Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
In this episode of Sound + Doctrine, we’re thrilled to have our friend Matthew Boswell join us for a fascinating conversation on pastoring, leading, songwriting, and co-writing. Matt has written and co-written many songs God is using to serve the church today, including, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery,” “His Mercy is More,” and many others.
David Zimmer: Welcome to Sound Plus Doctrine. My name is David Zimmer.
Bob Kauflin: And my name is Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And we have a special guest with us.
BK: Yes, we do.
DZ: Mr. Matthew Boswell. Or Matt Boswell.
BK: Yeah, I know him as Matt.
DZ: You know him as Matt.
BK: He’s never let me call him Matthew.
Matt Boswell: My mom still calls me Matthew.
BK: Does she?
BK: Yeah, that’s good.
DZ: I feel like we’re family.
DZ: I’ve known Matt a couple of years now, played drums with you for different conferences that we’ve done, and it’s awesome to have you on the podcast.
BK: Yeah, Matt texted me last night and said, “Hey, I’m in town teaching a songwriting class, and can we get together sometime?” I said, “Why don’t you come over for dinner?” And then I thought, “Hey, we’re doing a podcast.”
MB: “Hey, I’m on my way.”
BK: “Why don’t you come for the podcast?”
MB: You had me at dinner.
BK: Here… I know. Well, that’s why I had the dinner first… That’s why I asked that first. So, yeah. We have known each other for 11 years, I think. Met at a conference, which we were talking about earlier, which you didn’t even remember. I remembered you of course, because you’re that kind of person. You forgot me. But then you came to the WorshipGod Conference 2009.
MB: And that was at a very important time in my life.
BK: Why is that?
MB: Well, I came, and I was looking for direction, and real help in thinking as a worship leader carefully, through singing and writing, and leading, all of it. And I was so helped by that. I came alone, sat in the back, very top of the dome.
BK: Oh, if I had known that…
MB: I remember the room went up in the back, you know?
BK: Yeah, there were bleachers in the back.
MB: Yeah, bleachers. I sat in the bleachers and just watched everything and just loved it.
BK: But you came over to our house one night.
MB: I did. My friends from The Village were also there.
BK: Oh, Village Church. Okay.
MB: And yeah, I hung out with them while I was there.
BK: Okay, okay.
MB: I was just the only person from our church. And yeah, we came over to your house that night and…
BK: And that was the year John Piper spoke.
MB: John Piper spoke twice. Those sermons were so incredible. I love hearing him talk about worship.
BK: Yes, yes. Well, everything he does is related to worship.
BK: But specifically to address that topic, yeah. I’ve had many people throughout the years say, “Those messages set a direction for my life.”
MB: Have you heard… He did a little, maybe a weekend seminar called Gravity and Gladness.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MB: I even titled an album with those two words many years ago.
BK: That’s fabulous. Yes, you did, yeah. I remember that. Yeah.
MB: I don’t know what songs are on there, but I’m sure they’re terrible. But that was from just being so gripped by those realities present in corporate worship.
MB: Both the gravity of God’s glory among his people.
BK: Gravity and gladness. Yes.
MB: And the great joy that that’s supposed to bring us.
DZ: So great. Yeah.
MB: I love hearing him talk about that.
BK: Amen, amen. Alright, before we get too far, you’re married to Jamie.
BK: And you live in…
MB: North Texas.
BK: North Texas, and the church is The Trails. You’re now a lead pastor of the The Trails Church in Celina, Texas.
MB: Yep. Yes. Celina, Texas.
BK: Celina. Sorry.
MB: Yes. Two and a half years ago we planted a church.
DZ: Celina. Celina.
MB: Yeah. Out of Providence, in Frisco. We were there for, I think around eight years. And we planted out of Providence.
BK: Yes, yes.
MB: About 20 minutes North of where they are. So it’s been two and a half years, it has flown by.
BK: So great. Yeah.
MB: It feels like two and a half minutes.
BK: That is so great.
MB: Underwater. No.
BK: That’s hard to do.
MB: No, I’m totally kidding. It’s been remarkable.
BK: And kids.
DZ: So great.
MB: Yeah, four kids. Our oldest is now a freshman in high school.
MB: And then our youngest guy is 8, and we have twin daughters in the middle.
BK: That is so great. Great. Soccer dad?
MB: We have boys at the corners, girls in the middle. Yeah, soccer has been a big part of our life.
