Discipling Kids through Song in the Nitty-Gritty of Life: An Interview with Songwriter Michael Tinker
Michael, you’ve just released your fourth kids’ album, intriguing titled Mission To Dendros. That strikes me as an unusual title for a Christian kids’ album! What gives you the inspiration, and why would a parent buy that rather than your typical ’60 worship songs for kids’ album?
People are already trying to work out the theological significance of ‘Dendros’! The album and accompanying 7-part audio adventure is set in space, so we needed a name for the planet where most of the action happens. James Cary came up with ‘Dendros’ and it seemed to work…
I’ve always loved radio and drama, so I try and work that into all of my albums because I figure other kids do too. We’ve gone one step further with the latest album by adding a 7-part adventure which has given us the opportunity to really develop the characters with some biblical themes interwoven throughout the story.
Why buy this rather than the latest ‘The Only Kids Worship Album You’ll Need EVER (volume 105)’? Well, if you’ve got the cash, buy both, but if you’re having to choose, ‘Mission to Dendros’ offers not only kids worship songs, but also songs that deal with subjects that perhaps traditional kids songs don’t. I’m a big believer in using songs to disciple children and to do that effectively we’ve not only got to sing about the big bible themes, but also how the gospel impacts the nitty gritty of life. So there are songs dealing with worry, sadness and loss, as well as those big bopping bouncy bible theme songs that underpin it all. And there’s Mr Grumpy. And lots of jokes.
You’ve worked on some significant albums and tours that are for ‘grown-up’s. How did you get into writing and performing for children and families – and what’s kept you going?
I’ve always loved working with children and in fact ‘Inspector Smart’ (who’s on the first couple of family albums) was a creation of my 17 year old self. It really got going though in 2013 when I ran a Bible holiday club and wrote a few songs, as well as developing the Inspector Smart character. From there we wrote a whole album, and then another… and another… and now another! Over the years I’ve grown the team involved so I now co-write with Tim Chester. James Cary (BBC comedy writer) has come on board to write the drama side of things and we’ve even got a 14x Grammy Award winner playing banjo! (Ron Block, if you’re wondering)
The songs keep on coming because my kids still need discipling! (I have 3 children) Many of my songs come from discipleship moments with my kids, or my own heart. Songs stick, so I write songs to help embed the truths we need to learn in those moments. I love sharing those songs with others as they seem to help other families in their discipleship.
How as parents can we use song in our family’s discipleship?
Get to know the songs your kids are listening to and get to know your kids! (I’m guessing the second part is already well under way) Before I started writing family songs our kids listened to a lot of Colin Buchanan and there were many moments where we were talking through issues and we’d say ‘remember that song by Colin? That’s about this…’ Now I write songs to make sure we can have many more of those moments.
One of my favourite moments didn’t actually involve me in the discipling. My eldest was worrying (again) but this time about her own sin. My wife was sitting with her, listening, talking, praying. Then my 5 year old toddled in and whispered to his mum ‘tell her – as far as the east is from the west…’ (a line from one of my new songs as well as Psalm 103:12!)
And that’s how it’s done. Help kids make a connection between the truths that have been embedded in their hearts through song and their everyday lives and struggles.
You’ve said you have a ‘passion for dealing with the difficult things of life for kids’. Can you unpack that and show what that looks like in your music?
It looks like (or sounds like) finding out what are the particular struggles of kids, seeing how the Bible speaks to those struggles and then singing about it! The thing is, when you start to do this, you realise the things kids struggle with are the things that adults struggle with. The difference is that kids often don’t have the words to articulate and therefore understand their struggles, whereas adults are better at hiding their struggles.
Songs are helpful here because they help expose what’s really going on underneath (and so they keep adults honest) and they give us the words needed to help understand and deal with those struggles. I think that’s what the Psalms do. David lets us into some really personal issues in his life. In doing so he invites us on the journey he has travelled – one that starts with honest examination of the heart, through to repentance and finding the only place of safety, in the hands of the true King.
That’s what I want to do with my songs. I want to be honest and real about the struggles of life that kids go through too (using language and ideas that they can relate to). I want to invite them to see their own issues and take them to the foot of the Saviour where they can find life and rest.
Tell us about your Family Show. What does it involve, who is it aimed at and how would a church go about exploring bringing it to their area?
The Family Shows are about 1 hour and full of songs, fun and Jesus. We go on an adventure discovering more about the wonderful gospel. Along the way we meet some crazy characters like the absent minded Archibald the Explorer and the ever-grouchy Mr Grumpy. People often ask what age-group it’s for and I say 0-99 – as long as you’re willing to have fun there’s something for everyone. In fact there was a lady in her 90’s at a recent show and she came over to say how pleased she was that she came! One thing I’m keen to do is make it engaging for the adults who bring the kids too. So there are jokes and musical genres that they’ll appreciate too. And everyone gets to hear about Jesus – so win-win!
If people would like to book a show they can get in touch via my website michaeljtinker.com/contact and I’d love to chat about making it happen!
If people want to order they can go to michaeljtinker.com/shop. It’ll be available on iTunes etc, but obviously through the website is best!!