It's been three years since the lights went down on Anberlin's illustrious alt rock career. Those three years have seen a lifetime of transformation for lead singer Stephen Christian, whose smooth, dynamic vocal tones guided Anberlin's 12 year trajectory. That transformation has led him to a rebirth, and now with Wildfires, his voice soars once again--this time, leading the Church in worship.
In the first part of our conversation (read it here), Stephen shared the facts about his transition into ministry and how he found himself on this unlikely musical road. In part two, he shares the spiritual process of transformation and challenge that he's faced since moving to the frontlines of ministry.
Can you trace the origin of your draw to focus on worship? Is that something you had a history with when you were in Anberlin, or did it really only start after that?
It only started after that. I had no desire to ever work at a church or worship direct. I was fine just being a congregant. I had only led worship one time in my entire life prior to becoming worship director of a church of 17,000. I mean that's crazy! That's only God.
So like I said, I was songwriting before. I did everything from country to pop to hip-hop to jingles for commercials. And every time they would put me on a worship cowrite, my heart was there, my head was there, my soul was there in the moment. I wasn't thinking beyond that afternoon, I wasn't thinking what potential the song might have. Two or three times I can safely say I was brought to tears, I was in the moment of worship. There's a song called "One More Moment" I wrote with Josh Bronleewe, and I wanted him to keep singing the chorus over and over and over again because I just felt it. It was like, I'm just in a worship session outside of myself. I wasn't writing for Stephen Christian, I wasn't writing with a record in mind, I was literally having a worship service on his couch, strumming a guitar. It was incredible.
I had never cried writing an Anberlin song, as long as I've lived. But these songs are different.
As you're heading into this new world, is there anybody in worship music who you look up to? Are there people who you have been inspired by, ministered to by, in the music industry?
I think the biggest one for me would be Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North. Early on in Anberlin, we had some really atrocious experiences with the Christian industry to where it caused us to no longer pursue Christian tours or playing in churches. We were just kind of done with the Christian world. I thought it was a façade, I thought it was fake and I thought it was a bunch of people patting themselves on the back in the name of Jesus and marketing God.
But it took people like Mike Donehey. I'd lived in Nashville for nine years, so we got to know each other really well as neighbors. And I saw man, this is real. This guy is legit. He is a real human being, he's not putting on a show, he's not fake. He's the same man on stage as he is off stage, and he is absolutely passionate about Jesus Christ.
Before coming to work for a church, if you had said the names Passion or Bethel, I would probably be like "I don't know--what is that?" I had no clue. So I was never really truly inspired, especially early on in writing these songs, by other worship teams or projects, but instead by the people. I honestly don't know if I would be pursuing a worship record if it wasn't for Mike Donehey.
In this season of your life, with all this new stuff going on--new music venture, new job--what are some of the consistent things that God's been teaching you and showing you through this time?
He will never let me down. He is so faithful. I tell my wife all the time: we can speculate on other things about God. God, why did you do this, God, why didn't you do that, or where were You in this season. Or we may go through hardships or financial struggles, or whatever the case might be. But God is always faithful, and He always has been. Through the years of Anberlin, through even finding this job. He has never let us down. And everything that we question immediately, why God? Why this? We can look back on life and say oh, I see now.
One thing that I will tell for generations to my grandkids one day, I'm going to say God is faithful. He is so faithful to complete what He's started in you. His word will not return void, and those promises that He's stated? Will come to pass. And it's incredible. That's the one thing that God has been consistently teaching in my life, is that I can safely say with my last breath "God is faithful."
How can we be praying for you?
I think not just me, but all pastors--I don't want to over-spiritualize this. But when you set yourself up in a role where you are a pastor or a worship director, and you choose a life that says "I am here for others, I want to help you draw closer to God," I feel like the enemy's attacks are twice as great. The Bible says the workman's worthy of double wages, and that's not just monetary, that's love, joy, peace, patience, all this that God grants pastors. However, I think the enemy knows that as well, and I think his attacks are a little more vicious: "what a marketing ploy it would be if I could get just one more pastor of a megachurch to fall, or if I could just have an adultery. I could show people that these Christians are liars and hypocrites."
So I feel like there is a constant battle, in the last two years. If it's not been financial, it's been relationships, it's been my marriage, it's just been a fiasco. Which I don't think a lot of people see, that sometimes their pastor isolates themselves because they're hurting, they're struggling. And I think the sad thing is that for some reason, and I don't know if it started in the 50s, I don't know what the roots are, but pastors have this innate need to put on this false perfection. Like as if we don't struggle, or we don't hurt, or we're above it. "Follow me, my life's awesome!" In all reality, sometimes the person who struggles the most with sin in the whole congregation is the pastor themselves.
When I was in the "world," playing in a general market band with a bunch of guys that weren't Christians, with drugs on that table and girls to my right, obviously I didn't partake in either, but it was all there. It just felt like life was so fluid. Nobody was making waves in the band besides me. And now, I step into a realm that is 100% the antithesis, as far as the direction of the band was fame, notoriety, power, money, all the stuff that comes with being in a band. And yet in the church, we have one goal, and that is to further the kingdom of God through salvation, teaching of the word and worship. And I have never felt such an excruciating kind of weight and burden as I have in the church.
So that's what I would ask. Pray for me in particular, but whoever your pastor is, pray for them diligently. They may not confess their sin to you, or they may not confess the exact struggles, but pray that they find someone they can relate to and be accountable to and really dig in. Pray for them--they need it.
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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