DZ: Well, and that’s a fun fact about you. You’ve been coaching that soccer team.
MB: I’ve coached a combined 832 seasons between all four kids. Spring, summer, fall, and winter.
BK: Okay, we’re rambling now. We need to get back on track here.
DZ: That’s amazing.
BK: Okay, a lot of people know you as a songwriter. Golly, there are so many things I wanna talk about. Tell us a little bit about your story, about how you got in songwriting.
MB: I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, my dad’s a pastor. And my earliest memories about the church singing together are of my dad, before he would get up to preach, standing on the front row. He’s a tall guy, you’ve met him.
MB: He’s 6’5, and he’d be standing out there, just his eyebrows-raised, voice just boisterous. He loved singing. He loves singing. He’s still with us.
BK: Yeah. Which… Side note. Used to love… Side note, your kids watch what you do in the Sunday meeting.
MB: Yeah, that’s right.
BK: Just a side note. Okay, go ahead.
MB: That’s right. And even now, so even now as a pastor, I stand on the front row and sing and look around, just like I saw my dad do.
BK: Yeah, yeah. Amen.
MB: Goodness, I better not talk about that.
BK: I’m getting all choked up.
MB: Yeah, that’s a one-way track to weeping.
BK: So, that’s how you grew up.
MB: But I am grateful for that. And my mom sang in the choir. I started playing guitar at age 15. Taught myself a few chords, and started leading worship straight away.
DZ: Wow! That’s so great.
MB: Our student director at the time moved and so we had to have someone to lead the music. And he had taught me how to play.
MB: And I learned some chords and got to work.
MB: Yeah, I was 15. And a youth group of maybe 40 students or so. I learned to lead worship there with them.
BK: That’s great.
MB: By 16, I’d actually moved to another church and started leading for the full gathering and would do that regularly.
MB: Just learned so much. The only way I think to learn… You can learn through books and through hearing people, but just the practice of that, you just learn so much, mostly through what not to do.
BK: Yeah. That’s right. You make so many mistakes or something there. That’s very good there.
MB: Yeah, that’s right.
BK: It makes total sense. When did you start writing?
MB: At 15. I wrote…
BK: So, as soon as you started.
MB: Yeah, I wrote this little song called “Holy Holy.”
BK: You don’t need to do it for us.
MB: And… Yeah. It’s just one less than the standard, right? It’s new, fresh, modern expression.
BK: Wow! So innovative.
MB: It had this round to it, and I just never looked back. I kept writing, kept writing songs, really poor songs.
BK: Well, I can tell you’ve really grown, for sure. And have you always written… Okay, so you’ve written with Matt, you’ve written with a number of people. We wrote a song together, kind of.
MB: We should write more songs together.
BK: Tell that story another time. But Matt Papa, you’ve written a lot with.
MB: Yeah. Matt and I met some 12 years ago, and we were both writing for different publishing companies in Nashville. I was writing for Word, he was writing for Centricity. I had heard his music, and he did this record, I don’t remember what it’s called but Scripture songs or something, and hymns, and it was interesting to me what he was doing. He had this Keith Green, man on fire thing, and I just…
BK: That would describe Matt?
MB: I loved it. I just loved what he was doing. And then he was taking risks lyrically, using language that I was also experimenting with, and I thought, “I’ve gotta write with this guy.” And so our publishing companies put us together and we write all the time. We would write weekly, even yesterday, though I was teaching a class, I brought him in. And we didn’t actually write, but we discussed what we need to do on a couple of hymns that we’re really close on that will be on this next project that we wanted to make sure… We just had to have conversation, and so…
BK: So you’re tweaking melody, tweaking lyric, tweaking structure? What are you doing?
MB: That call specifically, we worked on a landing melody of a chorus to see if it was too complex for congregational singing, or is that the charm of it? And then we’re working on the lyrics as you do both on a different song, working on a lyric.
BK: Do you remember the first song you wrote together?
MB: Yes. The first song we wrote together lyrically is actually one of my favorite things that we’ve done. It was called “Creation Hymn.” And that same night, I gave him two texts to put melodies to.
MB: “Creation Hymn” and the other one was called, “O Fount of Love.”
BK: I think I’ve heard… Have those both been on albums?
MB: Yes, on a couple of different albums.
BK: Yeah, I think I’ve heard both of them.
