Pruitt is directing his congregation in that prayerful direction, and while that may seem like a common approach, it is in one of the most uncommon of circumstances.
Pruitt and his wife Robin are pastors at Faith Builders International Ministries in Milwaukee, the home church of Danny Gokey. Gokey was voted Wednesday into the league of the top 12 finalists on the popular Fox reality show “American Idol”, joining a long line of successful Christian contestants in the competition’s eight seasons.
Gokey made it to the finals amid some of the most difficult personal tragedy imaginable. Last year, Gokey’s wife Sophia died during heart surgery despite only being given about a 10 percent chance of complications by her doctors, according to Pruitt. Gokey has started Sophia’s Heart Foundation in her memory to create resources for scholarships, music education and poverty assistance.
At the time Gokey was Praise and Worship Director for Faith Builders, which boasts a congregation of about 2,100 between its campuses in Milwaukee and the southern Wisconsin town of Beloit.
“I tell people that no matter what happens on ‘American Idol’, he’s already a major hero to us,” Pruitt explained in a phone interview with Everyday Christian. “This was a man who led the praise and worship at his wife’s funeral. That’s something he did on his own, not something he was asked to do. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
“At no point during that time did he turn his back on God.”
Gokey came to Faith Builders shortly after the ministry had come to Milwaukee itself. Pruitt’s parents were pastors in Beloit and he served as Praise and Worship director while his wife managed the children’s ministries. After receiving what he called “a clarion call from the Lord” he expanded the church to Milwaukee in 1999.
In 2000, Gokey began getting involved in the church and in November 2001 he became the music director.
“It was obvious back then that he had such talent that I had to say, ‘Take this, it’s yours,’ “Pruitt said.
Gokey’s level of talent also struck home with Pruitt when he was watching “American Idol” himself two years ago.
“I remember watching ‘American Idol’ with Robin and telling her I could so easily see Danny being on the show,” Pruitt said. “In a way, I didn’t want to think about it because I knew what it would mean to the church, but to me it was just the Lord working in what needed to happen.”
What happened was Gokey coming to Pruitt last year before Sophia’s surgery seeking his permission to attend the Kansas City “Idol” auditions.
“He had talked with Sophia and came to me and was very tentative and nervous,” Pruitt said. “I remember him saying, ‘Pastor, if you really don’t want to do this, I won’t.’ There was no way I was going to deny him that chance.”
That chance turned out to be crucial for Gokey as he was wrestling with grief.
“Before the tryout he said, ‘I don’t know if I have it in me to go.’ We encouraged him. My thinking was that no matter what happens is that it could help him have a vision and hope and something to move into. Now, of course, the rest is history.”
Because of the show’s popularity, Gokey will be recognized wherever he goes and his life in a very short period of time has taken an incredible turn.
“Now you will see and hear his name all over the place,” Pruitt said. “It’s already starting. I talked to him on Tuesday and he is so grateful that he is in a really good place. Seven months ago he buried his wife and was at the lowest point in his life. Now look where he is.
“He’s truly a man of the Gospel. He loves the Lord and the position He’s put him in.”
Gokey’s journey will be aided by fellow Faith Builders musician Jamar Rogers, who also made it to the Hollywood round of “American Idol” but was eliminated when the 36 semifinalists were selected. Rogers and Gokey’s friendship was highlighted on the show and Pruitt said that friendship was a stabilizing force after Sophia’s death.
“Jamar is another guy like Danny that follows God in what he does,” Pruitt said. “I’m so happy for both of them. He was right there for Danny during some very dark times.”
No matter how far Gokey advances on the show, Pruitt is confident he will remain grounded in his faith.
“As Christians, we know when God tells us to do certain things,” he said. “Danny felt a calling to try this and do this.”