Matt Greiner plays drums and writes lyrics for August Burns Red. I first met him back in 2006 when our bands toured together. Matt is one of the hardest working, level-headed artists you will meet. But his drum skills and work ethic are not his most impressive qualities. Matt is one of the few people I have encountered in this industry that makes an effort to be both transparent and humble. He genuinely cares for people, while using his platform to share his faith with every opportunity.
The topics of our conversation were pride and humility, specifically as these concepts relate to the male ego. Matt is someone who is very intentional about confronting his own pride, so this was a perfect topic to discuss with him. Our conversation was deeply personal and frankly, very encouraging. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Schwab: As both a person of faith and an artist, how would you define “pride” and “ego” in the practical, non-Christianese sense?
Greiner: Looking at pride in my own life, I would say it comes from selfishness-when I put myself first and set myself apart from the people around me. I think guys in general want to be able to stand up for ourselves and “flex our muscles” to feel good about who we are. This manifests itself, in many ways, in our tendency to define ourselves by our accomplishments and our work. For me, if I define myself by my drumming, then I can have a great day playing drums, feel like I am on top of the world, and better than everyone else. But when I have a horrible day playing drums I will feel awful. Your ego is affected directly by where you find your identity as a guy. If it’s not found in God you will have a fragile ego…and pride will dominate you. If it is found in God you will have security. You will not be insecure, and therefore, you won’t feel the need to puff out your chest to feel good about yourself. You also won’t think you are higher than other people. In other words, If your identity is in Christ the result will be humility.
Schwab: Dudes have a very specific manifestation of pride that is unique to us. It is a voice which tells us we need to appear like we have no weaknesses, that we have our lives put together perfectly, and that we must appear tough, or too cool, or invulnerable. In other words, the ego tells us appearing invulnerable = strength, and vulnerability = weakness. How do you think this type of thinking affects us as men?
Greiner: In general, with guys, if there is an individual who is having a hard time or has his head down, the gut reaction is to think that person is weak. We tend to believe a real man needs to come in pounding his chest, and any sign of weakness means you will be singled out or made fun of. It’s not generally perceived as good if you are vulnerable in any way. I think that’s not the way that God intended us to approach life, though. Jesus opposed the people who projected that they had their acts together. Look at how he spoke to the Pharisees. Yet, he was kind, soft, and gentle to the women, children, the downtrodden men. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a man, or that he wasn’t strong. He was very strong because He knew his identity was found in His father.
There is a verse that says “In our weakness, His power is made perfect.” That’s what is so wild about the gospel-it says the way up is down, and down is up. The way to strength is weakness. The way to life is death. Jesus defined strength in the opposite way our culture does. No one wants to be in the place where they are broken, but for some reason those are the times when God chooses to do a work in our hearts. When he is our strength, we can take no credit. That’s the whole point.
Schwab: It’s impossible to live out a life of faith without sharpening from our brothers. This is a fact of the spiritual life-atrophy comes from isolation. Yet, so many of us do not share our private issues with others. The reasons for this are varied, of course. If you have been burned by gossip, judgmentalism, or abuse of power in church, you are going to be gunshy about opening yourself up. But many times, guys miss out on spiritual growth and opt for a life of secret vices because we are afraid of having a light shined on our mistakes. In your opinion and experience, how can we face our fears of being “exposed” and learn to truly drop our walls with another in the context of fellowship?
Greiner: When you separate yourself from people, you die spiritually. In the past couple of years I have developed a relationship of direct accountability with a close friend of mine. Our whole approach is that we intentionally acknowledge that we are not strong enough to live out our faith on our own. We have admitted this to each other based on our experiences, and specifically, our failures. So, we are transparent with one another; we have tough, awkward, humiliating conversations because we both know we can’t do it on our own. I guess the question you have to ask yourself is this: Is it worth doing the work of accountability and facing humiliation? Of course it is! So we made a decision to have our friendship be about God’s glory. If I am dealing with something difficult like lust I try to call him and talk to him honestly about it. He does the same with me, and my response is to humble myself and reciprocate the vulnerability –even if I don’t feel like it at the time. Then, we pray together. Iron sharpens iron, and when you do this with a brother a funny thing happens: your shame disappears. Guys think it’s shameful to admit your mistakes and flaws, but it’s actually the opposite-just like Jesus said! It’s the greatest feeling in the world to know you are not alone, that you have teammates who are trying to do the same things as you are. If you have something you are dealing with, and you don’t tell anyone about it, you will stay trapped in your issues or habits as long as you keep it hidden. But if you go to someone and confess, your shame is taken away, and you will have a real brotherhood. I think that’s what church is and should be. It can just be you and another person, or you and your pastor. I’ve utilized my pastor in that way in the past where I have called him in a time of need.
Schwab: Respect. We need it as dudes. We crave it so much that we are willing to do almost anything to get it, including lie or sacrifice our beliefs or our character. What is a healthy way to earn respect in the context of faith without compromising your integrity?
