William Matthews: The Evolution of Worship


What does worship look like when you’re questioning, leaving, or changing your faith? How can we bring everything back to our humanness, and what role does incarnation play in that? And what happens when we stop chasing after revival and focus on the wildness of the Spirit of God? Join us for a conversation with William Matthews (Spotify | Instagram), former worship leader at Bethel, as we explore these questions and more on Almost Heretical.


Nate: Welcome to part two of our worship series. We had a really great chat with William Matthews, and we’re excited to bring that to you. He’s a former worship leader with Bethel and also a bunch of other places, and we get into that in the interview.

Shelby: I really appreciated his take on what worship was in kind of his former Christian faith and also what it can be now, where he is now, and it was really profound for me, and I’m excited for you to get to hear that as well.

Nate: William also had some pretty exciting news to share towards the end of this episode, so make sure you stick around for that. All right, here’s our chat with William.

Shelby: All right. Hi, William. Thanks for being here. I’m really honored that you take the time to talk with us. Could you start off by just giving us a bit of your story and what your Christian background has been and how that’s interrelated with worship? It’s maybe a big, broad question. Take as long as you want.

William Matthews: Yeah, it is. People like, Tell your story, and I’m like, yeah, you have five years.

Shelby: Your testimony.

William Matthews: Just kidding. I just start singing. Sam Cook like I was born by the river.

Shelby: If you do your whole story in that, that was beautiful. That would be great.

William Matthews: I appreciate it. Well, I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I come from a long line of preachers, evangelists, deacons, bishops. Church of God is my denomination, but Church of God? Anderson, Indiana. Not the one in Tennessee. We get confused with those. The domination I grew up in was pretty segregated. There was a black Church of God and a white Church of God, clearly on the black side of the Church of God. And, yeah, we were holiness without the pentecostal, so we weren’t Church of God in Christ, which was heavily pentecostal. So I grew up a little liturgical, a little almost kind of Baptist, I guess, in our presentation. But we would allow moments of spontaneity, there would be some of those things. So I didn’t go without it. But it definitely was not the key feature of my church experience. It was just hymns and choirs and scriptures and liturgies and yeah, especially having a grandfather and aunts and uncles who are all ordained ministers in the church of God. I grew up with a very strong spiritual legacy and so for me, I decided kind of my contribution to that would be worship music. And so, like I said, I was born in Detroit. Grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. My mother was a choir director, too, so I grew up singing in church choir and school choirs and such. Then I did marching band when I was in high school. I played saxophone. So music was always a key part of my life. And it probably wasn’t until I hit maybe 1920, that kind of this I learned the phrase worship leader. We didn’t really call it that in the black church or at least my denomination. We had other names like Praise Teen leader, song leader, soloist. But we never used that term worship leader. And at the time I started going to this white charismatic church or white evangelical charismatic church, and they had a worship team and I auditioned to be on their worship team and made it. And that’s when I kind of learned basically what most people think of as like, modern worship because I grew up listening to gospel music. I didn’t grow up listening to CCM or I didn’t grow up with Hillsong or Vineyard or Maranatha. There was like a little like Bill Gaither going on every now and again. And then there was what was the guy? Ron Canoli. I definitely remember Ron Canoli because he was always on TBN. But yeah, I didn’t grow up with Delirious and Audio Journaling and some of that stuff, but I learned very quickly. I kind of picked up right at 18, just sort of like everything I had missed from the last 15 years I didn’t know out of Eden they were CCM. I do remember that. Out of Eden and what’s the one that Tobe Mac was in and Kevin was that group. Yeah, I knew like one song. Yeah, my cousin was like a fan, so I knew one song. I was like, who are these people? So I was pretty sheltered, honestly, from most of white evangelicalism my entire childhood. Like I said, except for TBN and sending money to TV preachers, which occasionally I would do as a teenager. Wow. I wanted my blessing. I don’t know about you, I sow a seed. I’m going to be prosperous.

Shelby: You had faith.

William Matthews: I did. I had faith. I was also conned, I realized now. But my faith was genuine. Right. As my mom always says, It doesn’t matter. Well, not that it doesn’t matter, but she’s always kind of like, what’s most important is you did it with a pure heart.

Shelby: Not that’s true, right?

William Matthews: Yeah. It’s still a tough one for me. Fast forward. Yeah. I kind of learned very quickly the whole worship thing. And at the time, there was kind of the emergence. This is the early 2000s, so, mind you, I’m a little older, kind of in the worship world, even. So I’m basically I’m turning 40 this year. So my worship coming of age probably happened around 2023. That’s when I really started paying attention, kind of, to the wider body of Christ. Really? The white body of Christ. And so I learned the history. I started singing these songs at this church. Then I decided to intern for Acquire the Fire. I don’t know if you guys remember that this guy, Ron Lewis had a ministry called Acquire the Fire. It was the biggest youth conference of the 90s. They were filling stadiums and full arenas with youth group kids back then. And so I was, like, an intern, and I would call for these Acquire the Fires.

Shelby: Wow.

William Matthews: And then we had, like, a little Honor academy, year long internship, and I would lead worship for that. And that’s when I again learned a lot of these songs. Then I started discovering like Israel Houghton around then, in Lakewood Joel Osteen’s church. They were doing, like, worship albums because worship music was never dominant in the Christian music space. It was always very subversive. Like, they weren’t playing worship music, for the most part, on Christian radio and Caleb.

Shelby: Yeah, exactly.

William Matthews: Whatever.

Nate: I feel like that didn’t happen until, I don’t know, like, 1015 years ago. You started to hear a lot of the worship stuff, make it onto conservative Christian radio.

William Matthews: They wouldn’t even play Hillsong, which was even stranger because Hillsong was global. Yeah, I think they were still stuck on that whatever. Like the Christian pop scene or whatever, the Christian contemporary rock thing. Then worship basically started out selling the stuff they were playing on the radio, and they had to switch it. So, really money led the way in that. But, yeah, at the time, it was Israel Houghton, it was Jason Upton, and I got really drawn more to the more prophetic worship. And so I ended up, after I left this internship, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and spent a season learning worship from Morningstar Ministries, which was a very prophetic, kind of wild church. Rick Joyner wrote that book final Quest. That was just wild, but it was a space for the prophetic. And that’s where I learned to prophesy, and particularly prophesy through music, what we would say. And I didn’t want to go to a lot of these slick ministry schools and such, so I kind of went to the more like prayer, prophetic spaces. From there, I started doing stuff with Lewingle and the Justice House of Prayer in DC. We were doing pro life prayer activism and going in front of the Supreme Court with red tapes over our mouths, praying and singing for the ending of abortion. That’s what I was doing in the mid two thousand s. I don’t know about you all, but maybe you all were doing the same.

Shelby: I was pretty similar. I’m just wondering how you were singing with red tape over your mouth.

William Matthews: Well, when we take the tape off.

Shelby: We would but yeah, I was starting my as like a teenager, I was starting my own prayer ministry outside of our local abortion clinics, but luckily a couple of friends joined. But for the most part it was just me. Yes, we tried.

William Matthews: I love it. I dedicated a large season of my life to pro life activism and that’s a whole nother story for another time. I’m definitely not into that anymore. But from there I ended up moving to Kansas City, Missouri, and I did an internship and ended up joining staff at IHOP Kansas City. So that’s really where music man, you.

Shelby: Just hit like every bass, all the spots.

