Michael W. Smith on the Heart of Worship

Michael W. Smith on the Heart of Worship

Dr. Craig von BuseckBy Dr. Craig von Buseck10 Minutes

CVB: You are known as a Christian pop musician. You are also known as a worship leader and musician. You’ve done Christmas albums. But the one thing in recent years that really stands out to me is the worship. I remember listening to a radio interview of you and Amy Grant years ago, and you said you wrote praises from a poster on the wall. What song was that?

Michael W. Smith: It was actually ‘Emmanuel.’ I was in my little duplex and was one of those ‘I Am’ posters – you know, ‘I Am the Root of David,’ ‘I Am the Bright and Morning Star,’ and all the titles of God. I was looking at it and said, “That’s kind of cool.” And I started doing the beat to that song and writing, “Wonderful, Counselor.” I literally wrote that song off the poster.

CVB: So for you, where did that heart of worship begin? Because you hear it in the songs from the very beginning of your career. Now you’re at the other end of 35 years. So where did the heart of worship begin for you?

Michael W. Smith: You know what? I feel like I’ve had it my whole life. I was leading worship at Belmont Church on Music Road 19 years before I ever did the first worship record.

CVB: Wow.

Michael W. Smith: I was leading worship in 1982 at the Belmont church with Don Pinto. Then all through the eighties and nineties as I was making pop records, and writing all these songs, I felt like I wanted to sing and try to reach the world through this message of hope, talking about God.

The worship thing honestly was a burden for doing a vertical record. The very first worship record came out on 9-11.

CVB: Interesting.

Michael W. Smith: I didn’t know that was going to be a strategic and devastating day for our country.

CVB: Oh my goodness.

Michael W. Smith: That worship record was born out of me opening up the Gospel Music Week in Nashville. People came to me and said, “Hey, we think we’ve lost our way with our egos. Can we just start off the week with a worship service? Would you do it?” I said I’d do it if I could just have some creative control. I’d like to do something really unprecedented. I want to invite every artist to come be in the choir.

CVB: Wow. Very cool.

Michael W. Smith: And that’s all we did.

CVB: So like “We Are the World” for the Lord.

Michael W. Smith: Exactly. Drop your ego. If you have an ego, just drop it at the door. We’re all good. We’ll do this together. And that night was like off the chart. It was at the Ryman Auditorium. With the history there at the Ryman – you have to think about that place.

CVB: Absolutely.

Michael W. Smith: I prayed about a worship album and God kept waking me up saying, “for such a time as this; for such a time as this.” I kept denying it, saying, “I’m not going to do that. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon.” I was afraid of what people would think. But after the third time of being woken up at three o’clock in the morning, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

We cut it at Carpenter’s Home Church, which is not there anymore, unfortunately – big church in Lakeland, Florida. Then we were able to set the release on 9-11.

I thought it would be the least successful record of my career and it ended up being the biggest.

CVB: I’ve traveled around the world and I heard it in the Philippines; I heard it in Israel; I heard it in Mexico. The songs off that first one just really made an impact.

Michael W. Smith: Who could have ever thought that. I think it was a healing record for our country on some level. Then somehow it just found its way into these little villages, towns, and cities all across the world. I mean, I’d go to Zimbabwe and I’d sing ‘Above All,’ or ‘The Heart of Worship’ and it would just explode. So they knew everything from the first worship album and the second one.

CVB: That’s amazing.

Michael W. Smith: It was astounding.

CVB: That’s cool. I remember The 700 Club did an interview with you at The Call in Washington, D.C. They showed video of you just out in the crowd on the edge by yourself and you had tears in your eyes as you were worshiping. Do you remember that moment? What was it about The Call that touched you, because that was right around that same time. What was going on in your heart at that moment?

Michael W. Smith: Yeah. I was there with my family. I ended up leading worship by myself. I had this little segment. Something touched my heart and I had a little meltdown. I have those all the time.

CVB: Me too!

Michael W. Smith: You just get a sense of the fact that God really does love you. “God, you’re just so kind and you’re patient.” All those things are just sort of overwhelming.

It also might have been the very first time I heard ‘Let it Rain,’ which was at The Call. It was Pocket Full of Rocks who sang it. I remember leaving D.C. and thinking, “I’m going to record that song.” When we started planning to do the worship album I thought, “Why don’t we do ‘Let It Rain?’” That’s one moment on that record that’s sort of explodes.

CVB: You’re really in the Spirit in that moment.

Michael W. Smith: Yeah, and Darren Whitehead got up and started reading that Psalm and that place just exploded. I’ll never forget it. ever. It felt like it was kind of elevating, honestly. There was a moment after Darren read that scripture that we went back into ‘Let it Rain’ and it was like something broke. I’ll never forget it.

CVB: You have said that for the rest of your life, more than anything else, you want to represent God, because you feel like He’s been misrepresented. Can you talk about that?

Michael W. Smith: I just think there’s been a lot of people – not just young people, not just millennials – people that have been hurt by the church. Whether it’s called legalism or from someone being an abusive father all in the name of religion. You know?

CVB: Yeah.

Michael W. Smith: There’s all kinds of stuff. It’s been going on forever, since we made the bad movie, took the apple, and it all fell apart.

CVB: Cain and Abel, sit down, we’re going to have church.

Michael W. Smith: Exactly. So I just feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do. God’s still in the business of miracles and changing people’s hearts and minds. If I could just miraculously paint the true picture of who God really is – who He really is. I think when people get that, it changes everything. It’s just like, “Oh my gosh, really?” It’s like the light bulb goes off. I see it happen to people all the time. And people can get set free from whatever abuse or hurt that they had once they come into that friendship with God.