An Interview with Matt Redman
By Alex MacDougall
Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall caught up with Matt Redman as Matt prepares to release his next album, Glory Song on September 29th.
WL: We met in 1997 at a Kingsway conference in Southport, UK. This was just before the beginning of British-born worship music achieving high awareness levels in the US during the late 20th century. Those times were all so thrilling. Have you noticed many changes in leading worship from those early days?
Matt Redman: Those were such special times to be sure – so much newness and momentum around fresh expressions in worship music. I love seeing how things have progressed since then – there’s a whole lot of creativity around and a lot of people trying to take the art of writing worship songs really seriously. The one difference I notice more than any other I guess is that these days a whole industry has grown up around worship music. There’s a lot of good to be said of that because it’s a great way of resourcing people with new songs and a soundtrack for their worship with God. I really mean that. We can hear expressions from so many far corners of the church these days, and that’s a fantastic thing. But there are definitely some challenges that come along with that too. It means we have to check our hearts ever more ruthlessly – because attention and hype and being on a stage are all things that can become very disorientating, distracting – and ultimately dangerous. Even the social media side of things is interesting – that wasn’t even a thing when I started out! Again, it can be a wonderful tool, used in the right way – you can point to new songs, you can edify and encourage – and you can connect with warmth – and all that stuff. But maturity is learning how to live in the world of Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat and still operate with the same values you would in a church service. And that’s where the challenge lies, as there’s a lot of opportunity for self-celebration, self-promotion and showing off these days – so we’ve all got to be careful. A quick example – the “retweet” of something nice someone said about you, or your leadership, or your music – it’s something we’ve come to accept as normal in our culture. But the bible says in Proverbs, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own lips” – so you’ve got to take the values of scripture and make sure we’re applying them to these relatively new areas of life like social media. Especially if you’re a leader. And note that I’m preaching to myself on this – not trying to judge others – it’s definitely not an easy thing to navigate.
WL: God has allowed you to lead and record worship in some significant and historically secular places…Wembley Stadium, Times Square, Abbey Road Studios and Capitol Records, just to name a few. How does that impact you? How has your awareness of God’s Sovereignty been affected?
Matt: I feel so grateful to have been trusted with these moments. On this new record, we got to record at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. That would have been exciting enough on its own, but then getting to shoot the acoustic videos up on the roof of that building, looking over LA as the sun went down was super special – we had church up there! I like it when the church shows up in these iconic places. Seeing God’s people fill an arena or stadium, or famed venue of some kind if always a special moment. But I think what I love most is that worship can be powerful and profound at the Royal Albert Hall with a 60 piece orchestra and 400 voice choir, but just as poignant around a hospital bedside with 3 or 4 people. Isn’t that amazing? It’s just part of the beautiful mystery of worship music. When we put our hearts into it, and when we find God’s heart in it, the details like how many people were there or how cool was the venue were starting to take a backseat.
WL: What is the most important thing that you’ve learned about worship over the past year?
Matt: That we still have a long way to go when it comes to experiencing and expressing reverence in worship. Some pastors and teachers I speak to are heartbroken that we’re still not doing a great job of painting a big picture of God in our song lyrics. If I’m honest, I’m not where I want to be on this as a songwriter. There’s one sense in which of course every song will fall short of living up to the glory of who God is – so that dynamic will always be a part of things. But I think we can do better. I’d say we’ve moved on a lot more in musicality and production than we have in the area of crafting solid, biblical, impacting lyrics. It’s a huge challenge, as the culture we live in doesn’t give us many head-starts on this – we’re living in times where reverence isn’t on our radar in any sphere of society. But it has to be in the mix when it comes to worship. Without reverence, it’s not actually worship. If you looked at lots of our songs these days you might get the sense that we admire or adore Jesus, but you might not end up concluding that we’re in awe of Him. I’m not saying anything new, and I don’t have the answers – I’ve just been thinking about it a lot again this last year, and have had some key conversations with pastors who are on the same page. Towards the end of my new album, I sing out a semi-spontaneous prayer which we called ‘Glory Song’ (and which then became the album title). In the prayer, I ask, “Did we lose the awe of God? Where has all the reverence gone? Come restore the glory song…” I think that sums up best what’s on my heart with all this.
WL: With the exception of last year’s Christmas release, it’s been several years since you have recorded a studio project of new worship songs. Do you have the main story behind Glory Song your newest release?
