Lovely Things In Ugly Places: A Conversation With Mattie Montgomery

This interview originally appeared on in October of 2016.

The night I interviewed Mattie Montgomery on For Today’s farewell tour, it was a warm, humid October in Nashville. Their tour manager led me around to the back of the venue, instructed me to wait; Mattie was leading a Bible study in their cramped, dark 15 passenger van. I spilled my microphone equipment over the top of a road case to assemble while I waited.

When Mattie hopped out of the van to meet me, he gave me a warm hug as he introduced himself. We stood in front of the van to do our interview, his oldest son Kai running past our legs every few minutes, playing. There could be no better picture, maybe, of Mattie’s world: a world that included an extremely successful hardcore band as just a footnote to his passion for studying the Bible and his growing family (he had two sons with him then, and a third has arrived since).

As we talked about the final chapter of For Today, we also talked about his book Lovely Things in Ugly Places, a retrospective on the experiences that shaped the person he has become–filled with stories marked by his trademark fervor.

You are currently out on For Today’s farewell tour. What has that experience been like? What has the energy of the crowds been like?

It’s been awesome. To be honest, we are only like a week and a half, two weeks in right now. So it doesn’t really feel like a farewell tour. You know, we’ve got so much of the tour left, so maybe it hasn’t registered with us. I think the last maybe week or two will really feel pretty final and pretty heavy, but I think right now it just feels like another tour to be honest.

One of the big things that’s next for you is releasing a book. What does the book address that maybe For Today’s songs have not addressed?

I think our songs have revolved a lot around my beliefs and convictions. And I’m not upset about that, but more than being about my beliefs and convictions, the book is about the stories that shaped my beliefs and convictions. And some of these are stories about amazing miracles that we saw. Some of these are pretty devastating stories of hard things that I had to walk through. Some of them are awkward and funny, kind of everywhere in between.

So this book is really about not just what I believe about God, but what I have seen from God that has caused me to believe that way, what I’ve experienced personally that has really shaped my view of God and ministry and life.

Obviously, all of that has been heavily shaped by For Today. So what do you feel, if you could kind of sum it up, has been For Today’s mission statement, and do you feel like that’s complete? Do you feel that you achieved it?

Our whole dream was to just share Jesus with anybody that would listen. Whether that was on stage at a concert, or just at a gas station or Starbucks or grocery store or wherever else we might be. My ministry is not For Today. My ministry is my life. That’s all I have to give. So I don’t want to put God in this box and say “OK, You have an hour to work every night while we’re on stage.” He’s able to work through my life anywhere and everywhere.

But as far as my assignment, or our mission– I don’t know exactly what we were sent to achieve, but I really do feel like we’ve accomplished that. And it’s just been done.

One of the other things you’re doing is that you have this merchandise printing company. What led you to start that?

So there’s a few guys back home in my city that I love a lot, guys that I kind of pastor and just pour into. And I thought man, I hate having to always be out of town. And they’ve got their job, and I’ve got mine, and we cross paths maybe for an hour or two on Sunday mornings, and that’s about it. I kind of hated that. So really, it came out of me saying “God, I dream about there being an opportunity for me to create a culture, create a space in my city where I can get my guys together and they can be paid to hang out with me all day.” And we can learn about each other, learn about God, and we can grow as kingdom men in a team together. So that’s really what the whole thing has been about. It’s about creating a space for me and the guys that I’m in relationship with to be able to do life together more consistently.

So is it pretty much that company and the book– are those all you have on the horizon? Do you have any other ideas you’ll be pursuing?

Well, I think I’ll probably be preaching a bit. That’s always been my heart, even before I joined For Today, that’s really what I wanted to do. So I’ll probably be traveling and preaching some. We’ll see. It’s a whole new adventure, and I’m excited to see how it works out.

So the book might address some of this, but if you could go back to who you were when you first started For Today, what would you tell yourself then? Is there advice you would give yourself? Anywhere you would say “look out for this, do this differently?”

I think if I could tell ten years ago me one thing, it would be keep your eyes off the music scene, and keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s really easy to get intoxicated by fame or success or the promise of fame or success. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it, but there were definitely times in my life where I was trying to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to get famous so then I could honor Jesus with my fame, instead of saying I just want to honor Jesus, whatever happens.

So yeah, I think that would be my advice to me.

What do you hope the book achieves in the hearts of people that read it?

I want people to be challenged and equipped to share their faith freely in the world around them. That’s why I wrote this book. These are the things that helped set me free from this idea that I have to be better, or more persuasive, or more eloquent, or bolder, or braver, to be able to share my faith, and to just learn to love people and to be compelled by love for people.

So if I could have people walk away from this book with anything, it would be that they would feel more equipped to love people with reckless abandon, and to share the good Gospel that we have because of Jesus.

As somebody who had been really involved in the youth culture through the genre you play in, what are some of the trends you see emerging, particular things you feel are really important to address in that culture?

Fear. I think fear is devastating our world and our generation, and I think that perfect love casts out fear. That’s why this gospel is more important than ever. But everybody is afraid of being alone, or they’re afraid of being forgotten. Maybe they’re afraid of responsibility, so they don’t want to succeed because they know that success comes with responsibility. In some sense or another, or on some front or another, I think everybody in our generation is really being devastated by fear. I think it’s important that perfect love be preached and be put on display, because perfect love is the only hope for our fearful generation.

Finally, how can we pray for you and your family? How can people reading this interview pray for you in this transition time?

Peace and wisdom. I’m full of ideas, and one of the things that I always need more God in is my ability to discern between what is a good idea and what is a God idea. So just asking for peace with what God has given me, and the wisdom to know the difference between what God has given me and what He had not given me.

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