Casting Crowns’ music stays grounded in ordinary daily struggles

Mark Hall isn’t one to short shrift his faith either in his music or where he and his band go on tour. Hall is the lead singer for the popular Christian rock band Casting Crowns, which is currently on its summer tour–a tour in which they typically perform two concerts a week with some off weeks in between. If that doesn’t sound like the ordinary summer concert tour that’s completely by design. Hall and his band mates are all involved in ministry in the Atlanta area. That makes the band truly unique beyond its lyrics that exhort listeners to examine their relationship with Jesus. “I’m about as out of the loop as you can be and still be in the loop of the music business,” Hall said. “We are in Atlanta every Sunday through Wednesday and on the road on the weekends. That’s entirely by design so we stay connected to our ministries and our families here. I’m not a music business whiz by any means. For us, just making music and being in a band is a process God brought about is His own way.” Indeed, the way Casting Crowns rose to recognition is anything but typical. Mark Miller, lead singer for country music band Sawyer Brown, was introduced to Casting Crowns by a friend who had heard the band through local gigs in the Atlanta area. Miller was so impressed when he heard their music, he ended up telling Provident Label Group President Terry Hemmings and Christian music icon Steve Curtis Chapman. From there the ball quickly got rolling that turned Casting Crowns from a local independent band to nationally recognized artists. “The way music is out there has changed rapidly,” Hall said. “Now a teenager is finding way more music online than on the radio and it is definitely changing the way record companies are approaching the business. There are a lot more grass-roots efforts and more independent bands which can be heard, and that is a very good thing. “To me as a believer and a musician, I feel church is a place to go out from and share a message. Our goal is that music is plate with meat served on it, and that meat is the relationship with Christ as a calling and a ministry.” Casting Crowns did have to set aside a huge chunk of touring time for a trip to a country few Americans have visited and know much about outside of power politics in North Korea. In April, the band played at the Spring Friendship Arts Festival for the second time, a follow-up to a similar trip in 2007. Hall said they went in conjunction with Global Resource Services, an aid organization with provides food and medical assistance to the North Korean people with the blessing of the government. “The first time we went, there was a lot apprehension going in, it’s not like there’s not a lot of people you can call upon and say, ‘Hey, what’s it like in North Korea?’,” Hall said. “As soon as it became a real possibility it was going to happen, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. As believers, to go where we can go and love people and help meet their need, that’s what we’ll do. To me that’s what Jesus does.” Hall said the relationship-building Global Resource Services has done with the regime of dictator Kim Jong-Il to directly serve people outstrips the country’s strained political relationship with much of the world. “Any pushback we got was definitely not from believers, “Hall said. “There were a few things in the mainstream press and some bloggers out there, but in my mind if you can go to a dark place and help a people who were tremendously gracious, that is worth it. It’s not about, that hey Casting Crowns think this form of government is awesome, it’s about serving real people. “If our visit helps create more opportunities for cultural understanding and more opportunities to serve, then it serves a real purpose. North Korea is a giant dark spot on the map to most people and if you realize that, hey, they’re not in the best situation over and you can help facilitate them getting some help. That is an argument I would love to walk through with anyone.” Unlike the 2007 trip, Hall brought his wife Melanie and their two daughters, who were taken aback at an appearance at an 80,000-seat stadium where Kim Jong-Il was in attendance. “This huge crowd starting applauding with giddiness and laughter at the sight of the girls, to see American kids,” Hall recalled. “It was so loud it was scary to them at first we had to reassure them it was OK, they like you.” Building bridges domestically to a secular audience would be great, Hall said. And even if that may be a challenge for Casting Crowns, other bands who try to shouldn’t be criticized for their motives. “This is an unusual argument for me,” Hall said. “I’ve heard many believers say that crossing over to reach a larger audience somehow is selling out. I understand where they’re coming from, but I look at like a doctor. His job may be doctoring here, but say he goes over to Africa and mends limbs in another culture where you’re making that kind of connection in what you do. “I know a lot of Christian artists that wish the mom in the van or the dad at the construction site could hear this song or that. There are a lot of ways to get the Gospel across, and when I hear songs in the mainstream that are trying to that, that’s great. I think a lot of energy in Christian circles is wasted by trying to figure out why somebody is doing something. If you just listen to the music and see how it’s trying to reach people, that’s when something could really happen.” Having been working hands-on with ministry for the last 18 years–and still doing so–Hall stays grounded in the day-to-day struggles ordinary people face that is reflected in Casting Crowns’ lyrics, he said. A brief example is title cut off last year’s “The Altar and the Door,” talking about how allegiance to Jesus is easy in church surrounded by fellow Christians contrasted to a secular culture which points people in a several different directions. “To be around real people all the time and to see them at the lowest and highest places of their lives allows us to write out of transparency. I had an interview once where the lady asked me if our music wasn’t just preaching to the choir. To me, that’s what the Bible calls discipleship. We’ve been blessed to be able to ask questions through our music that we can use as part of what our calling is.” Last year the band released the Christmas album “Peace on Earth,” which covered classics along with original material. There is never a shortage of new holiday music every year, but Hall saw the band filling a need. “It was really kind of selfish,” Hall chuckled. “I’m the guy radio stations start playing Christmas music for on Thanksgiving 24 hours a day and go all the way through January 2nd. I love it. “If you’re listening to Christmas music on a mainstream station, you’re not going to hear ‘Away in a Manger’ or ‘Silent Night’ anymore. To me it was more about injecting something back into the culture that has been disappearing. If you can sing a song in a different way that an adult hasn’t heard since they were a kid, they may ponder that and get something out of it instead of the music just becoming ambient noise in the background.” An author in his own right, Hall is releasing “Your Own Jesus” later this summer, meant to be an encouraging story of how to overcome life’s daily challenges to grow into a relationship with God. On the music front, the band will release its new album in November. Hall publicly revealed the album’s title for the first time to Everyday Christian. It will be named “Until the Whole World Hears.” “It’s all really sort of coming together all at once,” Hall said of the album. “We all know about the Great Commission to come together in love and spread our faith as believers. To be able to do that first we have to be walking closely with Jesus ourselves to be able to know God well enough to introduce people to Him.” And as a youth minister, Hall sees that faith walk challenge coming up most in leading adolescents to a relationship with Christ as they transition into the adult world. “What we have to do as a church is to get kids involved in living out their faith through service and in belief,” Hall said. “I’m very passionate about this. Why you see kids drifting away from church is so often they’ll be sitting and talking that what they’re learning about God is really cool. Then many of them will go to college as part of a new audience where the purpose spiritually is to tear their brain in half and rip Jesus out of their lives. “As believers we have to show our kids and ourselves that we have to get up out of the chairs and put out words into actions that are meaningful.” Links: Casting Crowns: http://www.castingcrowns.com/ Casting Crowns music on iTunes: Casting Crowns

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