William Matthews: Oh, I’m not even finished. I started singing background vocals for Misty Edwards at the time. My first actual cut on a record, songwriting Wise Publishing, was with a little known worship leader at the time named Corey Asbury. I wrote a song with him on his first album back in 2007 eight. And then we would tour with Louingel and the Call events and one thing conferences, which were kind of big youth conferences that we used to do and I pretty much got on as a background singer for them. And through all of this whole world win in Charlotte and Kansas City, I ended up meeting Kim Walker Smith who was a part of something called Jesus culture. This was right when she did the Howie Love song, and it blew up on YouTube because YouTube is a whole new platform. And me and Kim had been friends from Charlotte, and then I reconnected with her when I was living in Kansas City, and then we just developed a friendship. And then she said, hey, you should come to Redding, California, and sing with me. And there’s a church called Bethel Church. And I was like, oh, okay. And I did. And then I went and sang with her and they pretty much was like, hey, you should just move here and just start singing and leading worship. And I said, okay. And I moved to a little town of 90,000 people joined the church, ended up helping to start was the first artist signed to the Belfast music label and the rest for me was just kind of history. Well, that’s kind of my story with worship.

Shelby: Okay, yeah, it is, I think just fascinating that what you grew up in was so different than what you ended up participating in your adult career. I don’t know.

William Matthews: Well there was a reason for that because when I was a teenager, my family, my dad was pastoring a church in Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s why we moved there a little 100 member church and we ended up going through a church split. There was some drama with the deacon board and they didn’t like the way my dad was leading. And someone accused my dad of stealing money, which he wasn’t stealing money. And quickly they found out that wasn’t true. And after that experience, my dad pretty much stopped pastoring after that.

Shelby: Wow.

William Matthews: And so my first deconstruction experience happened to me at like 16. So deconstruction for me, so to speak, that’s that language I guess people use a lot is deconstruction. Sorry, what were you going to say?

Shelby: I was just going to say, yeah, at that time, right about 16, what do you feel like you kind of moved from? What was point A? What was point B in that little deconstruction cycle there?

William Matthews: Well, I think growing up I knew that the denomination that I had grown up in, that my family was really caked and baked in, no longer served me and my family. It had actually harmed us and mistreated us. And so we left it. And we were probably the first people on both sides of my family to leave that denomination. And then years later, most everyone did except for a few stragglers. So it was hard to be the first in our whole family structure to leave something that we are generationally tied to. And so that’s where I started searching for spirituality and God outside of everything that I’d ever known. So that’s why I was like running to the very opposite of everything I’d ever experienced. If I grew up listening to gospel music, then I was running to CCM and worship music, right? If I was only reading books by TD. Jakes and Eddie Long and Juanita Bynum and Benny Hen. Then I’m running as far away from that and I’m going to Rick Joyner and Mike Bickle and Lou Ingel and all those Cindy Jacobs and all those folks So I ran into the prophetic as a way of really evolving my spirituality beyond those strong limitations. And also part of that experience for me was growing up with a small charismatic experience. And then about 1819, having more bigger charismatic experiences, I almost felt like something was robbed from me because there was like the whole speaking in tongues thing and even praying for healing. We would pray for healing. We believed in it. But even just a real consistent faith ethic around it was not super present in my experience. So then I just was drawn towards the supernatural culture because I felt like that was one of the things that got the least in my church experience. So anyway, to answer that question, that’s why I ran to the very far, but it was deconstruction. And I will say, even inside of all that, as much as I was running to hardcore, charismatic experiences, there was a through line from my teenage years into my adult years in terms of one of my biggest influences. Which was a little old lady named Madeline la Ingle and Madeline la angel’s books, particularly her faith books like walking on water, reflections of faith in Art or the Crosswalk journals or penguins and golden calfs. That’s a great one too. Like Brighton evening Star. Those books around incarnation and universalism and a more kinder, more gracious god were also traveling with me through that journey as well. So even though I was having these very fundamentalist charismatic binary experiences, I was also still holding space for a god who was way bigger, more gracious, more kind, and even entertaining the notion, even as a teenager that maybe hell is not real, and if it is, maybe it’s not eternal. And so that actually carried with me throughout my entire worship leading experience. And pretty much by the time I got to the height of my worship career, probably in the early two thousand and ten s, I was not a believer in hell.

Shelby: Wow. Throughout the entire and then did you find okay, I was going to say, did you find that that was like how did people react to that? Did you have company in that? Or were people more opposed to it?

William Matthews: I would say the majority were opposed to it, but because charismatic experiences or the charismatic environment is a bit more open, so to speak, a lot of people were more lenient towards it even if they didn’t agree with it. Right. And I found actually, the older I got in that charismatic space, more and more people were actually believing it, but they just wasn’t publicly preaching on it or teaching on it. And so I felt as years went on, I actually felt more and more justified and then I would talk more and more openly about it. And still to this day, I mean, there’s plenty of worship leaders that I know, well known worship leaders, who are not big hell people, if not at all. But that’s good news. Yeah. The church is a little bit more complex in that way rather than just everyone’s a fundamentalist, though a lot are. Right.

Nate: I have so many questions. Your experience, though, different than mine, for sure. I feel like I had a lot of those stops along the way, kind of an experience as well, like Christian radio. Like right out of college I got thrust into Christian talk radio, then working at the Fish and all those that whole thing.

William Matthews: The sign of the fish. The bookstore.

Nate: Oh, sorry, the band or the book? The Fish radio stations, the chain of radio stations.

William Matthews: Oh, yes, I remember those. I was thinking of Sign of the Fish. There was a Christian bookstore chain, at least in the south, the southeast North Carolina, called Sign of the Fish. And that’s where you went and got all your Christian music and all your Joyce Meyer devotionals. That was before they were selling it in like Walmart and stuff. Right. Hobby.

Shelby: Hobby Lobby.

Nate: Yeah. And then I started working for a prominent Christian leader who I don’t mention on this show as much, but on our second podcast for supporters, you know, the whole story. But anyways and just like New York Times bestseller, you definitely know who I’m talking about. And then just kind of like, faith started kind of crumbling, I guess, as I started realizing, okay, what am I teaching here? And Hell was actually the first domino. So it’s interesting that that’s and I think it is for a lot of people, right?

Shelby: Yeah. I mean, I’d say it was one of my first not maybe the very first, but definitely one of the most doctrinal things that I just was like, this is something I’ve actually now believed. Something different. But it was just so freeing, so relieving.

William Matthews: Yeah. I think for a lot of us, we in our probably communities and families were forerunners around that kind of stuff. At least I felt like I was. Because I remember when Rob Bell wrote Love wins, and I thought, oh, no, they’re not ready. They’re not ready. Not on this level. And it’s funny because the book is really sweet, it’s really nice, and it’s not actually, like, espousing, quite universalism. It’s just like, maybe that’s a little bit better. Right. It was actually a lot more biblical and tamed than the way, like, John Piper and those folks made it out. But I do know that there’s all that fear around it. So when that actually happened, it almost became almost an evangelistic opportunity for me because people were, oh, my God, Keith Lee Robbie is preaching this or saying this. And I would be like, actually, I believe that. I actually believe it. He’s more flirting with it. And then they would go, what? And then I would actually talk to people about why I believe that. And I would give them materials and books I was reading. And yeah, I think maybe because deep down, I’m a nice person. Even if people agree with me, they’re like, oh, he’s sweet, he’s sincere. To me, it was never some type of excuse. Universalism wasn’t an excuse to not take my Christianity seriously. In fact, I feel like it’s because I took it seriously is why I became a Christian. Universalist, so to speak. And I think people saw that, even if they didn’t personally agree. And probably the same for you guys. Too close.

