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Rock stars, pop stars, rap stars and movie stars. You usually can spot them from a block away–sometimes further. And then there are guys like Mark Hall who clearly defy the stereotype of how a multi platinum selling recording artist looks and acts. Perhaps its his commitment to a grounded lifestyle that includes a job as a youth pastor in Georgia. More likely, though, it’s the unusual path his award-winning band Casting Crowns took towards becoming a national phenomenon starting with its self-titled smash-hit debut in 2003.
Hall has a captivating way of transferring his local church ministry approach not just into his music, but into his book writing as well. Such is the case with his latest project The Well, which takes a unique look at the story of the woman at the well and is the inspiration for Come To The Well, Casting Crowns’ latest album and tour.
In this Whole Notes interview with Hall, the singer/songwriter/author talks about how he balances his many roles, what inspired his latest book and what young artists he’s into these days:
Chad Bonham: How often do you reflect on the amazing journey Casting Crowns has been on these past 10 years or so?
Mark Hall: Probably daily. Just yesterday I was talking to someone and they asked, “How did this all get started?” It’s really a story you couldn’t make up. We weren’t looking for this. We were just making music for our youth group and a kid takes our CD to a basketball camp and meets Mark Miller (of Sawyer Brown), gives it to him, and Mark Miller goes on vacation and gives it to Steven Curtis Chapman and they call me from the beach. I mean, that’s just crazy. It seems like from then on, our story has been one that no one can point their finger and say, “Hey, this is the part I played in this.” It really has been a God thing from the start. I guess the effort on our side from this point on has been to keep it a God thing—let Him bring the ideas, let Him bring the songs, let Him decide if we’re going to keep going and keep doing what we do. He just keeps breathing music into us and here we are.
Bonham: How do you balance your roles as a husband, father, youth minister and recording and touring artist?
Hall: I think the way it’s worked for us and the reason we’ve stayed with it is because my family travels with me. My wife Melanie pretty much runs Casting Crowns. She does all the day-to-day stuff along with our management company. That allows me to keep my head in the church. We talk about the big decisions: These are the countries we want to be in. Here’s where we want to see ourselves doing ministry next year. We’ll talk that all out, but they run with it. I can stay being a youth pastor and do what I do. My family travels with me on the road. We have four kids and my wife on the road. I’m with them even when we’re traveling. That makes it possible for me to keep it all balanced.
Bonham: When you receive inspiration for a new message or a new theme, how do you know that it’s not just something for your local church, but it’s something you need to share with a larger audience?
Hall: All of the songs from Crowns started out as Bible studies or devotions or something we’ve said during a worship time. One of my first books, Life Stories, uses the phrase “God Line.” Those are little lines in a song that I can tell you there’s no way I came up with that. You have those little moments, and I was having some quiet time and thinking about the woman at the well, and God hit me with this whole idea that when I come to Jesus, I’ve already got my well figured out. I’m not coming to Him for water. I’m coming to Him to bless my plan, to bless my idea. I’m drawing from a hole in the ground and I’m always coming up thirsty. I need to understand that Jesus is the well. That turned into a Bible study that I did with the students on a Wednesday night. That turned into a devotional. It seems like every time I’d go somewhere and lead something, it would always go back to this point. It was actually about four years ago during The Altar and the Door (album and tour). That thought just simmered inside of me and I started to see that this is not just me. This is everybody. We’re all kind of in the same boat. Being in the local church every week, you just sort of know where people are. You know what people are dealing with in their lives. This is all of us. I think that’s when you start to realize it’s bigger than something that’s just for me.
Bonham: Of the seven types of wells you describe in the book, is there one that you’ve seen resonate with audiences and students more than the others?
Hall: In many ways, people are a well for us. We draw from the opinions of others. If people like us, our life is good. If somebody doesn’t like us, our whole life is tanked. That happens at your job, especially in church ministry. It seems like everybody’s your boss sometimes. You’re trying to keep everybody happy and pretty soon you realize you’re filling yourself up with other people’s opinions of you. That’s a dangerous place to live. Like Jesus said, you’re going to be thirsty again if you keep drawing from that well. I also think relationships is a big one. Marriages struggle because we’ve set our marriages up to fail by thinking that this person is going to complete me when they were never created to do that. Jesus completes me. I pour in to my marriage. I pour in to this friendship. The moment I start drawing from a person, I’m setting this person up to do something they’re not created to do. I’ve got to understand that I’ve got to draw from Jesus first. When I get to people, I already need to be full. I think those are two big ones.
Bonham: Which one of the wells hit closest to home for you?
Hall: I believe that approval is a big one for me and control is a big one for me. You want to do anything God says as long as you can look at it and see how it’s going to end. So control is a big one, but approval is probably the biggest for me.
Bonham: What would the church look like if more believers embraced this concept and started to draw from Jesus as their one source of life?
Hall: I can just look in the mirror. When I look at myself, I know the difference between me when I am walking with God and spending time in the Word and soaking Him in, and when I’m not. When I’m coasting spiritually, just kind of going off of what the preacher says on Sunday and I’m not feeding myself as a believer, I walk into work and I’m needy. I walk into church and I need to be appreciated. I need to be loved. I need somebody to tell me how good I’m doing. I need people to know all the work I do around here. I need somebody to fill me up. And if they’re not ready to do that, I’m going to have a problem with them. But, if I look at myself when I’m getting into the Word and just drinking Him in, when I get to work, I’m looking for someone to love. I’m looking for people to encourage. I’m understanding that, hey, people are people. We’re all wearing skin here. We all have our moments. I’ve already gotten what I need from Jesus and now I can just forgive and love and encourage. That’s the difference. That’s how it fleshes out.
Bonham: Despite some criticisms from both inside and outside the church towards so-called “Christian entertainment,” do you still feel like church-focused music is a valid and necessary concept?
Hall: I had a lady ask me one time, “Do you feel like Christian music is just preaching to the choir?” And I said, “Yeah. The Bible calls it discipleship.” So I think there’s always a need for music that’s pouring into new life. That’s how we urge each other on—psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. That’s how we encourage each other. I was discipled by Christian music. I didn’t really have a mentor in my life as a young believer. I had a pretty good church, but that was about it. So it was me and Jesus and Christian radio. Steven Curtis Chapman and dcTalk and Audio Adrenaline and those guys poured into me. So I think it’s huge in a believer’s life to have music that’s pouring into their new life and not dragging them back into their old life.
Bonham: Are you excited about some of the new artists coming up through the ranks that aren’t just musically advanced but that are also serious about living out their faith in a very public manner?
Hall: Yeah. One artist that I’m really into right now is Lecrae. Lecrae is a true voice for this generation. He’s speaking straight hard truth and love. In many ways, I believe that Christian rap is more hardcore lyrically than pretty much any other genre of Christian music. He’s got several guys in his group like Tedashii and KB. I’ve met (Lecrae). He’s the real deal. He’s a church guy. He’s been planted into a church. Leeland’s new CD is great. (The) Anthem Lights (CD) is in my car right now. There’s a ton of them out there. I’m also a big Red fan.
Bonham: Are these artists helping debunk the myth about where the youth generation is spiritually right now?
Hall: Oh yeah. Definitely. Teenagers are passionate and they want music that speaks within their hearts. It’s a big deal for students to listen to Christian music and talk about it at school. Music is a very exciting element of your life when you’re love. I think it’s huge.
Check out more from Casting Crowns (including tour dates) or learn more about Mark Hall’s latest book by visiting the band’s official website HERE.
And for more about The Well, watch this video from Hall below: