Release Date: May 5th 2023
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Church Hurt
Sanctus Real is probably one of today’s most prolific and inspiring CCM bands ever. Starting out as a rock band, and then slowly transitioning into pop/rock and more adult contemporary as the years went on, but still containing the signature Sanctus Real sound; just one glance at their singles, and you’d know that they’re a band that’s special. Heartfelt and impacting songs like “We Need Each Other”, “Pray”, “Promises”, “The Redeemer”, “Don’t Give Up”, “I’m Not Alright”, “Everything About You”, “The Face Of Love”, “Say It Loud”, “Lay It Down” and “Lead Me” are many of the singles that have propelled these humble men of God to stardom, and have further cemented their place amongst some of the greatest CCM bands currently today. So it definitely was a shock, for me at least, when Matt Hammitt, the lead singer of the band, stepped down from the band in 2015. In 2017, Matt unveiled his debut solo album- the self-titled Matt Hammitt; and in 2020, Matt released his sophomore album Treetop. But for those who don’t know the story of Matt and why he ‘went solo’, let me quote you a few paragraphs of my review of Matt’s album from 2017… because who better to speak about Matt’s backstory in prep and context for this review of Matt’s brand new single from this year, then myself from 6 years ago- who said it more eloquently than I probably could ever had I tried to succinctly say the same thing?
If you do not know the story of Matt Hammitt and how he stepped down from being the frontman of Sanctus Real, then let me give you a quick history lesson. Because this new album, this self-titled album from Matt, that released just last week, is so deserving of a review. But I can’t review this album without giving you some context first. Matt Hammitt by Matt Hammitt is so much more than a new solo album. I don’t want you to think that Matt left Sanctus Real to become a solo artist. Because he didn’t. He left for a multitude of reasons, and releasing a solo album was borne out of the experiences that he has had since then. So let me tell you all a story.
Though I don’t claim to know everything Sanctus Real, I do know a bit. And here’s what I do know. Out of his four children, son Bowen was the sickest. Born in 2010, he was in and out of hospital. Breathing tubes, having a life-threatening heart defect…both Matt and Sarah had to trust God for their every provision, in the promise that Bowen would live. Since then, it’s been a bumpy ride and though Bowen is alive right now, I guess you’d say that was that moment when something restless stirred inside of Matt. Bowen’s immediate peril and sickness led to the release of the extremely personal Every Falling Tear in 2011, which was when I knew that if ever Matt went solo, he’d still be respected and successful (as Every Falling Tear was very honest, poignant, emotional, and probably one of the most impacting and encouraging albums of that year, as well as the most confronting!)
Having already penned the smash hit “Lead Me” in 2010, I guess you could say that song gradually grew in significance as the years went on. Lyrically the song shows Matt imagining his wife saying to him to ‘…lead me with strong hands, stand up when I can’t, don’t leave me hungry for love, chasing dreams, but what about us, show me you’re willing to fight, that I’m still the love of your life, I know we call this our home but I still feel alone…’, and that’s a powerful declaration. It’s probably what Sarah was feeling for quite a while when Matt was on the road on tour with the band. That he was spending time making a living, so much so that he was neglecting life at home with her and the kids. Overall, I guess the reason why “Lead Me” was written and why it resonated so much with listeners, and also why it impacts even now; is that it’s a reminder to us all to not let the important things in life and the important moments pass us by, all because we think that what we’re doing now matters the most. Like getting the perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect house matters in the end. It doesn’t. Apart from our relationship with Jesus, the things that matter are the relationships with those we forge around us. Without people who love us, who are we? If we’re alone, then what good are material possessions?
Those were the things eating at Matt’s mind, and perhaps hearing the words sung from the audience of “Lead Me”, so enthusiastically and passionately, every night on tour, maybe became too much for him to bear. There obviously was something brewing in him, so in hindsight, it probably was expected that he’d leave the band at some point if you knew his story and everything he was feeling. So in 2015, Matt left. It wasn’t to pursue a solo career. If it was only that, I’d probably lose respect for him. But, it was so much more. Matt and Sarah both launched a podcast called The Lead Me Lifecast in 2016, and also unveiled “LEAD ME LIVE” conferences and events, where he speaks about building up men, marriages and families, and speaks into people’s lives about what God is doing in order for men to become the best father, husband, son and person they can be. Sort of like life coaching, but also sort of like speaking like Louie Giglio, if you want to put it into lamens terms. He’s also a partner with Family Life Ministries, and a speaker for their “Weekend To Remember” marriage retreats. So there was a lot of things happening long before Full Circle Music came knocking. Before God started opening doors.