Shelby: I remember I went to a Christian university and I remember in one of the classes in, like, a discussion group, the professor kind of started it was a very conservative school. I mean, I didn’t know that at the time because I was just swimming around in conservative water, but it’s a conservative school. And the professor started to kind of put out just slowly the idea of universalism. And we all just attacked the professor. Like, how could you possibly? And I knew all the verses I just quoted every piece of scripture I could think of that, to me, proved that hell. And I mean, we were just going at him. And then I just remember I had this sudden kind of out of body experience in the moment where I suddenly realized, why don’t we want him to be right? Even if he’s wrong, shouldn’t we want him to be right? Why are we so desperately trying to prove people go to hell? So, yeah, even though at that point I still believed it, I was just so taken aback by it. I was like, we are the pharisees. We are the ones who care more about being right than about people. And so that was a turning point.

William Matthews: That’S funny to me because in between my teenage experience to when I really started espousing Christian universalism or really deeply believing it, there was a guy, a man named Bishop Carlton Pearson. I don’t know if you guys remember him. He was a black gospel singer, but also a pastor of a megachurch in Tulsa, Oklahoma before Rob Bell kind of got crucified for this stuff. He was the first person to get majorly crucified by the Christian industrial complex. And actually, one of the most fascinating conversations you will ever hear is between Rob Bell and Bishop Carlton Pearson and RobCast in which kind of they share both of their experiences and relate to how that happened for them and how they were ostracized from the Christian world. But anyway, this man was putting on conferences with tens of thousands of people and recording award winning albums. And the moment he said he felt like the Lord told him that God wasn’t sending people to hell, when I tell you all the Christian publications, everyone latched onto it, and I remember being exactly like you, going like, yeah, how could he do that? I was living in Texas at the time, doing my little internship with the Choir of the Fire and being so zealous and so righteous, right? But it was that feeling on the inside, exactly the one you named, that the whole while I’m pointing the finger, something in me was going, Maybe it’s true. And it was like I started barking louder because to drown out the feeling that I had felt like those little seeds of Madeline La angle that were creeping up in me, right? That was like, maybe God is kinder, maybe God is more inclusive, more loving. He’s more expansive, wider than anything you can even conceive of. And what if and just your story was so poignant to me because I feel like anytime I’m going super hard on something in my life that I’m just so angry or stubborn around, I have to ask myself, what is the truth in this? Because clearly there’s a truth in this and it’s irking me. And I’m wrestling against the truth here. Maybe it’s not all of it, but maybe there’s definitely a baby in this bathwater, and I need to find the baby in this rather than trying to throw the whole thing out.

Shelby: Yeah. And what’s the fear? I think that’s why we were all attacking this, because in our minds, the fear was if we don’t I mean, our entire belief system was built on hell. We have no concept of salvation without hell. We had no reason for Jesus without hell, so we didn’t have room to consider it at all. Which really just shows how off base our whole Christian faith had become. Hell was not an essential tenet of Christianity in the beginning, and that’s just that blew my mind.

Nate: There’s whole creeds written without hell in it, right? There’s creeds that don’t even include hell. Okay, I got to get back to your story for a second because you ended at Bethel, right? But you’re not still at Bethel. And no, you’ve moved on, I’m guessing.

Shelby: Since part two of the story.

Nate: What was that? 2018 ish somewhere around there, 16. Okay. So it’s been quite a few years since you’ve left there, and I’m guessing your faith has changed and continued to grow. So I’m curious, where are you now? Do you consider yourself a Christian?

Shelby: Bring us from Bethel to here.

Nate: Remember when you had to remember back in the day when you had to put in the second VHS tape for the second half of those three hour movies or the second DVD? Right. This is like that.

William Matthews: Okay, you’re right, because they came in those little box things.

Shelby: Part three was your gospel years in your original church growing up, but part two was your charismatic years ending in Bethel now. Now we’re into part three. Bethel to here, part three.

William Matthews: Okay. I love that you’re mapping this tough for me. My life has an arc to it. Thank you.

Shelby: Hopefully it’s somewhat accurate.

William Matthews: I think I was like a lot of people in 2016. I felt just radically disappointed with the church at large, and mainly, like, the Trump thing, that was a bit of a mindbender for me, mainly because I’m black in a white evangelical space. And I had spent much of the last 15 years at that point in white evangelical spaces thinking that my presence was helping to build some type of unity and some type of togetherness that, hey, I can love you all. Apart from racial lines, I can value what you’re saying. I can hold space for your beliefs. Right. Can you do the same for mine? And I started to just sense this. Like I will say, I feel like when I started my journey in that world, there was always little things and microaggressions and racist stuff. But it started to become more and more pronounced. Especially by the time you get to the mid 2010s. And I felt like there was this core value that the church used to have in America to some level, at least in my experience, or the white church particularly. And it was that we love people even when we disagree with them or even if we even with the health thing, right? People were a little bit more, like, respectful around some of those things, and they would just hold those beliefs, and they wouldn’t force that on you, but they would believe those things. And then something started happening where the culture were just ramped up again. And next, Barack Obama. Really. It really was Barack Obama. And I started to sense that everyone hated him. Now, mind you, at that time, I was a card carrying Republican. Up until 2016, I was a card carrying Republican. I never voted for Barack Obama because I was a pro lifer. And so I was like, I can’t vote for anybody. That’s for abortion. And that was kind of a personal vow that I made. And yet by 2012 and I was like, when he got reelected, the way everyone was taking it, at least when I was kind of surveying the church landscape and traveling and part of these things, people were way too upset. And I’m going, Guys, I know we didn’t win. He didn’t vote, but it’s okay, right? Like, God still got this, right? Wait, he doesn’t. We’re all going to die because of what Him and then it was like, it started to feel irrational, and there was this irrational fear and this irrational panic, a moral panic that just started making me feel more and more uneasy. And that actually started my second deconstruction, so to speak. Let’s just call it for this podcast, my second deconstruction, where I really started going, something’s off in the water here. I know something’s off. I know I’m a little different in my theology, but there’s more to this. And so I actually started doing my deep dive. I read Rachel Held Evans “Searching for Sunday”. At the time of friendship, I was.

Shelby: Just saying that’s a common one for all of us.

William Matthews: Yeah, I mean, at the time, I was really developing a friendship with Jonathan Martin, who’s still a good friend of mine to this day. Back when he was at a church in Charlotte, before probably a lot of people knew him. I just kind of found him through stumbled on horanda podcast from his church, this little old church in Charlotte. And I was like, this guy is profound. And I did everything I could to promote him on my Twitter, even when I was, like, touring and doing Christian worship stuff, because I believed in his message. But he introduced me to Brian Zahnd, who I then became friends with too. And they introduced me to Renee Gerard, and then some other friends introduced me to Richard Rohr and so on and so on and so on. And then I got back into James Cone and started reading black liberation theology again. And this is probably all, like, 2012 1314. So that was kind of my deconstruction while. At the height of my kind of touring Christian music worship life.

Shelby: So all that happening at the same time, like, your beliefs really shifting, but still very much in the conservative fundamentalist worship scene.

William Matthews: Exactly. And also to the rise of BLM was 2014. So it was all coinciding for me and the recognition that black lives do matter. Why do you struggle with that? And again, I’m a car.

Shelby: This is not a controversial statement.

