by Tracy Darlington
Casting Crowns Interview
us the music is never the point. It starts with the message. Music
is just the plate that the meat is served on."
With over 3 million albums sold and a Grammy under their belt, Casting Crowns is back with their album The Altar and the Door. We caught up with the group and Mark & Juan openly shared their hearts with us.
Tracy: How do you balance your youth ministry back home with traveling around in a band?
MARK HALL: I’m a youth pastor, but the ministry isn’t based on me. There are tons of people in our student ministry that we’ve given our ministry to. The high schoolers themselves run a lot of what we do. There are about 50 workers. I have a co-youth pastor that’s amazing. I would never have tried to do this unless he was in place. The Steven Curtis Chapman tour was the first time we went out serious hard core. The balance is really hard. There are times it really works well like when the tour kicks in. But when you’re recording? (Groans.) It’s tough. Really, really tough. If it was all on my shoulders there’s no way it would work.
JUAN DEVEVO: There’s a lot of prayer that goes into what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. We get a lot of e-mails from people who want to have a concert or a festival and reach the people of their town. We gotta balance that with whether we gotta be home for camp. Or be back at our church for Easter. Prayer is a big, big part of that.
What have you found to be the biggest reason teens and young adults have been slow to accept Christianity and accept having a church family?
MARK HALL: It’s what we’re communicating to the teenager. Sometimes all they get from us is what we’re against, and they don’t really know what we’re for. On the outside it looks like, “Hey, come to us and we’ll give you a new set of rules that you can’t follow.” Instead we should share that God is not a book. He’s a person. He loves you and wants to have a friendship with you. You need to come to this church not so we can keep up with you, but because we need to be together, we need to love on each other. We want to accept you, love you as you are, love you to a new level. I don’t know that that’s getting out there.
Sometimes in our zealousness of what we’ve learned we don’t understand why everybody else just doesn’t get it. And when they do come to church we want God to change their shirt before he changes their heart. “We’re glad you’re here, but I wish you wouldn’t talk like that or dress like that or act like that.” We want them to change their behavior first, and then we’ll discuss everything else when that’s not how it happened with us. It might be us as Christians that are running them off. The mixed message. It would be really cool to see somebody living it. Just see it work. When you break it down to a commercial you always want to know, “Does it work?” I’m not getting it if it doesn’t. Show me something that works. It starts with us.
What’s the biggest challenge today facing the Christian music industry?
MARK HALL: We live in Indiana. We’re not around the industry much! (Laughs.) On a business level, the Christian music world is small. The CD burning and the fact that music is being stolen out from under artists, in the name of ministry is a big problem. We get e-mails saying, “I love your music. I burned 60 of them and gave them to my kids...” That’s great, but most Christian bands we come in contact with are just barely making it. The whole glamor of a record label contract ... it’s basically a loan! (Laughs.) “Here. You go make a record and work it off. You’re going to live on t-shirt sales.” They’re really hurting out there trying to keep it going. And not all Christian radio covers the spectrum of music that's out there. I pray that we start understanding what burning a CD really does to some of these people. Because to them it’s just a CD. But they just got dropped from the label because they weren’t selling anything. But yet everybody listens to them. That’s weird. It can be tough.
JUAN DEVEVO: I’m not an industry guy, but I am a guy who travels on the road and plays in a band so my biggest challenge is staying focused on God’s call on my life. The biggest help for that is staying plugged into the church and some guys aren’t so able to keep in with the church. But if they’re plugged in, either with a tour pastor or some other kind of accountability to have that land line and stay secured to Jesus. That’s a big challenge to me, to stay walking with Christ. It’s easy to get up and tell your stories and sing your songs. You sit back down and you’re never saying anything new. And then the second cd comes out, and you’re scrambling in a van writing songs.
What would you say to teenagers who are disillusioned by the church and use para-church events as a substitute?
MARK HALL: I think that’s a huge trend, especially when they get into college. Instead of getting involved in church they just jump from moment to moment. There’s no accountability. You can go from excited to excited, but you gotta have a place where everybody knows you. They’ve heard your two or three cool spiritual things you know how to talk about in crowds, and they’re not impressed with it anymore. You gotta stretch and you gotta grow. In college that happens a lot because we go to like two or three churches, and we can’t find our youth pastor at any of those churches. So we end up hopping to whoever ends up feeding us that week. You can fool yourself into thinking that’s cool, but we gotta have fellowship. And when I say fellowship I don’t mean snacks after church. We need each other. If you’re just hopping around from moment to moment you’re not going to get that.
How do you balance expressing yourself lyrically and musically while still making your songs accessible to worship leaders?
MARK HALL: To us the music is never the point. It starts with the message. Music is just the plate that the meat is served on. It sets an atmosphere that allows you to talk about meaningful things. At the same time, on the worship leader side, when you do a song in concert you think, “Okay, this is a worship song but is it singable?” (Laughs.) Is this something people with only a massive high range can sing, where do you bring it down, that kind of thing. But God just works a lot of that stuff out. We don’t sing our songs at home. We sing other people’s songs, and we’re always having to change their keys just to make it work for us. Our music is definitely message-driven.
Tell us about The Altar and the Door.
MARK HALL: Musically this might be a little different in places. I don’t know how it happened. A lot of the songs are things that were around in my head. The idea behind The Altar and the Door is that’s where we all live—somewhere between the altar and the door. At the altar it's perfectly black and white. We know this is truth, this is how I need to live, what I need to do. But by the time we get to the door and we’re out in the parking lot, everything’s gray again. We’re not really sure. For a lot of us it’s two worlds we live in. We’re caught in the middle.
There’s a difference between a highlighted verse in my Bible and a highlighted verse in my life. I remember when “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” was this poster in my Sunday School class as a junior. There was this guy running at the track, and he was breaking through the tape, and we’re all like, “Aw, that’s cool!” But it was nothing more than a poster. Christ never strengthened me outside ‘cause I never gave Him a chance where I would have to depend on Him to see his strength. Now I’m on the other side of some situations, dealing with the disabilities that I have and all this kind of stuff, trying to live out the calling he Has for me knowing full well I’m not good enough to do it. Suddenly His strength needs to strengthen me or I’m toast. Now that’s in my life. You can say what you think but you live what you believe. A lot of things in our life would say, “I don’t believe that one yet. I’m still trying to get that one out.” The songs all center in on that idea—getting it into your life.
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.