If you ask Mattie Montgomery, he is not a lyricist and a frontman first, though that is how most know him. And even though his band For Today has accomplished some great things over the last several years, he refers to himself as a Husband and Father first and foremost. The irony is that not long ago, like many young men today, he would never have imagined himself being either. I spoke to Mattie recently and at length about fatherhood, being a husband, and how God can use each to transform men into the people he desires us to be.
Schwab: It was cool to catch up a bit when we played together at Sonshine festival in Minnesota! I didn’t realize that you were a dad prior to that, so when you mentioned you had two sons (and the fact that my wife and I just had our second child-a son-as well), I thought we would have quite a bit to talk about. Let me ask you this: When you started playing music and touring full-time, did you ever imagine you would be a husband and father of two? Tell me a bit about your journey from “single band guy” to family man.
Montgomery: Well, I joined the band when I was twenty and met my wife four months after that. At the time I was absolutely set on not dating anyone at all. It wasn’t until a week later, when I was in prayer, that I heard the Lord say to me…this is going to be your wife, so make sure you stay in touch with her. To be honest, it seemed weird, because I didn’t want to be the guy who calls the girl and says, “God says you are supposed to marry me.” So I kept praying the next few days, and the more I did the more I became convinced. Not long after that she felt she had received the same confirmation, so we started to get to know each other.
Now, I wasn’t in a position at the time to support a wife or a family-my band was paying out $5.00 every other day in per diem. That was it. No joke. I literally had made up my mind that I was going to court her for the following five or ten years until I was in position financially to get married. But I trusted that if God wanted me to marry her, he would provide a way for me to do so.
About four months after I met Candace he provided a way for me to get a ring. The band had just gotten paid for the first time on a tour. I had four hundred dollars in my wallet. $405.00, to be exact. I ran into a guy who worked at a Zales jewelry store who knew the band, and he offered me his employee discount. So I had the ring…and I started freaking out. I thought, man I am really going to propose to this girl…and I did. And said said yes.
She had a decent job at that time and I was playing music. We figured she would work, I would do ministry on the road full-time, and we would see one another when I was in town. But as the wedding got closer I became convicted by different things in scripture, specifically a passage in the Old Testament when God made a specific law for the Israelites pertaining to marriage (I believe its in Deuteronomy 23 or 24). The law basically states, “If any man gets married he is not to go to war or get involved in business for one year, but he’s to stay home with his wife and make her happy.”
So I was convicted. I can say my marriage comes first, but if I leave her for 9-10 months a year, what am I really communicating? So I knew something significant was going to change, I just didn’t know what it was. I had a job offer at the time to go teach English in a missionary school in Mexico. They offered us financial support and a place to live. I thought that was going to be the change. Two weeks before our wedding, my wife called me and said that she felt like God was telling her to quit her job and come on tour with me. I knew that was the right thing in my heart as soon as she said it. I was still making $2.50 per day, but the day she came on tour God quickly accelerated the growth of our band. That first tour we came back with a few hundred dollars each and we have never gone back again. We have been significantly blessed from that point on, as if somebody flipped a switch. It’s so interesting, because we literally jumped off a cliff trusting God to put our marriage first. We toured ten months out of the year up to that point. And you should know-my wife is not a “road dog” kind of girl! She was a cheerleader, a dancer, a normal girl. She likes to bathe regularly and be clean!
Then, about two years into touring she found out we were pregnant—in a Wal-Mart bathroom in Corpus Christi, Texas! I was thinking to myself I really hope she isn’t pregnant, because this is a crappy place to find out! But she was. So we stumbled through Wal-Mart wondering what we were going to do. I was thinking I was going to quit the band. Then my wife, being the hero she is, after a couple days of praying, pulled me aside and asked, “Did God tell you to quit the band?”
I said, “No, but it makes sense for me to stay home and support you and the baby.”
Then she quoted myself back to me and said, “You always say we shouldn’t do things because they make sense, but because God tells us to.”
She was right, of course. I made a deal with my band that we would only play 120 dates per year. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job. And I said I needed one day off per week to fly home to visit family. Again, we made a decision that made no sense mathematically. How were we going to tour half as much, making half as much money, and still be ok? Basically that meant eight months of the year we would be making zero money. Plus, I had another mouth to feed and I was going to be spending money on flying back and forth home. It sounded nuts. My guys were supportive, but pretty nervous that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I just stuck with the thought that if we honor marriage-not just my marriage, but all of our marriages-then God will bless us.
We made more money the year after we made that decision than all the other years the band existed combined!
It all comes back to this: if you are willing to keep your life arranged in a way that honors God’s priorities, He will take care of you. And here is the order of importance: Wife, Children, Ministry. If I keep it in that order all will work together for the good, His Good and mine, in line with Romans 8:28.
Schwab: The gist of everything you are saying is what most of us who know God and have families have experienced: God provides. He blesses marriage and children. Wives and children are in His plan for most guys-not every guy, but most. It’s never easy. In fact, it’s a more challenging path. But it’s a path that involves witnessing His work in our lives through our wives, children, and His provision. We see living, breathing, evidences of His love for us in the most tangible of ways. And yet there are so many guys today-guys in their late teens all the way up to their 30’s-that are putting off getting married and having kids. Emerging generations seem to be afraid of these things or not interested in them more than ever before. I personally have many friends who are in that position, who just are having a hard time embracing either the responsibility or the idea that all the fun will end in life in lieu of having to provide. What can you say to guys who are in this position or feel this way?
