Interview with Matt Searles

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I met Matt Searles via email a few years ago after hearing his album, Now and Not Yet, acoustic renditions of various Psalms. It was biblical, singable, and moving. Since then he’s also recorded From the River to the Ends of the Earth, another collection of Psalms, only this time with a full band.

I was delighted to meet Matt in person at WorshipGod UK last year, and since then have hosted him in my home in Louisville, KY. He’ll be joining us again for WorshipGod UK, 7th-9th May, in Bath.

Matt will be teaching a seminar at the conference entitled Shaped by the Psalms. He graciously took time to answer a few questions for us.

1. What is your history of leading in the church, musically or pastorally?
Until fairly recently I was an Assistant Pastor at Dundonald Church in London, involved in preaching, leading services, evangelism, discipleship, and other pastoral ministry roles. In recent years I have also been songwriting, seeking to serve the church by putting the Psalms to music in an accessible and contemporary way – though music has never been a formal part of my role in church. Currently I lead a ministry training course in Oxford, seeking to equip people in basic Bible handling and ministry skills, through a 2 year course of one day a week study.

2. What encourages you about what is happening in gathered worship in the UK and Europe?
Its hard to speak generally as there is so much variety in different contexts. I am encouraged that in churches I have been in, church is seen as a family, rather than a ‘show’. The loudest musical instrument is generally the collective voices of the congregation, and there is a right sense of the corporate nature of what we are doing – mutual edification rather than individualism.

A commitment to expository preaching and being Christ centred in what we do means that even a small, under-resourced church with very few musicians can still be a place of profound encounter with God where the Spirit is deeply at work. I think most churches also work hard at being accessible for those who aren’t Christians, with evangelism high on the priorities list.

There is training for church musicians taking place now in the UK that would not have been happening a few years ago – Music Ministry being the one I have personally benefited from, though I know there are others. Let’s also not forget that Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Stuart Townend, the Fellinghams and the Gettys are all British…

3. What weaknesses do you see about what is happening broadly in gathered worship in the UK and Europe?
Again, its hard to generalise. In some circles, music has often been seen as somewhat incidental or even unimportant, such that it is either ignored, or only given energy and resources for pragmatic reasons of drawing a crowd. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, music is divorced from theology – and the Bible holds them very closely together!

I am also somewhat concerned about how accessible church is for those who are feeling broken – is there acknowledgment in our services of brokenness, sin, failure and doubt? If by what we do in church, we convey the message that church is only for those who are ‘sorted’ and feeling joyful, then  we can either encourage a pretence where people wear a mask of ‘holy happiness’ to church, or people simply stop coming if their life is falling apart. In so doing we in fact undermine the very gospel of Christ, who came for those whose lives are a mess!

For this reason I’m delighted to have been asked to lead a seminar at the conference looking at the Psalms and their extraordinary wide range of emotion and feeling, and seeking to see how these can shape us personally, as well as shape the songs we write for our churches.

4. How do you think WorshipGodUK might serve folks as they seek to serve in their local congregations?
We are all profoundly influenced by our own culture – and yet we find it very hard to detect those influences. It is always a blessing to learn from Christians with the same gospel convictions, yet from a different culture. As well as being reminded of the gospel in which we all delight, I expect us Brits to be gently challenged by our American friends about the role of emotion in our Christian lives and gathered worship, also to be helped to think through how the structure of our meetings can tell the story of the gospel. I’m sure they’ll learn much from us as well – though the conference is a bit short to hope to educate them in the game of cricket…

What impressed me about the conference last year was the way in which the gospel was worked through into all areas of life – how it shapes our meetings, our pastoring, or personal walk with the Lord – and this was exemplified by the graciousness of all the speakers.

For these reasons I am hopeful that many church pastors will come, not simply musicians. A look at the list of speakers shows that most are pastors not musicians, and I’d be disappointed if people didn’t come because they’re not musical. We serve our congregations best when we are walking closely with the Lord, and last year my wife commented in days after the conference that she hadn’t seen me this full of joy in the Lord for a long time. For that reason I’ll be going again this year, and I hope to see you there!

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