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baltimoresun.com

For Casting Crowns singer, message outweighs art

Popular Christian rock act headlines Baltimore Arena this weekend

By Wesley Case

The Baltimore Sun

1:24 PM EDT, March 19, 2014

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Mark Hall’s resume makes it safe to say that he’s a bona fide rock star. He’s the lead singer of Casting Crowns, one of the most popular and successful Christian rock bands working today. The Grammy-nominated group, which will headline Baltimore Arena on Saturday, has been Billboard's top-selling act in Christian music since 2007, selling more than 8 million records worldwide.

But Hall’s rock star title takes a backseat to his other job. Hall, 44, is a student pastor in Atlanta, and he has refused to choose between the two since the release of the band's first album in 2003. Since then, each week has been split between touring and pastoring.

During a phone conversation last week from his Atlanta home, Hall stated the obvious: The dual roles are not the easiest to manage, especially when it comes to touring. 

“We'll do a 10-day run [on the West Coast], so I'll be getting up at 4 in the morning to fly home for church on Sunday and then fly back out to meet the band,” Hall said. “That can be tough.”

At this point, few outsiders would fault him for making the band his full-time priority. It could be argued that dedicating more time to Crowns would more effectively spread the band's message, but Hall is simply too committed to the approximately 400 teenagers, and their families, he works with at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga.

For Hall, a father of four married to the Crowns' tour manager Melanie Hall, the key to balancing time is to remember what matters most, professionally and personally.

“My time with my kids is my No. 1 priority, church is my No. 2 and Crowns is my No. 3, so I've got to keep my priorities in order,” Hall said.

As Hall has learned to balance the very different aspects of his life, the popularity of Crowns — a band with nearly 3.9 million “Likes” on Facebook — has continued to grow.

Part of the reason is Hall's songwriting and its broad appeal. “Thrive's” upbeat title song, for example, combines a folk influence with a pop-country melody, while multiple voices sing uplifting “Ohhs” in the background. You might mistake it for the Lumineers until Hall sings, “God, we thirst for more of you / Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire.”

Naturally, “Thrive” incorporates stories from Hall's other job. On the new song “Heroes,” he sings about the hardships of single mother Robin Lamp, a member of his church. Hall said the song is an attempt to “redefine what a hero is,” and to let others know their positive impact can be felt even when it seems to go unnoticed.

“A lot of times we think heroes are the ones in front of the crowd, but going and doing big things for God doesn't always mean across the world. Sometimes it's just loving the person next to you,” he said.

While Crowns has caught on with many, Hall still hears skepticism and criticism from secular audiences. He understands his songs, and thus his messages, are not for everyone, but Hall rejects certain misconceptions about Christian rock. For one, he calls the idea that “Christians make bad art” the “strangest statement I've ever heard.”

High art is not Hall’s goal, anyway. He said he is not here to “build a legacy of art.”

“My goal is to play people to Jesus. If the song I write is forgotten a year later but it was the moment that a kid realized, 'Hey, God might be bigger than church. I'm going to check this out,” [then] that's why we get up in the morning and suck air through our nose,” Hall said. “The day that my art becomes more important than my message, I'm a little upside down.”

If you go

Casting Crowns performs Saturday at Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., downtown. Laura Story and For King & Country will also perform. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $24-$75. Call 410-347-2020 or go to baltimorearena.com.