For more than 30 years, Grammy Award-winner and Christian music icon Michael W. Smith has released nearly two-dozen albums, with sales exceeding 15 million. But the loss of one of his biggest fans, his father Paul, in 2015 nearly sidelined his creativity.
"I had not written much in over a year," he told Charisma News. "I told (my management team) that, 'it might just be a while'."
Still dealing with his own loss, it was heartbreak of another kind that jolted him back into the studio. Overcome with reports of teen suicide, bullying and the divided state of the country, the singer-songwriter turned to music to provide a light for those who need it.
"So many don't feel they don't have a purpose," he said. "They're trying to find their 'place in this world,' no pun intended. I just want to speak life into that and come up with some music that has songs of encouragement that will let these kids know, 'You know what, you're not here by mistake. He loves you.'"
Knee-deep into a new pop record he began referring to as A Million Lights (releasing Feb. 16), Smith also entertained a new idea of simultaneously releasing a worship record. Inspired by such an ambitious release by a mainstream artist and wanting to say something to the church, the groundwork also began for the new worship project Surrounded (releasing Feb. 23).
As he served as a worship leader for a local church, Smith challenged himself on the state of his heart and if he was serving the church well when someone directed him to a passage in Amos 5. In the Scripture, God is rejecting the burnt offerings and festivals because of a lack of justice: "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:23-24).
"It floored me," he said. "It absolutely threw me up against the wall, and I started to reexamine everything that I did. I realized at that moment that worship and justice go side by side, and if justice is not a part of what you're doing worship-wise, then it's not going to work."
With that in mind, Smith began to envision what the house of God would really look like and who would inhabit it. He imagined all races, all tribes, prostitutes, the homeless and the broken all being mended and redeemed by God. So he gathered a diverse group of worshippers and did a live project "in the round" in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee.
Knowing that two projects releasing a week apart is only a possibility in the new reality of the music industry, he's still aware that some people may think he's lost his mind, including those in his closest circle.
"I came in and said, 'I want to release a pop record and a vertical record back-to-back weeks. Yeah, I've lost my mind. If you can't find me, I'll be at Vanderbilt hooked up to an IV so you can come visit'."
In the days prior to the new albums releasing, the father of five and "G-Daddy" of more than a dozen, sees both albums tied together with expressing love to each other and to God. Also, as he continues to adjust to the "new norm" of life without his father, he sees the impact he had on the creation of the projects.
"I think my Dad is all over these two records," he said.
DeWayne Hamby is a communications specialist and longtime journalist covering faith-based music, entertainment, books and the retail industry. He is also the editor of the White Wing Messenger, director of communications for the Church of God of Prophecy and author of the book Gratitude Adjustment. Connect with him at dewaynehamby.com or on Twitter—@dewaynehamby.
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