Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Worship Leader's Song

By Matt Redman: courtesy of Christian Musician

When you survey the recent landscape of the modern worship movement, you really can't help but notice the effect that Matt Redman has had on it. He writes with a stark honesty and intimacy that others are now trying to emulate. The young worship leader has not only been a major part of the movement in England and Europe, but he's also made a large impact in this arena in the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Matt's third worship album, The Father's Song recently released. Once again, it is a studio album with a very current sound. Matt stays away from the norms of recording a "live" worship experience, but still draws the listeners into a well-produced album of vertically aimed music.

I recently flew to San Jose, California, to attend Worship together’s worship leader conference. Matt led worship and taught seminars, as he's doing all over the world. Since it's rare to catch Matt in the States, I was very excited about the opportunity to sit down with him. Not knowing anything about his temperament (yes, some musicians are melancholy!), I was greatly relieved and pleasantly surprised to find him not only genuinely friendly, but eager to talk about his views on modern worship.

Christian Musician: What are the differences between leading worship in your own church on a Sunday morning and leading a large live worship event?

Matt Redman: In some ways it's exactly the same leading worship in church and leading at a large event. The aim is the same: to encourage people to meet with Jesus and bring an offering before Him. In that way, it is the same, so we do the same songs and such.

A good worship leader is someone who leads strongly enough so that people follow, but not so strongly that they become the focus. In some ways, that can be one of the differences, because in your church, everyone knows you. But in a big conference, where people are only seeing you do what you do best, and they don't know anything else about you, the tendency sometimes is to get a bit hyped.

So one of the main differences is trying to make sure that what goes on at a conference has worth, and is really something meaningful. As a worship leader, I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to do that. It would be a tragedy if someone went home saying, "Great gig." We want people to go home saying, "I met with God tonight."

Christian Musician: How do you prepare to lead worship, spiritually and physically?

Matt Redman: Spiritually, you're always trying to find out what God's doing. "What are you doing tonight, Lord?" Especially if you're doing a tour like we're doing here in America right now. It can be hard night after night to find a fresh thing. Then it's also hard to stay fresh week after week in your own church. On a tour you only do one or two nights, and then you move on. But in your church, fifty-two times a year you've got to be fresh. I think that it's probably harder in the local church.

So I prepare simply by asking, "Is there anything in particular You'd like?" Often I don't feel like I get a whole song list. God doesn't write it out on stone tablets for me. It's more likely to be that I feel one song in particular to bank on, and then I build the rest of the song list with a bit of common sense. What songs have we done recently, what have we done to death? There are some songs in church that we play to death. "It was a great song fifteen weeks ago, but we've done it twice every week since." You've got to be aware of all that stuff.

Christian Musician: Your songs have had an impact on teenagers and college-age people. How do you encourage local worship leaders to reach the young people in their congregations?

Matt Redman: One way is by writing songs. Obviously one thing we're doing is writing songs and putting them on albums. The reason we do that is to offer a resource. If anyone wants to do our songs they can. But it's also great when someone in a congregation writes a home-grown song and uses it. I think it's a precious thing when a song comes out of the immediate experience of that congregation, and they can identify completely with it.

I really encourage worship leaders to get on their knees and get into hard work as well and write some worship songs. It doesn't matter if you only ever do them in your own church. It's not about that. It's a fantastic way of serving your church and blessing the Lord's heart and just encouraging folks.

Christian Musician: How do you maintain such a deep level of honesty in your songs? Do they come that way or do you have to labor to get to that place?

Matt Redman: I personally start in worship and end up in worship. I don't ever sit down to write a worship song thinking, "I'm going to write about this today." It's just the overflow of my heart. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. It's the same way with writing songs; you can't keep it in because it's the overflow. In that sense, it's not hard to be honest.

Sometimes, if you're too honest, it can be bad actually. It becomes too subjective, and is very much about you. Then other people can't relate to it. What you're trying to do in writing a worship song is focus on a universal theme, but express it in a unique way. Find a theme that everyone thinks about-that is a biblical truth-and reflect it in a way musically and lyrically that no one's ever done it before.

I think more than anything, my songs are starting from Bible verses these days. I just wrote a song from Ecclesiastes chapter five called "Let My Words Be Few." I've read it loads of times, but I never thought I'd write a song out of Ecclesiastes-it's so deep and depressing for me. I saw this line that says, "God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few." And it went on to say, "Therefore stand in awe of God." That's fantastic.

It's great when you find stuff like that. The good thing about the Bible is you can plagiarize it, and instead of getting sued you actually get encouraged.

Christian Musician: Have you studied the songwriting craft?

Matt Redman: To a degree. I can't even read music, to be honest. I just try to surround myself with people who are better than me, and I seem to get through life. I haven't read any books on songwriting or anything like that, but I just keep my eyes open, and my ears open. You hear a CD of a band that you think is good and you make a mental note of it.

It's interesting, we do a song called "You've Got to Sing Like the Saved," which has got a transpose in it. I couldn't figure out how to do the verses in it, and then I heard a song by Gerri Halliwell, one of the Spice Girls-Ginger Spice, called "Look at Me." And it has this transpose in it, then it goes back down. So I decided to try that, and it worked.

Lyrically, I've been reading lots of hymns. It's like reading poetry, but you're also coming across truth expressed in fresh ways.

Christian Musician: Do you ever get writer's block? How do you break through?

Matt Redman: I think usually, as a worship songwriter, writer's blocks are a sign of not doing very well with the Lord. The motivation shouldn't be, "I need to write a song," but "I need to get to know the Lord for who He is." So if you can't write stuff, it's usually because you're not getting fresh revelation.

Like I said, reading old hymns can really open your eyes to new and fresh ways of looking at things. I've written a song called "Take the World but Give Me Jesus," which is on the new album. It's just a line from an old Fannie Crosby song. She was a blind woman who wrote over 8,000 hymns and songs. That's inspiring itself. Someone once asked her if she regretted the fact that she was born blind. She said that she rejoices in the fact that the first face she'll ever see is the face of Jesus. Stuff like that can be really inspiring and help you get out of a rut.

Christian Musician: What songwriters have influenced you?

Matt Redman: Loads of people. Obviously the worship stuff. Martin Smith and those guys [from Delirious] have been quite instrumental, because they were doing a fresh thing. Martin produced a couple of albums that we did. I learned a lot about songwriting working with him.

I'm getting more and more into the Beatles, actually. I bought a magazine recently that has all their songs, and it's fantastic because it has lots of chords. The second chord on "Let My Words be Few" on our new album is a really Beatle-esque chord. I had never come across it before, and I played it and liked it, so I put it in the song.

Christian Musician: Do you have a spiritual mentor that you work with?

Matt Redman: Not directly. Several of us work as a team, pretty much. My wife keeps me accountable. Mike is a wonderful friend and pastor, we've worked together for thirteen years. We try to keep each other on the straight and narrow.

Christian Musician: When you get run down, how do you recharge your batteries?

Matt Redman: In terms of spiritually, I just want to go to church sometimes and not lead worship. And at the Worship Together conferences, we lead a couple of sessions, but then we get to just hang out and be in sessions with other people leading worship. A lot of the guys find that very refreshing. I certainly have.

In terms of leisure, I'm a very boring person. I just go to the cinema.

Christian Musician: What's the most important thing that you want to communicate through your music?

Matt Redman: I think the fact that when we're singing songs, we're not just singing to the air. It's not like they're empty songs. They're being sung to the throne of heaven. God in heaven is listening to us. If we sing from the passion of our hearts-out of the overflow-and if we live what we sing, that's very precious to the heart of God.

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