RELEVANT sat down with Brandtson’s John Sayre at Cornerstone Florida to talk about trusting God to provide and tearing down the fence around the ghetto.
[RELEVANT magazine:] How was the reception there for you guys [on tour in England]?
[John Sayre:] Shows were pretty good—typical club-size shows that we used to do at home, except that the difference was that they were packed! And we played a couple of festivals out there, which were really cool. It was really cool, but kinda humbling at the same time.
[RM:] How so?
[JS:] It’s like, these songs [are something] that we wrote in a practice space in Ohio, and when you’re in the process of writing stuff, you’re not thinking about anyone else hearing. You’re thinking about coming up with a song that you like … But to get there and to actually have kids come out and aside from that, to have kids singing along and into us, I’m just like, "How did you even hear our music?" Because it’s like, the whole distribution thing is something I don’t really think about on a daily basis. My reality is when we go to play a show in a certain city, that’s how kids are hearing about us. But yeah, to have kids in Germany, who don’t speak English, singing along. It’s just humbling. What we’re doing isn’t this huge thing. But at the same time, it’s reaching a lot farther than any of us expected it to.
[RM:] It’s gotta be cool to see people latching on.
[JS:] Oh totally. It’s moments like that—we went to Asia this winter. We played this festival in Singapore, on this river right down town. Really beautiful, that city is beautiful. I was just standing by the river, or sitting on a bench, and it just hit me: "I’m in Singapore. I’m on the other side of the planet from home." There’s no way I got here myself.
Extreme thankfulness comes over you in those moments. Just the fact that, this is a blessing that isn’t a necessity in my life. But God’s like, you know what? I’m going to do this for you. It’s one of those little things that God drops in your lap. It’s awesome that doing something as stupid as writing rock songs and jumping around like a monkey on stage can take you around the world.
[RM:] Yu guys have been together for how long now?
[JS:] A little bit over six years. It was six years in March.
[RM:] You guys are on the road a lot, aren’t you?
[JS:] We are. Last year, we were on the road a little over six months.
[RM:] Wow, that’s a lot of time away from home.
[JS:] Yeah, it is. But the thing is, we’re kind of at the point right now where, if we’re on the road, we make enough money to live, you know? Like this winter, we spent four and half months at home, and it almost killed us. The economy wasn’t that great, and we all had trouble finding jobs. It was the total grace of God that we made it to the next tour.
That was definitely a stressful time, but there were lessons to be learned, and it was character-building, I guess that’s what you’d say. It was definitely hard. It was one of those things that you can look back and be like, it builds you up, because it’s important to have a job, but ultimately, it’s not your job that provides for you. It’s not going in 40 hours a week or it’s not going on the road six months a year, or whatever. That’s a tool that God can use to provide. But God can provide in thousands of different ways that you never even considered.
Our experience this whole winter was that, when there was a need, it was provided for, just in time. There was a lot of nail biting. You know, our rent’s due? The money was there for it. That’s an awesome feeling. God said He’d take care of us. He said don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or wear—the basics of life are covered. Don’t sweat it. We forget that a lot. I think in a lot of cases, I know in my case, it’s total ego. I think that I’m the captain. And then things spin out of control, and God uses those times …
[RM:] What’s your take on our culture and the way Christians are viewed?
[JS:] Where I come from personally, I was raised in church. My family was Southern Baptist. I was raised in Sunday school, vacation Bible school, church three times a week, Bible drills. You know, I can still sing the song, the books of the Bible. And that was an awesome foundation, but for me, [it] just never … I guess it’s like the parable, the seed that blew away. It didn’t ever take root …
It was in college that I finally looked into it for myself. I think having that experience has told me that church, or organized church—the building, the congregation—definitely has a place. But if that’s all that you’re locking into, it might be when you’re a teenager, it might be when you’re 47, you’re going to start questioning. Unless you have personal experience and personal relationship, everything that you’ve built your beliefs on is going to start swaying. And that’s what happened for me.
The point I’m at now is, I’ve had some difficult church experiences since then—some really painful stuff, which is unfortunately probably pretty common, too, with a lot of people. I’ve gotten the point where, in my life, I try as hard as possible not to separate “sacred” and “secular” because it’s all God’s. This world, as screwed up as it is, was created by God. God’s in it, working through it …
I want to do as much as I can to tear down the fence around the ghetto, because I think it’s unnecessary, and I think all that it does is keep people who need what we’ve found, or what God has shown us, it keeps them out. And we feel safe in our little cocoon …
It’s almost cliché to talk about, but Jesus was the one hanging out in the marketplace with the prostitutes and tax collectors. He was rubbing shoulders. His first miracle happened at a party. I’ve heard that preached on, and I personally don’t believe that Jesus just was standing in a corner, with His arms folded, looking in disgust at all these people enjoying a party. I think He was there as a guest. It doesn’t go into it, but I could imagine that Jesus knew the groom and the family and that He was there to share in their celebration.
That’s the Jesus who I think people lose sight of. The Jesus who was a friend, the Jesus who was a part of the real world, loving people and meeting them where they were … Our responsibilities as Christians or as the Church [are] to love people with as close to a godly love as possible and not to make the separations in our mind—oh, these are believers and these are non-believers. Because in reality, other than God’s grace, I’m no different than anyone else. It’s just that, one day, out of all the millions of people in the world, God made Himself real to me, which He wants to do for everyone else. But I did nothing to deserve that, so how can I set myself above anyone else, just because I’ve come to that realization? We’re all at different points in our journey.
Taking it back to the band, we’ve never set out to be a "Christian" band. We’re all believers, but I don’t think, and I can’t speak for the other guys, I know I’m not called to the office of evangelist. I know that’s not a calling on my life. I know I’m called, the Great Commission is for everyone, but I don’t think the Great Commission involves a megaphone and a soapbox. It’s more in relationship; it’s more in friendship.
To expect me, because once in a while I’m in front of a crowd of people behind a microphone, to suddenly preach the four point sermon and end up with the alter call, that’s a really dangerous thing, I think … When you get in front of a crowd, especially some of the kids who are younger, they’ll take it as God’s word, even if they can’t find that anywhere in their Bible. If I don’t feel that God’s called me to that and that He’s given me the words to say, that’s a responsibility that I don’t want, and I don’t think I have any right having. I think if I were to do that, it takes away from the actual office of evangelist, as spelled out in Scripture …
Once in a while we get asked, "What’s your ministry?" My ministry is my life. Being in a band is my vocation. And my job brings me in contact with a lot more people that I can have conversations with and maybe, in whatever way God can use me, influence. But that’s for after the show and that’s for before the show. And it happens so often that I know that God’s behind it.
It’s like, kids [will] come up and say, “This one song of yours really touched me” … The fact that God could use a song on one of our albums shows me that what I’m doing is ministry, the same as what you’re doing is ministry, the same as somebody dumping the trash cans is ministry. It’s being where God put you and doing your job to the best of your ability and being open to where God might be leading you within that. So if I have a ministry, it’s that.[Jeremy Hunt is a freelance writer and musician based near Charlotte, N.C. Soli Deo Gloria.]