Casting Crowns: On Music, Youth, Family, and the Church

By interview by Ann Marie Chilton   •   July 31, 2008

Seven-member band Casting Crowns is the highest ranked Christian music act of 2008.

But even with packed arenas and platinum records, the members of Casting Crowns remain grounded in daily life; they have to be at church on Sunday because every member of the band serves as a youth ministry worker.

Casting Crowns performed on the final night of the Lowcountry Franklin Graham Festival in Charleston, S.C., in September. Songwriter and lead vocalist Mark Hall took a moment to talk with us:

Q/ You’ve been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year for the past four years, and the band was the top winner of the night at the 2008 Gospel Music Awards. As the main songwriter for the band, tell us about your inspiration.

A/ I’ve been a youth pastor for 17 years, and I’ve been at Eagle’s Landing Baptist for seven of those. I’m just day-in, day-out, in the families’ lives here at our church and writing from those experiences.

Q/ So a lot of issues that you sing about are painful ones: extramarital affairs, the futility of the American dream, absentee parents. Tell us about your passion for these topics.

A/ As a youth pastor, you get a front row to the struggles in teenagers’ lives. I see one of the biggest struggles that teenagers are facing today is the family and the lack of a dad at home, not just a dad, but a dad that walks with God. It’s very few and far between to find teenagers that have that sort of foundation at home.

Q/ What do you think the basic problem is?

A/ It’s just the fruit of bad choices. … I think a lot of the problems that we have in our families and in marriages is there’s not a walk with Jesus. If [parents] don’t walk with God, suddenly, they’re empty, and they need somebody to fill them. People aren’t meant to fill you. They aren’t meant to complete you. That’s just a line in a movie; it’s not true.

Jesus has to fill me. When Jesus fills me, I can pour into my wife, I can pour into my children. What we’ve got are people that don’t have the source; Jesus is not their well. They’re getting married and they’re trying to draw from each other, and it’s not working. … We become passionate about the things that don’t matter, and passive about the things that matter most.

Q/ Your ministry, music, and views emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is the same message as the Franklin Graham Festival where you will perform this fall. Tell us what a relationship with Christ really means.

A/ The difference between a spiritual man and a physical man are so great. The physical man is not a bad man. He’s not trying to destroy himself. He wants to succeed. He wants to be happy. But he doesn’t have a compass pointing him in the right direction. So what the physical man does is he goes on his gut. … Being a spiritual man, being a believer, doesn’t make you better, but it gives you a compass, a direction to go.

When I understand what a relationship is with the God who created me, then I can start understanding what relationships with other people are supposed to be like. … Everything to me stems from that relationship with Jesus that has to be there first. There is no other root system that you grow into that allows you to reach out and do things without falling over.

Q/ As a person first commits his or her life to Jesus Christ, what do you think is a good first step for that person?

A/ First thing he should do is find another believer, maybe the friend who invited him. … As cool as this event is, this isn’t church. This is an event. We need a local body, a group of believers that we don’t hop around and visit every once in a while, but that we plug into. Once we have that group of believers, they can encourage us, they can live it out in front of us.

We need a pastor that preaches a relationship with God through Jesus, … and to learn that I haven’t finished something by asking God into my life; I’ve just started something. So now there’s a relationship that has to be grown. There’s a friendship through spending time in His Word, spending time with the church, with the Body of Christ, also discovering what your gifts are and your ministry.

Q/ That makes me think of your song If We Are the Body. The lyrics say, “If we are the Body/ Why aren’t His arms reaching?/ Why aren’t His hands healing?/ … Why is His love not showing them there is a way?”

The Lowcountry Franklin Graham Festival in Charleston is the result of more than 250 churches coming together. How can the Church better serve its purpose, which is to be the Body of Christ in a broken world?

A/ When we have an event of this size coming to your town, there needs to be prayer more than anything else. You definitely need to get the word out about what’s coming, but there’s got to be prayer.

“There needs to be prayer more than anything else …”

There’s got to be lying on the floor and begging God to do something that only He can do. It doesn’t take much to stir up emotions in a stadium, but emotions don’t even make it to the car. They don’t go home with you.

Follow up for something like this is so key. They need to have a net in their church to where people don’t just slip right through the cracks.

I think one of the biggest mission fields of the church is the little circles of friends and relationships of each member of that church: the one that we come home and live next to, people that we sit next to in a cubicle, people that are in the desk next to us at school.

That is the untapped, the untouched mission field in so many ways. … There’s a person right next to your cubicle that needs hope. But in many ways, we’re not as close to Jesus as we should be, and they know it.

Learn how to share the Gospel with the people around you »

Q/ So the band is made up of youth workers and youth pastors. Tell us why you love young people and why they’re such an important part of God’s kingdom.

A/ For me, it’s just that I’m doing the ministry that God has called me to; and when you finally discover the ministry that you’re here for, it becomes the coolest, best ministry ever. …

“Teenagers are honest …”

To me, I love it because teenagers are honest. You don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. It’s on their t-shirt or their notebook or their arm. It’s right out there. They crave relationships, and that is how God finds us. That’s what God seeks of us is relationship, so it’s a perfect match.

Q/ I read a statistic that said most people who make a lasting decision to follow Jesus Christ make that decision before they turn 18. What do you think is an important age for people to learn about faith?

A/ Sixth grade is a big year because they’re in middle school and everything changes. But I think that most crucial age is ninth grade because you had some sort of cool going for you in middle school–some kind of order to your life–and now all of a sudden you’re a nobody in a land of giants.

Ninth grade is dark. It seems to be that students have to start deciding, “What am I willing to do to have friends? Who am I willing to be?” At that moment they start looking around. They could conceivably change their entire look and wardrobe just to have a group to sit with at lunch. And I pray that doesn’t sound like I’m saying that they’re shallow, but for a teenager, friendships and relationships, that is the biggest asset in their lives. …

In those younger years, we will gravitate to where we are accepted, and that can mean dangerous things sometimes.

Get involved in the Billy Graham Dare to Be a Daniel ministry to tweens–students in grades five through nine »

Q/ I just watched music video of Slow Fade. Some of the lyrics say, “It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away/ Families never crumble in a day.” Tell us about that song.

A/ If you did watch the video you’ll notice that all of them are slowly kind of caving in, even the son. The son is making poor choices, the mom is disconnected, but it all really hinges back to dad. The point of the song is that people don’t just crash and burn. There’s not a crash and burn in a believer’s life. It’s a very slow process.

“In those younger years, we will gravitate to where we are accepted …”

Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on that he meditates day and night.” …

Melanie, my wife and I had a retreat recently for former students of ours who are now on staff in churches. There were about 40 of them who came to this retreat. Out of 40, there were three things that every one of them had:

Number one, there were parents at home who loved God and poured into them and agreed with the life they were trying to live. They were not perfect families, but they were at least believers.

The second thing they had going for them is that they were in some sort of ministry; they had something that they plugged into that was their own. It wasn’t showing up and watching Mark. It was something that they served in to where their gifts rose to the top, and they had a chance to lead.

And the third thing is they all had a one-on-one mentorship, a friendship with an adult that loved Jesus. Those are the three things that I’m seeing. Now this is from 17 years of doing it wrong and learning. These are the things that make a difference: a dad or a mom or someone at home that’s living for God; a ministry and serving and not just watching; and being mentored.

Casting Crowns performed with TobyMac and other talented artists at the Lowcountry Franklin Graham Festival, September 19-21, 2008. Read more »

Visit Casting Crowns’ site »