As the holidays approach, I often remember my days as a student in music class. My high school music teacher lived for Christmas carols. I spoke with him recently as I was working on our new Christmas album, “Joy–An Irish Christmas,” and his enthusiasm is as strong as ever. He even wants Christmas carols played at his funeral.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because these songs tell the story of the faith like no other songs can,” he told me.

I wholeheartedly agree. Carols blend a story form of writing with simple melodies, and they’ve resulted in a unique hybrid of English folk music and church music traditions. In that sense, the carol has impacted my own songwriting more than any other form.

Our new Christmas album gave me a chance to relish in my love for carols by writing some of my very own. Yet we also decided to honor some of our age-old favorites, so profound in the stories they tell, by pairing them with new compositions. When it comes to celebrating Christmas, I think people want fresh sounds–but they also want to sing what they know.

I love the fact that some of the most beloved carols essentially originated as rebel songs. In England during the 15th century, Catholics were forbidden to sing in the English language, or to even sing at all for the most part. Yet carols were the one exception. Additionally, certain factions of Puritanism during the late 16th century forbid any outward display of emotion. But again, carols remained the one type of song that allowed people to celebrate with their lips, instruments and even dancing. For those forbidden to even smile or smirk during the remainder of the year, this was much cause for rejoicing!

Today, carols continue to be one of the few remaining conduits that allow us to proclaim our faith in the public square. Amazingly, they’re heralded on secular radio, used in advertisements and sung on television throughout the holiday season. These songs allow us to celebrate our faith authentically and share it with others.

We would do well as worship leaders to remember that non-churchgoers are far more inclined to attend a church service during the Christmas season where songs are easy and enjoyable to sing rather than a church trying to put on the slickest possible show. The music of carols, written by some of the finest hymn writers of all time (such as Wesley, Watts and Rossetti) and arranged by equally outstanding composers (Handel, Holst and Mendelssohn) speaks for itself. We have wonderful songs to use! And Christmas gives us a wide open door to use those songs to impact culture like no other time of the year.

May we set aside time this Christmas season to give of ourselves joyfully and wholeheartedly to the music we choose and the services we plan. And in doing so we’ll join with the Christians of ages past who’ve told the story of our faith through the carols they sing.

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Where is the sort of art that will capture the imagination of the movers and shapers of our world? J.A.C. Redford

The first article, which initially appeared years ago in The Life (a publication of Creative Trust) is written by our old friend and internationally renowned composer J.A.C. Redford. In his moving piece, Redford states the need for a Christian renaissance to occur in all areas of the arts and asks readers to consider, “Where is the sort of art that will capture the imagination of the movers and shapers of our world?”

Read the article here:

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“Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” (VIDEO)

In 2001, after Stuart Townend and I wrote “In Christ Alone,” we set a goal of writing a collection of hymns based on each of the main statements of the Apostle’s Creed. This became a labor of love for more than five years, and one of the final hymns we wrote focused on the Holy Spirit, which became “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.”

Musically, the melody initially came to me years ago after Kristyn and I first married and were living in Switzerland. I got up early one Sunday morning to prepare for church and went into my office. I was meditating on the lyrics of John Newton’s hymn, “O How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” when the tune for this hymn on the Holy Spirit came to me. I think the internal harmonies of this song also resulted from my love of Johann Sebastian Bach. In years past I’ve spent more hours than I wish to count harmonizing his chorales!

I don’t pick favorites among our songs, but this has to be one of my melodies I love the most. It gets on equally well in churches with choirs as well when we use it with our band. The idea of interspersing the beautiful melody of “Gabriel’s Oboe” (a favorite from the film The Mission) throughout the hymn came when we were preparing for a service at the Keswick convention in England in 2008. I just starting knitting it into the transition between verses, and it grew to be a statement itself as it prepares listeners for the hymn.

…the lyric of “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” is as much an explanation of what Scripture states the Holy Spirit does as it is a prayer for our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In the same tradition of the other hymns we’ve written on the Apostle’s Creed, the lyric of “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” is as much an explanation of what Scripture states the Holy Spirit does as it is a prayer for our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first verse is a petition for inward renewal as we are confronted with the living and written Word of God. The second verse is a prayer that the outward fruit of our lives will reflect Christ in every action. The final verse is then a prayer for the church around us, that the Spirit will “show your power once again on earth; cause your church to hunger for your ways.”

