February 10, 2014
Chances are, if you listened to all of Casting Crowns’ albums, in order of release date, you’d likely be able to hold your own in any seminary class. Not because they’re boring or full of mundane, rote scripture; quite the opposite, actually. Each Casting Crowns’ release is nearly a direct reflection of what they are teaching their youth group back at home.
And by “they,” I do mean the entire band.
In the past ten years, they jettisoned to the pinnacle of Christian music in terms of album sales, chart rankings and awards. But, just in case, they decided to keep their day jobs. Chances are, it wasn’t for the money.
Mark Hall and co., have continued leading the youth group at their home church, Eagle’s Landing outside of Atlanta, Georgia while they’ve done “the music thing.” And time after time, their records practically mirror the subject matter, heart and intention that they are pouring into their kids.
Whereas this routine could easily make a lesser band boring and predictable, it’s what makes Casting Crowns great and is the reason their songs have touched more people around the world than many artists could ever hope to do. Why? Quite simply…the songs are not about them. Their albums are not about the latest sonic trend or radio appeal.
The songs are about truth, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and what it means to live—to thrive—in the fullness of Christ.
“It seems like everyone’s just trying to get to Friday or the next semester or the next vacation,” says Mark Hall, lead writer and vocalist. “Everyone’s just surviving. No one’s thriving.”
Never short of creative metaphors for their albums (ie, The Well) the imagery of this record is all about roots running deep and branches reaching high…
“It’s all about the root system,” Mark says. “Who you are and who God is. You’ve got to remember Him to know Him.
“Some believers are all reach,” he says. “They’re running, saving, rescuing, helping…trying to be everything to everyone and then the storm of life hits them. They want control and to make things work, but maybe there’s no reason for it. You don’t need to be awesome. He’s already awesome.”
No strangers to storms themselves, Mark and the rest of the gang write, speak, sing and live from a place of endurance and faith.
Just prior to the release of the new project, one of the band members’ babies had a stroke. The fallout continued from there.
When Mark and his wife Melanie expanded their family through adoption, they jumped on a terrifying roller coaster of the baby’s horrific digestive illnesses and conditions. The first several months of her life were spent in and out of hospitals.
Through it all, however, each time something else went wrong or fell apart, the men and women in Crowns, along with their families, were able to use their pain to reach others in pain.
“The enemy is coming against ‘family’ from all sides.” Mark says. “The song, ‘All Alone Together’ is all about walking a family through that destruction. The son, daughter, everyone is being attacked and trapped in their own world.”
It’s a scenario they encounter far too often through the youth in their church and countless others. They also see the fallout—divorce, depression, defeat and shame. Moms and dads, husbands and wives who had such promising beginnings and upright intentions, fall away. Somewhere, somehow, those intentions fade. The things we believe in the most—our marriages, our children, our health—soon become casualties of dashed expectations. Mark approached this concept by looking at one of the greatest friendships that, when push came to shove, humanity fell short.
Many have heard the story of Peter’s introduction to Jesus. He was fishing—unsuccessfully—when this stranger advises him to cast his nets on the other side. Of course, the divine advice paid off with the largest catch Peter had ever made.
“Peter met Jesus on the biggest payday of his life,” Mark shares. “But he leaves it all…his gear, his boat, his life. He was the first one to lead with his mouth, telling Jesus he wouldn’t let anyone hurt him. He was hardcore. And then, he bailed when Jesus needed him most. Three days later, Peter is being told to cast his nets on the other side again. He swam about a football-field-length to get to shore and there was Jesus—sitting there making him breakfast. That needs to speak to you and me. Jesus is saying, ‘I’m not leaving you or letting you go. You’re still mine.’ This is now. The church lives in this.”
True to form—if the church is living in it, Crowns is singing it. “All You’ve Ever Wanted” reaches out to those plagued by self-doubt and insecurity.
“Often, we feel like we’re not being or going to be good enough; as if He loaned us something and we owe Him,” Mark says. “When we fail, we rush to try to make things right and earn His trust. We sing louder, read more, serve better. But He made us His because of Jesus—not because of us. When we see that and can look at the world the way Jesus looks at the world, fruit happens. Not fruit of Mark—fruit of the spirit.”
Fruit that only blooms when we dig in and let go.
“It’s hard to let go of control,” says Mark, “but we’ve got to stop hopping around and be held. We’ve gotta stop trying to pull this off.”
Those failed attempts and even well-intentioned efforts to do so have turned families into rubble, leveling even the most solid structures. Structures that were built to sustain day-to-day living, but not equipped with or optimized to withstand the maelstrom of life…
And that’s why Thrive and the idea behind it are so critical to a more complete understanding of the life God desires for us here and now.
“I’m seeing in several lives that we get into marriages and other relationships and start seeing that that person has more to them than you knew,” says Mark, “Then, hurt, baggage and scars emerge and things fall and crash. While we want to just put the tux back on and go back to the beginning and be that person we used to be. But we can’t. And maybe we were never meant to. Instead of talking about what should have been, we need to talk about what is. Then, we can be broken together.”
In a nutshell, that’s the impetus of the project and the very concept.
Last time around, Casting Crowns reminded us how to survive…where to find the life-giving water that will take us from today to tomorrow to eternity.
This time, our survival needs in check, it’s time for more.
This is the time to dig deeper, stretch higher as God cares for, prunes, protects, nourishes our souls to life…and our hearts to thrive.
Caroline Lusk is editor of CCM Magazine.