Faith, Work, and Music: a podcast review

I enjoy connecting people with resources that have been meaningful and added value to my life and work. One such resource is a podcast called The Table hosted by Darrell Bock. Dr. Bock is executive director of the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement, as well as an author and senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). The Table provides thoughtful, winsome commentary from a variety of perspectives on matters of religion, work, culture, theology, politics, and more.

Dr. Bock recently interviewed musician and DTS theology student Todd Agnew on The Table about the connection between music, truth, beauty, and vocation.

Todd loved music from a very early age. He started leading worship right out of college predominantly at youth camps as well as churches and other concert venues. He did this for a long time and didn’t see the need for a change. His mentor, Dana Key, however had some other ideas.

Todd had earlier struggled with pride and therefore did not seek fame or notoriety. Dana saw the need to share Todd’s music with a larger audience. This led to Todd’s CD release through Ardent Records, including hit singles like Grace Like Rain, My Jesus, and Your Great Name among others.

As Todd’s career blossomed and flourished, including many subsequent albums as well as multi-city tours, he desired more training to provide a deeper foundation through which he could pour into worship leaders he was mentoring. This desire, coupled with a job offer his wife received, led him to begin studies at DTS. Bock says:

Along the way, the bare-footed young firebrand who lived out of his backpack matured into a thoughtful, theologically-committed communicator who is known as much for his practical biblical teaching as he is for his deeply compelling music.

It was very interesting to hear Todd describe the influence of seminary study on his writing.

The seed [of a song] kind of gets planted and I would start wrestling with it scripturally, then theologically, then communally. Then we start talking about it. Then say, “Okay, how do we live that out?” Once it has been in my life for a while, that is when it turns into music. Once it is a natural part of my life, I write a song about it.

What happened here was I had so much going into the front end of the pipe that nothing was getting to the end of the pipe.

Another interesting part of the process for music development Todd speaks about is the work that can be done in community.

One of the beautiful things about being a songwriter, as opposed to a book writer, is that [other] song writers get to play your songs. Then, you go on tour with your friends who play songs and write songs. Some of my friends that write books do that all by themselves. Whereas I get to see everybody else’s creative process and see how they operate.

Todd’s seminary education has caused him to become more intentionally thoughtful and deliberate in his craft. Instead of just throwing words in a song,  he now thinks, “Let’s find what is the theology, what is the best thing that can be said in the third line of verse two, [rather than thinking] ‘This kind of rhymes. Here we go.’

Now we’re saying, “No. We’re talking about redemption. What happened on the cross? So, what can be said in these seven syllables? What is the best thing that can be returned as an offering to the Lord in that moment?” It has really been challenging and a beautiful kind of new season.

The two reflected about a commonly held misconception of musicians:

Bock: Some people think that the songwriter just gets up there and they are gifted and they play a tune. The words just pop in their head and it kind of all happens at once. A two minute inspiration. That doesn’t sound like your world.

Agnew: It is not. One, because my writing process is so long it’s not like that. I don’t know that it is really like that for anybody. Even if you write quickly, it is still this part of you, part of your heart and your walk. You’ve sown part of yourself into that, which is the difficulty of it being a business. You do a hit record and you come back and they want more. You have written yourself into that, and your story into it, so it is a wonderful and beautiful thing, but yes it can be difficult as well.

I resonate strongly with what Jeff Haanen recently wrote here at the Green Room regarding more vocation-specific faith and work resources. Story-telling is a powerful pedagogical tool and we need to tell more stories. Todd Agnew has shared a powerful story here of the way his faith is integrated into the music he writes.

Click here to watch or listen to the full interview

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