Mark Hall started writing songs 17 years ago when he first became a student pastor. He had no plans to sing professionally; he and his youth band recorded CDs solely for students to use in their witnessing. About five years ago, one of the CDs made its way to Mark Miller of the country group Sawyer Brown, and Miller called Hall to propose a recording. Since then, Casting Crowns has topped the Billboard charts with songs like “Voice of Truth,” “Who Am I” and “Praise You In This Storm.”
The seven-member band travels Thursday through Saturday, returning to lead worship in their respective churches on Sunday. After a recent Franklin Graham Festival, Hall spoke with Decision about his heart for ministry.
Q: How did your walk with Christ begin?
When I was about 7 and we were living in Montgomery, Ala., the Vacation Bible School parade came through our neighborhood, with kids inviting everybody to come. My parents let me go, and the church followed up. They came and visited my family, and my dad ended up being saved shortly after that. He joined the church, started singing solos and became a deacon and Sunday school teacher. When I was about 9, I asked Jesus to save me on a Sunday morning.
For years, I leaned on other people’s friendship with Jesus. When I was with the youth group, Christ felt more real. If I was with the pastor, I could lean on his walk with God. Then I began to realize that I needed to read the Bible for myself, and when I did I began having moments where it was just me and Jesus–not a preacher telling me what Jesus said, not someone else telling me–it was Jesus telling me, through His Word. My relationship with Christ became more of an everyday friendship, and then everyday things started mattering more, like the movies I watched, the music I listened to, the way I handled conflict. The more personal my friendship with the Lord grew, the more unprivate all the little private parts of my life became. What I put in my head mattered. The motives behind what I did mattered. I started to feel God asking me: “Are you doing these things to be seen? Or are you doing them for My glory because you love Me?”
Q: What is the message of Casting Crowns?
I would say No. 1 is that God wants to have a personal relationship with you, and the only way to Him is Jesus. The second message is He wants to have a daily walk with you. And No. 3, He’s given you gifts, and those gifts are for the ministry that He has for you. That ministry is in the world; that ministry is in the church; that ministry is in your family.
Q: What is your heart cry for the church?
For years we have struggled to get believers out of the pews and into small groups because we know that is better for relationships. But we also know that a person can be in a room with eight people and go quiet and get lost. I think one-on-one discipleship, like what Paul had in Timothy’s life, is something we ought to strive for. If you look at the beginning of the Second Epistle to Timothy, before Paul starts his charge of what Timothy needs to do, he goes down a discourse of everything that he knows about Timothy’s life. He knows Timothy’s parents, his grandmother. He knows the people in Timothy’s church. He’s spent time with Timothy; he’s proud of him; he approves of him. That kind of stuff can’t happen in a small group alone.
Q: Your new Christmas album has a song that says “peace on earth is not out of reach.” What does that mean?
The song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on a poem called “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was written in the middle of the Civil War, when he didn’t feel like there was any hope of the war being over. During that time he also lost his wife. Christmas came around and these bells started ringing. He knew what the bells meant; they meant the same thing they did every year, that there’s peace on earth and goodwill to men. But this year the bells didn’t sound the same and Longfellow started thinking, I don’t think there is peace on earth. There’s hate and war, and all of this just mocks the sound of the bells.
Suddenly it dawned on him that God doesn’t sleep, nor does He slumber. He is with us and He’s in control. He knows the plans He has for us, and He is going to bring those plans about.
As I began to write new music for the song, I began having the same kinds of thoughts that Longfellow did. And God reminded me of what Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble.” We can expect it. But Jesus also said: “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV). He said, “My peace I give you” (John 14:27, NIV). It’s a peace that the world can’t give. It’s a peace that passes all understanding.
God began showing me that there’s peace on earth because His spirit dwells in His people, and His people are here. God has put His peace in me, so when I go to work, I’m taking peace to work. When I go to school, I’m taking peace to school. I sang at a funeral at our church today and when I walked into that funeral, I took peace into the room because Jesus is in me. We’ve got to see it that way and understand that circumstances are going to be dark; there’s going to be war, there’s going to be all of these different things, but when we walk into a room or when we walk into a situation, peace is there because the God of peace lives in us.