By Kevin Sparkman, CCM Magazine
Things seem to be firing on all cylinders for multiple award-winning and ever fan-favorite Matthew West. In fact, we won’t even follow up the previous sentence with a “However…” statement, as to deliver an all-too-inevitable letdown after the proverbial build-up. Nope, things are great for the singer-songwriter, his career, and his family. He just feels the urgency to dig in a little harder, dive a little deeper—or else.
Perhaps it’s his P.K. personality (preacher’s kid), and the keen lifelong insight of being one kicking in? As he tells us in our CCM Magazine cover story interview below, he’s had his fair share of tragedy—with resulting songs and albums. “I think that’s why they always say songwriters long for rainy days,” West shared with a laugh. The well-known jokester among friends in the music community, and all-around on-stage entertainer, West is deadly serious about the messages inspired on his brand new album, All In (Sparrow Records, Sep. 22, 2017). “A lot of times I wind up writing songs, and I feel like it’s a song for the crowd or a song for my fans, and then the Lord simply says, ‘This song’s for you.’ So, I sing it and send it to the world, and it turns into a boomerang—right back around and hits me in the head.”
But beyond just being held accountable for the music he makes, West’s desires to go “all in” at home is first and foremost on his heart. In a day and age where we’re exposed to an “all access” style of media, a perched view into anyone and everyone—how rare is it that we can actually peer into the heart-or-hearts? For Matthew West, he’s keeping himself in check to make sure his motives aren’t just motions, and he’s letting us all in on it.
CCM Magazine: With the release of All In, you’re putting some statements out there—so, what has been going on in you that gave birth to this particular release?
Matthew West: Of course. First of all, the message has to be real to me for me to make a record about it. Because if it’s not something that I’m not dealing with in my everyday life already, then it’s going to be hard for me to really dig in and create. I always want to make a record that holds a message that I’m passionate about, and so, this whole concept of “All In” is something that rose up from within my own personal journey of where I’m at right now in my life.
I had just finished a book that I was writing about discovering my identity called, Hello My Name Is (buy), and as I began writing songs or the new record, I was sort of in this phase of, “I had written and shared a lot about my story in that book,” and it was coming out of that experience that made me start to think about some areas of my life where I felt like God was challenging me to go deeper. He seemed to be saying at every turn, “Look in this area of your life. You don’t even know I have so much more for you than you’ve even tapped in to, but you’re settling for less than what I’m offering you.”
So, one of the things that I wrote about in the book was about being a “professional Christian.” What a “professional Christian” [to me] is somebody who lives their personal faith in Christ in a public spotlight, and that’s been my life. I’m a preacher’s kid, so all eyes were always on me, and now I’m a Christian singer and writer, and all eyes are [still] on me, and I guess there’s a danger that I’ve noticed when you get to the point where you’re more concerned about “looking the part” than you are about actually living the part. And this is where “All In” came from.
So, the heart behind the songs that I started to write for this album was just, “Okay, how can I fight that at every turn? How can I fight the, ‘I’m trying to look the part’ of being a great dad and husband, but am I really digging in and being proactive about my time with my family? Or, am I kind-of ‘phoning it in,’ more concerned about making sure I get to watch Monday Night Football?” You know what I mean?
That was kind of the genesis of this idea of just going, “Lord, I know you’ve got more for me. Show me the areas of my life where You’re calling me to go deeper.” So, the practicality of that is basically probably summed up in this one thought: I think that every single one of us, at any moment in our lives has at least one area of our lives where we could be going deeper, where we could be living with more abandon, where we could be taking God’s hand and really letting Him lead us into a fuller life. [For some], it’s could be their personal relationship with Christ? I know that my audience that I sing to, a lot of them are like me that have been in church for a long time, but maybe it’s just become really “second nature.” It’s just, “what we do.” It’s not necessarily who we are. Maybe it’s little things that seem trivial but are actually monumental like, “Am I letting my quiet time with the Lord slip?” And then it’s things that I’ve started to write about on this record were in the areas of, “How can I go all-in inside the four walls of my own home?”
I’ve been married for fourteen years. Am I really being the husband that my wife needs to be? Or, am I more focused on my career and my music? Am I really being the dad my kids need me to be? Do they know that I see them, that I care about them, and that they matter to me? So, those are some of the kind-of hard-hitting questions that I’ve been asking myself, and that’s how these songs were born out of my own personal soul searching on what it looks like for me to be “all in,” not just look like I’m all-in to an audience of fans that listen to my music.
CCM: Surprisingly, we have never heard of the phrase, “professional Christian” before…
MW: I just came up with that one day when I was writing the book because the it was all about different names that are on our “name tags,” and different identities that we tend to allow to define us—false identities, and a lot of the stuff you’d think about. For example, if I asked you, “What are some false identities that the devil’s tried to make you believe about yourself?” Well, a lot of times, we would immediately go to the names of “bad” and “negative” stuff, the stuff that’s related to sin in our lives, shame, or past mistakes the enemy tries to get us to believe. Like, “We’re too far gone,” and, “We messed up too many times and God doesn’t love us anymore,”…that kind of stuff.
But sometimes, it’s the stuff that looks good on the surface that can actually be the most dangerous. So, honestly, being that “professional Christian” was what I felt like the Lord was showing me about myself, and that’s what I am. I’m not proud of it. If I’m being honest, I learned [how to be] that at a young age. As a preacher’s kid, I knew that if I raised my hands during the slow songs in worship, other parents would probably elbow their kids and be like, “See, why can’t you be more spiritual like the preacher’s kid?”
But deep down, was I really worshiping God, or was it just for the appearance of it? Fast forward, I’m a contemporary Christian singer, and I wonder how many other contemporary Christian singers have struggled with that same thing—where we just “turn it on.” We get on stage. We turn it on. You become that “thing,” but then your personal walk with the Lord is nowhere near as vibrant and alive as you portray it to be during your concert. So, that’s me just speaking from the heart, just saying, “I’ve got, ‘call that what it is,’ in order for me to rise above and become something other than that.
More of this article is available at CCMMagazine.com.