As we worked to find an appropriate climax to the song, we were continually reminded through our studies that the Holy Spirit works to make us less and exalt Christ. So rather than making the third verse a huge finish, we turn in the sixth line and express, “lead me on the road to sacrifice.”

As I see it, the song has multiple uses. During our concerts, we use it as a response to the day at the end of the performance. In church services, we commonly use either this song or “Speak, O Lord” just prior to the sermon as a preparation for listening to the Word of God. If the church service itself is centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit, the song also can be used in a liturgical form or even as part of the message (there’s still not enough material in hymn form on the subject of the Holy Spirit.) Additionally, it also works well as a blessing or prayer offered for someone during a commissioning service, healing service or dedication. We look forward to hearing how you’re able to use it in your ministry!

Lyrics and more available at

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3 FREE Easter Hymns – St. Patrick’s Day Sale Begins!

“Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn)”
A quiet song for communion written in four verses: preparation, bread, wine and response…download FREE mp3, pdf and read more here
“The Power of the Cross”
Recorded by both Heather Headley and Kristyn Getty, this hymn takes us from Gethsemene to Calvary, reminding us what it meant for Christ to suffer…download FREE mp3, pdf and read more here
“Come, People of the Risen King”
An up-tempo call to worship, perfect for your band on Easter Sunday…download FREE mp3, pdf and read more here
These PDFs are freely copyable for churches with a CCLI license. Forward them to your worship team and volunteers so that they can download the MP3s also.

download FREE mp3s, pdfs and read more here

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When One Plus One Equals Three

Lessons learned in the art of collaboration

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ten years ago I had the pleasure of meeting songwriter Stuart Townend. Stuart had written the beautiful hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love,” which inspired me to try my hand at hymnwriting. Our publishers, John Pac and Stephen Doherty, introduced us. I felt both excited and privileged to meet him.

Stuart agreed to write one song in collaboration with me. The song became “In Christ Alone.” We’ve written together regularly since then and it’s been one of the most beneficial experiences in my life. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Successful collaboration weaves together individual strengths. While I often focus on the melody first, Stuart is a phenomenal lyricist. True poets and lyricists can agonize over single words and phrases for months while composers feel equally passionately about melody. While I have strong convictions about lyrical direction, I’m not a wordsmith like Stuart.  But we each have complemented the others’ strengths.
  • Successful collaboration enables you to reach higher. More than a century ago Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The lightning spark of thought generated in a solitary mind awakens its likeness in another mind”. Whether it’s by raising your standards, sharpening your focus, or inspiring you to move in a new direction, collaboration brings mutual encouragement. Very few creative people live in a vacuum. We need community.
  • Successful collaboration brings different opinions to the table. Good collaborators don’t always agree with you. In my world of square boxes, everything has a neat space–people, places, ideas, events, plans (including what I’m having for lunch as soon as I finish this blog!). Stuart is very different and brings to the mix his own personality, ideas, life experiences and artistic influences. So my viewpoint is constantly challenged.
  • Successful collaboration shares common goals. Each of us ultimately should share the same goals in what we’re trying to achieve. Then, when we encounter roadblocks along the way–whether they’re the tendency to run off in tangents, reveal our annoying habits, expose mixed motivations or discover the need to keep our egos in check–we go back to the goals and remember why we’re here. Everything is on the table and there’s nothing that can’t be said.

The body of Christ as a whole functions at its best when it operates in collaborative effort.

The creative relationship between musicians and pastors, for example, is critical. Most of the great hymnwriters were (and still are) either pastors or musicians with close relationships to one another.

Additionally, worship pastors and their fellow musicians can experience the joy of creativity when the entire team shares ideas for worship, encouraging each other’s strengths while also lovingly challenging each other to be better. Sadly, this model of interaction often is emulated more by film studios such as Pixar than the local church.

Most importantly, honest collaboration is something we should experience in our closest relationships. During the past few weeks our personal circumstances have changed considerably, and I’ve had to learn collaboration as a husband in new ways. Realizing that I don’t always practice what I preached in the most important of circumstances is always a sad indictment. But that’s why we’re linked together in this life–to realize we don’t exist for ourselves, but to serve each other and in turn to serve God. And to see we can often be more creative, fruitful and excellent as a team than as individuals. Those are some of the best gifts collaboration can bring.

Watch Stuart live on our website here

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Standing on Strong Shoulders

The inspiration behind the modern hymn ‘By Faith’.

Several years ago I turned to a wise and older friend for some much-needed advice. My friend humbly replied that while he didn’t have all the answers, he’d gladly offer his shoulders for me to stand on, so to speak, in order for me to gain perspective. He provided thoughtful counsel, and still does so on a regular basis.

