EDMOND, Okla. (BP)–“When my grandmother walks into a room, you can tell just by the look on her face that her heart belongs to Christ,” said Bart Millard, spokesman for the five-member MercyMe praise band.
And that, Millard said, is what MercyMe wants to project in its songs and concert performances.
The band had its beginnings in Edmond, Okla.
“I was working at a church in Florida where our guitarist was a member of the youth group, and after he graduated, we talked about putting together a praise band,” Millard recalled. “Along the way we met our keyboard player through AweStar Ministries in Tulsa when we went overseas on a mission trip.”
Millard said they later moved to Edmond and organized the band in 1994.
Eight years later, the group performs 200 dates a year and has eight recordings and three Dove Awards.
Millard noted that while the band’s original calling was student praise, he thinks the band has grown up with its audience over the last eight years.
“We still lean more toward high school and college, but we have people of all ages coming to our concerts,” Millard said. “The true sense of worship is to minister to the church in general and not just the youth group. We’re definitely trying to minister to as many people as possible.”
The group writes all the songs on its albums but does traditional and popular praise songs at live performances, Millard said.
“It’s our goal to usher people to the throne room through worship, so we’ll do that by whatever means necessary,” Millard said. “Sometimes we need to sing songs that are familiar so we can draw people in quicker than by writing stuff and getting them to learn it.”
Millard said when he and his fellow musicians write songs, they try to keep Christ as the center of attention.
“When you do that, it’s going to overflow into your song writing,” he said. “I don’t’ think it’s a deliberate effort to write songs that draw people to Christ, but I think it comes across that way because we’ve tried to focus on our walk with Christ.”
The group’s latest album, “Almost There,” includes the popular song “I Can Only Imagine.” The song won Dove Awards for song of the year and pop recorded song of the year, and Millard won for songwriter of the year.
He said he believes people, and especially students, can see right through musicians who are faking their Christianity.
“I think the only thing that is going to win people over is to truly have a relationship with Christ and be as real as possible,” Millard said. “We want people to see that we’ve found something we’re in love with and something that has changed our lives. As in all areas of life, it’s our lifestyle that witnesses more than what we sing.”
Millard said, contrary to what a lot of people think, MercyMe sings a lot of hymns.
“We absolutely love hymns and would like to do an album of hymns someday,” he said. He admitted that the group does “update” some of the music of the hymns, but that one of the things they hear most from people is to continue singing hymns.
“It can be really funny sometimes because we’ll sing an old hymn, and students will come up and tell us what a great song it was and ask us who wrote it,” Millard said. “They can’t believe it when we tell them it was written in 1700.”
Millard added that most hymns have a greater message than songs written today — with great theology in them — and as long as he is in the band, they will always do hymns.
Millard said he doesn’t have an answer to the controversy in churches today between contemporary and traditional music, but he said he believes God wants people to focus more on the worship than the worshipper.
“The Bible says there is a day coming, and it’s now, when God seeks out true worshippers in spirit and truth,” Millard said. “God didn’t say He is seeking out true worship or styles of worship, but worshippers. I know we worship a big enough God who honors all types of music as long as it glorifies His name.”
Millard said he’s seen heavy metal bands that have worshiped more than some churches because their hearts were in the right place, and they were expressing how they feel about Christ.
“I don’t know how you get that message across,” Millard said, “because you have people of different ages who think they are so right, and it’s not that they are wrong; it’s just what they believe.”
He said he’s been in some contemporary praise style churches where his heart was broken because it was obvious the music was not honoring God. But at the same time, he said, he has also visited churches that did all old hymns and there was no life there.
“The church I attend, Highland Terrace in Greenville, Texas, does all hymns. It’s very traditional, and I love it,” Millard remarked. “It just depends on who you are. What kind of worship does the music create? Sometimes it’s just a preference.”
Millard said he realizes some music is just entertainment.
“The mere definition of entertainment is bringing focus on yourself, using all your abilities to entertain the crowd,” he said. “Worship is all about taking the focus off you and making Christ the center of attention. I think God is going to get His glory regardless of how we sometimes try to mess things up.”
People are figuring out there is a difference between worship and entertainment, Millard said, and most don’t want to be entertained anymore.
“We produced a congregation that sat back, crossed their arms and said ‘OK, entertain me,’ from the music to the pastor,” Millard said. “I grew up with so many cynical people who were entertained for so long that when a new pastor came in and he wasn’t funny enough or preached too long or too short, they were truly disappointed.”
Millard said he always goes back to his grandmother who couldn’t care less if the pastor is funny, preaches too long or too short, or if the music is fast or slow.
“Every Sunday, she was amazed she was allowed to be in the presence of the Lord,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING GOD’S GLORY.