When the newly formed record label, headed by Seth Mosley, signed Matt as a songwriter and a solo artist in 2016, and in early 2017, the debut single “Tears” was released; it was a chance for Matt to put all that he has been feeling over the past few years, thoughts about leaving the band, to the feelings from actually leaving the band, to his worries about his son Bowen, all to paper. And the result is an album that is truly remarkable, and a testimony that God is working in our lives, even when we don’t see it. To mistake Matt as just another solo artist is a dangerous thing, and this album is proof of God’s faithfulness, and of the fact that Matt is a multi-layered person, with a lot of things to say. But if you’re asking why couldn’t Matt say what he needed to and still be part of Sanctus Real, then I guess I would say that Matt would still be restless, and needing time out, and his songs (had he stayed with Sanctus Real) wouldn’t have felt authentic. He’d be phoning it in, and nobody wants that, right? Anyway, enough preamble, let’s quickly gloss over these tracks, because frankly, you all need to listen to these songs rather then read me yak on about them!
If you are transfixed by this introduction and want to read more about Matt Hammitt, then by all means, have a read. But if you’re curious as to how Matt’s new single “Church Hurt” sounds like… well you’ve come to the right place! A song with such a weighty title and equally hard-hitting lyrics may not be received that well by people in the church or those who have been hurt and traumatised by the church. People like Audrey Assad, Derek Webb, Jon Steingard, Marty Sampson, Kevin Max, Joshua Harris, Jen Hatmaker, Jennifer Knapp, Dan Haseltine, Vicky Beeching, Joy Williams… and I’m sure many more that I haven’t thought of. Probably Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, and others in the mainstream too. These people were all hurt or traumatised, in some way or another, by the church institution or by members in the church or by some idea or theology that a particular church believed in and were championing. In short, this song is for those people, who feel tired and weary and those people who maybe have deconstructed or don’t believe anymore. Matt’s song reminds us that so many good things happened in the church and that you can find Jesus in the church. Just because one denomination of the broader church doesn’t represent Jesus well, or just because one part of the church has dodgy theology or rubs you the wrong way. Just because one person in the church betrayed your trust. Doesn’t mean that Jesus will. Jesus won’t ever abandon you, and this is what the song imparts to us. For Matt relays to us all, that ‘…You felt that church hurt, when Your blood and tears hit the earth, when you were stranded, abandoned, all just to hand us heaven on earth, and I know Your heart hurts, and I know that You felt it first, but You love imperfect people under a steeple, and You did the work to heal this church hurt…’. Jesus doesn’t promise that people won’t betray us. that people from within the church, people that we possibly trust, wouldn’t hurt us either intentionally or not. What He does promise us is that He will be with us no matter what. And that sentiment and that promise should give us comfort. Hopefully one day it will supersede all of the hurt people feel that they believe is associated with the broader church.
There’s a message that has been on my heart, that I really think will relate to many of you, or at least to someone you know. I’ve expressed this message in my new song that is streaming NOW, and in the free book that you can download by following the link at the bottom of this page.
If you believe this message can lead to healing conversations, join me in getting this timely message out to others by sharing my song and book with anyone you believe would be touched by it. Sincerely, Matt
After writing the song “Church Hurt,” I knew it would stir up much bigger conversations than I could cover in a four-minute song. Songs have a way of cracking hearts open and drawing them toward healing. However, with this song, I didn’t want to leave it there. I wanted to pull people into those bigger conversations and lead them toward healing.
That’s why I invited my friend, Eric, to join me in writing this seven-part small group study on church hurt. Though short and simple, our prayer is that each section will lead you into meaningful conversations with people you trust, and help you along the path of healing from church hurt that may be festering in your heart.
In the coming days, I’m going to be sharing some of the “Life After Church Hurt” seven-day devotional that my friend, Eric Newberry, and I wrote.. I’m really excited to have this resource. We really want to build up those who still need healing in this area. If you think that you, or someone you know, could benefit from this, you can download it for free at matthammitt.com. We’re not making any profit from this. We just want to encourage the saints who may be wounded or feel weak.
“Church Hurt” is needed in today’s society, where almost every gen z person who grew up in the church is either deconstructing or maybe adding things to their theology that isn’t part of Christianity. The truth is, hurt people hurt people, and broken people inadvertently lead people astray- sometimes not by choice but through just a series of events beyond our control. And because there are so many people affected by the church and everything associated with it, some people may not ever want to listen to this song, while some people may listen to it later on. And that’s ok. As we are reminded that God isn’t done with Matt Hammitt just yet, in terms of music, and in terms of everything else- the podcasts and the conferences and events he is a part of; I may not know what Matt will do in the future, But what I do know is that from this song, if one person’s life is healed, transformed and turned around, then it will all be worth it. Well done Matt for such a poetic and powerful new song, praying that God blesses you heaps in the future!
RIYL: Sanctus Real, Tenth Avenue North, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Matthew West