Matt Maher's second single, What A Friend, from his Echoes cd is currently on Billboard's Contemporary Christian Music charts at #12.

 One recent morning our Editorial Director Doug Doppler and myself jumped on a phone conversation with one of our favorite songwriter/musicians Matt Maher and did a tag team interview with him. The following is what transpired...

You are an evangelist, and music is a great tool for evangelism. You are obviously very attuned to the idea that part of what you want to do with a song is to draw a person in, even if it's the first Sunday that they've been to church. Tell us what evangelism in music means to you.

  Music is a great gift from God that opens the soul to new horizons. It presents possibilities in the human heart for revelation to happen. Out of all the art forms, music is the one that is the most accessible. There is something about it... there's probably science behind it about the physics of sound waves but music that is beautiful is not just a subjective thing, but it is objectively beautiful as well.
  Objectively beautiful music corresponds to what the sound waves actually look like. When you hear a boy's choir singing in a cathedral and everyone is in tune and the place is acoustically well designed, it creates an overtone series that looks beautiful, and that is objectively good.

  Music tends to reveal things that are good, true, and beautiful. Then the possibility arises to be able to engage with someone about an idea that may or may not be related to what you're singing about. Music becomes a way to illustrate a point using words and melodies in a way that speaking alone can't do.

  Personally, I wrestle with the idea of music being a tool of anything, in the sense that I wonder about using it when it comes to evangelism, which I think is one of the primary (if not the primary) mission of the church. I believe evangelism is God's work, primarily, not the church's. What I mean by that is that the Holy Spirit is the one that ultimately makes connections with the human heart and does the hard work of transformation, not us. When you realize that there is less pressure for music to become a tool that produces changeable results.

  One of the things I wonder about when it comes to music in church, is if we are measuring the success of a song by how much it moves people. Sometimes that is a valid criticism, but it is very subjective. Some churches you go to, like a Lutheran church with a large Norwegian congregation. . . they just don't raise their hands. Yet you talk with people afterwards and they express how moving the song was and they thank you for playing the song. It created an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do something powerful.

  What I've tried to do more and more in my songwriting, when it comes to congregational music, it to write music that people can sing together and that creates an environment where God can do transformative work.

  I do still see what I do as carrying the banner of Jesus, without a shadow of a doubt. I believe He is the hope of the world. But I'm not doing it in a way of subversively trying to hypnotize people into a place where they will say "yes" to Jesus, because I don't think that's what needs to happen. I think music opens up people's hearts, minds, and souls in a way that nothing else can. It points them upwards. So, I struggle sometimes with the idea of music being used as a tool.

  One of the things we struggle with now is music just having value in our culture, period. Technology and innovation seem to be almost celebrated more than the music that is made. With streaming technology, people are listening to music more than ever before, but at the same time artists are struggling to make ends meet more than ever before. It's a very interesting age.

  My heart and my hope is that music will continue to be made that helps the church sing. I believe that singing is a big part of what we are supposed to do on Sunday mornings. I think that singing is different than watching or listening. Those things are valid too, but I think singing is a big part of what we're supposed to do, so I am very conscious of trying to write songs that people can sing together.

We often describe congregational worship music as being "vertical" music, in that it is intended to be sung upwards to God.
How do you describe your songs that aren't written as "worship" songs, or as "vertical" songs, but are intended to be heard
and taken in by the listener?

  To use a "Christian" term, you could say that there are congregational songs and there are devotional songs. More and more I'm trying to just see it as music. Even the whole conversation around "sacred" music versus "secular" music... "Sacred" music is a very specific reference to a very specific style of music that was written in the 16th century using polyphony and chant. It's a historical reference, not a genre reference. "Christian music", in a way, is a lyrical reference, not a genre.
  So, worship music is not a genre, it's a lyrical classification. Someone first called it "Modern Worship Music" because it was a good marketing slogan, and nobody was really thinking about the implications of what that would mean. I tend to think of it all as just music. I got a degree in Jazz Performance, but I wouldn't consider myself a Jazz musician.

  I love music, and I love great music, and I think that a fair amount of what I write is congregational church music that people sing on Sunday mornings. Occasionally I will write a song that is still coming from my faith, but isn't specifically meant for Sunday mornings.

  There are a bunch of songs that I wrote for this record that didn't get recorded. I actually wanted to be more diverse on this album, but when my dad died it brought everything into focus in a way that helped me to focus what I was trying to say in this season with this record. It's a collection of songs that tries to help people give voice to dealing with suffering. That's the point of this record.

Tell us about a song on the new record that deals with suffering. Is it meant to be a "vertical" song? Because everybody in the church has gone through something. It resounds with everyone.

  There's a song called "Faithfulness" that says, "There are memories that seize my heart, but they will never steal or tear a love apart." There are things that happen in life, and bells that you can't un-ring. Things happen, and you're forgiven, and grace covers and transforms, but sometimes memories are still there and they can come back to the forefront. Even with my dad passing away, the weirdest things will set off a memory.
  It's not the big things, it's the little things. It's in those moments that there is a temptation to lose sight of the love of God and give in to despair, fear, and doubt. But to be able to sing "Great Is Your Faithfulness" over that is really powerful.

  A lot of the songs on this record were inadvertently inspired by different hymns. What's interesting is that many of those hymns were written by people in seasons of doubt. Like "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, who was an insurance salesman. He wanted to be an evangelist, and he tried it when he was 36, but he had terrible health and he ended up retiring from ministry after one year. He wrote 1200 poems while holding down a desk job as an insurance agent. In the midst of that mundane existence he was writing these poems to Jesus, and one of them was "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

  Judson VanDeVenter, who wrote " Surrender All," struggled for a time between going into full-time evangelism or going into art. It was when he surrendered his future to Christ that he wrote the hymn.

  Charlotte Elliott wrote "Just As I Am" after being up half the night one night having an existential crisis about her faith. Her spiritual mentor told her that she could write poetry as a way to help her process her emotions, including her doubts. So, while going through a season of crippling doubt where she was questioning everything, she wrote this simple poem to help remember what Jesus had done for her at the cross.

  What's so cool about this record, for me, is that so many of the hymns that these songs are inspired by are hymns that were born out of suffering. In my own life, so much of this record was written just before and then recorded during a time of suffering. In some ways, I feel like God was having me write songs for the season that I was about to go through.

  There's another song on the record called "The Cross Forever Speaks" that is about persecution, from the perspective of someone who is dealing with the weight of the sense of feeling alienated and alone. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, "We are pressed, but not crushed. Persecuted, not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed." It describes the ability to have the faith to respond to the challenges that we face.

  In this day and age, especially for Christians, we ask ourselves how we should respond to the challenges that we face. That's really my heart behind the record. Even my single, "Your Love Defends Me", wasn't written from a place of confidence or emotional certainty as much as it was a place of meekness, feeling the weight of life, and declaring the faithfulness of God in the midst of that.

You are one of the forefront evangelists inside the framework of the Catholic Church these days. Oftentimes it's easy to pigeonhole artists and think of them as belonging to one sect of Christianity or another, and then to vilify those that don't fit into our theological paradigms. Darlene Zschech recently caught some flak from certain segments of the Christian audience when she sang for the Pope.
What kinds of things would you like to say to people about how we are all worshiping Jesus, and the unifying things that bind us together
no matter what segment of Christianity
we come from?