A truly astonishing testimony and one of the most anointed worship ministries in Christendom belong to KEVIN PROSCH of Birmingham, Alabama. He spoke to Tony Cummings.
Kevin Prosch is a very special kind of musician. In a music scene when 'prophetic' can get tagged to every non-Christian songwriter who can string some truisms together about how mankind is abusing his environment and to every Christian musician who can improvise a verse in tongues, Kevin Prosch is something else. This 38-year-old California-based singer/songwriter is a prophet, a man sent by God to sing and speak words from God. Best known as a writer of worship songs, some of which have been heard on the popular Songs Of The Vineyard album series, there are many other aspects to Kevin Prosch: leader of a new rock band The Union which will soon be recording an album with a major secular producer; leader of a Los Angeles Bible study frequented by several pop and rock luminaries; and international seminar speaker who spoke and led worship in Britain earlier this year in a 'prophetic worship' weekend. The band that Kevin will be taking to the Cross Rhythms festival in July will compromise of many of the best musicians in British Christendom which says something about Kevin's reputation among his peers.
Kevin's voice is a marvellous, soulful instrument, with many of his armoury of vocal acrobatic licks, the kind of thing you normally hear in black music. The fact that Kevin should today be operating in a musical style that gives a considerable nod to black culture is one of God's miraculous ironies. For Kevin grew up in a home in Birmingham, Alabama where racism and the vilification of the black community as a semi-human sub-species was taught with passion by his racist father. On one level young Kevin and his brother Tres had a great start in life - their father was a millionaire diagnostician. The Prosch family lived in palatial surroundings in the richest part of Birmingham. But beyond the luxurious patios and Jacuzzi's was hidden a dark web of hatred and paranoia which was to burst into national media attention in 1971 when the authorities uncovered a huge cache of arms in Dr Prosch's home. Explained Kevin, "My father had a vision of the blacks taking over America, so he started an arsenal. I was 12/13 years old when I went through the experience. I was not able to leave the home for two years and was in a sort of a torture situation as a child, physical pain, emotional abuse. I was taught to hate the blacks. I had to march around the home saying things about blacks. There were weekly beatings. My life was terrible."
Yet in all this emotional agony there was another strange and mysterious dimension to Kevin's life. "All of my life I had been able to walk into a room and suddenly know things, forthcoming events or news headlines. The next day these things would happen. I thought I was demonic, because they looked for me to be prayed for. They thought there was something wrong with me. So I spent my life going through that and it was very, very hard. I carried it until I smoked my first joint when I was 14. Then it all left me, until I got saved again and then it all came back, the gifting."
In 1971 the FBI moved in on the Prosch home. Doctor Prosch was arrested. "He spent six years in the federal penitentiary," remembered Kevin. "I left home at 15. I had a year where they were trying to put me through therapy because of what had happened to my mind during that time. What they didn't realise, what with the prophetic gifting and him being so close to the demonic realm, it opened some other doors to the supernatural that was very hard for me because I didn't understand."
When Kevin's father got out of prison he started up a mining company in the Sierra Mountains in California. He asked Kevin and Tres whether they would come and work with him. Kevin's life had descended into chaos - drug abuse, contradictory pronouncements from various psychiatrists and an aimless lifestyle of booze, women, violence and racism. But there were no black people up in the Sierra Mountains. Or so Kevin thought.
"God called this black man named Gabriel to start a church there. He knew I was the bad guy in town, selling drugs to all the kids and stuff. One day Gabriel said to me, The Lord has sent me to pray for your salvation.' I threatened to cut him. I remember even when he walked on the sidewalk I told him, 'Now you step off the sidewalk when I walk by and let me pass by.' I remember it touched my heart even then because he did it with such joy, it didn't even bother him. I was so filled with hatred and prejudice. I had so much anger and rage in me against blacks. A few months later, I put a knife to him. But I saw no fear in the man's eyes. I was really a coward, but with a knife I had power and that always worked as a last resort. It scared people so bad. But Gabriel had no fear at all. It had the reverse affect. He said, 'l love you Brother Kevin.' I yelled back, 'You black sob nigger, don't you ever speak to me in public'
"There were only 350 people living in the town and everyone hated him 'cos he was black. It was seven months to the day that he said the Lord had sent him to pray for my salvation that I was driving up the road in a little Volkswagon. I sold marijuana in the wintertime to make some cash. I was unemployed 'cos the mines were snowed in and they couldn't work. I was smoking a joint and driving down in my car and something all of a sudden came in and sat in the car with me. I had to stop the car. This weeping came over me. I went down over the side of the hill and went down to the road. But it followed me. I remember the footsteps following me, this presence, because it was winter and the leaves were all crackly. I went down the hill and I remember crying out, 'What is this? Who are you?' But I knew. I knew it was Jesus. I came into town and all my friends were there and I remember I was in kind of like a bubble that I couldn't hear anything. All my friends were gathering and calling, 'Prosch', when I came up through town. There was Gabriel, this black man coming up from the bridge. He had tears in his eyes and I remember the last thing he said, Today is the day of your salvation.' So I knelt in the street and we blocked the street. I remember the horns blaring to get out of the way as I prayed the prayer of salvation, and all of my friends and their voices. And all of this weeping. And as I put my arms around Gabriel I remember something left me. In that moment I knew I could love black people. I gave my heart to the Lord. Two weeks later Gabriel just disappeared. He left town and I've never seen him again."
