Okay, so this is where we're supposed to give you all the marketing hype, the impressive list of awards and nominations, the radio stats, record sales and media coverage. All the facts to confirm just how far up the music career ladder Casting Crowns has traveled in the two short years since the band's recording debut.
Certainly there is much to tell.
But frankly, that's the least of what you need to know about Casting Crowns. There's nothing less important to them than all the marketing details. Instead, if we could all suspend that tiny (or big, as the case may be) voice of cynicism just for a moment - if we could magically transport ourselves to any given Sunday morning at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta, perhaps we'd see just how little the music business machine matters.
What matters is what's going on in the lives of the 400+ kids that Mark Hall and the other six members of Casting Crowns minister to each and every week. What matters is whether or not that teenage guy really 'gets' that God believes in him, even when he has trouble believing back. What matters is whether that teenage girl knows she's loved and wanted by the God of the universe, when there's no one else to love her. What matters is that they come to see their lives as the only songs of worship that really count.
"Sixty percent of my students have probably never heard of the Dove Awards, SoundScan or radio charts, " says lead singer and songwriter Mark Hall. "These are everyday teenagers living in the real world. Their parents are fighting, or their boyfriend or girlfriend just broke up with them and they're failing math. We come home every week to people who desperately need a relationship with Jesus. This is the ministry that God has called us to." He adds, "You've got to earn the right to talk to them about their lives. They want to know that you struggle too, before you start getting in their business. So it's not about art or music. The music is not the point. Music is just a way of sharing the awesome love of God. So we speak of our weakness and our fears - we speak of our failures and how God rescued us from the pit and allows us to be a part of what He is doing in the world. If we are open and honest about our lives and our walk with Jesus, then others will see us and think, 'Hey, that's me too! God can do that in me!'"
That kind of honesty lies at the epicenter of Lifesong, the sophomore release from Casting Crowns and the band's most compelling work to date. Ably produced again by Mark Miller (Sawyer Brown), Lifesong continues in the same vein as the Casting Crowns debut, bringing focus to topics the band feels aren't being talked about enough. Hall explains, "We're not the angry artist out there throwing rocks at the church. We're in the church every week. We're not talking down to anyone. If anything, we're talking up to them from hearts that God is still working on."
In other words, whether success exits as quickly as it entered, Casting Crowns has no plans to change the subject matter or their approach to it. Hall states, "I think people are willing to listen to the hard truth if you're being transparent about your own life, your own struggles with doubt and fear and failure. These songs, like all the songs I write, are simply about where we all live."
Are we happy plastic people / Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness / And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open / To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain on our stained glass masquerade
- from "Stained Glass Masquerade"
With bold questions set in memorable melodies, songs like "Does Anybody Hear Her, " "While You Were Sleeping" and "Stained Glass Masquerade" leave no room for doubt that Casting Crowns continues to challenge the Sunday morning status quo. Beautiful, worshipful songs like "Love Them Like Jesus, " "Praise You In This Storm" and "In Me" confirm their unwavering determination to be living, breathing examples of Jesus in the world. After all, that is why they're here. That's why we're all here.
"Your purpose is to worship Him with your life, " Hall says. "On that journey to becoming like Jesus, you may be a doctor, construction worker, salesperson or a youth pastor, but that's not why you're here. You're here to worship Him with everything you have. You're here to become like Jesus."
"This is your life song, " Hall says. "This is your act of worship: what you do with the life you've been given. A life of worship says 'God, I'm waking up today. I'm going to do a lot of things, I'm going to go a lot of places, I'm going to talk to a lot of people, but my goal is to point others to You and to make You smile today.' The more we live like that, the more we become like him, and the closer we get to His heart, the more we see that His heart is for people. So then you start seeing people that are hurting. And ministry becomes the overflow of a life poured out at Jesus' feet."
Empty hands held high / Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life / I sing in vain tonight
- from "Lifesong"
Two years into a whirlwind music career, Casting Crowns has no plans to start counting the kudos, polishing the awards or basking in the glow of audience appreciation. They're too busy living out a larger calling on their lives.
"When something happens in your life, and you know full well that there's not a single thing that you did to make it happen, and you don't feel a need to keep it happening, you just know that for some reason God just wants it to be right now, " Hall says. "So a big part of this whole thing is not having too many dreams for the future. I constantly find myself thinking 'God, if we get ahead of You on this thing it'll all be gone.' All we know is that we're husbands and wives and parents first. And we know that we're supposed to be in the church doing what we're doing there. So we're going to bloom where God has planted us in this season and keep doing it until the next season comes."
Fortunately, the band keeps it high on sophomore studio release Lifesong. Staying true to their approach of assimilating crisp melodies, forthright lyrics and stout vocals, the Crowns effectively blend uptempo worship anthems and emotive ballads for another well-balanced set.