Silence is Broken

For Today attempts the fight of their lives

By
Photo by Chris Phelps

We can’t find Mattie Montgomery.

We had an appointment to talk on the phone, but no one’s picking up. I have the day free, so their PR team agrees to have him call me back. Thirty minutes later, the phone rings. Lost, but now found: He was watching “How to Train Your Dragon” with his wife and son. About that life.

As a relatively new parent, the pastor and For Today vocalist isn’t used to “quiet” anymore. It’s a fleeting adjective, as any parent would attest. (It’s not like “quiet” applies to his day job, either.) “Quiet” is the reason babysitters exist; parents need to go on dates – just the two of them – to reconnect and recenter their lives in a healthy way, from newborn child (parent) back to marriage covenant (husband and wife).

In fact, I would bet Montgomery’s progeny has already heard the phrase “silence is golden,” not necessarily from them, but spoken as a fact, like it’s engraved on the 10 Commandments. I was told that so many times growing up it felt like scripture. Pretty soon, the idiom took on a reverent aura and children and teens alike start to actively think it is better to be silent than to speak.

The phrase was well intentioned, though. People would say, “Speech is silver and silence is golden,” or otherwise worded, “Speech is of time; silence is of eternity.”

Speech is too often not … the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest.

That’s part of the paragraph where, as history will remember it, the first instance of the phrase “silence is golden” was given unto the world. It’s a rough translation of what the German poet and author – and perhaps most importantly, satirist – Thomas Carlyle originally wrote. It may not be scripture directly, but the Bible toes this line of intention, reminding us we have two ears and one mouth.

But those particular sentences by Carlyle are pieces to a larger puzzle in his parodic novel, where by overemphasizing the necessity and importance of silence, it realizes a dangerous quiet. Drenched in sarcasm, Carlyle knew all too well silence can lead to oppression and enslavement.

For Today embraces being the voice of the voiceless, knowing the very phrase “silence is golden” is spoken ironically as the rallying cry for almost any battle worth fighting. It’s why Montgomery, so overwhelmed by the emotion he was having after watching a video centered on the victims of sex trafficking, changed the course of the band’s album 15 minutes before he went in to record the very song that became the name of their latest record: “Fight the Silence.”

It’s a battle the band will dedicate a good portion of their immediate lives to fighting, the aggressor of the very thing once said to be as valuable as the streets of Heaven. It’s a battle they won’t have to fight alone; after six years, they now have a dedicated and focused army, and they’re adding to their number daily.

The reality is this. I remember, probably four or five years ago, we were studying through, and we were reading Bible studies through 1 Corinthians 13, and about what love really is. During that time, we stopped at a red light, and a homeless man came up to the window and started talking to us. He said, “Listen, I’m not trying to get any beer, I don’t do drugs, I need some money for food,” and we were like, “No, dude, sorry.”

We started to drive away. Then, I said from the back seat, I said, “You guys know what I just read?” They said, “What?” And I said, “Love always trusts.” It says in 1 Corinthians 13. We also sat there in silence for a minute, and then we turned the van around and drove back and gave this guy money for food. … It totally goes against all of our fleshly instincts to believe this guy, but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been burned, no matter how many times you’ve been disappointed, no matter how frustrated you’ve been, no matter how much evidence you have against this person or against this type of person, love always trusts. Even to the point where it’s willing to be taken advantage of.

That’s obviously something that daily I’m learning how to do better, but people are going to have to learn, love always trusts, love always hopes. We need to hold onto the possibility that it might be possible, or to the thought that it might be possible, that even me giving $10 to (a) campaign, or us recording a song about human trafficking might actually save some lives.

It may seem impossible. It may seem irresponsible. It may seem insignificant. But that’s what love looks like sometimes.

I wasn’t a fan of For Today’s last record, Immortal, so I told Montgomery. When the band was profiled for this magazine at that time, the interviewer also brought it up to him. Both times he said the same thing: No big deal. In truth, he’d probably just be stoked about the fact we could talk and he could have the opportunity to pray for me. (And, theoretically, for my better judgment). He is that kind of guy.

