Joshua Swanson: Not many of our guests have been able to say they toured with the likes of the Counting Crows, The Foo Fighters, Sheryl Crow, and Ziggy Marley, and then ended up leading in a church in the least Evangelical state in the country. But that’s a part of our guest Steele Croswhite’s story on today’s episode of The Walk; a Devotionals podcast for worshippers.
Here we go.
Steele Croswhite: Hey, my name is Steele Croswhite. I am a pastor and worship director of a church in Draper called, the Rock Church and I oversee a ministry called the Rock Music. I am so excited to be here with you today. I wanted to share with you guys a bit about having passion for your local church, a bit about laying your dreams down for the local church. But before I get into that, I really just want to share with you a bit about who I am.
Like I’ve already mentioned, I’m a pastor and worship director at a church, but that is not how my life started. I grew up in a very musical home. My dad in the 1960s played with really cool bands as a musician with the Rolling Stones and the Kinks and the Kingsmen, and even when he was a younger man, he was on the same radio show as Elvis Presley.
Needless to say, there was tons of music in my home and it gripped me at a very young age. Starting at the age of five, I was in talent shows, and by the age of 15, I was leading my own secular band all around Salt Lake City, Utah, and my dad being my best friend and seeing, what he would call talent in me became my band manager around age 17.
Uh, by about age 19, I was selling out shows regionally in a band that I was singing for and playing guitar for, and writing songs for and, uh, there was a lot of opportunity for me then. M ydad being our manager, got us involved in some great showcases, and uh, the time came where I was about 19, 20 years old, where we went to a showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada, to open up for a number of different bands at the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino. And, uh, we got there about four days early to do some promotion as bands liked to do. And, uh, the night before the show that we were going to play, there was a lot of buzz about it. There were a lot of record execs that were coming and important who’s, who’s coming to our show. And my dad suddenly passed away.
We decided all through that trauma to play a show anyway, kind of in his honor. And so we played this show the day after he had passed away and it’s a little bit like a movie, you know, all of these people were in, uh, the club and there was all this buzz and we came out and we played our set and the next thing you know, there were all these people offering us, um, record deals and booking agencies and publicity, and I had just kind of fallen into this place where all of a sudden I was 19, 20 years old and I had all this opportunity before me, but behind me was this tragedy that had happened with my dad.
I remember that night walking off stage and seeing all of these people, and it really was like a movie wanting to meet with me, fly me out to Los Angeles, fly me out to Nashville, to take me places that I hadn’t really been, and underneath it all was this incredible anger at God, incredible sadness because I had lost my dad.
And really just to be honest with you guys, as the audience here,, I spun out of control. I opened up my life to a lot of immorality, opened up my life to a lot of drug problems, and alcohol problems. And, um, in the midst of that though, I signed a record deal at the age of 21 and was suddenly thrust into the radio, uh, world and had some great songs on, you know, the billboard charts and was touring with people that I had only read about, uh, with the, like the Foo Fighters and Maroon Five and Cheryl Crowe and Ziggy Marley and all these amazing bands, and we were in a bus and then on an airplane and, uh, there was a lot of success in, uh, the, the world of music, that’s kind of what I had always wanted to be, that’s what I had grown up thinking about. That’s what I had basically been trained for, for the age of five, I felt like I had, I had, I had honored my dad who had passed away suddenly as he was our manager. And really all those things were being kind of checked off in my life, but underneath it, there was this incredible sadness, this out of control partying, this desire for more fame and I had been on a tour for about five months, maybe five or six months, and it was a huge tour just night after night and you know, place after place on the bus. And my sister, who is to this day my best friend. I came off this tour and she saw me and by this time, you know,, I was about 110 pounds overweight from alcohol and addiction and I was a mess.
And she saw me and she said to me, she said, “Steele, what are you doing? You need to get to church.” And I thought, I’m not, I am not going to church. The last place on earth I need to go is a church. And she said, “no, no, no. There’s this brand new church. It’s really, really small. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You can come as you are. Uh, it, it’s on Saturday nights, and you should come.” And I was like, “I’m not gonna go do that.” She said, “I’ll tell you what, you can come and I’ll, and you can smoke cigarettes out front, and when we’re done, I’ll take you out and we can get some beer in nachos.”
And I thought, okay, well, a church that I can smoke cigarettes out in front of and the promise for beer afterwards, I don’t think I could pass that up.
So here I was, uh, in my 20s, 23, 24, somewhere around there. And, uh, I came to this church and I do not know how to explain it. I, it was, it was meeting in this small rec room. Uh, there were mirrors on the wall. It was a weight room Monday through Friday and on Saturday evening, they transformed it with folding chairs and some curtains and some, you know, small sound system and, uh, turned it into a church service.
And as I was standing there, there was a small band, kind of a contemporary band. Now, keep in mind, I had been playing with some of the best musicians really on the planet and, uh, I saw these guys, you know, they were, they were drumming and they were singing and they were certainly passionate about who they were singing to and when the music was over, the guy got off the drum set and walked over and started teaching about grace.
Well, come to find out, that was the pastor of the church. And guys, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced anything like this before, but it was like a light switch went off in my heart. Suddenly in this moment it was like, “oh my goodness if God is and this is real. What am I doing with my life?”
Joshua Swanson: When we come back, Steele makes a choice that will drastically change the trajectory of his life.
As some of you know, we’ve been running a historic worship event called the National Worship Leader Conference for over 20 years. A lot of you listening were first introduced to Worship Leader Magazine through the conference, and we get asked all the time when we’re bringing it back.
Well, the answer is, soon. Very soon. We’ve been hard at work since our last conference in 2021, completely revamping the format, the topics, and the experience of our conference, and we can’t wait to announce our upcoming slate of events. If you’re interested in being the first to know, go to worshipleader.com/conference and throw us your email address. That’s worshipleader.com/conference.
Okay, back to Steele.
Steele Croswhite: Well, I had about three months off and I started hanging out with my sister and I started hanging out with her friends that, by the way, this sounds so judgmental cuz it was, but I just thought they were kind of nerdy. You know? They weren’t the same kind of people that I was used to hanging out with.
They would play cards and watch innocent movies and go out and not get trashed and they would just care for each other and, and I started meeting with this pastor who was this drummer of this church, and he would tell me, You know, your life is, is worth so much more than what you’re doing right now. And he would, he would lean into, you know, do you think that if, if God handpicked you, that what you’re doing right now is fulfilling what he would want you to do?
There was another show that was coming up by this time I, in this three month period, I had started going to this little church called The Rock Church and, uh, The Counting Crows were coming into town. And, uh, we got asked to open up for the band, The Counting Crows here in Utah and I invited this pastor, his name is Bill, to come to the show, to the show.
There was about 16, 17,000 people there and I remember walking out on stage and, and and saying, you know, like, “hello Utah.” And the arena just lit up and we played our set and, and I got off and there was this great set and the pastor was there and he gave me a great big hug. And he had known that God was working on my life. And, uh, he said, “Steele, can I just tell you what I was thinking?” And I said, sure. He said, “all I could think about was what it would be like if you brought that smile on the stage for a local church.”
I should mention at this time that really there was no background for me to, to play music in a church. The pastor had asked me, “Hey, maybe you can start singing for us and leading for us.” And I thought, oh, I, I guess I can give it a shot. I mean, I was used to playing in these, these arenas and used to playing in these huge places and I just started playing guitar in this church and I realized, oh my goodness, this is what my life is supposed to be about. I’m supposed to love Jesus and use my gift and use my talent for the local church.
Utah is the least evangelical state in the country. In other words, it’s less than 3% of Bible believing Christians. You probably do know if you’ve heard the word Utah or Salt Lake City before that the predominant religion is LDS, Latter Day Saint, or Mormon. And there are just so many sweet,, loving, caring Mormon people in this state, but they do not understand the grace of Jesus Christ.
The very thing that grips me still to this day, they have probably by this time, if they’re walking into our church, had an experience with a system of religion that has burned them from wanting to know God. In fact, our motto in our Church at the Rock is, are you interested in God, but not religion? And so what we’ve tried to build in, not just as a pastoral leadership team, but even in the music itself, is this big idea that, look, we are truly, really passionate for the Lord and for his grace.
And in that there, there was a God-given idea. I remember it was 2007, so quite some time ago, I had gone away on, uh, what we call out here among our staff called a Dog Day, Day Away with God, and I had gone away and just wanted to hear God’s heart for maybe what this ministry could be. This music ministry.
I had by this time, uh, recorded and released two of my own original albums inside of the church. I was in, um, a little condo and up in the mountains and I was praying and I was singing. And not to sound dramatic because it wasn’t that, it wasn’t a dramatic moment, but I remember very specifically feeling very impressed upon my heart to lay flat on the ground. And I laid flat on the ground and I sensed that the Lord said, said this, “Steele, I want to use you to raise up the best bands in the world, known for loving me to come out of the local church.”
