Heart of the Artist: Tobymac
Editor’s Note: Over the years we’ve done hundreds of “talkback” sessions with Toby and youthworkers. Every time it seems the Lord does something very special. This interview is part of one of those sessions. The entire “talkback” was recorded and is available at interlinc-online.com on the YLO Members page.
Thank you for working with students. That is my heart too, and always will be. My son is 15 and I’m walking through some stuff with him. My manager and I were talking about whether he would send his son to a public or Christian school. The manager said he’d interviewed a bunch of parents with grown kids that were doing well, and they all said the consistent thing in those kid’s lives were youth groups — not Christian or public school — those kids all had solid Christian youth groups and friends.
That was convicting to me because I go to a small church that doesn’t have enough people to have a youth group. I’m doing my son a disservice by not having him in a great youth group. So I’m feeling convicted, and appreciate even more what you guys do.
Note: Toby’s been able to get his son involved in a youth ministry in the weeks since he talked about this. Got to love a guy who doesn’t just say things, but does them too!
My mom would drag us to church every Sunday. I didn’t like it much. We never went to youth group, just big church. My dad wouldn’t go — he’d just sleep. When I was 13 years old the youth pastor asked me to go to a summer camp. He described it as a basketball camp because he knew my friends and I liked basketball. Some friends and I signed up. We headed out in a van with that youth pastor to go to that camp. Got out of the van, grabbed my bag, started walking to the cabins. They stopped us at an outdoor pavilion, and this dude preached for two hours straight. My boys I’d invited were like, “Yo, this is the strangest basketball camp I’ve ever been to in my life!”
Each night, the youth pastor would read the Bible to us. He was willing to get down on the floor and hang out with us. He wasn’t behind a pulpit. He just read the Bible and talked with us – and God used that to just grab my heart.
On that Friday night we got up off the floor and my heart was just racing away because I wanted to do something about what I felt, but instead I got in my sleeping bag and zipped it up. After about 20 minutes, I finally got the courage to walk into the next room and wake up that youth pastor. I said, “Hey man, I’ve got to do something about what is going on inside me.” He asked whether I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart, and I said yes. We got on our knees, and he led me to the Lord.
That experience changed my life and family. My mom told me to ask my dad to go to church. I was scared of that. My dad eventually went, and got saved. It changed our life — all because of a youth pastor. So again, I just thank you for what you do. You guys are in the trenches with those kids. We pop into town, do our concert that we’ve prayed over, hoping God will use the concert to turn your students’ eyes to Jesus. But, we know you are in the trenches. I understand and am thankful for what you do. God is smiling for the effort and time you take with students.
Let me give you a little insight about how I write songs. I’m not confident in myself; I know how much I need God to make a great record. I could probably make a decent record, but for great I desperately need God to do something beyond me. So, when I sit down to write, I ask for God to breathe something in me that I could never do on my own. I’m just plugging along here not knowing what will relate and what won’t, but God is faithful. I think “Steal My Show” is a clear message. “Me Without You” is light but the message is strong – “I’m thankful of how much I’m aware I need you, God.”
“Speak Life” is something that has been powerful for me. I want to use words powerfully. A mainstream film picked up that song. The quote Ryan Stevenson and I cowrote is from Brennan Manning, “We either give life or drain it; there’s no neutral exchange.” I thought most of my exchanges throughout the day were neutral. I have chance to make somebody feel recognized or not, feel loved or unloved, encouraged or discouraged just by the way I look at him or her. That deeply affected me; I can overlook stuff sometimes and I just wanted that song to be a wake up call to us all, especially students – they are ripping each other apart with words, texts, tweets. To me, it’s not the coolest song on the album, but I thought the message is so important that God wanted that delivered in that form and I just trusted Him.