He speaks about everything and nothing all at once. As they say, from the overflow of the soul comes speech, and Montgomery will never be accused of not having soul.

He writes chants and breakdowns that are palatable the way praise and worship songs are to a congregation: purposefully simple to ease in the learning and singing of the hymn. (Back in those days, they didn’t always have paper and pen handy, so a number of people had to memorize everything they created. There may not have been a ton of deviation in scope, but there was a myriad of brilliant variations.) I think Montgomery wants it that way. After all, his band For Today is, essentially, praise and worship music for their fans, from his heart to theirs. It’s their ministry, and their music is the hymns of this united, metal church. The burdens he bears, he shares with their fans, and they fight the fight alongside him and the band.

It’s the mark of a true leader, and leaders typically have one emotion: On. As in Youth Pastor On. But on this particular day, Montgomery couldn’t let go of a particular image. It was an image that haunted him as he went to his job that day. And 15 minutes before he’s about to record the lyrics to one of their songs, he’s struck down by his thoughts, haunting him – all from a 45-minute short movie. He’s shaken so deep, he pens the lyrics to “Fight the Silence”… Eye to eye, face to face / Still we don’t see them; we look away… He has that moment when the water wells up in the eye and you make the choice to hold it in or let it out: Still we cry; but no one is listening / When will we open our eyes?

I was praying for the album. I was thinking about the potential of these songs on this record — and not just what it could do for our band, but also for the people that are going to hear the album. I was thinking back over our entire catalog. I was thinking when I wrote Breaker, I was in a season of my life in which I was learning so much about God, theologically.

I was listening to a whole bunch of different preachers, constantly listening to sermons, worship albums — you name it — just devouring as much of the word and as much doctrine as I could, as fast as I could. I felt like a lot of that came out through the lyrics of those songs.

While that’s still happening — obviously, a lot of that’s still happening — but it’s manifesting itself in a very different way on this album. I have songs about poverty on this record. I have songs about, obviously, human trafficking and songs about martyrdom.

I wrote a song called “Fatherless” that’s about growing up without a father. My father passed away of cancer when I was eight years old. So, lyrically, it’s very, very different than anything that we’ve done. A lot of people look at it and say that it’s not as theological as some of our other material.

But the interesting thing to me is I felt like… Last week as I was comparing this album to the other ones and thinking about the potential of this record. The Holy Spirit said, “You spent five albums telling people about me, telling people about my heart and how I am. But on Fight the Silence, I want you to just show them.”

I think that this album — in talking about issues like poverty, talking about issues like fatherlessness, talking about issues like martyrdom, talking about issues like human trafficking — instead of saying, “Learn these facts about God,” that For Today has come to a place at which we’re simply saying, “This is what He’s like. These are the things that are in God’s heart. If you want to see how God feels toward the world, come and see this. Come and see that it breaks His heart to see the fatherless or to see children left without fathers. It breaks His heart to see people used as products to be bought and sold instead of cherished and protected.”

It is hard for the church to care about poverty, and the scripture says that the poor will always be among us. However, that doesn’t mean we should shrug our shoulders and ignore them and stay safe in our $10 million church building, but that we should do something about it, that it’s an ever-present opportunity to display the mercy and the compassion of the Father.

I think we have a lot of church people — and for years, this included myself — that look a lot like Pharisees in that we have a lot of theory. And we have a lot of intellectual superiority, in terms of, “I can quote more Bible versus than you. I can quote more old preachers than you,” or whatever. What the church needs are fewer people that can you tell you about God and more people that can show you what God’s heart is like.

I think that that’s what this record is. That’s what I experienced sitting in the studio that morning.

Before I saw that video, it didn’t have anything to do with theology. It didn’t have anything to do with doctrine. It didn’t have anything to do with the academics of Christianity. It had everything to do with the heart of the Father breaking for these girls who are lied to and deceived and are having their destiny stolen, so that people can make a little bit of profit at their expense.