DZ: So now that you are a lead pastor at The Trails, is there a big difference between the songwriting craft and how you’re writing and preaching sermons? Or are they more similar than they are different?
MB: There are so many similarities. I do think it was like crafting, on both of them. Whereas, with hymn writing, I’m weighing each consonant blend, and I’m weighing each vowel sound, and making sure those serve the truth, and making sure they fit in the melody. And if you do that as a preacher with 3600 words, you’ll go insane. And so it’s not that careful.
BK: This is true.
MB: But there’s so many similarities, thinking about how much room. Even in hymn writing, it’s like, how much truth do you put here, and also leaving space for people to respond to it.
BK: That’s right, yeah.
DZ: That’s good.
BK: Both are important.
MB: And so with preaching, I don’t wanna rush past the most profound doctrines of our faith, without leaving room for us to live in it and worship the Lord because of it. And so yes, in those ways, songwriting and sermon writing are very similar.
BK: Matt, when you sit down to write a song or when you think about writing a song, what are you wanting that song to accomplish? Is there something that drives you? Some burden that the Lord has put in you? ‘Cause not everybody who leads music in the church write songs.
BK: And I know you’ve really studied, you’ve really worked at it, you’ve been very diligent, but what’s the fuel behind that? Can you talk about that for a little bit, just how it works for you?
MB: Yeah, everything begins with a driving idea for me. So it’s like, what is it… If I look at the canon of our songs and think through, “Where are the seams that need to be written into?” So I try to be aware of those things, like a topical index of the songs that we’re singing right now.
BK: Like a hymnal?
MB: Exactly, yeah. So I’m thinking like, ours is a hymnal, it just doesn’t have a back cover and we’re still adding to it. And so, I’m thinking pastorally through where we need to sing, and doctrinally where we need to sing, topically where we need to sing, and trying to write in those spaces. For me, everything begins with that shaping idea. I’m joking when I say this, but once the first line is done, 60% of the work is done.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: Because everything then serves… In the way that I write, which is just one way, everything’s gonna serve that idea. So young songwriters will have a great opening line, and then line two, try to hit Doctrine of Man; line three, Doctrine of Christ; four, eschatology, ecclesiology.
DZ: Is there a problem with that?
MB: It’s like, “Okay, what you’ve just tried to do takes dozens of songs.” One song can’t do it all. And so what is the one thing that the song can do? I see the tradition of church hymnody as this treasure chest of riches. And for me, I’m just trying to find one coin and just throw it in there. This can’t do it all, but it doesn’t need to, we have all this…
BK: Well said.
MB: And I mean this treasure chest of hymnody from Exodus 15 to something that you guys wrote together last week. And so my little song doesn’t have to do everything, it’s just gotta do one thing well. And so I’ll just throw it in there and just try to add to this ever growing body of work.
BK: I hope there’s songwriters listening to this. We’ve done a number of songwriter podcasts. Jon Althoff has been on, Nate Stiff has been on. But that thought, right there, is gold. I’m just looking at some of the titles of your songs. “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery.” There you go. “How Rich a Treasure We Possess,” “Christ is All,” “Let the Nations be Glad,” The King in All His Beauty.” Which is a song that we put on the Glorious Christ, a Sovereign Grace music album, you and Matt wrote, is that true?
BK: And then, somebody else maybe? Or, I can’t remember.
MB: I don’t remember.
BK: Okay, maybe just you guys. I just want to put on ’cause it’s just so beautiful and it’s just right along with the title, “The King in All His Beauty.” So you have modeled that for years, and we are so much the better for it. Tell us about “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery.” ‘Cause that’s been around a while. Was there any unique story, the writing of that song? I have no idea.
MB: Yeah. I don’t know how old it is. I remember when and where I was when it started. I was here in Louisville. We were doing a record for the Gospel Coalition songs for the Book of Luke, and we were all at a studio that Sojourn had. And I don’t love being in recording studios, I’m happy to come and sing, but I’m not gonna spend all day thinking through arrangements and stuff. There’s so many guys like David Zimmer that are so gifted at that, I don’t really need to be there. And so I had left and I thought I’m here, I’m away from my family, I’ve got nothing to do this afternoon, while they’re all tweaking pads on the Nord and sound stuff that I don’t know anything about, I’ll make the most of this time. There’s a piano and I sat down and wrote that melody in five minutes. And with that melody, which you can tell it was written in five minutes, actually.
