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Travis Cottrell: Redirecting the Spotlight

  • Andrew Greer
  • Updated Feb 02, 2010
Travis Cottrell:  Redirecting the Spotlight

With quick wit and a gracious spirit, Travis Cottrell possesses the posture of someone who rarely meets a stranger.

As the staple worship leader for Beth Moore's seismic Living Proof Bible study events, it's his friendly demeanor and impeccably crafted church music that attracts a rapidly growing number of spiritual seekers each year. Add to that an imposing set of pipes, a striking stage presence and his first live record in six years, Jesus Saves LIVE, and you might think Cottrell is quickly becoming Christian music's next poster child.

Except he's not.

Rather than setting his sights on capacity crowds and gold records, the faithful music minister opts instead for a veritable opportunity to equip the saints with music for not only services of corporate devotion but moments of personal praise. ChristianMusicPlanet recently caught up with the tunesmith. …

CMP:  The first time I had ever heard your voice was when I reviewed your Christmas record last year. I was blown away! Have you ever considered going the performance route?

Travis Cottrell:  It's just not my calling. Like a lot of people with artistic tendencies, I'm helplessly insecure. There are elements of [performance] I'm able to incorporate, but the bottom line is I feel so protected by God under the umbrella of His calling.

CMP:  When did you first feel called to lead worship?

Cottrell:  When I was 16, I went to a youth camp called Ridgecrest in North Carolina. I walked in the first night, and a guy was leading worship. I don't remember his name; I just knew it was the first time the Holy Spirit had really spoken into my heart a calling.

I walked up to the guy and asked, "Where did you go to college?" He said, "Belmont College." It was a college back then because it was practically before World War II [Laughs]. God laid that university on my heart. I really loved the school, but it was Nashville that made it special.

CMP:  What was your first church music job?

Cottrell:  As soon as I graduated college, the church I was attending needed a worship pastor. When God threw me in that role, He began to do a very personal work in my life, [teaching me] how to categorize service and ministry and differentiate it from my walk with God.

I came to Nashville and didn't know if I wanted to be a singer or a worship leader, or what the difference was. I didn't know where to channel what God had given me. All that started getting sorted out through having to lead people in worship when I was just a bumbling idiot right out of college.

CMP:  You have led worship for hundreds of thousands of women as a part of Beth Moore's Living Proof events. Surrounded by so much female-ness, how do you assert your manliness?

Cottrell:  [Laughs] I love leading worship for women more than men because you don't have to be cool. If you can just be marginally charming, they'll listen. I feel equally called to minister to worship pastors, which is largely a male group. So I have my foot in both gender camps.

CMP:  You have made songs popular by other writers as well. As a songwriter, do you ever get the "I wish I had written that song" syndrome? 

Cottrell:  There's always the "I wish I had written that song" syndrome [Laughs].

CMP:  So how do you choose which songs to use?

Cottrell:  God has not called me to pastor a church per se, but I may get to pastor 10,000 women one weekend for six hours. My job is to help them connect to God, end of story. So I try not to make it a choir rehearsal. I meet them where they are and mix tunes they recognize with our original songs, so they don't feel like they are spending all their worship time learning songs.

CMP:  Songs you sound best on may not be the easiest for an audience to sing. How do you balance the set list between performance and worship?

Cottrell:  I want to be a great artist. I want to be a great singer. And I want [the band] to be tight. But when push comes to shove, my goal is not for them to respect my artistry or even remember my songs. My goal is to help them connect to the Lord. The worship moment always trumps our artistry.

CMP:  How do you hope the audience responds after a weekend of worship?

Cottrell:  To move away from the paradigm that worship is a conference thing. I believe when we give God our thanks and confess His Word through song—Monday through Saturday, in our home, in our cars, with our kids, by ourselves—that empowers us. That changes our minds about things. Hopefully the worship moment connects corporately, and they take those moments into their private times and begin to live transformed lives, rather than just lives of believers who have fire insurance.

CMP:  In concert, do you distinguish an audience from a congregation?

Cottrell:  For me, an audience is a congregation. I consider myself an equipper, to equip people with tools, with an experience to draw from to worship the Lord. I don't know if tobyMac is going to consider his audience a congregation. Does that negate the powerfulness of his ministry in the Spirit? By no means. He's just a different conduit. Whether an entertainer or a worship leader, we put ourselves in a posture of surrender before God. We make ourselves available for the Holy Spirit to bear fruit through what we do, no matter what it looks like. The ultimate goal is to point people to Christ.

CMP:  How did Cindy Morgan get roped into the pandemonium of Travis Cottrell for this live record? 

Cottrell:  I tell people she's my Bono, my Eagles. She's my favorite artist and songwriter of all time. And she's from East Tennessee, and I'm from Western North Carolina, so we are both card-carrying rednecks [Laughs]. We started writing because our publisher set us up. We kept writing because we had a great friend connection. I have a great respect for her as an artist, as a mom and wife, and as a woman of God.

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©2009  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.

**This interview first published on August 20, 2009.