The thing that overwhelms me, the thing that grips me, the thing that changed my life that day, was the heart of the Father, the reality of the heart of God. I didn’t want anything new. I knew that human trafficking was happening. But that day, my heart broke for it, and I think that was just — even if only momentary — a glimpse of the Father’s heart towards it.

I really felt about human trafficking the way that God felt about it. I think that really is the theme of this album: showing the world the heart of the Father.

If you’ve ever seen Montgomery on a stage, his performances with the band will quickly make his ministry your ministry. He is passionate, vocal, zealous, popular, engaging, willing. He’s eloquent in speech and convincing in nature. He’s imposing, performing shows in a flak jacket with a linebacker’s build. Blue-collar. Hard-worker. He only needs one thing in his life to go to work — his voice — and he capitalizes on every opportunity. Carpe diem: “If there’s a cause that the Father has put in my heart, I’m going to do it with all my heart, and I’m going to do it with aggression,” he tells me. I asked him about the title of the new record, Fight the Silence, and that it’s not exactly a passive phrase. “I’m going to do it with integrity. Even if I’m just speaking, when I preach at conferences or churches, when I get done, I’m still drenched in sweat and still out of breath, and my voice is still shot just like after I get off the stage with For Today.”

He’s not “on,” per se; that’s just who he is. The conversations always come back to God and you wonder, “Is that all there is?” You expect him, just like every other performer, to adopt an on-stage persona and go in to character when it’s time to hit the stage, but there is no character for Montgomery. Quite literally, everything in Pastor Montgomery’s heart is geared towards evangelism.

For Today is his pulpit. Every night, he has a new congregation.

It didn’t have anything to do with theology. It didn’t have anything to do with doctrine. It didn’t have anything to do with the academics of Christianity. It had everything to do with the heart of the Father breaking for these girls who are lied to and deceived and are having their destiny stolen, so that people can make a little bit of profit at their expense.

It forces him to be really nice guy, the way a politician is nice. Everything he does is scrutinized, with wolves waiting for the deer to make a mistake. There’s a wolf in all of us, and something in your gut tells you there’s another layer, that he has to be normal at some point, right?

But he’s really good at what he’s doing. I didn’t ask him directly, but I know he’d consider himself a pastor before a he would consider himself a vocalist — and doesn’t everyone always wonder what it would be like to be a fly on the pastor’s wall?

This one time at the beginning of 2013, you didn’t need to be a fly. For once, you could just call up Montgomery and talk to him yourself. He made his cell phone number public after then For Today guitarist Mike Reynolds made a claim that there was no such thing as a Christian homosexual. In the backlash, Montgomery felt compelled to post a YouTube video, explaining the band’s position. At the end of it, he gave out his direct cell phone line to the public. Anyone that wanted to talk or was offended could call him. He would personally talk over the issue with them.

When Fight the Silence was announced to the public, almost the only thing metal journalists wanted to know was how he still felt about that situation. Some wouldn’t even address the album or its thematic elements until they felt they had an answer that would suffice, their version of an ultimatum for coverage. Personally, I don’t particularly need to know Montgomery’s opinion one way or the other (or Reynolds’s, for that matter), but I knew it would be remiss of me not to explore the topic with the man himself. But before I could speak with Montgomery, I had to promise I wouldn’t ask any questions about anything related to The Incident.

I am a Montgomery apologist here — though the journalist in me wants him to talk about it — because Montgomery basically just exercised his Fifth Amendment rights; they exist because sometimes your best defense is to just not say anything. Invoking it has no implication of guilt. Montgomery was rapidly becoming the face of one of the most hot-button topics in modern America, and there was nothing he could possibly say in any interview, anywhere that would satisfy his haters short of renouncing his faith and belting out “Imagine” covers.

He has the right to not defend himself when, for all intents and purposes, he is not guilty of anything.