Montgomery: Truthfully, I was so freaked out when I learned we were pregnant that I had to hold onto a chair. I thought I was going to literally pass out. I had to go to a place of trusting that God knows me better than I know myself. On a day-to-day basis we think we know what’s best for ourselves. When I found out I was going to be a dad I felt terrified and completely unqualified. Still, to this day, I wonder if someone is going to come into my house and inform me there was some sort of administrative error, that I need to give my boys back. But there has been supernatural capacity for me to be compassionate and strong and wise for these kids, as well as provide for and protect them. As a result I have had to go back and admit that God knows me so much better than I know myself. I never could have thought that I could be a decent dad to any kids…but I was wrong.
As far as men who are afraid of that responsibility, they need to learn to trust God more than they trust themselves as well. Now, for some men…if you hate the idea of being a dad and you would be bitter and resentful if your wife got pregnant…then, don’t worry about it, your wife probably doesn’t need to get pregnant. I wouldn’t tell guys, “You need to go have a kid.” But I will say it’s definitely nothing to be afraid of. The Bible actually says children are a gift from God. So if He gives you that gift it’s because he sees you are able to pull it off. So when it’s like 3 AM and my wife and I are pulling our hair out, we stop and say to ourselves, ”Crack heads have babies and they make it work, so we should be able to do this.”
Schwab: I think I should say this: The purpose of this conversation is not to encourage people to make the same life decisions we did. The real purpose of this piece is to illuminate how two guys who did not think they were qualified and/or were maybe frightened of having family came to be empowered by God to do things they didn’t know they were capable of. I can say this emphatically…I would be missing out on amazing things if my daughter (Ella) and my son (Nolan) were not in my life. And yet I was definitely scared of both getting married and having kids for a very long time. Let me ask you, What do you think your life would be like if you were still just a single guy?
Montgomery: That’s a tough one. I wouldn’t be a part of the church I am a part of. I wouldn’t live in the south. I wouldn’t look the way I look. I wouldn’t talk the way I talk. I wouldn’t have written the lyrics I have written. I can’t even imagine it. My family is as much a part of me as I am.
Schwab: As you were speaking my eye went to a card that was sitting on my desk. When I looked at it, I didn’t remember where it came from, initially. Then, when I turned it over, I realized it was a card I gave my wife months ago for our anniversary. I honestly didn’t remember buying it! And on the back of the envelope I see these words that I wrote: “You make me remember who I am…without you, a much lesser man.” I found it just now…and it completely illustrates what you are saying.
Let me just say, I know there are people out there who are called to be single, and I completely respect that-but if you just look at the percentages of the Christian male population that reads this, a very small number will be single for life. So I am speaking to most guys when I say this: I don’t think we can be the men we are supposed to be, or at least the whole picture of what God desires us to be, without a family of our own. That’s the way God designed life for us. With this in mind why do you think it’s so common for guys to be hesitant to start families of their own today?
Montgomery: Good question. I think there are many reasons. The first one that comes to mind is that I think we have gradually withdrawn responsibility from boys…then teenagers…then young men…and now adult men. This “prolonged adolescence” is the result of a subtle philosophy in our culture that says it’s possible to make man-like decisions without facing man-like consequences. We have come to believe there is an in-between stage to “try-out” adulthood. This “try-out” period is getting longer and longer. There was a time when thirteen year-old boys were expected to act and think and do business like grown men only a few decades ago. Now, the prevailing thought is that hopefully by the time you are thirty you will have your act together. But as you know, there are many thirty-year-olds who are still living at home their parents and acting like eighteen-year-olds.
This is the same philosophy which has led to guys thinking they can have sex with women without having to parent the children they help create. This has also contributed to 50 million abortions, and to God knows how many kids growing up in homes where their father ran out on them because they couldn’t handle the responsibility. It’s a big problem, and it’s the result of poor leadership on the part of the previous generation.
Second, fear is a big factor. Specifically, the fear of failure. Men are afraid of failing in the same way their fathers did, or they are scared to be viewed as people who aren’t successful. So guys would rather not try than risk failing. This type of thinking will keep many Christian men out of positions of influence. Because if you are afraid of having a family you will be afraid to run a business or a school district or to lead a church effectively. No leader can be ruled by fear.
Lastly, I think there has been a systematic attack on the strength of men. Here is what I mean: If you have a strong man, chances are you will have strong marriage. If he is strong he will be faithful and romantic. He will protect and provide and make his wife feel secure and loved. And chances are, she will follow. A strong marriage is a strong family. If you have a husband and wife who are committed to loving one another, the kids will most likely follow. And if you have strong families, you will inevitably have a strong church. And if you have a church where kids love one another and know God and honor their parents, you will then have a strong culture. The communities will flourish. But it starts with men! If you have men that are content with being mediocre and immature and unfocused and afraid of failing and who shun responsibility and leadership-which comes from believing we are inadequate-then the whole thing crumbles. If men are taken out of the equation the entire culture is doomed.
Schwab: Great points. Here is a pretty straight forward one: Is it better to be a man than a boy? I ask this because it seems like guys who have yet to embrace adulthood believe remaining without care, obligation, or responsibility is truly the better way to live.
Montgomery: Boys aren’t adding anything to the culture, but men are. It’s a better life to be a man than a boy. George Washington Carver said, “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” For a man to decide not to take responsibility for himself, avoid developing others, providing for others, and simply takes from the world instead of giving to it or the next generation…that man is simply a parasite. That sounds harsh, but it’s a waste of resources as a culture. We are here to raise up the next generation so we can leave this world a better place than when we came into it…
I tend to put more pressure on guys than they think they can handle, but here’s why: you never feel ready to be a man. I’ve never been ready to be a husband or a dad or to run a ministry. I have never felt qualified. Neither did Moses. Neither did many of the men God used. It’s ok to be afraid, but it’s not ok to allow fear to determine your course.