I prefer?” ask yourself “What’s on mission?”

Too often, pastors create churches with their own style preferences. Instead, root yourself in Scripture. …

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A Great and Terrible Nation

Understanding our history, and how that might frame our Fourth of July prayers.

Many Christians want to believe that America is a Christian nation, and for the best of reasons. Many of the early founders were devout Christians. Much of America’s history has been shaped by Protestant and evangelical values. God has indeed blessed the nation with extraordinary natural resources and bold and courageous people. It has been and continues to be a land of opportunity, which is why so many across the world want to come here. And its Declaration of Independence and Constitution are grounded in the ideal of liberty as espoused by no other nation in history.

It is no wonder, then, that many feel America has been chosen by God. It’s not surprising that many Christians join the words God and country, and that others think of the Bill of Rights as divinely inspired—“nearly as important as the Resurrection,” as one patriot put it to me recently. One might infer idolatry here, and to be sure, some Christians go too far in this direction. But let us be charitable and assume that my friend, in hyperbolic fashion, was suggesting that something about the American experiment is a miracle.

But by no means is America a Christian nation. It is certainly not in any formal sense. That is, there is nothing in our Constitution that makes that assertion. Zambia has declared itself a Christian nation, as have Denmark and Costa Rica and a few others. But we have not.

It is often said that our founding leaders were mostly Christians and they shaped the nation to that end, if not formally. This is patently untrue. While some were devout Christians, others were deists (like George Washington), and some were hostile to orthodox Christianity (like Thomas Jefferson). To be sure, they crafted our founding documents …

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Mideast Christians See Russia—not the US—as Defender of Their Faith

Perplexed by America on Syria, Russian evangelicals and Middle East Christians debate if Moscow really cares.

War was swirling in Syria. Rebels were pressing. And Maan Bitar was the only hope for American help.

“Because I am evangelical, everyone thinks I have channels of communication,” said the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Mhardeh. “Syrians believe the United States has the power to stop the conflict—if it wants to.”

In the early years of the civil war, Bitar’s Orthodox neighbors were desperate to convince the US and its allies to end support of rebel forces. Mhardeh, a Christian city 165 miles north of Damascus, was being shelled regularly from across the Orontes River.

But salvation came from a different source. Russian airpower turned the tide, and Syrian government-aligned troops drove the rebels from the area.

Russian intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians has pricked the conscience of many American evangelicals. Long conditioned to Cold War enmity, the question is entertained: Are they the good guys in the cradle of Christianity? Or are persecuted Christians just a handy excuse for political interests?

“The news tells us Russian troops are bringing peace to the region, said Vitaly Vlasenko, ambassador-at-large for the Russian Evangelical Alliance. “Maybe this is propaganda, but we don’t hear anything else.”

Created in 2003, the alliance represents all evangelical denominations in Russia. Before assuming his position, Vlasenko worked 11 years with local Baptists in their external relations department.

President Vladimir Putin, recently reelected with evangelical support, “is seen as playing a big role to protect the Christian faith,” said Vlasenko, “and a sense of international brotherhood is deep within the heart of Russian Christians.” …

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Interview: Will the ‘First Testament’ Grab Your Attention?

Scholar John Goldingay wants readers to rediscover the original feel of the Old Testament in his new translation.

Many people struggle with Bible reading and engagement in general, but this is particularly true with the first part of the Bible. We know that those who do read tend to spend more time in the New Testament. But there is no good way to understand Jesus without understanding what came before him—the stories, songs, and promises that shaped everything he said and did. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay wants readers to rediscover the original feel of these passages in his new translation, The First Testament. Glenn Paauw, senior director of content at the Institute for Bible Reading, spoke with Goldingay about how certain ways of rendering the Bible can usher us back into the Bible’s own world.

First, the inevitable question: Why does the world need another Bible translation?

I suppose the reason we make new Bible translations is the same reason we write new commentaries: It’s not necessarily that something brand new is being said, but more that you get to learn from someone else’s interaction with the text. Every translation is a collection of the compromises that someone is choosing to make. Translations must also change over time, as cultures change. Every so often we need to hear a fresh presentation of what the Bible is saying.

Most popular Bible translations have been done by committee. What is the value of having an individual do a Bible translation instead?

Of course, a committee approach is going to avoid the idiosyncrasies of an individual translation, and it provides some corporate safeguarding from the kind of mistakes an individual person might make. But when I worked on The First Testament, I was able to pursue my particular goals and work them through the entire thing. This was a rare opportunity. …

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Juveniles Stuck in the Justice System: How Can the Church Respond?

YFC JJM stands ready to equip, enable, and empower the local church to make a long-term impact for high-risk teens in local communities.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is the classic question to young, aspiring, and hope-filled teenagers.

However, for a high-risk young person this question feels foreign, perhaps even outrageous.

For these teens, their focus is on the next 24 hours. Surviving until tomorrow is often the extent of the Dream for high-risk young persons when all they can think to do is hustle to meet their most basic needs. They sell drugs to help a struggling mom pay rent, shoplift to provide dinner for hungry younger siblings. They simply have no capacity or inclination to think about longer term plans or dreams.

