Matt Redman has brought out a new album of worship songs. John Buckeridge asks Matt what his biggest challenge as a worship leader is, if charismatic worship is unfriendly to most men, and how he plans to spend the rest of his life.JB: Beautiful News is your first new album since Facedown in 2004. What’s your favourite track? MR: I’d have to say ‘You never let go’. My wife Beth and I wrote it during the week of the London bombings in July 2005. In the same week she had suffered a miscarriage – it was just one of those times where your whole world seems to be breaking and shaking apart and you just can’t make sense of it. In times like those we need some unshakeable truth to stand on – and that was the whole heart-cry behind this song – we were clinging on to the truth of a God who never lets us go.The really wonderful thing is that during the recording of the album Beth was pregnant again. After one of the scans we wrote the song ‘Fearfully and wonderfully made’ together, which also appears on the album. Last September Beth gave birth to our fantastic little son Rocco Benjamin, and we’re so massively grateful to God for His kindness.
Why do you think your songs connect with so many people and get sung in so many churches?I don’t really know. I do what God has called me to do which is writing worship songs. I feel programmed in that way; that’s how I think. I’ve never written another kind of song. I admire these guys who can write songs for down the coffee shop, songs for their wife, I can’t do any of that stuff. I try and put truth in the songs, to make a song honouring to God, to make it powerful in someone’s life. It might even make it enduring. A lot of these old hymns we have – the styles have changed – but there’s so much content and truth and revelation in the songs and that just endures.
Is charismatic worship unfriendly to most men? Are all those love songs to Jesus off-putting?I’m definitely re-visiting a couple of things I’ve written before. Some songs are probably easier for women to sing than men. Some people say the church has been under-fathered and overmothered. If a blokey bloke comes into church, is he going to connect with what’s going on? Some of the romantic imagery used in worship, the more I think about and study scripture, I’m not so sure about it. I’m on a learning curve; I don’t have all the answers. I love the song ‘Isn’t he beautiful’. I grew up on it. It’s a Vineyard song that really effected a lot of change in my life. In the Bible you don’t have people coming up to Jesus saying, ‘You’re beautiful’… even in Revelation before his throne. The writer of this song is trying to talk about the radiance, the splendour, the brightness of God. But the word ‘beautiful’ in our language has a lot of other connotations; it’s mainly romantic imagery. I would say ‘this is beautiful news’, on my new album – but I wouldn’t often use the words ‘you are beautiful God.’ If I’m totally honest, I regret a little bit ending the song ‘Let my words be few’ with ‘I’m so in love with you.’ I know what I mean by that, but if you put a song out there other people might think that’s a bit weird and romantic. That’s not what was in my heart. Maybe I should have written, ‘I’m so in awe of you.’ It’s a learning process. I don’t know if I’m being too candid but I only am because I want us to learn as a church.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a worship song writer?One of the challenges is keeping the songs simple but not shallow. Perhaps you can sing it in a home group because you can remember the words, it’s not like four or five verses that you can’t memorise. A great example is ‘How great is our God’ by Chris Tomlin. It’s simple but it’s not shallow. It has a lovely depth and rhythm in the song as well. The verses inhale – they talk about God wrapping himself in light and darkness tries to hide – then the chorus exhales as you breathe out, ‘How great is our God’. That’s the rhythm of worship: revelation and response, seeing and singing, inhaling and exhaling – that’s one of the key ways of making sure songs are accessible and simple, but have some depth. That’s my big quest in life.
Tell us about the local church you attend in Sussex.It’s called The Point. It’s part of the Church of England and we’re two years old. It’s been a wonderful little journey – we started with 12 of us in a front room a couple of years ago and it’s grown. I hope we’re starting to have an impact on the communities around us. I get to dip in and out – I travel a bit. I’m on the steering group, we meet together and try to do the big vision stuff for the church and that’s a real privilege. I also lead a lot of the kids’ worship.
Kids’ worship - how do you find that?I find it challenging because I’m a reserved man. I need to break out a little bit. It’s been fun. It’s a steep learning curve, but I love it.
