Show visits Rochester this week
By Joshua Maloni
When you're singing in church on Sunday morning and you glance up to see the names written under the song lyrics, there's one person who appears regularly: Matt Maher.
The Grammy Award-nominated artist has written his own songs - including "Lord, I Need You," "Hold Us Together," "Christ Is Risen," "All The People Said Amen" and "Your Grace Is Enough" - plus songs for Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Third Day, Matt Redman, Hillsong, Casting Crowns, Jesus Culture and Bethel.
Maher also is a performer. He has sung in front of Pope Francis in Rio (2015), as well as on top of the Sony Music building in New York City (last fall), and across the country on his own tour, which just wrapped.
He's about to hit the road with Tomlin as part of the "Worship Night In America" series, which kicks off Thursday at Rochester's Blue Cross Arena.
Maher is performing songs from his new album, "Echoes," which he described in his bio as an effort to resound his faith. In particular, he said if "faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), then what we choose to echo back into the world from what we hear is vital."
This idea was especially at the forefront when Maher lost his father prior to releasing the album. He said, "Jesus chose to respond to death by embracing it. By embracing it, he destroyed it. This record became, for me, my response to sin and suffering. I had to formulate my own echo. I had to decide if I was going to echo the message of the cross back to the world, or my own narrow view of suffering."
In between tour dates, Maher spoke to NFP about "Echoes," as well as his new set of gigs, and what he does to stay grounded - even as people around the country sing his songs in church each weekend.
NFP: With this album, you talk about the importance of sort of having your words and your message reverberate with people as a way of spreading the gospel to them. Do you find that, since the album has been released, that that's what you're hearing from fans or from people at your shows - that the message is echoing the way you had intended it to?
Matt Maher: I think so. I mean, I think I, you know, the reality - and this is one of the things I've learned to accept as an artist, is that, you know, it's kind of like the iceberg mentality. You know, like most people look at an iceberg and all they see is the part that's above the water, and that's OK. Versus I think that artists tend to see the whole picture, and we're always going to see more than what other people see.
And that's the thing about art, in general, is that not everybody sees the same thing when they see something or when they hear something. And that's OK, as well. But I will say that, yeah, I mean, I think we have been getting a lot of great feedback from people on the new songs, and on the new material - which is always, I think it's exciting when it resonates with people.
NFP: So, tell me a little bit about "Worship Night In America." Obviously, you've worked with Chris Tomlin before, but what appealed to you about this particular trek around the country?
Matt Maher: Yeah, I think in particular with the "Worship Night," the thing that I've been kind of saying, and the thing I believe that this night sort of carries with it in a unique way, is unity in the midst of diversity. I think that, more than ever before, culturally, we find ourselves at a moment where there's a lot of tension and a sense of isolation and separation, and, I think, lots of people are trying to figure out how do we, in the west particularly, in America, how do we move forward on a lot of different issues.
And I think that, obviously, Christians will ask and wonder how does the Church respond. And I think prayer and worship is not an empty response, but I think it should move us. And so, I think the great thing about "Worship Night In America" is what it does is it, it's going to hopefully bring together people from different backgrounds within the body of Christ.
(In addition to Maher and Tomlin, the "Worship Night In America" tour features Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture, Christine D'Clario, Pat Barrett and 2017 Grammy nominee Tauren Wells.)
And I think, the artists that are part of the night, you know, that's kind of - we're all from different streams within the overall church in America. And I think the goal is really just praying together and seeing the other, because that shows - it shows unity in the midst of diversity of thought and belief. And (we're on) the same stage. You know, we come from different denominational backgrounds. But the reality of what we have in common is so much bigger than our differences. And I think that that's something that the church could illustrate or account for more than ever before.
NFP: When I talk to Christian artists, a lot of times there's sort of a desire to go and perform in markets and in arenas and venues where you reach more of the unchurched, if you will. But for a show like this, it seems like - alluding to what you said a minute ago - it seems like this is more of almost like a training opportunity for Christians. Do you see it that way, that this is that opportunity - like you said - to say that this is what we believe, and this is how we can answer some of these things and deal with some people? Is that what the night of worship is about, is more training Christians as opposed to, you know, specifically inviting other people to come in who maybe are not Christian at that point?
Matt Maher: Well, I think - it's definitely a night to rally Christians together around the basic idea that prayer and worship is not a waste of time. So, in that sense, I guess you could say it is a bit of a training thing. It's not ... it's not really, deeply preachy. I mean, I think the message is just that, is that worship is a part of the language of who we are as Christians. It's part of being Christian - more so than anything else.
