Hymn writer Keith Getty: Nominal, shallow Christianity has no future, we must proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord

The first hymn writer to be honoured by the Queen for contemporary Christian music has described how his music is an expression of one thing – that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Keith Getty, awarded OBE in the annual Queen's Birthday Honours, told Christian Today that at the heart of all his remarkable hymns, which are among the most popular modern worship hymns ever written, is the conviction that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made – and that music is an expression of that.

'But even more than that – that it points ultimately to Christ – that even the rocks and the hills could cry out that Jesus is Lord,' he says.

Every new song or production or company or idea is aimed at drawing people towards Christ.

'We live in what John Stott described as the most exciting generation in history to be Christians, with the growth of Christianity around the world, the potential of the Bible in every language but, to quote Dickens, it is the "best and the worst of times". The challenges are so great that I don't believe nominal or shallow Christianity has any realistic future.

'We need to build believers, churches and children who are deep believers and part of how that happens is through the songs we sing. May all of us work together to share in that vision.'

Looking to God: hymn writer Keith GettyGetty Music

The OBE was awarded in recognition of Getty's contribution to music and hymn writing through his re- popularising of hymns. It is the first such honour given to an individual who is actively involved in the world of contemporary Church music.

Getty's hymns, often written in collaboration with Stuart Townend, include the the popular In Christ Alone – the number one most-frequently-sung in UK churches for a record-setting nine consecutive years. An estimated 40-50 million people sing Getty hymns in church services each year,

Getty, raised in Northern Ireland, told Christian Today: 'I was introduced to faith and music by my parents and started to get involved while at our local church, Elmwood Presbyterian in Lisburn outside of Belfast.'

It  grew from there – the music groups at his church grew to attract others from other areas. His parents had an open house for everyone and over time they created their New Irish Arts organisation, involving hundreds of people from throughout Ireland in music and particularly church music.

Although he's not now involved personally, it is still flourishing under the leadership of Jonathan Rea and regarded as a great example of how the arts can shape lives and communities.

Getty has always written music but it was meeting Stuart Townend  that changed his life.

'He is just an unparalleled talent and really helped me shape and focus my writing through some pretty tough love and critique. Our first song was "In Christ Alone" and that really opened the doors for an interest and revival in hymn writing.'

Getty became a Christian as a child. 'Key to everything were great older Christians and having great older heroes.

'As I grew up those guiding stars continued to be an extraordinary help in everything we did. I think older Christians we can look up to is so crucial and vice versa - the responsibility to be encouraging the next generation in deep faith is profound.'

Along wth Stuart, his wife Kristyn is integral to the creative process.

'I've never been that good at creativity by myself and whether it's Stuart or Kristyn or Fionan who helped create the "Irish Christmas" show, I have always leaned heavily on others.

'Kristyn however has been the most influential person in my life – I often get asked, "Who is the most influential theologian?" or "Who are your closest confidants?" and Kristyn is the answer to all those questions. Even when I've heard a profound sermon, or read a deep book she actually shapes how I distill, practise and really adopt ideas and patterns at a daily level.

'That's the beauty of marriage. We were married 13 years on Friday and while not always easy, it has been a blast – we have never had a night apart – come to think of it she deserves an award.'

Music – singing in particular – helps them express and shape their faith

'What we sing affects our personal lives – how we understand, feel, memorise, pray and ultimately live our life; our family lives – the quality of family devotional life and ultimately both relationships and kids spiritual growth; our church and sense of fellowship with each other as well as our witness to those beyond the church.

'That's why it is so crucial and why every minister, pastor, elder and parent needs to take so seriously what they and those under their care sing.'

He offers no illusions that the writing process itself is the realisation of some fantasy of straightforward divine inspiration.

'I can't speak for others but for me I'm afraid it's just plain old hard hard work. I was never good enough for it just to "be inspired". I have to graft writing hundreds of tunes and Stuart Townend or sometimes Kristyn usually is the one who has the wisdom to know what works.

'Hearing them performed – well it's really wonderful. At one level,  kind of like when someone cooks a meal and then gets to eat it and watch others eat it, as we have worked so hard to write something for families of believers to sing.

'But at an altogether deeper level the idea your creativity can help people sing to the Lord and enrich their spiritual walk is incredible.'

Keith at his piano. Josh Newman/Getty Music