by Tracy Darlington
Mark Schultz Interview
grandmother used to say, 'It's not the gale, but the set of
the sail that determines what direction you go.' That is, no
matter what you come up against, you see it all as a positive, even
when the tough things come. "
Singer/songwriter Mark Shultz invites all to “Come Alive” with his latest collection of songs that explore life’s greatest joys and toughest challenges while celebrating God’s presence in every moment. Perseverance, creativity and a strong will are qualities that have served Schultz well throughout his career. A native of Colby, Kansas, Schultz moved to Nashville to pursue his musical ambitions and found inspiration and encouragement while working as a youth pastor. With the support of the congregation, he booked a show at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium. The show was a sell out, an unheard of feat for a fledgling artist that earned him a deal with Word Records.
Tracy: How did being youth pastor prepare you for the ministry you're in today?
Mark: You know what? Getting duct taped to a bed a few times and hangin' out with kids was a good thing for me. Once you can stand in front of a group full of kids and present something compelling enough to get their attention, any other group you face will be less intimidating. It's a good crash course, a great experience in communication. Watching the kids grow and seeing what God does in their lives; there are just some wonderful stories and life long lessons.
Can you share with us one or two stories?
There was a girl in our youth group who came from California to Nashville, and she'd had a rough start and had gotten into some drugs and alcohol. She was really wild and really far away from the Lord. She was struggling; she didn't want anything to do with the church. Her parents kind of made her come to church, and slowly she got into youth group. It was so interesting to see the way the kids in the youth group surrounded her with God's love and hung out with her. Her heart began to soften up, and she began to really open up about some of the things she'd been dealing with. We were able to deal with those in a loving way, and a year later she was a happy kid with a big smile on her face. Now she wants to be a missionary. It was really interesting to see the power of God working through people, especially other kids. It was pretty awesome.
What was it like to work with four producers on Come Alive?
It was demanding. It's tough scheduling one producer, let alone four. I'm living in North Carolina right now, so I was having to fly back and forth. I don't know that that's something I want to do again from the scheduling standpoint. It's probably better to work with one or two. But on the plus side you get so much creativity; we have unbelievable talent in the four producers we used. So it's probably one of the best artistic records I've ever done. It's just that at the end of the day I'd be worn out trying to keep up with the schedule.
Many of the songs on Come Alive were inspired by the bicycle trip you took across the country. Could you talk about that?
It's the people I met along the way. Throughout the whole record, the theme seemed to be everybody struggles in life, but we know if we put our hope in Christ there is triumph at the end. Each of these songs have to do with struggle in some way or another, but each song is very anthemic. As I was riding my bike across the country, even though I was dead tired, there were certain songs that made me stand up on my pedals and ride hard. I thought, “I want to write the kind of songs that people can hear when they're in their car and they're feeling beat up, they're feeling down and beaten. When they're struggling it will be the kind of song that will penetrate their heart and will give them that same feeling I had on the bike, that feeling of triumph.” I just threw in a few people who I met along the way and mix in with struggle and triumph.
Can you tell us the story behind your song “What it Means to be Loved”?
My wife, who is a resident OB/GYN, came home one day and said, “I think we need to adopt a kid.” I said, “Okay.” I was adopted, so it made all kind of sense to me. Then she said, “I think we need to adopt a kid who has special needs.” I thought, “Whoa, that's pretty heavy.” Then she said, “Maybe a kid with special needs who is not going to live for too many years.” I said, “Honey, what are you talking about?” She said, “I've seen so many babies in the hospital who had serious issues. Wouldn't it be awesome to take those kids and give them the best birthday and the best Christmas so that before they get to heaven they'd know what it was like to be loved here on earth?” A few days later I was upstairs playing the piano, and that story came out of that song. I'm real proud of it. It does really well in concert. People give it a standing ovation before I can get done with the first chorus. It's a pretty special song.
What message do you want people to come away with when they listen to Come Alive?
Circling back to the struggle and the triumph, I would hope they would recognize their own struggles in these songs and they would realize that putting their faith in Christ is worth going through the struggle. Sometimes God refines us in those tough periods, but in the end He's shaping us more to His image every day. It's funny, I went on this bike trip and figured maybe we'd raise a few dollars for orphans, and it was real evident that God was in it right away. Even though I struggled up every mountain, into the wind and the hot days, and thought, “I'm not going to be able to finish today.” At the end we raised a quarter of a million dollars for orphans. So I think God is in the struggles. It's not necessarily a bad thing.
How has your ministry changed over the past ten years, and where do you see yourself in the next?
It used to be that I'd be up on stage playing and performing, and I would dream that the songs I would write would inspire people. I used to think, “If I could do that it would be the greatest thing ever.” Now, as I move into my tenth year ,I've started to realize, especially with the bike ride, it gave me a great platform to help other people. But I never would have had that opportunity had I not been known. Now my wife wants to be a missionary, so in the next ten years maybe you'll see more of us in Africa helping out people and doing bigger fund raisers to help other people.
I'm sure you have some fun road stories. Could you share one or two?
We did a concert one time at a hotel, and just for fun I told my band, we went to the restaurant and asked to borrow some tuxedos from the wait staff at the hotel. They gave us all tuxedos that fit us. We were going to walk on stage and perform this concert in tuxedos, which was going to be hilarious. At the last moment I said, “Hey I'm gonna go on and play a song by myself first, and you guys come in for the second song.” I went out and did my first song. The guys in the band came up behind me for the second song, and I started laughing, 'cause I knew they were going to look so dumb in tuxedos. As the song started I turned around and their faces were beat red. I was the only one in a tuxedo. They had run back up to the room and changed back into their regular clothes, so it was just me in a tux!
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I have serious songs sometimes; people must think I'm so serious. But my wife says I'm the biggest nut she's ever met. I think it's a good balance between the songs that strike a big chord and make such a moment and the nutty part of my personality. That would be one. Number two is that just for fun I like to get on my bike and ride. That's where I am today. I'm actually in the shade of a tree right now as we do the interview. And I'm trying to lose nine and a half pounds in a month before I go on this tour, 'cause I know I'm going to gain it back eating food on the bus.
You're in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Great questions. I think it's a double espresso.
A more serious question - do you have any advice for teenagers trying to pursue their dreams?
I can only speak from my own experience. I wanted to do music, and I felt a real burning in my heart that that was what I was supposed to do. It was really the only thing I was good at, so that helped me narrow down my choices. I read a book that said, “Don't go to Nashville looking for a record deal, 'cause only 1% of those who go to Nashville will get one.” I remember thinking to myself, “Man, that's pretty good odds. I can be that 1%.” It takes a lot of trust and belief - I would say that's the biggest thing - my grandmother used to say, “It's not the gale, but the set of the sail that determines what direction you go.” That is, no matter what you come up against, you see it all as a positive, even when the tough things come. You can make a positive.
What advice would you give to someone trying to reach their friends for Christ?
Actions speak louder than words. It's always easier to say than to do. When people see that you make great decisions, that your heart's in a good place, and that you speak to them in love, they say, “Gosh, there's something different about this person.” You gain their respect. You gain the friendship to have the discussions. They can ask, “I would have thought you'd get really mad in that situation.” And you can share, “Well, ya know, it's not me, it's Jesus. This is what He's done in my life.” As people notice your actions and they begin to see something different and to trust in you it gives you a good platform to begin the conversation.
Are there any steps you take to stay on track spiritually?
I hang out with my wife, that's number one. Man, she is awesome. I love going to church with her. I always know it's important to start listening to something when she starts crying. When her eyes fill up with tears I know I better start paying attention. (laughs) I think it's being surrounded by godly people. I know I've got a youth pastor that I've worked with for so long; he calls me quite often and checks in. And the guys in the band. It’s a big thing to be accountable when we're on the road as well.
What's the biggest obstacle in your life God's helped you overcome?
I am still dealing with it. For the most part, I'm a people pleaser; I just love when people are happy. That's not always a great thing. That's not always the godly thing. That would be the struggle in my life, to find out that it's more important what God thinks of me than what other people think of me. I would say that'll be a struggle with me for a good long time.
How did being adopted impact your view of God?
When I was on my bike tour one of the minsters stood up at a concert and asked the people, “How many people are adopted in here?” A couple people out of two thousand raised their hand. And he said, “Put your hands down. Now let me ask you this - how many would call yourself a child of God here?” And everybody raised their hand. He said, “Okay, let me ask you one more time. How many people in here are adopted?” Everybody started to get it and all these hands started going up. I thought, isn't that pretty cool that the same blueprint God used to call us His own kids is the blueprint my parents used to adopt me. For me it helps me understand God's grace in a huge way. My parents loved me with the same kind of unconditional love without knowing me, without me doing anything to deserve it, they just said, “Hey, we want to love that kid 'cause that's what we do; we're Christian people.” It helped me to understand easier how God can love me like that.
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.