Chances are, if you listened to all of Casting Crowns’ albums, you’d 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 reflects what they are teaching their youth group back home.
Despite their ascension to the pinnacle of Christian music, they kept their day jobs—leading the youth group at their home church, Eagles Landing outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Time after time, their records have mirrored the subject matter, heart and intention 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 countless people around the world.
Why? Quite simply, the songs are not about them. Their albums are not about chasing 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.”
As they have so often done, Crowns aligned the notion of thriving with an image—a tree with 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 continues. “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 member’s babies had a stroke. The baby’s health has been touch and go since.
When Mark and his wife, Melanie, expanded their family through adoption, they jumped on a terrifying roller coaster of the baby’s digestive illnesses and conditions. The first several months of her life were spent in and out of hospitals.
Despite the pain and fear, the men and women in Crowns, along with their families have been able to use their pain to reach others in pain.
“The enemy is coming against ‘family’ from all sides,” Mark says. “The song ‘Broken 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 the band encounters far too often through the youth in their church and others with whom they interface around the world. They also see the aftermath—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 suffered because of humanity.
Many have heard the story of Peter’s introduction to Jesus. He was fishing—unsuccessfully—when this stranger advised 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 says. “But he left 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. Hw was hard-core. And then he bailed when Jesus needed him most. Three days later, Peter was 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 about it through songs like, “All You’ve Ever Wanted,” which goes 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 God 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 Hall—fruit of the spirit,” says Mark. “It’s hard to let go of control, but we’ve got to stop hopping around and be held.”
Time after time, many resist that embrace and refuge. Too proud to ask for help or too lost to begin looking, that resistance can turn a family into rubble and faith into fragments, leaving us ill-equipped to face the maelstrom of life.
That’s why the message in Thrive is so critical. It prompts a paradigm shift in our minds and hearts. Rather than dwell on the immediacy of problems in daily life, the words in this album remind us of the eternal master plan.
“I’m seeing in several lives that we get into marriages and other relationships and start seeing that the other person has more to him or her than you knew,” says Mark. “Then hurt, baggage and scars emerge, and things fall and crash. While we want to just go back to the beginning and be that person we used to be, 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.”
Complacency has no claim on our relationship with Christ and others, despite perhaps a lifetime of disappointment or hurt. The same God who gave living water at the well is the God who desires more. He came so we may live life to the full. His love and Holy Spirit can prune, protect and nourish our souls. All we must do is say yes.
Yes to love. Yes to grace.
Once we do so, we will not merely survive. We will thrive.