Kevin had always had a musical gift. In his teenage years he'd taught himself guitar. After his conversion Kevin left mining and went to work in landscape gardening where he joined a local church. "They were against listening to the radio. I wanted to serve the Lord so bad that I obeyed. I didn't have any theological training because they had to counsel me seven days of the week for six months 'cos I was still mentally way off and they were working through that whole issue. But after getting saved, God's gifting came upon me very strongly. It bothered the pastor that I knew things about his personal life. The church was a very traditional one and the prophetic gifts, words of knowledge, things like that were unheard of in that church. It wasn't talked about. So they treated me like I had to go through deliverance, like I was demonic.
After receiving a profound sense of God's presence after listening to an Eagles song on the radio, Kevin became convinced that God, in his graciousness, was prepared to use even the works of unregenerate musicians to bless, challenge and encourage. His church did not agree. Their staunch refusal to look at popular culture as anything other than fallen sent Kevin to the Scriptures. "I found the answer in Matthew 5," remembered Kevin. It says God pours out his Spirit on the just and the unjust alike. And it also says in Psalm 63 that he gives gifts to men even the rebellious, so that he might dwell among them. And Jesus said if you don't praise him then the rocks will cry out. Surely, if he's going to make the rocks cry out, God can take the heathen for his glory. And even though they don't realise it, their best art and music God could receive as praise. It's just that we're so narrow minded that we think it's only our music that blesses God. That's what's in my heart today, to put the secular culture in context, to recognise that there are some things that they're doing that are touching the heart of God and which God is pleased with. That's what I'm teaching in many of my seminars in the churches. It's like freeing the worship leaders and broadening their minds."
His views about God speaking through popular culture meant he was asked to leave his church. Kevin moved back to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. There he joined a new church with a congregation of 10 who, apart from the pastor, were all women. They were devoted to prayer," remembered Kevin, "and that was the most important thing. They were mostly very uneducated people. But they really loved God and they were very broken. It was a hard time for me but I grew spiritually." Kevin began writing worship songs. They were, for want of a better general term, rock music worship. For through study of the Scriptures, Kevin had become more and more convinced that the modern idea that praise equalled fast "clappy" songs and worship equalled slow, gentle ones was not Biblical. "I became convinced that God wanted to release intimacy through fast rock music as well as slow music," enthused Kevin. "In fact, the greatest outpourings and anointing were in the Psalms where all the beats were triple time."
Kevin did not find it easy to locate Christians who shared his radical views. "I began to get disheartened that many people in the churches wouldn't accept my music. So I started to adapt my style to fit their type of musical tastes."
While living in California with his wife and four children, Kevin's musical gift brought him to the attention of several record companies. "I went through several offers of recording contracts. But I refused them because they wanted to change the music so drastically I just couldn't do it. But little by little I began to change my style. When I first met the Vineyard two years ago I'd had many chances to record. But that was the first place that the Lord actually allowed me to make my first recordings. Musically, it wasn't so radical. It had a little more melancholy music but they accepted it. But even so there had to be quite a few musical changes even with Vineyard."
Under the guidance of 'signs and wonders minister' John Wimber, the Vineyard fellowships had become one of the most influential and fastest growing movements in the American church. The Vineyard and particularly Kansas City prophet Paul Cain received Kevin gladly into fellowship. Musically though Vineyard had problems with this soulful voiced rock ln' roller. Vineyard had developed an international reputation for softer MOR-style praise and worship. "People ask me, have Vineyard had an impact on my life," commented Kevin. "Vineyard certainly have in the theological aspect of my life. But not in the music part. How I came to the Vineyard to do that first recording was that I was at a conference with Paul Cain and Mike Bickel. The night before, I had a vision about a guy who was a turtle.