I enjoyed listening to your new album – for me the standout track was ‘Yes and Amen’ which speaks of us choosing to agree to everything God has called us to and seeing God’s kingdom come on earth. What is the story behind this song?Partly I was trying to write about a universal theme in a unique way. I was trying to write a song about commitment to God and to his kingdom and saying ‘yes’ to him. I thought about the word ‘yes’ for a while and thought that’s a great way in. I actually heard the phrase ‘yes and amen’ at Hillsong Church in London. I’ve done a few things with them and heard the pastor Gary Clarke praying it a few times. I liked the phrase, so I went away and it became a song. The embarrassing thing is I found out since the album came out that Darlene Zschech, also from Hillsong, has a song called ‘Yes and Amen’ released about 10 years ago. I hope she doesn’t think I’ve nicked it! We need to have an element in our services where we complete the integrity of what we’re singing with words of declaration – ‘I’m going to back this up with my life’ – for me that’s a lot of what the song’s about. It’s about saying I’ve heard all this stuff and I’ve told you that I love you through song, but here I’m saying I’m going to live it out.
You get to lead worship in front of thousands of people – but have you ever stood in front of all those people and felt bored or distant from God? As if you’re just going through the motions?The psalmist writes, ‘wake up my soul, get up and praise God’ and I just go with that. Sometimes your body is tired and you’re feeling discouraged or you feel dry in your spiritual life. You just say, “Come on now, I know enough of what’s true.” You wake up your soul with truth – you start reminding yourself of who God is. I call to mind words like: ‘because of the Lord’s great love I have been redeemed’. In The Message paraphrase it says, ‘Remembering I keep a grip on hope’ (Lamentations 3:21). The psalmist does the same thing. So often he’s in a bad place but he says, “I know this to be true. And I do the same in worship. I think to myself “I feel rubbish today, but the worth of God hasn’t changed, the goodness of God hasn’t changed. He’s just as in control as he was yesterday; He’s just as kind, just as loving, just as caring,” – and so I start waking up my soul. That’s what I go around teaching people. Worship is a choice. And sometimes in the hardest points of life it’s a real gutsy one, but it’s a choice that has to be made. The question is: have you seen enough of God to make a great choice in those moments? Sometimes it’s not so straightforward. I’m not saying it isn’t hard, but that’s the basic rule.
With the sales of your albums and the copyright payments you get when your songs are used in churches and at conferences… Do you feel comfortable that you are leading worship and actually it has made you quite rich?I certainly wouldn’t use the word rich. But it might be true to say that over the last few years I’ve had more income than I really need to live on and support my family. It’s what God has put in my hands and God is trusting me with that. In every area of our lives we have to figure out what to do with the things that God has entrusted us with. He could put a big personality in your hands – I didn’t get blessed with that one! But you have to be careful how you deal with that.
You could have power over people, or God could put finance in your hands, or God could put all sorts of resources in your hands. You have to remember that these things are entrusted to you. It’s not like all these things are mine – God has entrusted me with them. Now what am I going to do with them? That’s the key. The tithing thing is big. We’re in a young church plant, that has needed resources – I’m not just talking about money, but a lot of energy and time too. The way I see life, is that we may at times have plenty in some of these areas – so what am I going to do with it? I’m not saying I’ve always made wise choices; sometimes I’m sure I haven’t.
You are financially independent and young, so what’s the plan for the rest of your life? You could do something very different if you wanted …choose to take a different direction, try to build a different ministry or career.I think you over-estimate my abilities. I can’t read music, I can’t do any of that stuff. I kind of stumbled into worship leading. I do honestly think this is funny; I feel so under-qualified in so many ways, but that’s why it must be God. I don’t have a vision outside of it at the moment. Our local church – I hope we’re going to be there for a long time, it’s been wonderful seeing God birth that. And the song writing. I’m kind of boring because I’m just a onetrick pony, that’s all I think about. I’m disappointed with the amount of songs I’ve written and the quality. I’m not insecure, I just feel there’s more. Look at who God is and what some of the hymn writers wrote. They covered all these themes, everything you can imagine, about the nature and character of God, His kingdom, His church, His purposes in the world, and here I am – I’ve written 100 songs and they’re not covering even two per cent of those themes! So I want to do more of the same. I love to be part of resourcing the church and I’d love to be part of honouring God as fully as possible, painting a big picture of who he is. I’m quite convinced that I could spend the rest of my life writing songs and not run out of themes to write about. There’s a great verse at the end of John’s gospel where John writes that if everything that Jesus did was written down, not even the whole world would have room for all the books that would be written. I feel the same way about songs. Matt Redman’s album Beautiful News is released on the Survivor Records label and reviewed on page 60. John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine. Additional reporting by Clem Jackson, editor of Christian Marketplace magazine.