For Bobby and Kristen Gilles, the gospel is at the center of everything they do. They are singers and songwriters, and their music has been sung in thousands of churches. They are bloggers and writers, and their material has informed and inspired many believers. They are teachers and coaches, helping musicians and worship leaders excel in their task. But before each of these roles, they are children of God whose mission is to live and spread the gospel. We recently talked with Kristen Gilles to learn about the couple’s ministry and to gain insight into worship and songwriting.
In your ministry, you’ve made it clear that worship is a corporate activity of the local church. The way Russell Moore put it was that you are recovering “an ecclesial, rooted sense of worship.” What does this look like, practically?
Rather than focusing on worship being a personal experience between me and Jesus, we want to see worship redeemed in the context of community. When we write songs, we do so with the whole church in mind — members who are suffering, members who are rejoicing, members who are struggling. All of us need to rehearse the gospel and hear it sung back to us. In essence, we’re preaching the gospel to one another in song.
It’s our hope that the songs we write and sing will be easily acceptable into the corporate worship of churches, both in lyrics and also in melodic arrangement. When this is the case, the songs will be helpful in terms of learning and hearing the gospel.
How do differences of style in worship music help or detract from this?
We’ve heard from contemporary churches who long to bring back the richness of the old hymns. But we’ve also heard from more traditional or liturgical churches who want to incorporate fresh songs and styles into their services. In both cases, congregations are sometimes resistant to change.
We must keep in mind that the goal is to declare the gospel in song. For some contemporary churches, that may involve going back to the old hymns and reworking them in a contemporary style so that they are more accessible musically. The same can be done in traditional churches, too — using older hymns sung in a contemporary style.
At the same time, we should remember to leave some of the old ones alone. They’ve been preserved for so long because they’re good, both lyrically and methodically.
What advice would you give to those who are writing worship music?
Our number one criterion for writing a worship song is to declare the gospel. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that we always tell the whole story of redemption — from the fall and creation onward. But we ask ourselves, are we telling the truth in this song? Are we writing in a way that the truth is clear? Does this resonate with God’s word?
Beyond that, we want to write songs that are specifically for our local congregation. You get to know the people that you’re doing life with — you hear from them, you pray from them, you know what they’re wrestling with. When this happens, you have the opportunity to convey the gospel to them in very specific ways. You can help them understand the gospel in relation to where they are.
As songwriters, we sometimes want to write an amazing song that will be at the top of the charts. Realistically, that doesn’t happen for the majority of songwriters. A better goal is to write for your local congregation. Talk to your pastor, and ask him if there are any things in Scripture or an upcoming sermon series that you could write a song for.
Something else that’s helpful is to look at the songs of Scripture. The book of Psalms is 150 songs! That’s a huge resource! Just study the songs that are written in the Scripture.
In your composition and songwriting, who are some of your greatest influences?
My dad is my first inspiration. He and mom faithfully led worship for 35 years in the church I grew up in. He wrote songs, and I remember singing those as a child. They were easy for the congregation to sing, but were also rich in terms of truth and depth. My mom and dad both loved studying God’s word, and this was apparent in their music. I grew up in a church where we sang songs written by the worship leader. That was normal for me.
I also listened to and learned from some contemporary female songwriters — Nicole Nordeman and Sara Groves. These were the two that I listened to in my late teens and early twenties when I started writing songs. Most recently, however, my greatest example and inspiration is my husband.
You’re releasing a new album soon. What’s it about?
This week, we’re recording for an album that will be released next spring. These songs are born out of the challenges we’ve faced during the past year with the birth of our stillborn son. Although these songs came from a time of intense challenge, they are also intensely missional. They encourage us to be proactive in loving and caring for the needy, and exhorting us to declare the gospel to the ends of the earth.
In addition to carrying on a musical ministry, Bobby and Kristen are also excellent writers. They blog at MySongInTheNight.com. The blog is a valuable resource of rich material for songwriters, worship leaders, or any believer who wants to learn and grow.
Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.