Pat Barrett honed his music skills as a worship leader, playing in his Atlanta church on Sunday mornings. Worship is in his blood, and it will probably always be part of his creative expression (he was signed by a worship leader you might have heard of by the name of Chris Tomlin) but these days, he’s also finding new ways to channel his creative energy. The songs on his solo record Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly aren’t exactly church music in the way we normally think of it, but they’re still “worshipful” — from a certain point of view. He opened up to RELEVANT about his thoughts on praising God, and why we need to expand our ideas of what that might look (or sound) like.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
When did you start to think you really wanted to be a professional artist? Was there like a Paul on the road to Damascus?
It’s the opposite. It’s more like an aimless wandering through life and being like, “Whoa, I’m still doing music.” I think I always knew that to a certain degree that music was going to be a huge part of my life. I was always going to have a guitar in the corner. I’m always going to write songs and no matter what my paid profession would be, that would always be a part of it.
I was the worship pastor for almost 10 years at a church. I was in worship bands and collectives and all that. Even with music, it’s gone through different, little chapters of what it’s looked like and how it’s played out. It was never in my mind, “Oh, I want to do a solo record or start putting out albums under my own name.” That was really my wife’s encouragement to me.
What were these things that you felt like you needed to go solo to really explore with?
There were things that, and still are where you’re like, “Okay, I have an idea. Is this the appropriate time to share that idea?” Just because you have an idea, it doesn’t mean you should share it. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean you should say it.
I think there is a timing aspect and a sense of courage when you’re sharing something that you’re not used to sharing or subject matter that feels a little bit uncomfortable.
When it comes to music and honesty and art and creativity, it seems pretty inappropriate to leave out a song about your family and to leave out a song about mystery and feeling overwhelmed. It feels really inappropriate to leave out a song that feels very vertical in nature. I’m sharing more of the whole picture instead of just a part of it and that is a liberating thing.
For the new album, are these things that you had in the canner and you just needed a place to put them down?
It’s always been for me one of those collect along the way and then see what you have. Some of the songs are two years old. They were recorded right after the first album and some of them are three months old. They came in the 11th hour of the album. I think that’s why I really appreciate looking back on songs over the years, because I can look back at almost timestamps of, “Oh, that was written before the world shut down with the pandemic.” “Oh, that was in the middle of it.”
It felt like with this collection of songs, it was like, “Okay, this feels like the right time.” So we scooped up a lot of the songs we put out last year. I’ve been releasing this album basically for a year anyway with these other songs. So scooping them up to re-release with all the other songs that have happened along the way.
There’s a pretty narrow list of acceptable feelings and emotions that you’re supposed to talk about in church music. Do you think we could do a better job of broadening that?
I know for myself, limiting the full expression and devotion of worship to God, to one type of thing is at very least unbiblical and unhelpful and at very, most, it can encourage the opposite. It can encourage hiding and I can say that because I’ve felt that, and I’ve done that.
I’ve felt like, “Well, this is the appropriate thing to sing about,” and to feel in other ways is very inappropriate. Therefore this version of me is coming to the table now. I battle that in my own life every day anyways. I mean, we all do. We project the person that we want you to see. I’m wearing a denim jacket right now because I want you to think I’m cool.
You know what I mean? All those things, just call it what it is.
What are some of the songs on the new album that you feel like this was a profoundly meaningful song that I think accomplishes that mission.
There’s a few of them. One, I wrote for Meg on our 10-year anniversary and this would have been a year and a half ago that I shared it with her and it’s called To Have and To Hold. It is about the awareness of love, not just in a romantic way, but in a choice way. The way you continually choose over and over again, a relationship and a connection.
There’s another song called So Real. It’s about my struggle with the scriptures, with my vocation in my job. Jesus had some pretty sharp warnings to people who practice public religion. I feel that. I’m talking about attention, I feel that all the time and to the point where you have to wonder, I ask all the time, “Am I contributing to the problem?”
I think that’s why Jesus was like, “Hey, just so you know, when you fast, you don’t need to wear rags and announce that you’re fasting. When you pray, it doesn’t have to be long because your prayer is more beautiful to other people doesn’t mean God heard it anymore.” Don’t share it. Don’t Instagram it. That’s the hardest part. That was a very counter-cultural invitation to wholeness and health with God. I feel that all the time.
What do you do to try to keep yourself in check as far as humility?
I think the willingness to take a look and to be brutal in your transparency with yourself about it is such a powerful thing. I don’t mean just like introspection. I mean look in the mirror, like, “Wow, you were in a room with two people and then a really important person walked in and you felt the need that, that person, that very important person, was more worthy of your time than the other people.”
Why did you feel that? That is a very powerful practice to just take a look. I think there’s a sense of a willingness to be aware as a starting point. That’s what I do for myself. That’s number one. But I would also tell the person who is leading worship at a church every Sunday, “Let your time on that stage be 1% of what you experience with God during the week. Let it just be. Let that be the ratio.” Then you will be so far, from the margins of, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had one moment with God this week and I’m sharing 100% of that moment.”