Since then, the image of standing on someone’s shoulders often comes to mind, perhaps because of how rarely it seems to happen. Our culture is so fixed on chasing what’s most current that we often miss seeing how God has worked in past generations. We can learn, for example, from the incredible passion, conviction, priorities and art seen in the lives of the first hymn writers (while also realizing that even our newest ideas often can be traced to earlier origins). Creativity can take on new forms of expression and human insight can produce fresh fruit with each age, but none of us begin with a blank sheet of paper! We are in the middle of the story.

As God’s people, we need to lean on those who’ve gone before us.

Tonight we ate Mexican food with a pastor friend who shared how young members of his congregation are finding themselves in need of the older ones to demonstrate what it means to live and grow as men and women of God. As a young boy I observed my grandfather’s practice of arriving at church an hour before the service began to spend quiet time with the Lord in preparation for worship. Both examples demonstrate the impact one generation can have on the next. Scripture also reveals this:

“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all he has made. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” Psalm 145:4, 13, 21

When I read this passage, I’m reminded that the praises and testimonies of one generation are to echo into the next. All ages serve and worship the same God, gather under the same gospel and add to the collective song that praises the faithfulness of God as each generation shares in his promises to us. We are part of something timeless, and the exercise of stretching our vision beyond ourselves leads us further down the road to an eternal perspective on all of life and our very reason for being.

In our own songwriting for the church, we often consider these questions:

  • Is there a musical vocabulary that might link generations and not separate them?
  • What thoughts were important to believers in the church from generations past?
  • Are the lyrics we sing expressing these overarching themes or dispelling both the challenge and relief that comes when considering the well-trodden path of faith?

These questions influenced the lyrics in “By Faith,” our song inspired by Hebrews chapter 11. We tried to tell the chapter’s overarching story and show how believers today are traveling on the same journey of faith as those throughout the ages who’ve walked before us. Our prayer is that our songs–and lives–will give something whole and bright to the those coming after us who are ready to take hold of it!

Watch a By Faith video, download sheetmusic and view other resources here

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By David Neff (Christianity Today) – Ten Good Ideas from Contemporary Hymn Writer Keith Getty

Irish songwriter Keith Getty began his workshop Tuesday at the National Worship Leaders Conference by telling those who had come to learn how to write a great worship song to leave. “Because art is the expression of life, you cannot ‘how-to’ creativity

Getty collaborates with his wife Kristyn and friend Stuart Townend. “They’re the words and I’m the music,” he says, estimating that somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the words of any of their songs are his. “But we both get involved on both sides.”

Here are ten notable and worthwhile ideas edited and distilled from Getty’s workshop comments:

1. The primary form we use is the story form. The gospel is primarily story. How do you take people who want 4-line worship songs and get them to sing 32 lines? By structuring the song as a story.

2. It is important to look at things that are harrowing and that don’t necessarily make us feel happy. The central core of the Christian faith is not something that makes us happy. We need to acknowledge our need for a redeemer. The reason we worship is that we meet God through the central story of the cross.

3. We need lament. But if you want to write lament, remember that a successful lament resolves. Not into a happily-ever-after ending, but like the psalms of lament, by ultimately acknowledging that God is God.

4. To write strong melodies remember that folk melody has to be passed on orally (aurally). I try to write songs that can be sung with no written music. I imitate Irish folk melody, with a great deal of contour, of rise and fall.

5. Use pastors and theologians as resources for your writing. But keep company with them. Don’t just ask them to fix your text here or there when you’re done with it.

6. Trinitarian worship safeguards us from so many problems our worship can get into: either an overly stern view of god or a casual view of god. Both can lead to problems in our lives.

7. Martin Luther is one of ten people from history I would want to have coffee with. I have looked at a lot of Luther’s hymns and emulated him. First, Luther had a high view of redemption. He also believed we live our lives in the midst of spiritual warfare. Thirdly, he had a high view of the church and a high vision of the church.

8. The congregation is the choir and it is merely the privilege of those of us who are musically gifted to help them sing.

9. Lyrics and great writing are the same thing. Lyricism is poetry. If your write lyrics, read as much poetry as you can. Lyricists are people who love words and do crossword puzzles.

10. Growing up, I never listened to pop music as a child. I was steeped in church music. That could be a blessing because everything I write can be sung by a congregation.Christianity Today

David Neff’s Blog

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