BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BP) — Few churches in Arkansas — and in the entire Southern Baptist Convention for that matter — gather for worship led by an award-winning Christian music artist. But it happens every week at First Baptist Church in Bentonville.
Christian musician Clay Crosse, 47, is a four-time Dove Award winner (including Best New Artist of the Year in 1995) with nine No. 1 songs and is an author of three books. He has been serving for more than a year as full-time worship pastor at First Baptist, Bentonville, which is located near Bentonville’s downtown square.
“It’s pretty cool how God has opened different doors for me,” Crosse said.
Crosse’s last full-time job before becoming a Christian music sensation was with Federal Express more than 20 years ago. He sang on the weekends, waiting to get his first break. When it finally happened, Crosse left Federal Express at age 20 to go on the road with Twila Paris.
At first, he sang and that’s all he wanted to do. Over time, he became comfortable playing guitar and leading others in worship. He began to speak around the country, and his wife Renee joined him in marriage enrichment seminars.
Crosse’s ministry in marriage enrichment came as the result of a confession he made to his wife in 1998. He confessed that pornography had been an issue in his life, and he did not want it in his life anymore.
“I asked her to forgive me and she has been gracious and very loving and very patient to walk with me, and we’ve seen victory and we’ve seen amazing things come out of our lives because of that moment of confession,” Crosse said.
The couple has been married for 24 years, and through their struggles and victories, they started Holy Homes ministry.
Crosse came to First Baptist, Bentonville, from Faith Baptist Church in Arlington, Tenn., where he served as part-time music minister.
“I had led in other churches before that, but these were basically part-time positions,” he said. “I continued to travel on the road. My full-time job was out on the road, singing and leading marriage
In Bentonville, his full-time job is with the church, but he’s still allowed a certain number of weekends to give concerts or lead marriage enrichment workshops.
Jenny Sorey, who sings in First Baptist’s adult choir and band, said she was not apprehensive but had questions when Clay Crosse first started visiting the church.
“I’m at an age where I know Clay Crosse as Clay Crosse,” she said, admitting she wondered how someone like him could come out of the spotlight and into a full-time position at a church.
But having him as worship pastor has been wonderful, she said.
“He truly loves the Lord and in a real sense,” she said. “As far as his heart, it’s so genuine.”
She noted, “He’s also very good at what he does, and he wants excellence.”
Crosse said one thing he enjoys about full-time church ministry is the opportunity to develop relationships. During his years of traveling, he would go into a city, perform a concert and leave immediately.
“I never really got to engage with people with much of a relationship experience,” he said. “Serving in a local church is the opposite. I’m basically living with these people as far as I see them every week and we are truly friends.”
Randy Cameron, pastor of church growth at First Baptist, said the church has been blessed to have Crosse and his family in Bentonville.
“First and foremost, he is a man who walks intimately with the Lord,” Cameron said. “God has blessed him with certain talents, and he feels called to use those talents at FBC, and that’s been great.”
Cameron describes Crosse as a “humble guy,” noting people from outside First Baptist may see him as Clay Crosse the performer, but to those in the church, “he’s just a guy who loves the Lord and this is a different part of his journey.”
Worship in church has changed tremendously during the past 20 years, and Crosse said he enjoys modern music but also enjoys harkening back to older songs, using both in the context of a worship service at First Baptist.
It’s not easy, he admits, because people are used to years of doing church music a certain way and find it hard to even imagine doing it a different way.
He believes, though, it is going in a great direction. Music can draw people to Christ, Crosse said. “It’s incredible and powerful!” he exclaimed.