by John Vandyk Eat. Drink. Be merry. And be seen doing all three. If there is an unwritten catechism for the nightlife on Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, these few phrases might fill that void.
It’s the Saturday evening before Sunday’s “Hymn Sing” scheduled for the 4,373-seat auditorium of the Grand Ole Opry, a prelude to the Getty Sing! Conference beginning officially on Monday noon, August 19. The streets in downtown Nashville are full of fun-seeking revelers, along with the curious – those walking up and down Broadway with somewhat dazed looks are likely attendees to the three-day Sing! Conference on the Life of Christ.
The cacophony on Broadway as live music pours out of pubs and restaurants, with voices competing on the decibel scale with amped up guitars and drums, means that clear-headed thinking and any kind of conversation are best set aside for a time.
While the music at the Getty Sing! Conference may have hit those same decibels in terms of volume, the contrast in content in terms of harmony is stark. The Getty name among evangelicals and Reformed Christians is increasingly synonymous with modern hymn writing, and Keith and wife Kristyn have devoted their time and talents to both developing their own works and encouraging other talented artists to produce solid, singable hymns for the churches and for Christian homes.
The most recent Sing! Conference was the third of five organized by Getty Music. The inaugural launch was in 2017, an introduction by the Gettys to the Sing! “movement” to which 4,000 attended. In 2018 at the Nashville Convention Center, attendance doubled to 8,000 with the conference focus on “Singing the Psalms: Ancient & Modern,” a revelation for many attendees unfamiliar with singing the words of Scripture from the Psalms. This year’s event shifted to a larger venue, the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, where over 12,000 filled the massive hall for musical performances, communal singing, concerts, as well as theological and practical presentations that centered on the Life of Christ, from Incarnation, to Resurrection, to Great Commission. 2020’s theme is Singing the Scriptures, and the final conference in 2021 will cover “Singing Through the Ages.”
Ever innovative, conference host Keith Getty reverted an idea from the past with a Sunday night “Hymn Sing,” a first in the Sing! Series. Judging by the positive responses, this pre-conference event will be repeated. The performer led and communal singing of modern hymns took up the first half of the evening, led by the Gettys, their band members, and a 300-member choir. Following the intermission, Joni Eareckson Tada wheeled onto center stage for what was the traditional hymns portion of the evening. Joni led the enthusiastic yet reverential singing of simple, classical Christ-centered hymns such as “O Sacred Head” as the audience joined her, a capella, singing the songs of the cross. With just partial control of her arms Joni directed the concert hall audience while sharing personal stories of pain and struggle in the light of the Gospel.
The Gettys are all about collaboration – bringing the Christiancommunity’s, song writers, choir directors, musicians and church and worship leaders together – to create and sing music in worship and at home – songs with Getty ingredients: “rich theology, timeless artistry, and vibrant singing” for “individuals, families, churches and communities.”
The glitzy Opryland Center provided a cavernous hall for the main sessions, a venue that had the look and feel of a dreary basement – dark and industrial, yet suitable for a crowd 13,000-plus.. But for those on the outer edges left to watch events via an array of TV screens, it was likely not what folks were expecting or how they had hoped to experience the conference.
Following a welcome and introductory remarks by Keith Getty, who reviewed past conferences and shared plans for the remaining two, he introduced the first speaker, Dr. John Lennox, a mathematician and scientist (and uncle of Kristyn Getty), whose presentation was on the Genesis of Creation by the Word, in opposition to much of modern day atheism.
One speaker followed on another, with Dr. Don Carson next up with an exposition on “The Word Made Flesh.”Mark Dever, a pastor in Washington, DC, spoke about the importance of church worship with Christ at the center. Dr. Dever shared step by step the liturgy of his own home church, and for Reformed Christians, many would say “Amen” to what he shared, reinforcing their own practice of worship. He also emphatically emphasized the importance of prayer.
Dr. John MacArthur turned audience attention to the crucifixion, a muted presentation in somber tones, fitting for the weight of the subject matter.
A breakout session led by Dr. John Piper tackled a number of topical questions. with a pastoral heart and with Scriptural sensitivity and thoroughness.
The final keynote speech was by Os Guinness, British American writer and social critic. His topic, “The Great Commission,” noted the obstacles to sharing the gospel in our time with citizens whose fundamental worldview is relativism in this post-Christian culture, and how consumerism has seeped into the church as well, seriously fragmenting the people of God. Consequently, he said, the Christian community, still a majority in the U.S., has lost its saltiness.
Interspersed between keynote presentations and workshop sessions, were times of communal singing, including performances by Fernando Ortega, violinist David Kim, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, Stuart Townend, Matt Merker and Jordan Kauflin among others. Works by visual artists were also included in each of the three days. Panel discussions and interviews filled the in-between times. A huge hall filled with vendors shared their ministries and products – books, musical instruments – for purchase.
Monday evening included three special events to choose from: an Irish Christmas Concert by the Gettys; a Handel’s Messiah singfest, and something completely different: a cornhole tournament.Another highlight was a Tuesday evening concert in the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, home to the NHL Predators. Over 13,000 attended, filling the arena with the songs of salvation. A choir of one thousand voices accompanied. Joni, once again, led in the singing of a few traditional hymns, after which Dr. John Piper spoke.
After the concert, the pilgrim crowd filed out of the arena, blending in with the throngs on Broadway. The contrast, from the high of harmony and consonance to the raucousness and dissonance, was striking, stark, and a reminder of work yet to be done.
SAT, DEC 7 Detroit, MI - Ward Church
MON, DEC 9 Tulsa, OK - Mabee Center
TUE, DEC 10 Longview, TX - Belcher Center
FRI, DEC 13 Lancaster, PA - Calvin and Janet High Fine Arts Center
SAT, DEC 14 Washington, DC - Kennedy Center Opera House