Mark Hall of CCM bestsellers CASTING CROWNS speaks about their new album 'Thrive', to be released in January
The release on 28th January 2014 of the Casting Crowns album 'Thrive' is being awaited with considerable anticipation by Christians around the globe. The multi-Platinum selling group release their first studio album for two years and already pundits are suggesting that 'Thrive' could be one of the most successful projects ever. Now serving his 22nd year in youth ministry, singer, songwriter and author Mark Hall spoke about Casting Crown's new album.
"The idea of 'Thrive' came out of our student ministry. I've been a youth pastor for almost 22 years and it's still what I want to be when I grow up," Hall said with a grin. "The songs always really start out with what we're teaching, and for years I've been using Psalm 1 in showing them what a believer looks like. It says: 'Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.'"
For Hall, nature seemed to underscore Scripture on a family vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee when he looked at the trees near the river. He said, "Their roots are exposed and you can feel them just doing everything they can to get to where the water is. When I talk to families about how they are doing, they always say 'just surviving.' That is not the life that God designed for us to live. That's not saying that you're not going to have problems. None of the New Testament people had it easy. They all had troubles, some even at the expense of their lives. The book of joy, Philippians, was written from prison. Hard times are going to come, but God didn't put you here just so you could survive through hard times. He put you here to thrive, to dig in and to reach out. This record is an effort to draw a picture of what a believer, a follower of Jesus, would look like if they dug into their roots and understood God and themselves more, and then instead of trying to go be Christian for God, they just let God give them chances to be a Christian."
Casting Crowns have consistently delivered songs that spur listeners to evaluate their relationship with God and with each other. With songs such as "Voice Of Truth", "Who Am I", "Praise You In This Storm", "East To West", "Courageous" and "Until The Whole World Hears" the Atlanta-based band have both encouraged and challenged believers. It's a mission Hall and his bandmates approach with passion, skill and dedication. Each member of the band also serves in leadership positions in their home church while meeting recording and touring obligations with Casting Crowns. Hall and his bandmates Megan Garrett, Josh Mix, Chris Huffman, Brian Scoggin, Melodee DeVevo and her husband Juan have baffled the music community by maintaining their "day jobs" even as they've built one of the most successful careers in any genre of music.
Since arriving in 2003 with its self-titled Beach Street/Reunion Records debut album, the Grammy winning band have also earned 17 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and their last studio album 'Come To The Well' has sold over 500,000 copies. The band have toured extensively internationally, performing concerts in 21 countries including Australia, Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the UK.
Said Hall, "To be on a plane for nine hours and get somewhere and they are singing your song still amazes me. Wherever we go, we want to spend some time with the youth workers and encourage them in how to disciple teenagers. We're not just going over singing songs, which is awesome, but influencing the influencers who are going to be there when we are gone, to me is massive. The basic idea is let God define himself throughout everything we do, and if we do that, we all will thrive together."
'Thrive''s first single "All You've Ever Wanted" has a potent message. Explained Hall, "It's combating that logic that we have in us that says when we fail, we need to make it right. We think we need to make things right with God. We think we've got to make him proud again. Not only does it not work, it's not needed. We're fighting a battle that's already won and that's what this song is about."
Hall said the hardest song on the new album for him to write was "Love You With The Truth". "It's a big, upbeat rockin' song about a person realising that they've been a really cruddy friend because they haven't shared the truth with the person closest to them. People say, 'I want to share the Gospel, but I don't want to ruin my friendship.' What you are really saying is I love my friendship more than I love my friend. It's tough, but it's truth."
One of the most poignant songs on the album is the compelling ballad "Broken Together". Commented the singer/songwriter, "Marriage is tough. We bring a lot of fairytales to the picture when it comes to marriage. We bring them to the altar with us [thinking]: 'This is going to be perfect. We don't have to be apart. We can just wake up together every morning and no one is going to have morning breath. We're not going to have any problems.' And then the problems hit and you don't know where to file those into your picture. . . The idea I'm trying to say is: 'Can you lay down who you thought I was and love the me that is? Can we take this from where we are now and realise that I can't be that person?' Only God is going to be able to make this work and broken people can be broken together. To me, it's probably the most important song on the record."
Some tough topics are explored on 'Thrive'. "House Of Their Dreams" paints a portrait of a family who has achieved what the world views as success, but inside their home, they are aching with emptiness and isolation. On "Just Be Held" Hall shares what our heavenly Father wants his children to remember: "Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place/I'm on the throne/Stop holding on and just be held." "Waiting On The Night To Fall" is a powerful ballad that about addiction using the metaphor of an old man lurking in the woods, biding his time ("He knows you have the answers/But truth lies dusty on your shelf/And the sword that you could slay him with/Has become an ornament and nothing else").
The song "Dream For You" features Hall's youth group singing background vocals. Speaking about it Hall commented, "We have this picture of who God can use. What God had to do for Moses is he had to wipe away that picture and say, 'I'm going to use you.' It's the same way with us. When God hits us with something like 'You need to teach this small group' or 'you need to live on a mission field,' we immediately look in our own backpack at our gifts and skills. If I would have lived on that, I would have never been a youth pastor. I would have never written a song. I would have never stood up in front of anybody. I don't have any of those things in my backpack. . . God is saying, 'There's an X-factor here. If you would just step up, I'll do something that will blow your mind.'"
Working again with producer Mark Miller, who signed the band to his then newly formed Beach Street label more than a decade ago, Casting Crowns have crafted another collection of songs that demonstrate Casting Crowns' pop rock hooks yet are lyrically substantive.
It's been more than 10 years since the members of Casting Crowns heard their first single on the radio in July 2003, the same day Hall and his wife Melanie welcomed their daughter Zoe. Since then so much has happened in the lives of each member and along the way God has taught them so much. He said, "He's opened our eyes to our suspicion that he was way bigger than we thought he was. He didn't need Casting Crowns to come along to help his word get out. God is winning. He's changing the world. It may look at times like things are getting darker and darker, but they are not. Everywhere you go, you can see light and light wins. It always wins."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.