Related or not, soon thereafter, Reynolds voluntarily left the band to go back to school. They replaced him with Sam Penner, formerly of In the Midst of Lions, and Reynolds’s unique flare and guitar playing added a new dimension and dynamic to For Today’s layering and songwriting, making Fight the Silence an evolution in their record catalog. They’re beginning to mature, and as they grow, they outgrow their clothes and pony up to new ones.

As fate would have it, I was assigned to review their last full-length release, 2012’s Immortal, and I personally dismissed it as “lyrically and musically trite.” I told him this. So did the former editor when he interviewed Montgomery about that same record. Two years ago, his response was funny (“That’s why I don’t read reviews”). But it was what he said in the next few sentences that was really eye-opening, and his answer is important to understanding who Matthew Montgomery is, at his core.

Back then, he followed it up with, “Our band exists for evangelism. If you want deep, come talk to us after the show.” I thought that was a great way to describe the band does: Use the breakdowns, the environment, the setup and then, when the spotlights are off, you continue your ministry in a number of other ways. I thought it was very honest. Turns out, he had to learn a lot on the job.

That’s been a difficult transition, actually. With, Breaker, it was like… Everything I was learning. I probably couldn’t verbalize it at the time, but in my own mind I was Pastor Mattie Montgomery to all the thousands of people that were going to hear this record.

I’m trying to teach them about God’s justice. I’m trying to teach them about God’s immutability, I’m trying to teach them about God’s purity, God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s wrath, love, compassion. I’m covering all this stuff in these deep, theological, prophetic revelations I’ve been getting in our lyrics. I don’t think that was wrong. I think that the Lord would allow that for the time.

But as we’ve developed, He’s really refined in my mind, and I think in the minds of the rest of the guys as well, what it is that we are called to do. We are called to evangelize. Period. People need pastors, but I can’t be that for them, for Word a day fans. People need spiritual leadership and authority in their life but I can’t be that through an album feed. What we’re doing is Gospel, period.

When I finished the lyrics for, “Fight the Silence,” especially, I thought, “There are going to be some people who think I watered down our lyrics,” because I’m talking about things like fatherlessness, human trafficking and poverty instead of prophecy.

The reality is, I’ve really, more than ever on this record, I think, got my finger on the pulse of what it is I was called to do, and that is to evangelize. That is to display the heart of the Father, to people who are lost and seeking.

If people want to go deeper, if they want to study scripture, if they want to get into deep revelation and personal direction, for how to walk out the Christian faith, they can come and hear me speak, if I come preach at a church near them.

It’s the same reason that we tour with non-Christian bands, and that is because For Today exists to seek and save the lost. If I get sidetracked and start trying to pastor everybody, I’m going to write lyrics that are irrelevant to 90 percent of the people we’re supposed to be ministering to.

The first revelation they need, well before they need to understand the seven Spirits, the seven burning lamp stands, around the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God, or what his eyes that burn like flames of fire represent, or his voice like rushing waters.

Before they understand any of that stuff, they need to understand that by the shed blood of Jesus, on the cross, by his death, his burial and his resurrection, they have been given the opportunity to come before the Father, with freedom and confidence. It’s the gospel.

Because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross, they can be free from their sin, and they can begin a relationship with the Yahweh, God Almighty. That’s the thing we’re trying to convey with our band, as a whole.

I think that there are probably a lot of theological elitists, that may think I pound things down. But the reality is, if I’m called to be an evangelist, and trying to be a prophet, an apostle, a teacher, I’m being disobedient.

I’m very clear about the fact that I’m called to be, through and for, today, an evangelist. That’s what our goal is, to do this album and make it relevant to people who don’t know Christ.

But now, as the face of a movement the streets call “Spirit-filled hardcore” and maturing into a bonafide pastor, he knows so much more, and I know he’d admit he has a lot more to learn. And that’s the most important thing: that we never stop growing as people.

For Today was posted on February 5, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .