Grammy-winning singer Steven Curtis Chapman says he's not the type of artist who can write music without being prompted by God.
For Chapman, songs are born out of events in his life.
"I don't wake up and say, 'Hey, I need to go to work and write a song today.' I find myself moved by something – something I'm reading something, something that starts breaking my heart, something that's encouraging my heart," Chapman told Christian Headlines. "And my response to it is to sit down with a guitar or a piano and say: I want to respond to this in a way that hopefully will speak life into other people as well and encouragement in others."
That's how his latest album, Still, was birthed. It includes the upbeat, inspiring song Don't Lose Heart, which urges the listener to embrace God's promises during trials. Don't Lose Heart has spent 20 weeks on Billboard's Christian Airplay Chart and 18 weeks on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs list.
"It's basically something that I could not 'not' do, because that's how I process life," Chapman said of the album.
With 18 Grammy nominations, five wins and more than 50 Dove Awards – a Dove record – Chapman has watched contemporary Christian music grow from a small niche genre into a major industry that has crossover appeal. He won his first Grammy more than three decades ago, in 1989.
The ultimate goal of the Christian artist, he said, should be to "make great art illuminated by our faith."
"I grew up in a culture where a lot of times people would get up and sing out in the country, and they'd say, 'We didn't really practice, [so] pray for us as we sing. We don't really know what we're doing.' And you're kind of back there going, 'Then, don't do it.'
"Because if we're going to do something for the glory of God, it ought to be excellent," Chapman said. "It ought to be beautiful. It ought to be praiseworthy. And I think what I've seen, thankfully, happening in Christian music is that that has happened more and more over the years. I've watched more and more creative people honing their craft and expanding in all different areas and genres, and styles of music. But still with that heartbeat, to say, as a person of faith, as a person who the Gospel has not only impacted my life but has given me life, I want to make art that's illuminated by that."
Music that's illuminated by faith, Chapman added, can be overt – as in worship music – or it can be subtle, as in the music of Switchfoot and Need to Breathe.
"That's what my boys do. My boys are in a band called Colony House, which is an alternative rock band," Chapman said. "And they weave their faith into their music, but they make great art. So that people look at it and go, 'Wow, that's really good.' And then they lean in and go, 'Why is it so good?' And hopefully, they go, 'Because there's something, there's a light in that' – there's something that's drawing them to it."
Chapman quoted a line from his favorite movie, Chariots of Fire, where Eric Liddell's father tells his son, "Run in God's name and let the world stand back in wonder."
"That's hopefully what we're doing is making music in God's name, and the world is seeing it and going, 'Wow, that's really, really good,'" Chapman said.
Photo courtesy: ©Blue Ambert Photography, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.