So many of you have placed great faith in me, and for that I am incredibly grateful. For some I am only a familiar face, or ‘that guy with the guitar’ or maybe something else. Whatever your opinion of me, I want to offer a brief glimpse into me; an introduction:
My wife says I’m complex.
I can’t disagree with her.
I confuse myself sometimes.
I often live in contradictions.
And yet I mostly live at peace.
I was raised to appreciate traditions. But I found myself early on questioning why we do the things we do; what value do these traditions hold for my life? When I was thirteen years old, beside a river in Tuscumbia, I felt the pull of God’s kind request to serve Him in ministry. At that age, I had no idea what that meant. I really thought I was going to be a rockstar (for Jesus, of course). I would stay up late drawing and dreaming about the amazing concerts I and my band would perform, and the accolades we’d receive. I got a Karaoke machine for Christmas one year and drove my parents crazy with my private, “intimate” performances every night. I have to say, as fans go, they were very loyal. And as critics go, let’s just say, they were honest. I went on to form bands and singing groups and beg to open for local acts at some area concerts. If you ever see any of the early videos, please don’t tell me. Just have a good laugh and carry on.
After High School, I traveled a bit in the South playing my guitar (or borrowing somebody’s guitar when I couldn’t afford to replace my broken strings) and singing my songs for anybody who’d be kind enough to stay around. I made a few friends in the Tidewater area of the Virginia coast. Some of them surfers, some hippies, a Muslim guy who stole my girlfriend and became my best friend then came to know Christ one night on a pier after some really tough decisions about his family, and a guy who raised chickens and cooked them up fresh every Friday.
I moved back to Alabama in 1997 and found myself looking for a place to belong. I found a roommate and got an apartment and found some people like me to hang out with. They were Bible College students who were mostly studying to become pastors in some capacity. I started attending classes with them and they invited me to assist them leading the college ministry worship times. A few months later, a local record producer offered to record my first album and then I went on the road again. It sounds more glam than it actually was. It was me some boxes of CDs and tapes and my little, old 1984 Honda CR-X. I was picked up by an R&B boy-band called ColourBlind as an opening act and eventually was absorbed into the group as the rhythm guitarist (and by some strange luck, became the tour manager). We made a good run for three years and then it was over. The leader of the band was hired by some big church in Ohio and never looked back. I see him every now and again on the Televangelist channel on cable but that’s about it.
I served three churches after that, helping to either start or enhance music programs and twice I’ve gotten to help plant an entirely new church altogether. Those were without a doubt the most rewarding seasons in my ministry timeline to date. We started with zero and within months were flourishing with 100+ members regularly attending and a growing reputation in this college community in West Alabama. I was courted by a larger church in Birmingham and in the course of things, went through some very traumatic life events and developed a very distinct distaste for the modern church. There was a lot of hurt for many months that kept me distant from anything that even remotely resembled ministry. But even through the pain, I knew that my departure would be temporary.
I started researching the spiritual condition of the Birmingham Metro area with the hope of uncovering the reasons why we seem so devoted to our faith and yet so disconnected from each other. It was during this time that I realized there are more than 400,000 people in this city who have no affiliation with ANY religious organization whatsoever. Which then made me ask, “Why not? What is it about religion that leads people to believe it is an unnecessary element to life?” And what I found is that my generation and the generation behind me (we call ourselves Millennials) feels that church offers nothing relevant to life in the post-consumer, eco-minded, economically-squeezed here and now and thereafter and only wastes time that could be spent with family and friends or other pursuits. I can relate. Dear God, I can relate. But what do we do about this? How do we continue to tell our story of faith if they don’t come to our building and sit in our (expensive) pews? And even deeper… Why do we keep building these expensive buildings if half a million people in our city never cross the threshold? Who is it for? Why does it matter? Isn’t God present everywhere? Does he hide when the lights go out at the church house? Is he afraid of the dark? Are you kidding me? And yet we keep ignoring the great need… “Go into your world and give them some good news.”
I believe in a church that engages community. We cannot remain in the pews. This story belongs in the public houses and coffee shops. It’s a story of unashamed love of people (whom God created in His image) for who they are right where they are without requiring them to look like us. There is so much need right here in the cities in which we live. So many who need to know they aren’t forgotten. It is our responsibility to wrap our arms around them. We are called to justice. To uphold the rights of the abandoned. To cover the vulnerable and protect the innocent. This isn’t somebody else’s job. It is mine. It is ours.