William Matthews: This should not be controversial. Like you all do know, there is a difference to the black and white experience in this country. Oh, wait, you don’t know or you just don’t want to know? It was all those responses. So anyway, fast forward to 2016. I actually left Reading and moved to La in 2014, but I was still working with the label up until 2016. So there was kind of a little bit of an overlap there. But pretty much my entire time since I moved to La. I had moved everywhere in my adult life for a church, a ministry, or to do worship. And this was the first move where I said, I just want to live in Los Angeles. Just to live, and I want to get around some writers and get better as a songwriter and pop writers and just learn. And that’s what I did. And I’ve been here nine years ever since. So pretty much for me, I had done so much giving, I feel like, to the world, that I really focused my energy on rebuilding me after deconstruction. I think we’ve all had that tendency, and I definitely was a major part of that movement. That was like calling things out on the Internet during the Trump years. I was also on the Liturgist podcast during that season and just kind of fell into relationship with Michael and Lisa Gunger and science Mike and propaganda and the whole crew. So we were doing it. But also what I was really doing through all that from 2014 to now has been focusing on me, living my life. I’m actually a pretty private person, and I had to go inward again and really find that peace within myself and find that contentment within myself. And there was a lot of hard times. It wasn’t an easy thing. I had to live alone. That was a big thing. I was always around people. I was used to the commotion of church ministry life and all that. Hecticness. And also my body was exhausted. I also had like a physical and mental breakdown a bit because I was going months of traveling and touring and not taking care of myself. So when I decided to leave my label and sever our business relationship and just be a person living in La. I had to literally reconstruct myself, not just theologically what I believed. I mean, that was already been in flux, and that was actually getting more and more firmer. I hadn’t lived real life. I’ve been in these church bubbles my entire adult life. And I lacked a lot of maturity about how to just be a person in the world again. And that was what I’ve been focusing on and also denying myself a ton of pleasure out here in this world because I was, like, holding fast to Jesus. And I had to ultimately realize, no, worship is not simply songs you sing. It is a lifestyle. But it’s a lifestyle of all wonder and beauty and finding God in all things in every part of your life and in nature and in friendships and in intimate relationships and in hobbies and fun and all, like, creativity. And I have to just rediscover, play again, and I had to rediscover. It’s always a hard thing to say because I don’t want to offend people, but worship music for me is very hit or miss. Sometimes I really do feel it, and I get kind of those old feelings again, and a lot of times I don’t. Some of it, I’m sure, is trauma related. I know it’s trauma related, but actually, other parts of it were man. Worship was like my security blanket. Anytime I had a negative emotion, I was struggling. I couldn’t make sense of the world. I went to worship music. I would worship myself or play worship music and dance to worship music or go to a conference, and I just need to go to the next conference. I was like a glory junkie going to the next thing to get filled up with the Holy Spirit so I can feel good and powerful and strong in my life. And it was like crack for me. I had to really detox from that. So I spent a long season away from worship music, not listening to it, not engaging it. And I wrote a lot of worship songs, so you can imagine it was my job, too. So it was all kind of interconnected. So I remember being in South Africa on one of my last tours, big tours that I did. And I remember we were having this transcendent moment, and it’s like thousands of people in a field, maybe like ten plus thousand, no exaggeration. It was Joe Burn wild. And I remember in those moments, my tendency would be to close my eyes and focus on the Lord, whether I’m leading or just watching the rest of the team sing in worship. And I remember very clear as day, I had this whole thing of, no, open your eyes. Look at the people. Look at them. And when I would look at them, my heart would just overflow with so much tenderness and love for these people. And I realized that that was worship. I was in all wonder and beauty by just seeing these people, but I also felt like a weird sadness about it too, because I’m like, are we singing each other or are we just kind of closing our eyes and all just singing to some God up in the sky somewhere, right?

Shelby: Yeah.

William Matthews: There was this real like, I saw the beauty and what was happening and what they were doing, but I also saw the detachment and I was like, this is what I’ve been doing. I haven’t been opening my eyes, I haven’t been seeing what’s right in front of me. I’ve been living in this mystical, mythical, charismatic glory land. And listen, I wasn’t the craziest. Out of everyone, I was probably the most rational compared to a lot of the people I was with. A lot more level headed, a lot more like studious. And I would read. So I don’t want to paint myself as like a total nut, but I engaged for sure. But it stopped satisfying me. Like, I kept praying, more Lord, more Lord, give me more I want more of your presence, more of your spirit one of my worship songs from my first song was called I Just Want You More. And it’s like, more of you, more of you, more of you and then I felt like God actually answered my prayer, but not in the way that I thought. I thought more of me felt like would be rolling around the floor, laughing in the spirit or seeing a sick person healed or getting a word of knowledge and telling someone intimate details of their life. And I realized the more of God was found out in the world. It was found in having conversations with atheists, it was found in talking to agnostic folk and my Hindu friends and people who were leaning into Buddhism and studying Sufiism. I found the more of God in being curious about the world around me in a way that I had been uncurious before. And that’s what worship translated for me. It actually the more of God became, lord, I want to understand more of the wholeness of your entire creation and not just only this little sliver over here that I understand and now. And so I just got curious and those prayers, all that led me actually, I felt like the Holy Spirit led me into deconstruction and led me into reconstruction, because it was not simply just me being angry and frustrated. It was a real desire of my heart being fulfilled through lots of prayer and intercession, which was God. I just want to see you I want to see your glory I want to see your goodness. I want to see you in the land of the living. I want to taste and see and know that you’re good. And yet I was going to worship services and conferences to get that and not actually going to the source, which is ultimate reality, which is taking pleasure in the moment and in the presentness and in the person in front of me. And that was my turning. I rated my song Shine on US. From black and white to vibrant color. I’m reflecting your beauty like my world went from that binary black and whiteness into a world of vivid, vivid color where, oh, yeah, LGBT people are safe. They’re loved, and they’re part of the beloved. They are fully accepted in the beloved. They’re not separate. There is no separateness. Actually. All these lines we’ve created won’t actually exist in the Spirit. And maybe this cosmos and this earth is the one body, and it really is a oneness. There is a oneness to this. And we’ve just been trying to separate and dismember God’s body. All of us, not just in Christianity, but globally, right? In all of our different sects and our differentiations, there is a unity to this and that’s. My awakening with worship worship became cosmic for me in a very tangible way.

Nate: I just got this picture of, like, what if all those that are the term now is deconstruction, but just any kind of faith evolution or leaving people that feel like they’ve left their faith, and I don’t need that anymore. Whatever it is, like, any of these progressions that people make, what if this is all those answers to the prayers that we prayed all those years? What’s the song? I want to know you. Oh, in the secret Right. Like, I want to know you more, right?

William Matthews: Yeah.

Nate: I want more of you.

Shelby: And, I mean, Nate: and I have talked about and maybe of as well. It does seem often it seems like the people who were most desperate, most radical, like, most just desperately pursuing God are often those people who have these kind of crazy faith shifts. When you told that story, oh, my that was that was just beautiful. But it reminded me of when, at the beginning of my journey, I I think I prayed, like, that God would, like, break open the box that I had him in. I was like, God, I know I have you in a box. Like, break open the box. And then within months, I ended up feeling like my box was completely destroyed, which was actually emotionally devastating for a long time because I just felt like I had nothing. But we haven’t really talked about where you feel like maybe you’re at now with God. And for me, I don’t know that I have really a relationship, at least not in the terms that I used to have said it was a relationship. So in a lot of ways, it’s still kind of this nebulous. I don’t know. But there’s hope. I 100% agree with what you were saying of, like, the whole journey was motivated not by anger or bitterness or trying to be edgy or whatever the misconceptions are, but very much by I want the truth, and I want to know who Jesus is. And I genuinely pursuing that with everything I have.

