How did you come to find yourself as a music director for North Point Church?
It’s kind of a crazy story, actually. I started leading worship at North Point about seven years ago, but I never viewed myself as an on staff “church guy.” I grew up a pastor’s kid, so I knew how hard it was to be on staff at a church and I thought being an independent, traveling worship leader was the career I wanted.
About five years ago, the music director position at North Point became open, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing it at all. Then two important things happened that changed the direction of my life. First, after praying through a potential cross-country move, God confirmed loud and clear that Atlanta was going to be home for us for a long season. Suddenly we were looking to plant deep roots with friends and family here in our hometown. Second, I realized that the life of the traveling worship leader was taking a massive toll on our marriage. While I was seeing success as a songwriter and worship leader, I was quickly becoming a person with no community and shrinking integrity. The anonymity and isolation of the traveling life was not pretty toxic for me, and my marriage was suffering the consequences.
When both of those circumstances converged, my heart began to be drawn towards the community of our local church. Eventually, I found myself as the on staff “church guy,” and I am so grateful for it. The community of people I work with has been an incredible foundation for me as I have seen my marriage and family grow. I tried to run from it, but I am so thankful God led me back to the local church.
North Point has its own record label, as an artist and a worship leader what has been the benefits of taking that route for your own music?
I was drawn to North Point Music because I know and trust the people in leadership at the label. We have gotten to know each other over the last five years, and they have continually reinforced the values of family and local community, which are extremely important to me. They value my roles as a husband, father, and minister, and they are trying to find ways to find success in the music industry without compromising those things.
The path to success in the music business seems to be stuck in a one-size-fits-all strategy: get a record deal, make a record, travel 200-250 days per year to sell that record, repeat. As worship music has become more mainstream in the Christian music industry, it has begun to follow the same trend, and worship leaders are starting to become less and less plugged in to the community and accountability of a local church. For most people, especially those with families at home, this kind of lifestyle is just not sustainable. I’ve seen it tear marriages apart, and the aftermath is heartbreaking. I feel like there has to be another path, a path that protects family and community. The people at North Point Music are committed to trying to find that path, and I feel pretty lucky to be a part of that team.
Atlanta seems to be a thriving area for music in the worship genre, can you shed some light on what is happening there and why there seems to be such a collection of talent in this realm?
There are definitely tons of talented people living in Atlanta. I’m constantly blown away by the community of songwriters and worship leaders that is growing larger every day. I’m sure there’s some kind of sociological explanation for it all, but at the end of the day we all know that just behind Tebow’s Jets, the Braves are God’s second-favorite team. I’m sure it has something to do with that.
There are multiple themes in Kings and Queens but there seems to be a predominant one of God remaining faithful in difficult times, why do you think this is an important truth for people to hear?
Difficult times are a part of everyone’s story. If you think back in your life and point to the situations that really shaped who you are as a person, typically you point to the hardest moments of your life. They are part of the human experience, and whether we know it or not all of us are wrestling with the tension between heaven and earth. We are caught in the “second Exodus,” delivered from death through Christ, but not yet in the promised land.
So the question becomes, “what do we do while we live in the desert?” Perhaps more importantly, “why does God rescue us spiritually, but leave us in the middle of a broken world? Why not skip that step and move us straight to the end of the story?” About two years ago, God began answering those questions for me, and my worldview turned completely upside-down. All of a sudden, I began seeing that the gospel is more than just an evacuation plan from earth. It is a story that began in the garden, where heaven and earth were joined together, and because of Jesus it will end with heaven and earth joined together again in the finished work of new creation. As followers of Christ, we aren’t just biding our time on earth until the final rescue comes. Instead, we are part of that new creation, part of the kingdom of God. As God changes us into his image, he is bringing that kingdom to life here on earth, both in and through us.
When I began to see the world through that lens, pain took on a whole different meaning for me. It isn’t something to be avoided or discouraged by. What is more, pain is not something God just helps us endure, like a drug or an anesthetic. Pain is a reminder that what started in the garden is not complete. It is the place where God is most at work in our lives, rooting out the old and bringing new creation to life. It is the beautiful mess, where God is bringing heaven into the here and now. For me, this was a life-changing thought, and I hope through these songs it can be that for someone else as well.
Your new record seems able to express deep emotion as well as profound thought yet still stay in the relatively accessible pop realms with music and melody, what are the key aspects to creating successful Christian music that isn’t filled with platitudes?
First of all, thank you for saying that, it means a ton to me. I’m a big believer that songs can be powerful “truth-carriers,” but finding a way to combine truth and beauty is a constant struggle for me. I wrote dozens of songs for this record that no one will ever hear, largely because I was trying to write songs people would like, trying to write a “hit.” Writing a “hit” worship song is such a comical idea, but it’s something I always find myself trying to do, and it never works. The songs always end up using the same tired phrases, with little passion and emotion.
When I was about to give up in this process, my wife told me to write about what was really going on in my life, to write songs from my mess instead of trying to create something perfect. That’s when I felt like things finally clicked and I began writing songs I was proud of. Someone once told me to “lead from your limp,” and I think that’s probably true of songwriting as well. As long as I write from the real places of my life, as broken as they may be, what comes out will always be more powerful than the formula-song. It may not be as widely understood, it may not even work in my church (most of my songs don’t!), but it will be real, and at the end of the day that’s what people seem to be most drawn to.
Of course, in order to write songs from your mess you have to be willing to dive into it yourself. These songs may seem pretty, but they come from countless long nights, tearful conversations, counselor’s appointments and desperate prayers. Without opening your box and digging through the mess we all try to hide, there’s not a lot worth writing about. If you seem stuck writing the same phrases over and over again, call a counselor and be honest for a few hours. You’ll have plenty of stuff to write about!
Which songs from the record are people responding the most to in your church?
We have been using “Here and Now” on Sunday mornings at our church for a while now. To be honest, it is a tricky song to sing, but it is like a manifesto on what our church is all about. We lean toward the “outsider,” and doing that in a worship service can be very difficult. This song is something that hopefully will make sense even to someone who is skeptical about the church. My hope is that someone who walks in for the first time would listen to the lyrics of that song and instantly understand why we exist as a church, and hopefully they will be drawn to the grace and mercy we sing about.
“Have Your Way” is a hymn that we are beginning to sing on Sunday mornings. It’s not the typical song for us, it doesn’t have two verses, a building bridge, down chorus and a super-emotional finish. It’s meant to be simple, sing-able, and full of truth. My hope is that it grabs some of the magic of the old “praise choruses” we used to sing, songs that weren’t complicated but were powerful in their simplicity.
The funny thing is, there are several songs on this record that aren’t meant to be used in a corporate worship setting at all, and oddly enough they are some of my favorite songs on the project. As a worship leader, I think some people might find that a little odd, especially in today’s music culture where “worship records” are the norm. I consider this collection of songs a worship record, but I hope it can be worshipful in several different ways. My hope is that some people will interact with these songs in a church environment through a powerful, corporate experience. Others, I hope, will connect with the music in a more individual way, maybe in their car or in a quiet personal moment. Sometimes those personal moments can be incredible life-shaping experiences where we meet God in the beauty and simplicity of a story that reminds us of our own. Either way, my prayer is that these songs will help stir hearts and shape thinking toward the story of God.