In this America, there are no positive adults, no horizon-expanding opportunities to see the world through a different vantage point. This isn’t Hollywood; there is no Morgan Freeman or Hillary Swank to swoop in and transform their difficult circumstances.

This is life in Survival Mode, until the system catches up with them.

This evening nearly 80,000 of these young people spent the night in a locked facility in the United States: 54,000 are in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement; 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 4,200 youth are in adult jails or county lock-ups; and 1,200 youth are in adult prisons serving a long-term sentence.

Most of these young people aren’t public threats nor have they committed violent crimes; however, in a punitive juvenile justice system, many times kids serve the time regardless of the crime. Without intentional intervention from caring, committed adults, the vast majority of teens will be re-incarcerated within two years of their initial release.

A Desperate Need of Positive Christian Relationships

Enter the Body of Christ.

Young people in the system believe …

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Renewing Your Church: Removing Barriers for New Life

We need to remove the personal and corporate barriers that keep God from moving freely in and through us.

We live in an ever-changing world in which the church seems to be struggling to keep up. Our churches are aging and losing their relevance in our post-Christian, postmodern, and pluralistic world. Our children grow up and leave our churches. Churches are moving away from the cities because they aren’t able to connect with the new neighbors and some churches are closing their doors.

Let’s be honest. Ministry is hard. I have experienced the ups and downs of ministry.

I have been a part of a struggling church plant that eventually shut its doors. I have had to cut budgets and lay people off. I have had to shut down ministries and even campuses. I have seen marriages of people in my ministry fall apart. I have seen people walk away from their faith.

I have also been a part of starting effective new churches and effective new campuses. I have been a part of growth that included increasing budgets, hiring more staff, and seeing friends, neighbors, and family members coming to faith, getting baptized, and connecting with our local church.

Here’s the thing: after 25 years of ministry, I can now tell the difference of what leads to those seasons of ups and downs.

Looking back at these last 7 years serving in Austin at Gateway Church, I can see three distinct things we did to move from stagnant and declining to growing and thriving that might help you in your work of revitalization.

1. We need to remove the barriers we have put up between ourselves and God.

As pastors and church leaders we must acknowledge that God builds His Church. We are His servants. Unless He builds, we are laboring in vain.

At the same time, the Scriptures also reveal that we can obstruct what God wants to do in our local churches. When we …

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Make Worship Patriotic Again? The Top 10 Songs for Fourth of July Services

A look at America’s favorite God-and-country tunes, from Revolutionary War anthems to a Trump-inspired musical number.

At Sunday services this weekend, churches across the country will direct congregants to flip to the section of classic patriotic songs in their hymnals or display lyrics to more recent nation-centric tunes like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” Chris Tomlin’s “America,” or even “Make America Great Again,” a song composed at First Baptist Church of Dallas using President Trump’s famous slogan.

Despite ongoing concerns over conflating worship of God with worship of country, the majority of churches in the United States mark the Fourth of July in song—a tradition that in some places goes back to the years surrounding America’s first Independence Day.

LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of US churches include America-themed music in worship services around the holiday. The top patriotic songs sung in churches, ranked by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), span contemporary contributions and American classics:

1. “America the Beautiful” – Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward

The lyrics first appeared as a poem in the Fourth of July edition of the weekly church publication The Congregationalist in 1895.

2. “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Battle Hymn of the Republic)” – Julia Ward Howe

The abolitionist’s famous tune almost became America’s national anthem. Despite the theological references throughout, it’s now seen as more of a mishmash of Christian doctrine.

3. “My Country ’Tis of Thee (America)” – Samuel Francis Smith

The fourth verse in the Boston Baptist’s famous song goes, “Our fathers’ God to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing / Long may our …

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Eugene Cho: Why I Am Stepping Down as Pastor of Quest Church

“I don’t feel burned out, but I am realizing my limitations.”

In 2001 Eugene Cho and his wife, Minhee, founded Quest Church, an urban, multicultural, and multigenerational community in Seattle. He began his first year as a pastor without a salary, working as a janitor at Barnes & Noble. It was a hard beginning, but it proved formational for him and his congregation. In addition to fulltime ministry, Cho launched a nonprofit organization, One Day’s Wages, in 2009 to help alleviate extreme global poverty.

On June 3, 2018, after 18 years of ministry at Quest Church, Cho announced to his congregation that he would be resigning from his position as lead pastor. Kyle Rohane, editor of CT Pastors, sat down with Cho to talk about his reasons for stepping aside, the discernment process that led to this point, and his hopes and fears for Quest Church in the coming years.

Now that your resignation is public, I imagine you are experiencing a number of emotions. Can you describe what’s going through your head and heart right now?

I’m doing … okay. While my wife, Minhee, and I are at peace with the decision—it’s something we’ve been praying through for some time—there’s certainly real grieving as well. We planted Quest Church about 18 years ago, so the closest analogy I can think of is when we dropped off our eldest kid at college. Leading up to that moment, we began to ask questions like, Is she ready? Did we do enough? When that day arrived we hugged her and kissed her, gave her a few words of advice and Scripture verses. Then we turned around, got into the car, and just started bawling.

Right now we’re feeling a similar mix of emotions: gratitude for God’s faithfulness over the past 18 years, but some real grieving as well.

How …

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