Matt Redman: how it all began

Posted by Matt Redman / Craig Borlase on 20 January 2014


Therapists call them door-handle comments. They’re the kind of statements that people make just as the session is about to close, when the safety of the exit is close at hand. Our subconscious throws out these significant revelations in the knowledge that there is no time left to go further. The theory is that they’re the things we want to share, but that cost us.

Two hours after we said hi, Matt’s hand is reaching for the door. We have been talking about John Wimber - founder of the Vineyard movement - and Bishop David Pytches, the minister that Matt and I grew up under at St Andrews, Chorleywood. And then comes the comment:

‘It was 1994 and Wake Up My Soul [Matt’s first album] was out. Wimber was staying in the Vicarage and David took me to meet him and have tea. David gave him a copy of my CD. He picked it up and said: “It’s probably OK, but I don’t think that someone your age should be making CDs.”

Then he put it back on the table. Wimber was my spiritual hero...’

Matt’s voice drifts off. If there was more time I’d ask any number of questions - how did you feel? What did you say? What impact did it make? Do you think he was right? - but there is no more time. Anyway, Matt already has an answer to my unasked questions:

“It was good. It made me think a lot about integrity.”


Matt was two when his family moved to Chorleywood, an unadventurous commuter town 42 minutes north of London. Families like Matt’s moved to Chorleywood for the peace, for the security, for the lack of adventure. The place was a blueprint for middle class living, seemingly made up of families with the 2.4 children, the Volvo and the labrador. Years later someone with a clipboard visited the place and declared it England’s Happiest Town.

When Matt was seven his dad died. A few years later his mother remarried, but her new husband abused the family’s trust in some horrendous ways. For the Redmans, Chorleywood was home to agonising pain and sorrow.

But that is only part of the tale. Chorleywood’s story cannot be told fully without mentioning Christianity. It was home to William Penn, the famous Quaker who - along with fellow settlers from his home village - founded the Pennsylvania Colony. In the latter third of the 20th century it was also home to St Andrew’s Church, a rapidly growing congregation that was at the heart of the renewal movement.

“It was my favourite place to go,” says Matt. “After dad died I’d walk to church on my own if nobody else from the family was going. I’d never miss a service, never miss an opportunity to be involved, never said no to anything. It was a happy place for me.”

Within a few weeks of his father’s death, St Andrew’s received its first visit from John Wimber and team. It was a significant time for many in the church, Matt included.

“Mum took my brother and me to the evening meeting and I remember it vividly. I sat where the choir used to go and watched as someone I’d known all my life got healed on the spot. I was seven at the time, but I really liked the music. I knew something was different about it.”

A few years later and Matt’s faith took another significant step forward. At a Luis Palau crusade in London, the penny dropped. “I remember him saying about God being your father, and that really hit me. I’d heard all the bits about the gospel before, but the way he put it together was different, and it made sense. I became a Christian that night.”

Then came the Greek man. “St Andrew’s was already great for young people - you never felt like you were being pushed to one side. We were often up front, being active and involved, Then Mike [Pilavachi] came to be the youth leader and things went to a different level.”

In many ways that next level looked completely familiar. Mike was - and still is - a man who believes that age is no barrier to ministry. The church already had a well-developed ‘faith sharing’ programme, where small teams would visit other churches and lead meetings, worship and ministry sessions. These teams always placed a strong emphasis on encountering the Holy Spirit, and with Mike on board, the invite went out to even more young people to take part and help lead. For many of them in the church these trips were formative experiences, breeding faith, trust and a hunger to see God at work.

Yet Matt’s first steps as a worship leader were not taken quickly. Mike had heard him roll out the odd U2 cover while he thought nobody was listening, and encouraged Matt to lead. “But I wasn’t hungry for it,” says Matt. “I wasn’t fussed about being up front. Maybe I was lacking in confidence a little...”

Mike’s strategy to overcome Matt’s confidence issues was simple: he tried to trick Matt into leading as often as possible. The hoaxes were often elaborate, like the time when an older worship leader just happened to bump into Matt and Mike in the church car park...

Older Worship Leader: [Looking worried] Oh, Mike - what am I to do? I am supposed to be leading worship tomorrow but my guitar has broken. Do you know anyone who could do it instead?’

Mike Pilavachi: Oh dear! What a terrible shame that is. I wonder who we could ask...
[Both men turn and stare at Matt]

Gradually Matt’s confidence grew and the need for hoaxes reduced. He threw himself into the world of worship, attending conferences, church events and - of course - heading off on faith sharing trips.

“I’d bunk off games on a Wednesday afternoon just to go on these trips. I remember one time I’d come home early from school and walked to the church to say hi. Mike and the others were about to get in the car to go off on a last minute visit to some church where they’d heard that God had been doing interesting things. They asked if I wanted come along too and to lead worship so I ran home and grabbed my guitar. It was an exciting way to live.”

Matt was, by his own admission, well and truly thrown in the deep end; too young to shave yet he was regularly leading worship in front of hundreds of adults. “It was great: if it went well they were cool, and if it all went wrong they’d blame Mike. There were a few situations where I’d made a bad call, a musical mess up - too many up songs for the collection of old ladies - but it was always Mike who got the criticism. I’d just get the encouragement.”

Those ‘calls’ that Matt refers to were also related to spontaneous worship. “They were hungry for that at church. We saw it as a sign of life, a way of getting rid of the structure and talking to God with an open, dynamic conversation. It’s a divine exchange, a dynamic that’s more than singing some songs together.



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