Since the self-titled debut of Casting Crowns‘ first album was released in 2003, the band has enjoyed great popularity among Christian audiences – but not for reasons you’d might expect.
Instead of light-hearted songs that only scratch the surface of our faith, Casting Crowns specializes in delivering hard-hitting hits meant to challenge listeners – and the larger Christian community – in our walks. The band regularly explores themes of holiness, relationships, witness and vulnerability in a way that encourages self-reflection.
That heart to disciple is partially due to the fact frontman Mark Hall has been a youth pastor for almost 22 years. Yes – pastoring is a job Hall has simultaneously held while serving on an internationally known, award-winning Christian band and raising four kids with his wife of 23 years, Melanie.
Focus on the Family recently had a chance to interview Mark Hall as he begins the work to promote Casting Crown’s newest album, “Thrive.” I hope you enjoy the transcript of our conversation, as well as the official music video to the band’s beautiful new single, “Broken Together,” which Focus is honored to debut.
I hope to hear from all you Casting Crown fans – what do you think about the band’s album and the song “Broken Together?”
You’re a husband, father of four, student pastor and leader of a major Christian band. How have you learned to balance all of that over the years and make time to connect with your family?
How do we keep it all balanced? I guess I’ll let you know if I ever figure that out!
We have so much going on in our world. I’m a husband and a daddy, a youth pastor and a member of Casting Crowns. There is something always tugging at us! The crazy thing is, it’s not bad stuff; it’s all good stuff. Everybody’s got a great idea for me to be a part of, but if I did everything that was asked of me, even everything I might be pretty good at, I would spread myself so thin I wouldn’t be able to do anything well.
From the start we had to make some decisions that family was going to be first, church was going to be second and Casting Crowns was going to be third. We keep our travel with the band just the weekends mainly, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We guard our weeknights as a family together. We try to keep youth events on certain nights of the week so all families are protected. Even as a plan, it’s amazing how quickly it gets away from us. It’s something that we’re praying about constantly and constantly having to evaluate and reevaluate how we do our family time.
Adoption is part of your parenting story. Tell us why you and your wife, Melanie, felt called to adopt and how your daughter is doing.
One of our first major tours as Casting Crowns was with Steve Curtis Chapman which was amazing to me. He’s been a major hero of mine in the faith for years as I sang his songs in church to my youth group. The guy practically discipled me so being on the road with him was amazing.
During the tour, he asked me to sing a song with him on stage and of course that freaked me out because I thought, “I don’t want to mess up a Steven Curtis Chapman song.” So, I would come out early every night and get in the zone and get ready to do our song together. The song before the one we did is a song called “When Love Takes You In” and it’s a song about adoption. Every night I would stand to the side of the stage on that little stairwell going up onto the stage and Steven would talk about his daughter Shaohannah, and he’d talk about his girls and orphans in China. For 84 cities I stood out there and listened to this. By about the 12th city I said, “Okay God, I see what you’re doing here, and it looks like we’re about to go to China.”
We began the process of adoption. It was a three-year long, long journey to get to Hope. The funny thing was we started the process of adoption before Hope was ever born. On the surface, you see a little girl born with systems not even able to keep her alive. You see a little girl left on the side of the road, wrapped up in a blanket. It seems so random and so out of control. But before she was ever born, we were making plans to get her. That’s a picture of what God did for me. It’s a picture of what God does for all of us.
Father’s Day is just around the corner… Do you see your role as a husband also impacting your role as a father?
I think every day I’m painting a picture of what a father is supposed to look like and what a husband is supposed to look like, for my kids. My son is going to see how he should or shouldn’t father his kids and love his wife. My daughters are going to see the kind of man they need as a husband and the kind of man they need to be joined with.
The way I live my life every day matters. I can sing my songs on the road and they’re there for all of that. I can teach my Bible studies at the church and they’re there for all of that. But what they see me do at home is always going to be louder than anything I sing or anything I say. As a dad, that challenges me constantly to keep pointing them to Jesus and keep showing them what a family is supposed to look like.
As a youth pastor, I’m surrounded by teenagers that have no picture in their head of what a father is supposed to be. That is a heartbreaking thing to say. As fathers, I would challenge you to not only love on your kids, but start reaching out to those students in your church that don’t have that father figure.
You constantly encourage folks to drop the masks and be real and authentic. In your latest album, you feature a very vulnerable song, “Broken Together” that’s about the reality of marriage behind the façade. What are some ways you’ve found authenticity helps us live life well and do marriage in a healthier way?
Somewhere in the history of the church, believers got into our heads that to be a good witness and to share Christ the right way, we had to act like we had it all together. I don’t know how we learned it or how we had it ingrained into us but that’s what you see.
People are fighting all the way to church in their car, but there’s something about this magic parking lot of the church, when their foot hits that pavement, everything is beautiful. Everyone becomes your brother, everyone becomes your sister, everyone’s having a great day. We’re just “blessed beyond measure.”
It’s not real. What happens is we’re portraying something thinking that, “I’ll just fake it till I make it.” Or we think, “If people think things aren’t going well for me today they won’t want to be saved.” Yet, I don’t think it really bothers the world that we sin. It bothers the world that we act like we don’t. It just doesn’t seem real.
I want advice from someone who’s been where I am. I want to hear truth from someone who’s fallen a few times and has a few scars. That’s why I think the best gift we would ever give each other, especially in our marriages, is when we come to church, find community. In community we can tear the plastic off and just be ourselves. We can say, “You know what, we don’t have it all together at our house and it’s kind of a mess. But Jesus lives in this mess and he’s walking with us through it.” I think the first need for marriages is true, honest community.
Casting Crowns songs like “If We Are the Body” describe not just knowing the Word of God, but doing it. Why has that idea of orthopraxy been an important message for you to share through music?
“If We Are The Body” was the first song the world ever heard from Casting Crowns and I thought, “Man, we’re coming out swinging here.” I wrote that song for the people in my church. They were people I knew, that knew me and I had earned the right through relationship to talk to them.
Songs were a different thing and I didn’t know how it was going to go. I don’t think radio knew how it was going to go. Radio stations were pretty hesitant to put that song on at first because it’s really talking straight truth. But I think the world’s ready for straight truth. Especially the church. Truth in love is always received.
And if you notice, the song is not talking about “you,” it’s talking about “we.” We have a problem as the church. One of the problems I see is you can say what you think, but you will always live what you really believe. When it comes to my faith, the things that are actually coming out of in my life are probably the things I believe the most.
I heard a pastor say one time that we’re some of the worst atheists in the world sometimes to know as much as we know and still not live it. To not live it is to not really own it. To me, we gotta do what James says, “Don’t just be a hearer of the word and deceive yourself, but be a doer of the word.”
“What God has worked into us,” Paul says in Galatians, “we now have to work out of us.” I don’t think that’s some grandiose plan a year from now. I think to work it out and to be a light is just to trust God at his word and do what he says. Sit next to the very first person we’re supposed to sit by. Love the next person He says love. Forgive the next person He says forgive. All this faith that we talk and post about – it’s time to start living it.