Mark Hall has a message for those worried about the chaotic world in which they live: “The world’s always been a mess. You’re just hearing about it more.”
At concerts, in church and through his appearances with Casting Crowns, the Grammy winner tries to remind folks there will always be turmoil.
“If you look in the New Testament, you’ll see they were dropping like flies,” he says. “But those who were following Jesus were just seeing things differently and hearing things differently.”
Now a youth pastor in the Atlanta area, Hall admits he was skeptical of religion. “For years, people shied away from the church because everybody thought they had it all together. When I went, I thought I was the only messed-up person there.”
In truth, “they were hiding. They were a bunch of train wrecks, too.”
Today, teens are more willing to cut through the façade. “What they’re looking for is, ‘Who is Jesus, really?’ Jesus people painted a messed-up picture of who he is, but he’s still who he said he was. (Teens) are finding out Jesus is really all right and that’s where we are now – authentic people who are just broken, broken people who are made whole.”
Casting Crowns has been reaffirming the message since 2003 when the band made its debut. The latest CD, “The Very Next Thing,” talks about identifying and acting on what’s right next to you. “Serving God isn’t this giant dream a year from now,” Hall says. “It’s not this thing he’s going to have you do in a month. It’s right now.”
The next release – “Only Jesus” – was just turned in and is expected to be released Nov. 16.
“It’s built around a very odd conversation I had,” Hall explains. A leader in Christian music predicted that the genre wouldn’t have staying power. “It isn’t going to leave a legacy like bands in the mainstream.”
“I looked at this friend and said, ‘Did you hear what he said? How can he say that? I’m not here to build Casting Crowns. The song was never the point. It was pointing to the point. If Jesus becomes the reason you get up in the morning, it will change the way you think.”
“Only Jesus” elaborates and, yes, Hall says, the band will be sampling songs in concert before the release date.
Going on the road
Touring, however, is a bigger production than anyone might think. Because there are seven musicians in the group, “it’s terribly expensive,” the 49-year-old singer says. “Everybody’s babies travel with them. You don’t get to the end of the tour and count money. You just hope you can pay for the tour.”
Luckily, Hall has his wife and children in tow on those weekend jaunts. “My wife Melanie runs Crown, a son works in merch and plays bass, my daughter’s a production assistant. My 15-year-old does the media and my 11-year-old bosses everybody around.”
The change came when Hall did a three-week tour with Rebecca St. James and realized it was taking too much time away from the family and his church. So adjustments were made and Melanie agreed to step in and help run the show.
“Writing season,” as he likes to call it, comes when he can fit it in. Throughout the year, he jots things down, then looks at them to see what might resonate. “It’s hard to manage.”
Life works because “I try to surround myself with smart people.”
Dealing with cancer
Three years ago, Hall was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He thought he knew how to handle the prospects, but “I had a lot of pride in me. I didn’t want to tell anybody. I didn’t want them all coming around me, saying ‘It’s going to be OK.’”
In time, he realized he was just full of himself. “If you don’t want to be comforted, you don’t receive love well. I needed to let people in. I learned you can’t shut yourself off. Listen to the heart of the people around you. They love you. Let them in. That was the lesson.”
Following surgery and a brief recovery period, he was back performing and serving his church.
He’s delivering that message, too, about coping with a troubled world.
“What we want is the peace that comes from a relationship that we don’t have,” he says. Those who haven’t embraced Christ, “like the peace but don’t like the rules – ‘I’m not in control of my life anymore.’ It’s hard to embrace the peace that comes from being a Christ follower.” But, he adds, it’s possible.