How should it sound when we worship God? Our expression of adoration to Him is so personal, but something Christian songwriters constantly try to bring shape to.
Pat Barrett is no stranger to the process, having released five albums with the Georgia-based band Housefires, becoming renowned for penning faith anthems like Good, Good Father and Build My Life and more recently branching out with his own solo projects.
The move for Pat, from primarily producing music for the church to writing as “an artist”, was one he said his wife Meg encouraged him to do and that has allowed him to share songs he once felt he had to hide.
“I used to withhold songs because I thought they didn’t sound the way worship songs sounded,” Pat told Hope 103.2’s UNDISTRACTED podcast.
“And I don’t think that’s worshipful, I think that’s fearful.
“There has to be a bigger metric that we use [to define “worship music”],” Pat said.
“Otherwise we’ll all look at our own unique design and we’ll start to criticise the artwork that the artist (God) created because we don’t have enough songs like (fellow songwriter) Chris Tomlin,” he laughed.
“I used to withhold songs because I thought they didn’t sound the way worship songs sounded,” – Good, Good Father songwriter Pat Barrett
The opportunity Pat sees in the Christian music scene is for the intersection between artistry and worship to be explored in a way that breaks genre boundaries.
“I think the message of the gospel, and the opportunity we all have is to use what you have and what you’ve been given in a posture of servant hood and self-sacrifice and love to the world. And I don’t care what that sounds like,” he said.
For Pat that hasn’t meant taking faith out of his music at all, but rather including a broader scope of it.
On his new album Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly, Pat writes songs like Slow and Steady where he talks about bearing the pressures of the world, and So Real where he calls for authenticity in the church singing: “What if me is all You want, and picture perfect’s overdone, I was swept up in a lie, ’cause true religion’s camera shy”.
The issue of genuine faith that Pat points out isn’t one that’s limited to people on platforms, but it’s certainly something they have to confront.
“It’s so much easier to be fake, when you’re a religious public person,” Pat said.
“We can’t even read the Bible without talking about it, you know? [Posting photos of] ‘Going to coffee’ but the Bible’s conveniently open in the background,” he smiled.
“Jesus gave us the antidote to that thousands of years ago, saying, ‘OK, when you pray, don’t let anyone hear you. Don’t do it in public. Go into your room, shut the door, find a quiet place and pray in secret (Matthew 6:5-7).
“There’s zero public reward, zero social affirmation and zero opportunity to use your inward holiness as leverage to advance your career or get attention.”
“It’s so much easier to be fake, when you’re a religious public person,” – Good, Good Father songwriter Pat Barrett
Holding Jesus’ words as an ever-present reminder to check his motives, Pat said, “For every minute that I’m ever on stage I hope there’s 99 other minutes that are not”.
“It seems the only requirement (for a relationship with God) is that He won’t meet with the fake you. He meets with you,” Pat said.
“What that has done in my life, is it’s severed the ties of trying to make my deepest identity something I do instead of who I actually am.”
It’s taken Pat a while to become comfortable with who he is, and what he creates as a songwriter, but he says embracing our need to mature is what helps us get there.
“There’s a ‘gracious’ to grow on the long walk with God that you have to accept for yourself,” he said.
“Otherwise the self-critical people, like me, will be condemning something that’s in the process of growing.”
Recounting a moment in his car, some 10 years ago when he was “quitting” every time he heard “another great songwriter” on the radio and comparing himself to every one of them, Pat said God prompted him to ask, “Would you condemn a seed for not being a full-grown oak?”.
“The only difference between this seed, this little thing, and the oak tree is care and time. This seed has everything within it to be exactly what it’s supposed to be.”
Pat Barrett’s latest album Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly is out now. Listen to the full UNDISTRACTED conversation in the player above or watch his interview with Laura below.