BK: There’s only six notes, so that’s… Which is one more than “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
MB: Even Matt would tell you, that melody is not that memorable. It’s pretty simple. It doesn’t do much, and that’s how you can know if I wrote it. [laughter] But even I was unsure, ’cause it’s not my normal voicing to start something on a three. And I showed it to Mike Cosper right then. I said, “Is this any good? This is terrible.” And I had that opening line, “Come behold the wondrous mystery.” And he said, “Yes.” And I just believed him. And so.
BK: Great, good job.
MB: Yeah. Michael Bleeker and I worked on it, headed back on a plane together that night, and then Bleeker and I had a hard time getting it over the finish line, so Papa came in and helped finish everything.
DZ: In terms of just a side note of melody, I love that the melody was so simple to you. It was almost boring. It was almost like, this isn’t anything special. But those melodies that are so simple become repetitive and it becomes so easy to pick up and so easy to sing and to encourage anybody writing songs or melodies is simple, it’s always better. Just because I think you can pick it up quickly, and I think the first time I heard “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery,” it sounded like, “Oh, this is a hymn. I can sing this.” So I love that it was kind of just a boring melody that I played and plucked out, but it’s just this beautiful… Where it ended up with the lyrics and how they pair so nicely with that.
MB: Well, I would describe that as we’re writing in the School of Watts. Like that kind of song is in the School of Watts. So he is the great professor, He is Dr. Watts.
BK: He is, he is.
MB: And I’m just way in the back of the room. But his values of doctrinal clarity and simplicity… And so when I’m writing a melody like that, I wanna make sure that a 5-year-old kid can sing it, and that my grandmother can sing it ’cause if we can get the corners sorted out, everybody in the middle will work their way.
BK: Well, it encourages the right things because the gospel is multigenerational. And if we write specifically, it’s not that the Lord can’t use songs that are geared towards a specific age group, he does. Obviously, he uses those. But when the church gathers, it is the 5-year-old to the 85-year-old, typically. And so you’re looking for songs that express that… Make it easy to express that unity that we have in the gospel. So that a song like that does it, and I was just thinking of the melody. That happens five times in every verse. So in four versus you’ve sang that 20 times. Except for one time. But it doesn’t matter because, I think, the words are so well crafted. We do that at Christmas because…
DZ: Wrapped in frail humanity. Yeah.
BK: “Clothed in Frail Humanity.” And then you get to the end, it brings such a hope. It’s a very contained expressiveness. It only goes from the root to the sixth. Six notes, but that’s all you need. I think it’s deceptively effective. So thanks for writing that. How about…
MB: Well, I’m grateful that I get to write so much with Matt Papa because he’s so brilliant. I love…
BK: He is brilliant. Let’s all acknowledge that. He’s brilliant.
MB: It’s like, our relationship is actually… This is helpful. With songwriting, that relationship is just very unique. Strange, it’s not the norm. But what he writes, the melodies he writes, I just love. Nine out of 10 of them, I’m in from the very beginning. It’s like, I’m his audience.
DZ: Yes, yes.
BK: Not the most helpful critic.
MB: I’m a terrible critic when it comes to his melodies. Yeah.
BK: It’s so great. Not like Stuart and Keith. Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, where Keith Getty sends Stuart the early days, 80, 100 melodies. I like these two. Okay. But the first song they wrote was, “In Christ Alone.” So that’s a little higher bar, but they…
DZ: That is… It is the bar.
BK: How about…
MB: “His Mercy is More.”
BK: “His Mercy is More.”
BK: I can’t remember the name. Yes. How did that come about?
MB: I had read Tony Reinke’s book on… Do you know about the Crossway series on the Christian life?
MB: Tony did that one on John Newton and his pastoral letters.
BK: Yes. So good. Chapter on assurance is so good.
MB: It’s incredible.
BK: The whole book’s, but…
MB: That’s like… I think it was 2017 maybe or something.
MB: That’s my book of the year.
MB: I loved reading that book.
BK: He did such a good job with that.
MB: And John writes this letter to one of his church members that’s fighting besetting sin, and she’s wanting help. And that’s his comment back to her that, “While our sins are many, the mercy of Christ is more. And so look to the mercies of Jesus.” Echoing a M’Cheyne. Oh, I’m sure M’Cheyne picks up on the thought later.
BK: Yeah, yeah. For every one look you take at yourself, take 10 looks at Christ.
