Music

To hell and back: ex-Newsboys frontman shares his story

Andy Rau

In 1997, the lead singer of the uber-popular CCM group Newsboys left the band; the official word was that he was leaving to become a pastor. A painfully open interview with James last year, however, tells a different story: far from leaving the band to pursue a higher spiritual calling, James was leaving because alcohol addiction was breaking him down. In the interview, James walks us through his story, from the heights of success to the rock-bottom depths, and then ultimately on to his quiet but amazing restoration.

It's a really moving testimony, and a few things really jumped out at me.

First, James' life imploded while he was surrounded by completely unaware Christian friends. (The other members of the band were stunned when he confessed to them what was going on.) James attributes this partly to his own sneakiness at hiding his problem, and also to the amazing ability of good-hearted people to not notice problems even when they're this hard to miss. I can't help but wonder how many personal breakdowns or other desperate needs go unnoticed or unaddressed in our church congregations because it's simply easier to pretend not to notice the problem.

Second are James' words on the Christian music industry. How do you get swept up into alcohol addiction (and worse) when you're working in a business filled with Christians?

"The Gospel Music Industry, if I can sum it up in that terminology, is a great concept. An organised tool to get the message of Christ out through music, through concerts, through record labels, to distribute the message. A powerful tool. The industry is not the problem. The problem is people's lives in the industry that have become messed up and lost perspective of what it's all about. It's become about the money, the industry, the success, the fame. We've lost focus. I want people to understand because sometimes people ask me, 'Are you bitter now on success, money, fame, position?' I say, no of course I'm not. Influence, money, success, position.those are powerful, incredible tools we can use to influence masses of people. Mighty tools! Those things aren't the problem. Money, success, is not the problem. It's when we allow our hearts to be seduced by those things, where it becomes all about the money, all about the success, all about MY career, MY ministry. That's the problem right there!"

And third is the incredible spiritual restoration that happens in James' life. At the bottom of page 2, he describes the experience of being "singled out" for prayer and support by Christians who didn't know who he was or what had been happening in his life. His words:

"What's funny is that about a month later the same thing happened again! It's like for the next several months every minister from overseas who came to our church singled us out. It was like God went out of his way continually to the point I know people in church were probably getting sick and tired, wondering why it was always us being singled out. It's like God went out of his way in spite of how we were feeling to say, 'Listen, you guys are so precious to me. Even amongst this hell you're going through, I'm right there with you. Even though you feel so devalued, like your life has no meaning or purpose let me say, I'm going to use you to do great things still. I want to use you.'

There's a lot to unpack in that interview. Thoughts, reactions?

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, News & Politics, Media