William Matthews: I was really struck by what you said about relationality that maybe your relationship with God doesn’t look the way it used to look, because the way I understand the nature of the cosmos just from a scientific level. There is relationality to everything. Everything is in relation to everything. And perhaps what if that is the relationship with God that we are talking about? We live and breathe this thing. Like Paul said in you I live and move and have my being. It was cosmic, it was metaphysical, it was more than just a conscious belief. And I think the conscious beliefs help us just to engage that which already exists. Even when we ask the Holy Spirit to come or when we used to ask the Holy Spirit to come, if that’s your jam, right? It was just more about becoming more aware. As my friends Brian and Katie Torrell have that song Holy Spirit and they sing let us become more aware of your presence, let us become more aware of your spirit. And it’s that awareness of the reality around us, or ultimate reality, the ground of being, we are connected to that. You are connected to that. And so, yeah, maybe you don’t have a type of personal dialogue with God in the way that you used to. Maybe that isn’t what actually serves you in the season of your life. And that’s okay too, doesn’t mean that you are disconnected from God. And I think because we were used to relating to God one way through dialogue and petition and intercessory prayer or liturgy even, just because we’re not doing it that way doesn’t mean there are different ways of relating to that which is greater than us. Right? Let’s just put God in the way oprah defines God as all there is, which I love. God is all there is, the thing that is all there is, that which is unknowable, unnamable, that is infinite. That thing in the universe, that’s infinite, that is moving all of this forward. I don’t know. Or maybe I put a name on it personally, for me, I am a Christian and I do put a name on it. I do call it Jesus and God, not as a sole exclusivity, but just as a practice to remember that all there is in the cosmos is personal. There’s personal touch points. Like I need a personal Jesus just as much as I need a cosmic Christ. And the two matter. And maybe in one season of my life I’m more in the cosmos in that that feels safer to me for whatever reason. And then in certain seasons I need the Spirit more. And in certain seasons a personal Jesus who walked on earth 2000 years ago comforts my soul. Or at least gives me an image of God that I can press into to become more aware and more conscious and to be a more giving person and all those things that I believe Jesus taught. So yeah, I love the journey, I love the process of what we call deconstruction and reconstruction. Though personally I hate those terms. I use them. But I hate them because for tons of reasons. But I will say a better way to me, Richard Rohr uses the terms order, disorder, reorder. Yeah, I think that I find those a little softer and a little more because our lives are flow and it recognizes energy and flow, even theologically, and where we sit in our consciousness, it’s flow. And so you’re going to move in and out of different seasons of life where you relate to the divine or God differently or not at all, and it’s all okay and everything belongs and it all matters.

Nate: I love that term evolution, too. I’ve heard, like, the faith evolution, right? Because you think about that, it’s like things are changing and things are becoming what they need to be for different moments and different seasons. And you needed that tail for a little while, and then you don’t need the tail anymore.

William Matthews: I wrote a song called Glory to Glory because I wrote it in the middle of my deconstruction. But it’s a worship song, and the verses are about Jesus. But the chorus goes we go from glory to glory to glory will never be the same will never be the same you could take us higher and higher and higher we’re forever changed because we go from glory to glory faith to faith strength to strength grace to grace. Right. There is an evolutionary journey happening in our spirituality, and Christianity wants to remain oftentimes the American Christianity wants to remain stuck and just say, no, we’ve got the truth, nothing more. And there’s no further progressive revelation. Even charismatics who technically believe in progressive revelation get stuck in the one step further that they got. And then they said, no, this is it. Now we got it. We coined the market. No more God outside of this. But yet each one of us get to go on individual journeys as well as we collectively are going through a journey with God, I think.

Nate: Yeah. It just seemed like when you talk about Christianity wanting to hold on, right. I mean, that’s why this term, like, conserve, right? Conservative Christianity, conservative music, conservative talk rate. There’s this idea that you’re holding on to something. It’s to make America great again. It’s go back to some point. Right. And yeah, it’s just interesting that a lot of people would believe there is not some point in the past, especially when you talk about America, right. That there is not some point in the past we can go back to and say, that was great.

Shelby: That’s when we were great. Yeah.

William Matthews: Because a word that I used to champion, that I now no longer champion or believe in is the word revival.

Shelby: Tell us more.

William Matthews: It’s not a biblical word. First off, if we want to even use that. Right. I think there is a concept. There’s a tiny baby in that bathwater, but this is a tiny, tiny, tiny baby. It’s an embryo. Basically, the thing they all love and want to protect. If we want to talk about evolution, right? Part of evolution is letting go of certain things so other things can move forward. Survival of the fittest and survival, right? Everything’s moving forward. Perhaps what people are talking about when they mean revival is just simply their version of forward progression. But they want to keep certain things from the past, very specific things they’re trying to bring forward rather than letting those things naturally happen. They’re trying to control the evolutionary process and meaning. We need what Jonathan Edward had. We need what the Azusa Street Revival was. We need, like, the Welsh Revival, right? And cool. You can pull things from church history, but you cannot force what the next move of God is. And I think the charismatic world has been trying to force a move of God that looks exactly like them and what they think it should look like. Mind you, the Spirit of God is wild. The Spirit of God is reckless compared to our standards, and the Spirit of God is moving in places and regions of the world and in communities that we would say would never it should never be moving. And I think the LGBT community is a perfect example of that. God is doing something very powerful and unique in and through the LGBT community, whether they recognize it or not. Some of them do. But the thing that’s happening is there’s a new narrative coming forward about who we are in identity as human beings and to see ourselves in a broader, bigger, more inclusive way. If that’s revival, sign me up, because that feels like something that’s organically happening, rather than we’ve got to recreate this thing from the past, because we’ve idolized these models of revival. And as somebody that spent a lot of years in revival settings, let me tell you, revival is not spirit led. It is very manufactured. It is very produced. I don’t know a Worship album that is completely live, just as a perfect example, even the crowd yeah, that’s produced. So then we’re looking at certain environments saying, this is the sound that was captured live from this time and this revival in history. And DA DA. And it wasn’t. That was gone back. That was overdubbed in the studio. Most of Worship music is overdubbed in studio. So then what is that other than just us trying to control again, I have no problem with overdubbing things in the studio. What I’m saying, yeah, we can’t do that and call that revival. And so, anyway, I don’t like the term. I don’t use it. I’m not looking for a revival. Revival is exhausting. I know, because everyone forced me to lead Worship in it for a lot of years. It was extended meetings on extended meetings, and I do not want that again. Personally, I am happy with where my life is at. I love God, I love people. Don’t need revival or worship movement, right?

Shelby: And I think what you just said right there is exactly the reason you don’t need revival, is what you said. I’m happy where my life is at. And the whole idea of revival is like, you’re doing it wrong and you need to start over. And it’s this very conviction based, guilt based you’ve been going away from Jesus, and now you’re turning around back to him. And I think that’s why revival is often young people. Twenty s and or teens, because a lot of times the older people get, the more they are content with their life, and they know the choices they’ve made and why they’ve made them.

Nate: And you realize, how much can we change? Right? Like, you get older and you’re like, that’s great. The young, the kids want to change.

Shelby: Really want to change the world right now.

