Some churches meet in cathedrals surrounded by stained glass windows on all sides. Others gather in historic buildings with vaulted ceilings and majestic architecture. Modern-day hymn-writers Keith and Kristyn Getty find their place of worship to often be in a tiny room with butterflies fluttering from the ceiling, polka dots lining the walls, and a parade of dolls staring them down. It’s in this sea of pink that the husband and wife lead their small congregation of three in song each night.
The Irish-born lyricists have discovered that singing songs with their three daughters — Eliza (6), Charlotte (3), and Grace (2) — has become a sweet, effective bedtime ritual and a way to gradually introduce music, which teaches the girls solid theology they can hide in their hearts along the way. “We found devotionals were a hard thing to do with our kids sometimes because we’re not as consistent as we’d like to be, and it’s hard especially at nighttime to settle everybody down,” Kristyn admits. “So we found the Bible reading part was much better in the morning at breakfast time when everybody was in one spot, and that’s usually when our kids are best behaved.”
Singing, however, was something the whole family could eagerly engage in every night. So Keith and Kristyn now choose one hymn each month that they highlight at bedtime, intent on giving their children “a body of songs that you can grow old with.”
“It not only teaches the song, but it actually helps me in the evening to settle my mind and realize these are God’s children who are given under out care, and these are the thing that are really important,” Kristyn says of their “hymn a month” ritual. “These are the things that really matter.”
“You write in their hearts the truths. Plus, I love the polka dots,” Keith quips.
Music has always been an integral part of Keith and Kristyn’s lives, even before they became parents. Keith’s mother was a piano teacher, his dad was an organist. So he can’t remember a time when music didn’t fill their home. In fact, Kristyn recalls a memory before she and Keith started dating when she went over to their house for dinner only to have the Getty family break out in song before breaking bread.
“Before dinner, suddenly everybody stopped, and they started singing in four-part harmony,” Kristyn remembers. “And it caught me off guard!”
Now, the couple uses the pre-dinner time as another opportunity to sing with their own kids. “A wonderful way to sing as a family is to sing grace before dinner,” Kristyn suggests. “We’ve got a few different graces that we sing, and the kids pick which one they want.”
Since both Keith and Kristyn are already predisposed to music, it’s only natural that they would want to expose their children to it. Yet they insist it’s important for every child’s development, regardless of whether or not the parents are musically gifted.
Some of the best poetry is found in hymns. This is beautiful writing. So it trains a child’s ear for all types of literature.
“One of the best things you can ever do is make it a part of your own life...If it’s a good song, and it means something to you, it will mean something to them,” Kristyn offers. “Some of the best poetry is found in hymns. This is beautiful writing. So it trains a child’s ear for all types of literature. It gives them such a sense of good music, writing and art and why that’s important.”
And it’s not just hymns and faith-based music that the Gettys are introducing to their daughters. They want them to be well-rounded, and this means expanding their worldview and making sure they’re exposed to a variety of sounds.
“We love music of all kinds,” Keith shares. “We love classical music, folk music. We love Broadway musicals. We love jazz. We love classic songwriters. We love pop music.”
As parents, the Gettys have found it’s not just about what you sing but how you sing. “Passion is an infectious thing,” Keith says. “If you’re passionate about singing and rejoicing, and you sing songs that you love to sing, your kids will join in.”
A quick glance at the Gettys’ songwriting credits reveals that they’re the writers behind some of the biggest songs in the global church’s canon. So, it would also be easy to assume singing comes naturally in their household. Although it’s something that’s woven into the fabric of their daily lives and their parenting approach, Keith and Kristyn will tell you singing has less to do with the quality of your vocal skills and more to do with the posture of your heart. “The church is the ultimate choir, and it doesn’t require auditions. Everybody’s in,” Kristyn maintains. “When we gather together in the church, it’s not actually how good we are. That’s never the prerequisite.”
Not only have the Gettys found value in singing at home, they also realize the significance of singing at church on Sunday morning more now than ever before. They want to lead by example for their kids, letting them know that worship is just as important as the sermon.
“What’s been amazing to us is just how often we’ve been reminded since we became parents about the importance of singing in the church,” Keith notes. As the Biblical head of the household he feels it’s the responsibility of the husband to step up and lead…by singing.
“Dads have to wake up and grow up,” he observes. “Most families will follow the dad. So when it comes to singing, if the dad doesn’t sing in church, certainly the sons aren’t going to. So it’s a challenge to fathers. It’s a challenge to couples to have this conversation about singing.”
Studies have shown children retain new information best during their formative years. That’s why language and basic skills like reading and arithmetic are introduced early in a child’s life. At the same time, if parents are intentional about introducing music when their kids are young, it’s likely the children will be able to learn and remember the songs easily.
“Highlight those songs which can deeply speak into their faith journey,” Kristyn offers. “Lyrics are powerful, and songs stay with the child. Music is just so catchy, and then your kids are suddenly singing all these truths.” She adds that it’s also important to occupy a child’s mind with positive messages. Otherwise, culture will make sure their minds are filled with negativity. It’s up to the parents to ensure their children are digesting the right things.
“You go from Monday to Friday and then it’s the weekend again and again; and time just charges on. If you’re not trying to work out how you’re informing your kids in some of these key things, those gaps in their minds and hearts are being filled in…They’re going to get filled in with something,” Kristyn asserts. “You’re the parent. You have the right and responsibility and freedom to continue to speak into this.”
She’s also quick to add that singing isn’t a replacement for God’s Word, nor is it a substitute for salvation. “To sing with your kids is not a box you check to guarantee your kids are going to walk with the Lord,” she concedes. “It’s not some sort of magical formula, but it’s a biblical way.”
Teaching kids to sing may not be a foolproof mechanism for ensuring they follow the Lord all the days of their lives, but it is one way parents can equip their kids with truth they can carry with them wherever the road leads.
“Even if a child is to wander away or go through a period of rebellion, be thinking in your mind about some of the things that you would want to sing to them even when they’re far away, knowing that music has this tremendous power that we can’t even fathom,” Kristyn advises. “What are the essential ideas of the gospel? What does the Christian faith actually mean? Let’s find songs that explain that, so even if they wander away, these are the things that will continue to be in their mind.”
Whatever the future holds for their daughters, the Gettys hope they’re building a foundation on which all three girls can anchor their lives. Although Keith and Kristyn have found integrating music into their daily routine advantageous for their children, they also understand all kids are unique and may require different methods. Lest you picture the Gettys as the ideal of perfection, Kristyn insists, “My kids don’t sit perfectly in their Hanna Andersson pajamas just staring at me lovingly…‘Sing another one, Mother.’ It’s usually, ‘I don’t like that one. Let’s do this one!’ You’ve got to be willing to change it a wee bit because some songs are better for certain kids, and there’s so many to choose from. So we’re just sort of going along and refining it as we go.”
Whether your sanctuary is filled with pews, a kitchen table, a grove of trees, or even polka dots, the important thing is that you sing, inviting your children to join in and use their voices for God’s glory.
“For moms or dads at home, whenever you’re thinking, How do I teach my kids to pray? How do I teach them to read the Bible for themselves? I think you need to ask, How do I teach them to sing?” Kristyn says. “Help engage a child - whatever age they are - to understand the significance of singing, why we sing, and the responsibility, the privilege, the joy of it.”
This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.