Last Wednesday musician John Mark McMillan performed in the NMC. He took the stage in a tailored suit and began to lead the chapel in a time of unique praise, featuring several songs from his new album Borderland. Prior to the show, he shared a few of his thoughts on church, life, music and God.
Many christians today have a difficult time drawing the line between performance and worship. In hindsight of last Wednesday night, some of us may ask if McMillan was putting on a show or if he was leading us in worship. I think if you asked McMillan, he would more or less say he was doing both —which is perfectly O.K.
Since the beginning of McMillan’s life as a professional artist, he has strived to write music that retells theological truths in new ways. “Music is not isolated” he says. “A song is a piece of a very large conversation.” Likewise, our lives as christians and as artists cannot be separated. The concept of integrating faith with everyday life was apparent in his concert/worship set.
Above all, McMillan stresses the raw feelings that good music should cultivate. “If it doesn’t hit you in the gut, then it’s not a good song” he says “the central most part of a song is the way it makes you feel.”
In writing his own music, McMillan describes the process as an exploring an idea. “I didn’t think that I was writing theology as much as I was just exploring things that I was really interested in.”
McMillan’s interest in the story of redemption continually directs his music to theological truths. “Ultimately that’s what the Bible is, it is a story. It’s all kinds of things, but above all things it’s a story. And as a songwriter your job is to retell stories.”
As McMillan retells stories in his music, he tries not to get too caught up in the structural aspect of the writing process. Instead, he prefers to write songs simply because thats what he wants to do and then afterwards he decides “where the song’s going to live.” Whether it works best as a worship song or as a reflective song that could be appreciated out of a church context.
Even with his considerable success in the Christian world of music, McMillan advises to all twenty-somethings not to stress while we reach for our goals. Instead, we should relax, moving forward at a steady pace. “Don’t feel like you have to kill yourself to do it by the time you’re 24” he says. McMillan points out how he was so distraught after his first album didn’t fly as he had hoped. In hindsight, he thanks God for his initial supposed failure, citing that success in life is like “running a marathon” and not a sprint.
“A lot of people who are successful early on” he says “also are very short lived, and there are certain successes that you don’t want to live with.”
Like McMillan’s music, this Biblical metaphor speaks both to success in life as a christian and as a musician, or anything else you want to be. “You can’t do it all” he says “but you can almost do anything you want to do.”