Dave Parker, who lived in Kansas City, said, 'Kevin, I want to introduce you to a fellow musician,' and called him over. 'Kevin, this is Carl.' I didn't know his last name. I was compelled to tell him about this strange vision, this man who was a turtle. I said, 'This is strange but I feel the Lord wants me to tell you this dream.' So I started telling him, on and on. He's sitting there bawling his guts out. Dave said, 'Did you and the turtle have a chance ever to meet?' I'd been talking to Carl Tuttle, the turtle! Then Carl said, 'You've got to come over to Anaheim. So I did and made the first recording 'Unto The King' and then 'King Of Saints'."
Kevin wasn't particularly impressed with the way Songs Of The Vineyard were putting together their praise albums. "I wanted to record live. But the series 'Touching The Father's Heart' was more straight recorded, simulated live worship. I was the first musician they had in the studio who said the only way I would do it was if I could have all the musicians playing at once. If you remember the recording 'Unto The King' it was the first experience they had ever had like that in the studio. So then after that they decided they would start doing more like that, where the musicians came together at the same time."
The first album that got Kevin's name on the front cover was 'Even So Come'. Despite being a low budget live recording it bristles with a power and passion seldom heard on seamless American praise and features fiery gospel-style backups. "A brother named Tom Davis who produced the album really took it up for me and pushed. He was willing to go for broke 'cos Vineyard had always done one style and Tom was willing to take the chance in helping me there."
During his prolific period with Vineyard Kevin managed to sing and lead worship on certain tracks on several different "artist-less" albums. Even he is unsure of all their names. He is less than impressed with the strange tradition that has grown up in praise and worship recordings where lead singers and worship leaders get no billing on the front sleeve (and often none in the small print on the inlay either). "The practice of hiding the musician's identity is totally religious in my thinking. It's sin, it's just false humility.
For a while Kevin was an assistant pastor on staff for Vineyard but has now left and runs Kevin Prosch Ministries. He is still in good relationship with Vineyard, however. Recently he has been busy bringing a prophetic ministry with a number of pop and rock luminaries living in Hollywood. There are other things happening as well. Kevin and his band have been invited over to play in Israel. Kevin's regular aggregation of musicians are called The Union and consist of Larry Mars (on mandolin and violin who incidentally was the Christian who led Bob Dylan to the Lord), Tony Green (bass, who has recorded a solo instrumental album with heavy African rhythms called 'Day 3'), Sue Green (keyboards, who recently married Tony) and Bill Burgest (drums, who like Tony Green has done a lot of film soundtrack sessions). These seasoned musos go out of their way not to divide up their work into "secular" and "sacred", nor to fall into other subdivisions ("performance" and "worship" for instance). But Kevin and the band are deeply convinced they must continue to be passionate and consistent worshippers of Jesus... and to spend time ministering to the saints. "I feel the Lord has called us to never leave the Bride's side, as dirty as she is and as unsettled as things are. A lot of Christian artists who have been getting involved in secular music, and I'm not hitting at anyone in particular, have lost focus. They have lost the rock from whence they were hewn, from the actual place where they received their anointing. My thing is that no matter how ugly she is, the Church is loved by God and I am willing to work through a lot of things -whether it's the styles of music or whatever to minister to the Church. I'll always be committed to praise and worship; I'll never leave that side of it. But the Lord is opening new doors for new undreamed of opportunities to minister. It's the Lord's principle of leaving the 99 to go and get the one who is lost. I'll give you an example. I was walking past a bar. It was a karaoke night and crammed full of people. But I felt the Spirit of God say, 'Go in, you pick out a song and sing.' I went, 'Well Lord, this is heathenistic, people getting drunk, making fools of themselves, singing dumb pop songs.' But the Lord had spoken. So I picked a song off the list they gave me - it was the only one I knew! Bill Withers' 'Lean On Me'. The moment the music started the Spirit of God began to move. The bar, that had been full of noise of laughing, suddenly got very quiet. As I began to sing people began to cry. I began to weep. All of a sudden the crowd were lifting their hands and waving them, singing along to the song. That night I realised God truly uses the natural things to speak of the spiritual. God anointed me to lead worship, but it doesn't stop with just the Church, the anointing carries over to the world. That authority, the mantle as a worship leader, can have a deep effect in the world too. The Lord wants me to stay in the Church. But also the Lord wants to see musicians with worshipping hearts making music in the secular realm. They think that I'm entertaining them, but it's actually that same worship Spirit."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.