And I think the temptation right now that a lot of Christians face in America - you know, like there's a line in my song, one of my songs, "Lord I Need You," the bridge of the song says, "Teach my song to rise to you when temptation comes my way." And I love it, because it doesn't say "if temptation comes my way." It says "when." (Laughs)
And I think that one of the temptations that Christians are going to face in modern society is the temptation and to think that worship doesn't matter. That it has no significance. And I think that, I guess the great thing about what worship does, you know, in terms of like if someone gets invited by a family member who isn't a Christian, there's not a lot of places left on the planet where people come together and sing songs.
It's weird. But, you know, concert attendances are still up. But music overall, culturally, is having less of an important role than it had, let's say 40 years ago, even in mainstream music. It's changing. It doesn't mean that people aren't going to concerts anymore. People are still totally doing that. The cultural role it had with the cultural role it had overall in society is, it's changing. It's changing.
However, all that being said, Christian worship and the idea of people coming together and someone preaching, but people singing together and the idea that, when we sing together, as we sing things that are true and we sing things that are about God, that God inhabits that, and works in people's hearts and souls, in the midst of that. It's a very unique concept, and it's very transformational, and it doesn't require much. It requires that people sing - and it's not even about do you sing well. It's just about singing, because it gives people permission to sing. It gives testimony without needing to have a fancy testimony. It's a place that, according to the Scriptures, God inhabits - it says "God inhabits the praises of his people."
So, I would say that it's actually a better thing to bring someone to then your traditional Christian concert, because there is, hopefully, a lot of singing happening.
And I've witnessed, you know, I mean in my own life, it's not - I've only been, I've been sort of really a Christian for kind of 20-something years. And I remember what it was like the first time I showed up to a prayer meeting and the whole room was singing. And it was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard. It wasn't that everyone had great voices. It's just that everybody believed what they were singing and that's, that's just a powerful transmitter of faith.
And I know that that's, once again, in a world that finds itself increasingly at odds with itself, we're so accustomed to hearing people yell at each other. And the idea that people would sing together, that actually is becoming countercultural.
NFP: I want to ask you a little bit about internal struggle and temptation in the sense that you talk about people getting together to worship and to sing, and in so many churches in America right now when they do get together to worship and to sing, they're singing your songs. Or they're singing Chris (Tomlin's) songs. I'm wondering how you sort of wrap your brain around that? How do you keep your ego from becoming overinflated? When people are getting together in worship, how do you keep the focus where it's supposed to be?
Matt Maher: It's a great question. I mean, I would say I'm just not aware of it.
I've got three kids, 6 and under. I'm married. When I'm not on the road, I'm home with my family, and I'm trying to just be present to them. So, I would say that, you know, hopefully part of my worldview that comes from my faith, it comes with an ordered sense of what work means, if that makes any sense.
So, if I was a neurosurgeon who came up with a revolutionary form of brain surgery that was going to cure some disease, like Lou Gehrig's disease or something, or you know, somehow there was a surgeon who cracked some sort of like whatever neurological disorder that was going to happen; I think at the end of the day they're called to the same thing that I am, which is that your faith - your faith comes with a worldview that's supposed to order everything in your life, including how you look at what you do for a living. And regardless of what you do.
So, I just tend to look at what I do. I just think in the Kingdom of God what I do is is no more glorified than a janitor or a plumber.
And I think the problem is, is that once again, I think like what you're speaking of, is a cultural, weird variance that has existed for 60 years. We're still living in the shadow of people like the Beatles, and so it's a weird thing. I'm a musician, so I kind of come from them, cut from that cloth of being an artist; and so I write songs. And modern technology has made it so that more people could hear these songs than ever before.
But I think my Christian worldview has to hamper it in the sense that I know that what I do doesn't define who I am. And I think you talk to any rock artist who's been around for 35 years, who's gone to therapy and, or like rehab, because at some point it was about them, and then they realized, "Oh, this is not about me."
I have gifts. And I can use my gifts in a way that helps other people. And it is a weird scalability issue in the sense that, like I said, some people have gifts, and that gift, it only helps a certain type or certain amount of people. Other people have a gift, and, because of technology, you know - in medieval times, if you were to go as a bard and I was traveling through, like I would write a song and it would only be known by the people who heard me sing it. But now, you know, there's YouTube, and there's streaming. So, it's - technology has made musicians more infamous.
But, I don't, once again, I think because of my faith and my worldview, I tend to look at it in a bit more of a utilitarian fashion. And I think that's what keeps me grounded.
I think my children and my wife keep me grounded. Like, what I do, I write songs, but that's not who I am. I'm a husband and I'm a father. And I think those things temper the way that I look at things, like writing songs and the importance of them.