Greiner: When I was fifteen, I wanted respect so badly that I lied and told people that I had a BMX endorsement through Fox. Eventually everyone learned the truth and I was so ashamed! Why did I feel like I needed to go to such an extreme length to try to get respect? It just speaks to how much I need that admiration from others, but I have learned so much about that concept since then.
Jesus actually taught and modeled for us the best example of how to earn respect as a man. You love people in all you do. Whether this is in the realm of business or art or ministry or simply doing yard work for your mom, you do that very thing with all of your heart. For example, if I was a t-shirt designer, I would love others by making the most relevant, inspired, current, quality shirt designs possible. On the other hand, if I was all about my “message” but sacrificed the quality, I would undermine both my love of God and my love of others. I obviously wouldn’t mean what I say and deserve respect if I didn’t put all my heart into the quality of my work. It really just comes down to looking at the life of Jesus, and seeing how, , he made an effort to make sure he had their full attention, the utmost quality interaction, and he did works which communicated, practically, his love for them. During his lifetime there were plenty who disagreed with his message but they still respected Him because they could see he genuinely loved people.
You are going to meet a lot of people in life who don’t agree with your worldview. But if you love people, treat them fairly, go the extra mile, and go out of your way to give them a quality product or piece of work, you are showing respect to them. And others will give you respect as a result. That is straight out of the Bible! To gain true respect you have to love them. To be respected, you have to treat people the way you want to be treated. Do your work for others as if you are doing it directly for God.
Schwab: When you, in any way, become a public figure-whether it is in the context of church ministry, art, music, writing, blogging, or social activism-people begin praising you for your work and gifting. While this is encouraging, eventually, when enough people tell you that you are awesome, you begin to be tempted to believe them. While some of this can be attributed to our culture’s celebrity obsession, the reality is that we each have a vanity monster inside of us that, when given an inch, will take a mile. The temptation for anyone who has achieved public success in any sphere of life is to believe that they are the one who deserves the credit, instead of God. How do you personally address this in your own life?
Greiner: I grew up playing drums four hours a night and working fifty hours per week landscaping. Lots and lots of work has gone into playing drums. When someone compliments me the temptation is to think it was all me because I invested so much time, emotion, energy, and money into it. But the thing is, if you take credit for your ability to play drums then you have to assume the consequences of that “self-credit.” Your identity will be connected so closely to whatever it is that you are taking credit for that when that thing dies, so do you. You can’t hold anything that high except God, because He is the only thing that won’t let you down. And if you put God first, it contextualizes whatever you are good at in your life. If God is first, then everything else is a gift, and I will be able to see my work as a passion that God put on my heart probably before I was born. If I do it for myself, I am probably going to experience a fraction of the enjoyment. But if I do it knowing it is a gift God gave me to give to others for His glory, it’s going to be so much more rewarding. If there is one thing I have learned in ABR it is this: I have to be centered on God and nothing else or I will always be chasing something I can never get my hands on.
Schwab: The Bible says “pride cometh before a fall.” This is a profound teaching that has been overused and misinterpreted by many in church circles. What do you think this phrase means? How do you think this phrase relates to leadership for every guy?
Greiner: I had a friend who started a company and it ended up being a Ponzi scheme. If you don’t know what that is, it was a concept invented by Charles Ponzi. Basically it works this way: You take investors’ money for a company that doesn’t exist and you pay them high interest from new investors money. Eventually it fails because its like a deck of cards-you can never get enough investors to pay everyone off. Everything about my friend seemed legit. He was very centered on family and church. I honestly think his “fracture” happened when he started thinking of himself as better, higher and smarter than everyone else. Like, I can pull this off. His pride honestly made him delusional. 4 million dollars were invested in this company and now its all gone. He is facing some serious legal consequences as well. I saw how pride worked its way into his heart to the point where he became completely delusional about the truth. Talk about a hard fall…
On a personal level, I am in a leadership position with the platform God has given my band. The best thing I can do is pray before I go onstage and get myself centered. Its really a very humbling thing to do this because I am admitting to God that I am a sinner and submitting to His authority, asking for His help, and all of those words I just used don’t really work well with pride. Martin Luther said, “The Christian life is one of repentance” Repent, repent, repent. If you don’t do this consistently you have a tendency to turn into a self-centered, self-righteous person. You will not take advice and you will treat people like you are better than them. But no one can build an empire like that and stay on top for long.
Schwab: It’s been said that the first step toward humility is to first realize how prideful we truly are. What do you think are three elements that define a humble man?
Greiner: 1. He puts others first. 2. He treats others with the respect that he wants to receive. 3. He understands that being weak is not a bad thing. Tenderness is not a bad thing. Being tough is not always being a man…
I wonder what out culture would look like if just you and I started living that way, Schwab…it would look absurd, in the best possible way!