Nate: Yeah. They’ll realize when they get older, like, you can’t actually change that much. Yeah, exactly. I said this on our last episode, one of my because I was a worship leader, definitely not as prominent as you or anything like that, but I led all the way from junior high, all the way until deconstruction, basically 20 years or so. And one of the things that kind of struck me as I this is kind of on the theme of, like, everything is spiritual, right? Like, everything is, as you were saying earlier, like, finding God and finding that that presence in everything, right, is like when I got out of church world and I just took a break from all it took a break from leading, I took a break from pastoring, took a break from going to church. And you go to concerts, you listen to music, and you’re like, wow, you go to a concert, everyone non Christian concert, secular concert. What do people do when they hear music, right? In a group of people, in a large group of people, loud music. When you’re all just belt yeah, coldplay concert, right? Whatever. People belt it out. They raise their hands, they close their eyes, they dance around, they jump, they scream, they laugh, they hug. It’s a lot of the same things that I saw in the church that I would have said, this is only a worship experience, right? And then it’s like, no, this is just a human experience of something bigger than yourself, being connected to something bigger than yourself.

William Matthews: You just hit the nail on the head. It is a human experience. And I think in the church, we want to become supernatural so bad. We want to be just like Jesus, and we want to be extraordinary. Extraordinary. We want to be special. We want to be seen. We want to be picked. And really, the work is to become more human. Like St. Aaron says, right? The glory of God is the human being fully alive, right? Has to be the human being fully alive. That would be the glory of god, actually, not the dust and the feathers and the gold and the money and the fame and even the salvations and the healings and the miracles, so to speak. It has to come back to our humanity. We’ve got to bring everything back to our humanness, because that’s incarnation. And as Richard Rohr would argue, and I would thoroughly believe, the Incarnation was the salvation. It was the redemption. You don’t need blood sacrifice to know that you’re okay. You were okay. The moment Christ comes in human form, that your body’s okay, which is so.

Nate: Counter, which is so different than a lot of the messages I got as a young person. And I was teaching in the church of total depravity, right? I was Calvinist strong. Calvinist. Total depravity. What’s the other one? Original sin. Yeah. There’s something wrong with your body from before you even existed. There is something wrong with you, and there’s a chasm between you and God.

William Matthews: That is terrible news. That is not good news. That is terrible news, because it sounds like you were born into a trap. You didn’t do it, but you’re paying the cost of this. But you know what? Guess what? There’s a guy over here who saved you. You just got to give him your whole life, and then you won’t be punished eternally. It’s crazy, but evangelical theology is trash anyway. I’m no longer an Evangelical in my theology. I grew up with Evangelical theology, even though I grew up in a black church. Our theology was Evangelicalism in blackface. I’m clear on that. I’m clear that penal substitutionary atonement is trash. It is absolute garbage. I am sure, very sure that the purity culture that we were given is trash and has done more harm than good. There are things I am very clear about. Sometimes in deconstruction we get, especially in the beginning phases of that process, we often like it’s posed as questions and, like, maybe this or maybe this or maybe cool, cool.

Shelby: Yeah. I don’t really know anything anymore.

William Matthews: I don’t know anything anymore. Actually, you do. You know that they’re treating your queer friends like trash, and you don’t like that anymore. So stand up for that and say that, because that’s actually what you’re wrestling against. You actually are wrestling against white supremacy. You’re not really wrestling with Christianity, maybe. So just confront white supremacy because Christianity existed before colonization. So let’s start there. Let’s wrestle with white supremacy and name the thing, because that’s the thing that you’re angry at inside, right? And then we just coax in so much doubt language. But really what you’re angry about anger is such a clarifier. And the thing that you’re angry about is actually the thing you’re called to to unravel and to unmask. And so there are principalities and powers at work in this world, and I’m not talking about dark spirits that are fallen angels. I am talking about energies that exist inside of people that are trying to move this thing forward in a very dark path. And I think the magnetism thing is a revival movement of its own accord. And that pulling back to a future that is oppressive that we all are experiencing right now in these laws in Florida and Tennessee. Right. We have to resist those things. Now is not the time for doubt and mystery and wonder around certain things. We need to get really clear about who we are, what we are and where we’re going and deconstruction. For me, I had my process of being in the gray, being in the wilderness. I even wrote a song called in the Gray. I understand it, but you can’t stay there because there’s still an actual fight happening out there and it’s happening against marginalized people. And so you either have to just live in your own insular. Woe is me. I don’t understand what do I believe anymore? Right? Or you can actually at least say, I do know what I actually believe. I think it’s wrong that people of color are treated this way. I think this MAGA movement is a fascist movement and it’s wrong and I’m going to resist it and I’m going to actually take political action to oppose it. Right. I think where we’ve got to mature around some of these things is, yes, you have an internal process, but there’s a collective process happening too and we need to mobilize that. And I say that from a place of real tenderness, understanding that that can be very complicated because people have a lot of trauma. But guess what? So did all those other people in the Bible that did great, extraordinary things.

Shelby: Amen.

William Matthews: That’s all very youth pastoral me. I don’t regret it.

Shelby: I really love actually just the whole time you’ve been talking. Your beliefs are so far different than what most of our listeners probably grew up with and what all of us grew up with. But the fact that you can still using scripture, you’re still using these like even some of these worship songs that you’re still referencing. I think it’s really beautiful that you haven’t had to completely distance yourself from those things. But you’re finding like no, these things are it doesn’t belong to fundamentalism and it doesn’t belong to conservativism and we can use them for our means as well.

William Matthews: Yeah. You know, like in the scripture in Matthew, right, jesus is talking about the beatitudes, right? Matthew four, five, six. When you get to six and seven, right, you start getting into the clobber passage that constantly gets used against progressives, which is narrow is the gate and few will find it. The wide road leads to destruction. Actually, the wide road that Jesus is referencing is not the road of inclusion. Like the really grassy knoll of inclusion. All are welcome and part of the beloved. It’s the wide road of fundamentalism and religious extremism because Jesus is referencing that whole Matthew five, six. Seven is one sermon.

Shelby: Yeah.

William Matthews: He’s talking in the very beginning about blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom, blessed are the merciful. Right. And then he starts talking about ways of being that are inclusive, that are about loving and not judgment. Right. And then he’s saying this wide road, I mean, literally, go read it all in its context and you will be floored to recognize that the narrow gate, inclusion is harder than exclusion. We think somehow the gospel is tough because we say that we believe in a death and burial and resurrection of Jesus. And the world doesn’t want to believe that because they want to stay in their sin. And the culture is just afraid of the truth of the Gospel. The truth of the gospel is not that Jesus died on the cross. Sorry. It’s not. The truth of the Gospel is that everyone is loved and that they matter and their bodies matter. Wow. And the poor matter and the lowly matter and the meek and those who serve and those who give and are generous. Right. Like inclusion is the tougher. It’s tough to be generous when fascists are on the loose. It’s tough right, in a capitalistic system to care for the poor. Right. It is exclusion, which we’ve done in this society. Excluding poor people, excluding people of color. That’s easy. That’s the wide road that leads to destruction. Look at the climate crisis. But the actual narrow gate that few find is inclusion. And I wish progressives would just understand they don’t have to see ground in this area, that the scripture actually backs them up. Even just from a pure social analysis, you take all the divine claims out of anything. Right. Like from a pure social analysis, the scripture is backing up care and concern for the marginalized and the poor primarily. And that is the narrow gate that fewer find it. It is hard to be LGBT affirming in this culture and society. It is easier to be exclusive, actually. People think it’s the reverse. But look who’s I believe. You.