It was like a weighted blanket came over the top me. Suddenly it wasn’t about me, future, it wasn’t about Steele’s songs. It was about the church. It was about other musicians being able to come into a local church and use their gifts and their talents and their styles and their songwriting ability to win the very people that God had brought into this church in the least Bible believing state in the country.
I started playing music and, on Saturdays and on Sundays, and God was bringing these musicians in. And a lot of them had this background of, you know, other bands or things and it was just love them, love them, and, and give them a vision for the local church. “Buddy, listen, I know you want to go out and play in the bars. I know you want to go out and play on big stages, but I’ll tell you what, a life on fire for Jesus…they will come here to watch you burn for Jesus.”
It was about them being used by God for their local church. Them using their songwriting style. By God’s grace, our pastors are so amazing. They haven’t told us that you have to have a certain style of music in the church.
What they’ve said is we want a culture of worship, which of course is what we want too. But with that kind of freedom, suddenly if a guy came in and he was really good at alt country music, we could use that gifting for him to write songs and play songs that are, that are familiar with the church, but also write his own in that style.
And so we’ve very much tried to keep and create a culture among our worship leaders and musicians to stay within that boundary of how God created them. Not everybody needs to sound like the other worship team. There’s something unique, there’s something exciting about what they bring to their weekend worship, but we have tried to target them.
Listen, write songs for the church. Your audience is not a faceless, nameless person. Your audience isn’t even the world and their entertainment. Your audience is, who did God bring to this church? What is happening in the life of our church? So as songwriters and musicians, pick your sets around that theme. Write your songs around that theme.
Uh, our most re recent song that we released just a, a few weeks ago, or last week, is called Mercy. And again, our audience is about people coming into the church who have been so accustomed to shame, they have been so used to being beaten down by this version of an angry God, that we were able to, through, through the, through the Gospel and what we see in Jesus and through the book of Isaiah, write a song about the suffering servant, the Lord who is merciful, that he will not put out a flickering candle. He will not crush down the weakest reed. That there is mercy, and that song has been like lightning in our congregations.
I think why I’m sharing this is because brothers and sisters, God is bringing people to your church. It doesn’t matter if it is what, what the world would define as a megachurch or if what you would think is a small church, it just doesn’t matter. God has handpicked these people to come to your church because they need the love, the grace, the truth of Jesus. And my encouragement, and again, it’s only from my own life, is to be a worship leader or musician who sees that and who knows that God has brought maybe that one person, that one family, and be praying for those people as they come into church and to be thinking about the songs that you’re playing for those people, for Jesus that are being brought into the church.
But also if you know that God has brought somebody week in and week out to hear the love of God. To hear songs that reflect the grace and love and wonder of God, challenge yourself, and I’m sure you do, but continue to challenge yourself to be excellent. Memorize your music. Try your hand at writing some songs. Be rehearsed in the best way that you know how while still keeping your eyes on Christ. If you’re in a worship setting and you’ve got an acoustic guitar and a cajon, that is enough because God said that is enough. If you’re in a church that has the best musicians you have ever seen, oh my goodness, then use them to all of your might knowing that God picked them and God picked the people he’s bringing to this church, to be softened with the truth and the grace and the music that reflects who Jesus is.
But I do feel that the Lord has given us an idea, has given us maybe what you would call a word or what I would call a word to challenge our musicians, to challenge our worship leaders, to be the best bands in the world that are known for loving Jesus Christ. That’s what they’re known for, and that they would love God and that they would bless the saints with their talents. That it wouldn’t be about their fame, but that it would be about how can I be a brother or sister in this setting to bless the people God has brought to our church. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, and I trust the Lord is accomplishing his plan through us out here in Draper, Utah.
Let me pray for anybody who’s listening. Lord, I think of that Psalm 119 verse 74. It says, “may all who see me find in me a cause for joy.” Lord, I pray that over this audience. Every worship leader, every musician, and all of these wonderful, beautiful local churches, that they would be able to say, when people come into this church, they would see in me a reason for joy. We say that in your name, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Joshua Swanson: Thank you Steele for sharing your story and for your inspired call to action to bring our gifts and talents to our local church as an offering of praise and worship.
We’re gonna play out this episode with that song that Steele mentioned called, Mercy. As always, special thanks to Matt McCartie for producing and editing today’s episode. Jacob Fairclough produced our theme song. The Walk is brought to you by Worship Leader, which is an Authentic Media brand, and you can find out more about us at worshipleader.com. I’m Joshua Swanson. Here’s, Mercy.