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Praise in the Pandemic: A Conversation with Elevation’s Pastor Steven Furtick and Chris Brown

Praise in the Pandemic: A Conversation with Elevation’s Pastor Steven Furtick and Chris Brown



RELEVANT: Are you looking forward to life getting back to normal as the guidelines start to lift or have you found quarantine life soothing? 

PASTOR STEVEN: I miss our church so much. When I watch an old video, which even could be six weeks ago, I think, man, I didn’t know how much I loved these people until you don’t get to be with them. And so all of that will be so welcome whenever we’re able to be together again. But from a routine standpoint, I’m kind of cut out for it. I’ve been doing Zoom meetings for the last two years.

CHRIS: Yeah. We’ve got our whole lives happening in the same square footage. School, church, work, movie theater, restaurant, the park. It’s all happening right here.

It makes it a very weird time to release a corporate worship album. 

CHRIS: I wouldn’t want this to go one day longer than it has to. We have an online ministry, so we get to worship every single Sunday with our people and help bring them into the presence of God. It’s interesting. I want to get back in the church and in the room with people as quickly as possible. But there’s been a complete loss of inhibition also. Even the most recent song that we wrote, ‘Rattle.’ I don’t know if that song would even have been written, one, if quarantine hadn’t had happened. And two, I’m certain it wouldn’t have been presented to our church or come about in the same way that it did if we weren’t in this position.

Why is that? 

PASTOR STEVEN: It’s a rager. It’s the sound of combustible energy. It’s the sound of: we’re locked in our house. Wild spirit animals need a place to howl.

PASTOR STEVEN: Regarding releasing an album, especially an album called Graves Into Gardens, none of that really had a logical plan to it, but I think that’s the best definition of faith for me right now.

I’m 40. I’ve been pastoring this church just a little over 14 years. And, after what I’ve seen and experienced, I think that message that God turns graves into gardens — if you think about the team, which is the nexus of our faith, which is kind of the center point, the gravitational orbit of everything that a Christian believes: it has this empty tomb.

I think that image is so striking because the feeling, right now, is confinement and uncertainty and all of the things that a tomb represents. So you’re looking at everything that’s very serious. Physical debt, the death of any economy, the death of businesses, people that are losing their jobs. And to go straight into that with a declaration that God turns graves into gardens; or that he turns times like this that are unwanted, and certainly uncertain — that he turns them into the greatest breeding ground of faith. That’s something I know that you’ve experienced. I know anybody who’s walked with God longer than five minutes has experienced the times that we didn’t choose to go through are the times that change us the most. And things grow out of that.

So even though you didn’t plan this, you feel like its providential, in some ways.

PASTOR STEVEN: Not to sound cliche about it, but I couldn’t really be more excited to release an album called Graves Into Gardens at a time when people are standing over all of these unmet expectations. Like, you’re having a funeral over the idea of “I thought I was going to watch my kid graduate,” “I thought I was going to get married in front of my friends and family.” To be able to release some hope into that is a real privilege and an honor. I feel like it’s what we’re put here to do and what worship is all about.

Not everybody’s feeling that way though. What would you say to someone who believes in that idea but just isn’t seeing the reality of it? 

PASTOR STEVEN: I would first say that feelings can never be the measurement of growth or of potential because — I don’t mean to give a simplistic answer, but let me try to just give an analogy. I tried to do a workout today. The times of my workout for my body that were the most beneficial for me were the moments where I was failing on the last rep. My body physically felt the weakest at that point when the most generative activity was happening to the muscle fibers.

I think that does apply spiritually as well as naturally. Think about the metaphor in the Bible of a seed producing a harvest, which is one of the central things that Jesus used to teach. He’d say that the largest tree with the strongest branches — and we use that to mean the Kingdom of God — starts very small and then gets big. But first, it dies. And the process of that seed being in the soil, going into this dark place, the uncertain place: that’s when it’s transforming, when it’s breaking apart. If you could interview the seed, it feeling like that was the best part of its life. But it was the most productive.

Chris, I was reading something you wrote a few months ago about the album, well before it released and before all of this. You wrote “we want the music and message to elevate their faith to believe in the resurrection power of all the dreams, hopes, and promises they’ve sown.” It’s wild you had no idea COVID-19 was coming then. 

Chris: That quote, that would be a central component and message and theme of the album as a whole. The press release that we sent out was written before the song “The Blessing.” We’d finished the album, we thought, but then we finished writing “The Blessing” and then decided, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to take back the album that we’ve already turned into every partner, Spotify, Apple, take back the press release and add that.” But then quarantine hit, and then “Rattle” was written during quarantine and we recorded it right away. And then we took back the album that we had turned in a second time and have now put it back out.

PASTOR STEVEN: When the song “The Blessing” came in the writing room we were writing with our friends, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes. We were setting up mics to demo another song that we wrote before that song. This idea came into the room and when we saw what it meant to our church that Sunday, we were like, “How quick can we get this out?”


What are you most grateful for about this album? 

CHRIS: I feel like it really is the most authentic expression of who we are as a ministry. It’s quite varied and I love that. It opens with this Joe Perry guitar riff and by the end of that song we’re losing our minds, screaming. And then it goes into this Americana song, a couple tracks later and then we’re suddenly singing this very hopeful blessing. And, then we’ve got this poppy R&B song and it goes on.

So I just feel like our church, as a whole, has come around a lot towards who you are, Pastor, in terms of your makeup. Whether that’s your musical makeup or just your experiential makeup. But you’ve got 90s rock in your bloodstream. You’ve got gospel music in your makeup. And the fact that now fourteen years into our ministry, we’re able to put out an album that includes a lot of different musical styles and captures the sound of a worshiping church, it feels pretty great.

PASTOR STEVEN: I think it reflects Elevation Church — the people of Elevation Church. That’s really what we’ve written for every time we’ve tried to write. When I close my eyes, I see Traverse and Stacy. I close my eyes, I see Rick and Sissy. I close my eyes, I see my wife Holly. I close my eyes, I see Nick Dooley, his fourteen-year-old son, Jake. Jake’s not paying attention. I close my eyes in a writing room the people that God has called us to serve. I feel like these songs and the spirit of them and the production of them reflect Elevation Church. I think that’s the target. That’s the goal.

Graves Into Gardens is available on Spotify, Apple Music or wherever you listen to your songs. 

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