Shelby: Yeah. That is an incredible flipping on its head for that verse that you’re right, is often weaponized, whether it’s actually by people against us or even just in our own minds. It’s verses like that that a lot of I think our listeners are like, oh no, am I actually just the wide road person now? But no, maybe because I’m being inclusive. Right. That’s where that misconception that people who are on this journey are doing it because they don’t really believe or they don’t really care about Jesus or they’re not strong enough to hold fast to the truth. It’s just so not true. Because anyone who’s on this journey knows this is so much harder to upend everything you’ve ever believed in many cases, lose your entire community and to start from scratch for so many of us, ultimately what we find yeah, it’s so worth it. And it’s beautiful, but absolutely feels like a narrow way. Feels like it’s so narrow you can’t even see where you can’t even see a path a lot of the time until you just take the next step.

William Matthews: Wow. I love that passage where Paul says this momentary light affliction is working in you in eternal weight of glory. And that narrow road, you’re saying that road of deconstruction is narrow and it feels lonely often. That’s why everyone experiences loneliness through their deconstruction. But that momentary light affliction is only momentary, right? Psalm 23 though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. It’s only a shadow. It’s only a shadow of death. It’s not death you think you’re dying. It feels like it because it’s the death of your ego. That’s what’s dying. But the thing that’s actually being awakened in you is the work of Christ. But it’s that eternal weight of glory. And that eternal weight of glory is our humanness. It is us basking and taking pleasure in the fullness of our humanity and what that means, and to celebrate that in connection to nature. Because we are part of a greater body, right? We are part of a greater glory. And again, I just feel like for the times we live in, we have to flip the script. Not because it’s just turning something on its head for the sake of it, but because scripture is actually on our side. Evangelicalism has distorted the scriptures, not progressives. Evangelicals have distorted the scripture and built monuments and institutions and generational wealth through whiteness from it. Yeah. So that’s what we’re running against. That’s why it’s all lonely, because we’re like, these institutions have been around forever.

Shelby: And we’re resting forever.

William Matthews: Why you’re doing a podcast?

Shelby: Yeah.

William Matthews: Like you’re doing a podcast called Almost Heretical, right. And people are just sitting on the margins like, oh, maybe, I don’t know, should I fully leave this or not? Like, right. Everyone’s sitting in the valley of indecision, but you have to choose. And that’s the faith. That’s faith.

Nate: I was going to ask you for that person who is listening right now in their kitchen. I always picture them, like, driving in their car, right, and they’re still deep in it and they’re starting to see those cracks in the wall. I loved how Rachel Holt Evans, when we talked to her, she talked about it like she saw the first cracks in the wall, right? I love that when you start to see some problems or some issue with the theology, or you have that experience where your queer friend is ousted because of this, or the person that stands with the queer person is ousted because whatever it is, whatever those first cracks are starting to see. But they’re kind of scared. We’re all talking. We’re comfortable with this, right? This has been a multi year process for us. We’re deep into this and we’re comfortable with ourselves. We’re comfortable in our humanity now. But I remember that beginning when it was like, learning to walk again. It was like, this was so much my identity I’d given my entire life as you talked about, right? This is what you were. This is everything. And you moved to La. And you discover, like, I need to learn how to just be me. Right? So what would you say to that person who’s listening right now and is like, just taking those first steps into what do you call it, deconstruction or feeling like this wilderness or what’s the Richard Rohr term? What’s Richard Rohr call it into disorder.

William Matthews: Like Richard order disorder. Reorder. Yeah. The first thing I would say is, it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to grieve. My friends Abner and Amanda from Johnny Swim have this song called Let it Matter. If it matters, let it matter. Grieve the thing that you lost, the community you lost the security blanket of the belief system that you lost. And all the perks that came there were perks that came with being a part of those communities and the joy and pleasure. One of the first things I missed was hugs. I was like, where am I going to go in the world and just get a bunch of people that are willing to hug me? I’m touches a strong love language of mine, so I actually just miss seeing people and hugs. And I’m single in La. So if I want to see kids, I’m pretty much only going to see them at church. When I stopped going to church, I actually realized I wasn’t seeing kids and families a lot outside of my friends. So grieve, grieve your process. Grieve it and know that as you’re grieving, you are not grieving alone. There are so many people around the world who are also in the same boat that you’re in. And there’s people that have lived all throughout human history who have the same experiences that you have the same questions and the same doubts and the same spiritual wanderings, right? Like, they are they are a resource for you. So plug yourself into communities of other people who are exactly on that same journey, but as well as plug into the conversation through history, like a Madeline La ingle, for instance, right? Like plug into the Christian mystics of old, like Meister Eckhart or Julian of Norwich or Teresa Vivilla or an origin or a Gregory of NICIA or whoever. Like, read. Pick up books and read, and you will find light at the end of that tunnel. And like I said, what we have to do also is in our grieving and in our trauma that we have identified, right? Seek the healing, go do the therapy, take care of your body, all those things. But know that you also still are part of a fight. The fight is existing whether you recognize it or not. You could be in your own internal world and process. But like I said, the fascists are coming and they’re going to take away your rights. They’re already doing it. So you have to know that you get to go through your process, but also, it’s bigger than you. It’s going to be bigger than your grief. My favorite line ever is from that TV show Wanda Vision, the Marvel show about the Scarlet Witch. Envision, right, where Wanda’s lost in her grief. She had lost her brother, right? She had actually lost Sokovia right where she’s from, like, that place had been destroyed and she was drowning in grief. Just couldn’t get out of the bed, right? And Envision the robot comes to her, right, and basically encourages her and says, it can all be grief. What is grief if not love? Persevering. And the thing that you’re grieving is because there’s a deep love there, it can’t all be grief. So go through your grief, but know that it’s not all about you and that there are people that are hurting even worse than you and so have gratitude and show up to do the work in the world. However you have to do that. There are a million different ways you can show up and do that work. But also, don’t be afraid to leave the thing that is hurting you. I’ll say that as the final one. Yeah, break up with evangelicalism. Just break up with it. You don’t need it, I promise you. There is love, safety and security and people and friendships that you will find on the other side that will be more deeply fulfilling than what the shallowness that you’re getting on the other end. Yes, there’s love there inside the current structures you’re in, but there’s greater love for you beyond, because we go from glory to glory. We go from love to the greater love. And so know that it’s time to break up with the thing that keeps harming you and abusing you. Stop making excuses for it. As a yellow Van Zant loves to say, call a thing a thing. Name it. Because if you can’t name it, you won’t be free of it. So name it. Name the abuse, the spiritual abuse, the emotional abuse, and maybe even the physical abuse. Name it. Call a thing a thing. Tell the truth in your life. Tell the truth to those around you. So as you’re transitioning and leaving, they know why I’m leaving for this reason. And I need you to know that I’m not asking your permission and I’m not asking your blessing, because that authority comes from heaven. That authority comes from the inner witness. It doesn’t come from the pastor, it doesn’t come from the prophet or the deacon, or the apostle or the evangelist. It comes from your inner knowing. So trust that. Trust your inner knowing. Trust the spirit is leading you and that you won’t fall off the cliff, that there’s greater love for you on the other side. That’s what I would say to anyone, because that’s what I needed to hear in that. Because I was dillydallying. I was in the valley of indecision for a long time, longer than I needed to be, because I was just too afraid to break up with terrible people, to be honest. I have better friendships now. I have better romantic relationships now. I have more joy, I have more contentment. Yes, grief, you’re going to process that, but it’s not all grief. And then once you can then reconstruct, you’re going to find the joy again, and the joy is going to be ten times more. It’s that story of Job, right? He goes through the suffering, but guess what? He gets double, double portion for his suffering. You will get double portion for your suffering always. That’s just the fact of the universe beyond Christianity. You walk through your suffering rather than trying to avoid it. You only come out with greater assurance and greater contentment, greater joy. But you can’t be afraid. Just go.

