There is no denying it: Americans are obsessed with politics. Turn off the television, close your laptop, silence your phone, and you are likely to still be buzzing from the swarm of public conversations on who will occupy the oval office this January. Whether opining on their policies, platforms, or personal lives and convictions, culture is staking their claim and taking sides.
And the Church is anything but immune to the conflict.
Feeling the pull between a nation divided and a Kingdom united, Christians are feeling the cultural sway to trump (pun intended) faith in the Eternal to place our hearts in the alluring vices, yet flaky positions, of politics. As thirty-something husbands and fathers and responsible citizens who strive to pattern their lives after the example of Jesus, the members of Tenth Avenue North understand living in the twenty-first century tension between God and country.
After the band’s last recording performed less-than-expected commercially, the thoughtful collective pushed pause to beg the question, “Why do we make music?” Having long been respected as a band willing to plunge beneath the surface of radio hits, industry achievements and sales successes—all of which have been awarded to the band several times over—to utilize music as a channel to provoke thought in the Church, the band emerged from their motivations with a revival in their hearts and a refreshed definition of “success.”
Lead less, follow more.
And so amid a season where culture is channeling all of its energy into promoting the next leader of the free world, Mike, Jason, Jeff, Brendon and Ruben are focusing their efforts on cultivating followers, presented on the band’s brand new, and aptly titled, playlist—Followers
CCM Magazine: It seems the genesis of Followers directly correlates with the band’s redefinition of success. Is this true? How?
Mike Donehey: When we first entered the scene, we had a lot of success. Our first three records did really well at Christian radio—a lot of people purchased them. Then our last record fell into obscurity. It threw me, and I thought, “Is this defeating for me? And if so, why?”
Whenever we go through levels of success, we can say that our identities are in Jesus, and that I’m loved by Him, and that’s what gives me confidence. But you don’t really know if the stage is where you get your value from until people don’t applaud you anymore. So we began asking ourselves, “Are we making this music because it’s successful, or are we making this music because we believe in it and it’s affecting people?”
Matt Maher was telling me about people meeting with the Pope. The Pope said that he’s not interested in meeting with people who don’t understand that we seek relationship, not opportunity. In the music business, sometimes, you feel people seeking you for the opportunity you might provide and not for the relationship itself. Same with God. Am I seeking God because he’s going to create opportunity for me and because He’s going to make me successful in the world’s eyes—or am I seeking God for God Himself?
CCM: Was there a collective sense of this within the band, or was it a spark in one individual that influenced others?
Jason Jamison: We never sat down and said, “This is what we’re going through and this is what we’re all feeling right now.” It was more of a spark, a sense of life, like what you’re going through at that point in time. And it’s slightly different for everyone.
For me, it is asking, ““What is it that’s motivating me to walk out this door?” Because that’s different now than it was ten years ago, when I didn’t have a bunch of kids running around the house. And if we’re looking at cold hard cash, it’s fleeting and all over the map. It’s always been about interacting with people, hearing their stories, and hearing how God is using music in a way that I never could have imagined. We write a song, and it may not [perform well] at radio, but then at a show we’re playing, someone says, “God used this song to change my life.”
MD: Two weeks ago, a girl at a fair in Michigan told us, “I was going to take my life six months ago, and your song came on my Spotify.” It wasn’t even a radio single, it wasn’t commercially viable, and I think, “Well, if that’s not success…”
JJ: …and those are the stories I’m going to share with my wife on the phone that night. That’s what fuels us to keep going. So maybe it’s even just a gut check of, “Is that still what keeps us motivated to keep doing this?”
CCM: There’s a lyric from the song “Control,” that says, God, you don’t need me, but somehow you want me / Oh, how you love me / And somehow that frees me to take my hands off my life. We live in a culture of surface affection and I believe it has begun to diminish our understanding of who we actually are. Do you feel like there is this identity crisis, not only culturally, but inside the church?
MD: We’re all trying to feel valuable and loved. If you don’t [find] that in God, then you’re going to look elsewhere. Ironically, with social media, we never think of ourselves as a follower—everyone else is our follower, and we start obsessing about how many followers we can get to give us the value that Christ has already offered us, but we haven’t received. So you’re trying to create this value, and Christ is saying, “I want to give it to you.”
When we look at people as followers, we start looking at them as a commodity. People become usable goods to trade and sell. When we start using other people that way, we can’t help but escape the nagging feeling that that’s what they’re using us for. And so it’s this cycle. That’s why I wrote that song, because we see God that way, that as our usefulness rises and falls, so does our value.
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