Music in worship. For many churches, it’s a struggle between traditional and contemporary. Is there perhaps another way which honors people’s feelings, glorifies God, and displays unity to a broken world?
Matthew Smith uses hymns to help churches guide their people into emotionally honest worship.
Matthew is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter who writes new melodies to centuries-old hymn texts. He is a founding member of the Indelible Grace community, whose work has drawn acclaim across denominational lines and is used in churches around the world. I once saw Indelible Grace perform only after walking up and down a line of people outside a sold-out concert of theirs until someone sold me a ticket. I was deeply touched by the music, words and performance.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Indelible Grace’s reimagined hymns have found wide acceptance both among college students and the church at large, joining people who desire to honor tradition with those who want a modern musical approach.
On the cusp of his upcoming tour, Matthew offered some thoughts on being a fully alive worshipper, his new album and video, and what drives him.
Alternate Arts: Why the use of the word “emotionally” in emotionally honest worship?
Smith: I think “emotionally” and “honest” go together. Sentimentality – which some mistake for emotion – is not honest. Truth and theology are seen by some as being honest, but not emotional. With Emotionally Honest Worship, I’m trying to show people how in the best songs for worship, going all the way back to the Psalms, emotions and honesty can come together into something beautiful that pleases God.
Alternate Arts: What does it mean to become a fully alive worshipper?
Smith: It starts with not lying to ourselves or to God. We can get the mistaken impression that God only wants us to express praise, adoration, and “positive” aspects of our lives. But He created us as whole people, and wants us to bring all that we are and all that we are going through to Him in worship. When we do, He speaks to us through His word in a way that we won’t receive if we are holding back. And only when we He speaks to us can we become fully alive, worshiping God with our whole heart.
Alternate Arts: What is it about old hymns that draws you to them?
Smith: I sometimes call them “songs for real life.” They are just so raw and can be sung in whatever circumstances we are going through. The women and men who wrote them weren’t trying to write to a demographic; they were pouring out their hearts, processing their lives before God, and that resonates with me.
Alternate Arts: How do you find old hymns?
Smith: I have some old hymnals and re-prints of old hymnals, but Google has scanned in hundreds of hymnals from libraries around the world, so they are much easier to find now than they were when I first started doing this.
Alternate Arts: Are you a songwriter, a teacher, or a shaper of culture?
Smith: I’m just a guy trying to take whatever I’ve been given and be a faithful steward of it.
Alternate Arts: You’re covering all the bases with speaking, writing, performing, and even providing chord charts. What drives you?
Smith: I don’t have a grand mission or plan – I simply need to sing these hymns to keep myself sane. They bring me back to the truth of who Jesus is, over and over again. If others are affected the same way through my music or speaking, that is an amazing blessing as well.
Alternate Arts: You recently released a new album, QuietHymns, along with a video of a song from the album, “God Himself.” Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the album and video?
Smith: QuietHymns comes from Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”‘ I too often reject the rest and quiet that God offers me, and this album is me dealing with that part of myself that would rather be in control over my life instead of submitting to God.
The video for “God Himself” came as I was thinking of my friend Eric Brown’s photography, and how well he captures the Imago Dei – image of God – in the people he photographs. He doesn’t really do video, but he agreed to do this one for me, after I explained it would be like his portrait photography come to life. The people in the video are my friends and family, and I hope the viewer can see my intention behind it – for us to view the image of God in these faces, the struggles we all go through, and that God Himself will dry our tears.
Alternate Arts: Your upcoming tour starts September 16. What can people expect from your concert events?