Nate: I love that.

Shelby: That makes me think of something that you said earlier in the interview that I’ve been kind of wanting to come back to, which was when you were talking about worship experiences and how it was almost like crack to you, and that when you needed to deal with the negativity or something in your life, you just go to it, and I totally identify with that and then back to back with that. You described what worship kind of is for you now, and it’s hobbies and conversations and nature. I agree. And yet for a lot of people, yeah, that’s not going to have that kind of mountaintop kind of crack feeling. I guess my question was, like, what has it been like to adjust to a life that maybe doesn’t have those kind of mountaintop experiences all the time? Or have you found places where you do have that same feeling? Or was that feeling just too much, like, unhealthy unnatural to begin with?

William Matthews: I’d say all the above. I still have a complex relationship to worship music. So I actually work for a church. I’m the music director of New Abbey, which is about 300, 400 member little church here in La. And it’s a progressive, affirming church. And I’m the music director. I curate the music. I still technically sing lead worship, and I kind of schedule other people to sing in the bands and all that stuff. And so I have a very complex relationship, though, with worship. And I would say most people in our congregation are exiles of evangelicalism. Everyone does. But we process that stuff and we talk about it. And there’s times I sing songs that I don’t really like or even agree with, but it means something to someone, or maybe it means something to this congregation. And so I’m navigating it. I’m working through it constantly. Some days, like I said, it’s meaningless to me. I don’t need it, don’t want it. I had to go through the withdrawals of it because like I said, it was like crack to me. It was my security blanket and it made me feel good whenever I didn’t feel good. And so I had to learn how to find other ways to make myself feel good, to feel affirmed, to feel whole, to feel like I can make it in the world. I had to find other activities and other practices and even rituals. And some people find that outside Christianity and other religions, right? Buddhism is a great meditation is a great practice for people who come out of Christian space and are learning how to hold space for themselves in a way they’ve never done before, right? Or they’ve developed a ritual for how to calm themselves when anxiety and depression happens. And so I had to find different tools. And I think everyone’s tools can be similar and different. And I don’t think one thing works for everyone. And for some people, even in their reconstruction journey, worship music still works for them. They still rock to it. They love their Carrie Job and they’re not going to get rid of it. Also shout out Carrie job. She actually is a sweetheart. Really sweet girl. I actually just her song nature. The other week I was like, I really like this song of hers. It speaks to the nature of God in a really beautiful way. I find for me personally where I’m at and where our congregation is at. And so finding I still dig through the troves because I have to lead worship, right? I go through Spotify, I’m like, what are these kids singing nowadays? I don’t even know. Again, because this was my life for a long like 15 plus years, and it was my career. So I have a different relationship with it than other people will. I would say I genuinely probably liked, if not really liked, probably close to half of the people kind of in that worship world that are prominent that I got to meet or at least hang out with a little bit like most people. Half everybody was really cool. There’s probably another half that are really terrible or very complex and complicated on many levels. So it’s a mixed bag, just like but that’s life, though. I found that I got into the world thinking everyone in the world would be better. They weren’t. Yeah, they were just as complicated. And so I just realized people are complicated. And so same as because worship music is created by people, it’s going to be complicated. So it’s okay to have whatever feelings you have about it. I would also say too, maybe check your biases around it, right? If you can sing a hip hop song about a lifestyle that you do not live at all or any measure or that you might even find morally reprehensible, then I would get two on your high horse about how bad worship music is.

Shelby: Wow. Interesting. I have a good perspective.

William Matthews: Yeah.

Shelby: I consider myself called out.

William Matthews: I do it to myself.

Shelby: Okay, well, as we were wrapping this up, I was wondering if you could just in, like, one or two sentences, how would you have defined worship at 1819 years old, maybe in your 20s, versus how would you define it now?

William Matthews: In my 1819 year old, William would probably define worship as a type of magical, transcendent moment that you’re raptured in this tangible presence of God and that you’re just kind of lifted into trances and visions. And I have my fair share of those, which were kind of great. That’s how I would define it. But I think, like I said earlier, 39 year old William would define worship as all wonder and beauty. Anytime you are in all wonder and find something beautiful, it is a form of worship. So be okay with where you find beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So there might be something you find beautiful somebody else doesn’t. And that’s okay. We don’t all have to worship the same thing, but by expressing that worship, we are kind of worshipping the same thing. It all circles back to each other. So, yeah, worship for me is beauty, truth, and goodness and all in wonder.

Nate: Well, I love this, william, thank you so much for chatting. And we have to do this again because I feel like we could just.

William Matthews: Talk to you forever.

Shelby: And this has been inspiring and hopeful and optimistic and given me a vision for how worship could even play a role in my life that has kind of just maybe I felt like there hasn’t really been a role for it, but maybe just any moment that I have enjoyed and seen beauty, that has been it.

William Matthews: Without the name, I think absolutely it has been it. And if you can find your way back to singing a song about that beauty and all of its divine qualities, then amen. But if you can’t, that’s fine, too. You’re loved and accepted regardless. Can I say one more thing before we end?

Shelby: Yeah, go for it.

William Matthews: I would love to tell everyone. People keep asking me what I’ve been working on, because I’ve kind of been like, I left literature’s podcast a few years ago, and like I said, I then left my label seven years ago. So people are like, what are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing? Well, in 2018, I released an album named Cosmos with a K, and I love It has a song, We’ll All Be Free, which kind of went a little viral, which was really cool. Yeah, I’ve been working on a ton of new music during the pandemic, and I’m starting to record again. And I think what I decided is this year is the fifth year anniversary of Cosmos since I released it back in 2018. So I think I’m going to rerelease Cosmos as a deluxe album with twelve new tracks. Wow. I am breaking that here right now. William Matthews is rereleasing Cosmos for his fifth anniversary with basically a whole nother album attached to it. And you’re going to see my spiritual evolution, like Cosmos 2.0, I’m calling it.

Shelby: Wow.

William Matthews: Well, I’m not going to tell you what right now. It’s got another name to it, too. And I’m going to be rolling that out here probably starting in the next few months.

Shelby: Oh, man.

Nate: So you’re going to come back on then, to release the album and stuff like that?

Shelby: Yeah. Give us the promo.

William Matthews: I would love to come back on and talk about this record and talk about these songs that are spiritual and also practical and human and they’re not worship songs really much. There’s a few godlike songs, but where I am in my songwriting journey is just totally different. But it is a natural evolution for coming out of that last record and this last season of life, and I feel ready to share the fullness of who I am, in a way.

Shelby: Wow.

William Matthews: I’ve always been a bit hidden and remained hidden around certain things, parts of my life and how I feel around things, except if you follow me on Twitter, you probably generally know how I feel about things. But just for my casual music listeners, I really feel like there’s a whole evolution of me that’s happening right now and a whole different journey that I’m really proud to share, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Shelby: Wow. Well, I’m excited to hear it and excited for you to get to share this version of you with the world and be known.

William Matthews: Thank you. Thank you. If you please go follow me on Spotify and Apple Music. If you want to be the first to get it, just go hit the follow button on my profile, William Matthews, and definitely stay tuned because I’m about to be on all y’all next and y’all gonna be sick of me because you’re like, he’s just releasing every two weeks.

Nate: I love it. And all the links will be in the show notes and yeah. William, thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Shelby: This has been amazing. Thanks, William.

William Matthews: Thank you, too, so much for your gracious spirit and your kindness and the open invitation to be a part of this. I appreciate it. Behold.

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