Matt: Yes, we decided it was time for another studio record. I’ve loved making the last 3 albums in a live context, but this time I was really keen to get back into the studio. There’s definitely a level of musical detail and a different depth of creativity that can happen with that approach. But also this time around I was keen to include some “gospel music” elements in the writing and recording process. I’ve been around new friends like Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Aaron Lindsey this last little while, and have become more and more aware that in the streams of the church I’m most often found in, we can be missing out on so much richness – in terms of the musicality and leadership they bring. My observation would be that there’s not a lot of enmity between these streams of the church, but it doesn’t seem like there’s many efforts at times either. So we’ve got the brilliant Kierra Sheard on the record, and new friends Jason McGee and his choir. Plus I got to write with Tasha for a couple of days and it was so refreshing – two different approaches bringing something unique to the mix, and sharpening each other in our gifts. The same happened with Aaron – we went somewhere we wouldn’t have gone with the song if I’d just been songwriting in my usual circle. So I like that musically this approach has brought something a little different into the equation. But I also like what it communicates. We’re living in times where there is so much friction around race in our society still – there’s a history of injustice in this area but I think it has become even more apparent that the problems aren’t all historical ones – we’re in 2017 and this stuff is just so close to the surface still. So in light of that, it’s important that in the church we model what it is to be one voice, and one people. I’m just a little Brit so ultimately what do I know, but with this record, I definitely had the heart to reach out to some of my worship leading friends in the African-American community and invite them to worship and work with me on this. I didn’t do that as a political statement, but because I loved their hearts, and am inspired by what they’re carrying in worship – and ultimately because I know we’re better together.
WL: What can you tell us about the song, “All Glory”?
Matt: It’s the first song on the record, and that’s probably appropriate as it starts with the lyric, “We enter Your gates with thanksgiving.” I wrote it with Jonas Myrin, and when writing it we envisioned it as a “call to worship” kind of song – perhaps a good one to use as the first or second song in a service. The story of the song is fun – we’d been songwriting in a chapel in the Presbyterian church in Hollywood. Halfway through the day we’d been out for sushi, but when we got back found we’d locked ourselves out of the chapel. While we were waiting for someone to arrive with keys, Jonas noticed a well-known bible verse on the wall from Psalm 100 – “Enter His gates with thanksgiving” – and a song idea started to form. When we got let back into the building, we went straight to the piano and started pouring out this song – I think the whole process was well under an hour, which is very unusual for us. As I’ve quoted from before, from U2, sometimes songwriting feels like a boxing ring and other times it feels like a playground. This time definitely felt like more of that enjoyable free-flowing ‘playground’ moment, and I love how the song turned out. The best bit of all to me is the irony of writing a song about “entering His gates” when we were locked out!
WL: Our cry at Worship Leader during over the past few years has been to “pray musically”. We see worship as “sung prayer”, and that worship music is a servant of prayer. What key distinctions should all worship leaders and worshipers ascribe to?
Matt: I think the key word is ‘integrity’. Am I the same person off-stage as I am on-stage? Am I doing all I can to live up to the things I sing? These are the biggest challenges of all, and I’m definitely on the learning curve still. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, you have an amazing time leading worship with a crowd but then fail to live up to who you’re aiming to be in a family or friendship situation. Circling back round to the social media thing, that’s another reason why we have to handle it with care and attention. Instagram, for example, makes it so easy to project the ‘perfect you’ – your highlight reel, for everyone to see. If you’re not careful, you can create a chasm between your real life and your social media world life. So the question is, can I be the same person on stage, and in my family, and on my Instagram feed? That’s a tough one! The temptation is to amplify our strong points and minimise our flaws. But the reverent heart realizes that God sees it all.
WL: What challenges do you see in ministry for the future? How can reverence be re-kindled in hearts?
Matt: I think it all comes back to the word of God. Are our songs saturated with the deep and poetic truth we find in scripture? Does the way we talk about Christ in our music resonate with the way He is portrayed throughout the pages of the bible? Are my values and the way I do life and ministry shaped by the way God says it should be done in His inspired word? Again, when I ask these kinds of questions, the finger points first straight back at me. I definitely haven’t lived in the Word of God enough, and I’ve got a long way to go. But I’m saying that everything we need to go forward, everything we need for deep, reverent, glorious and reverent songs isn’t going to come from anywhere else. It’s going to come from scripture. As I’ve said before, it’s great that our worship music has become more and more culturally relevant – but if they’re only shaped by the culture they won’t ever be deep enough. They have to be rooted in scripture.