MB: Yes. And so the melody, it’s kind of interesting. I think it was my idea to start this direction and… “Away in a Manger.” I wanted to do something like in this “Away in a Manger” thing. So like, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed… ”
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MB: I matched that meter, which is quite irregular, right?
MB: That’s not a common…
BK: Well, that’s a 6/8.
MB: Well, I’m sorry, but the metrical… “Away in Manger, no… ”
BK: Oh, oh, I see.
DZ: Oh, the length.
BK: The length.
MB: So, yeah. That’s 11’s.
BK: Yeah, yeah. That is initial.
MB: So, it’s 11’s, which is not… I normally would start with eight.
BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Sure.
MB: So, yeah. I started… I think the whole thing is 11’s, the verse, anyway. And then I’d forgotten. We actually wrote a different chorus to it. I was driving on my truck just maybe six months ago, you know how it’ll just play your phone, it plays songs…
BK: Yes, when you plug it into the car… Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MB: Without you wanting it to, or anything. It played this old work tape of “His Mercy is More.” And there was a different chorus, that’s absolutely horrible.
BK: Thanks for not inflicting that on us.
MB: Yeah. I sent it to Matt, afterwards, I said, “I don’t even remember this.” I’m very grateful.
BK: That is interesting, when you hear the original versions of songs.
MB: Yeah. It was bad. Yeah.
BK: I wish people could hear more of those. I mean, it would give songwriters real hope to realize that, that’s what that song first sounded like? People think these songs just come out just spontaneously and it takes five minutes to write a five-minute song. No, it doesn’t. It just takes a lot of work.
MB: Well, yeah. And…
DZ: Yeah, it takes a lot of songs.
MB: Well, and our style is just so slow. Some hymns take three years to write, and it’s okay.
BK: Can you say that again? Some hymns take how long time?
MB: Yeah, like, “Sing We the Song of Emmanuel” took three years.
BK: Oh. Oh, wow!
MB: Three years. Now, we’re not working on it every day, or even every week or month. But it’s like, as we get to it again, let’s tinker and see what happens, and if it’s not today, we’ll put it up and we’ll look at it again next month.
BK: And how do you know when it’s done?
BK: You both have to agree on it, right?
MB: Yeah, that’s important. In co-writing, that is important. I think if you’re writing a song on your own, I think just knowing… Getting feedback from other people is a helpful way to say, “Okay, this song is done.”
MB: People who are thoughtful and can speak into that. Probably even having one of your pastors look at it as well, to say like, “Would this be beneficial for us to sing as a church?”
BK: Yes, and then just doing it.
MB: Yeah, yeah.
BK: Small group, maybe? Yeah.
MB: Yeah, I think it’d be so great to have a group of people you could call over on a Friday night and…
DZ: Can you sing this? Does this work?
MB: Yeah, just like, “Hey, you sing bass?”
BK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: You’d just be like…
MB: Accumulate friends who can sing four-part harmony…
MB: And just sort it out. See if… Does this sing well? Do people enjoy singing this?
MB: Is this an enjoyable thing for us to sing?
BK: That would be great.
DZ: So great. Matt, the hardest thing about this podcast is that we try to keep it brief, and so we’re coming to a close. But I just had one final question for you. As you started leading worship, since you were 15, and growing up leading worship, and then you transferring into being a lead pastor, that’s such a unique perspective to be able to lead worship for so long, and then now you’re leading your congregation. What advice, or just piece of advice, would you have for young worship leaders who are either getting started or have been in a church for a couple two years, three years? What advice would you have for them in their Sunday gatherings?
MB: That’s a great question. I think, to think pastorally about what you’re doing, in everything.
MB: Talking about just aims and focus of that, just making sure that the things that… Every piece of the service that you’re responsible for is aimed at the glory of God, first. That everything serves the people of God, in building them up as worshipers and followers of Jesus, and then faithfully holding out the goodness of the gospel to all who would hear.
BK: Yes, yes.
MB: I think if our songs have those contours, I think we’re doing well.
DZ: That’s excellent.
BK: Really good.
DZ: Matt, thanks so much for being with us. It’s been a joy.
BK: Man, this is so kind of the Lord to have you join us. We’ll have to have you back for more conversations.
DZ: Yep. I love this.
BK: It’s gonna be great.
MB: Thanks for having me.
BK: Thanks for joining us.