Big Tent Revival - Pick & Choose

Those who have grown through seasons of experience often sense a burden to pour their wisdom and insights into the lives of others. Scripture abounds with stories of the faithful who were mentored and mentored others. There's Paul and Timothy. Moses and Joshua. Elijah and Elisha. And let's not leave out Jesus and his disciples.

A band arriving at the point where its fourth studio project follows on the heels of three successful releases is in a position to understand a few things about the music business. About ministry. About life.

Click to hear a clip of the title track from "Choose Life"

Ardent Records artist {{Big Tent Revival}}, whose latest release is the acoustic-driven, upbeat ==Choose Life==, smiles and reflects upon the grace it has beheld since forming in 1993. Perseverance had paid off. Faith has sharpened. Many hands have helped.

And now, as a veteran band, its members find themselves reaching out to those still in the nascent stages of traveling the road of Christian music. Yes, vocalist Steve Wiggins, drummer Spence Smith, guitarist Randy Williams, bass player Steve Dale and keyboard player David Alan have a story to tell. A story of service and struggle, of joy and disappointment.

But wisely, the band recognizes that there is still much to learn. The teacher can remain the pupil. The minister can be ministered to.

"It's coming to that point to where I'm seeing more often than not that there are people who are creeping into my life who I'm able to mentor without realizing I'm mentoring," says Smith. "I think that has to do with your relationship growing with God to the point where you are willing to share your faith with them, and you're just willing to serve."

Click to hear a clip from "Fill Me With Your Spirit"

Smith notes that the band has found itself to be one of the few still in the industry when compared with many of his friends who entered at the same time as Big Tent. He says he sees himself in the position of "elder" in Christian music -- despite feeling too young for such a mantle.

Adds Wiggins, "I don't see how you can survive without mentors. A band is a really bizarre dynamic. You need somebody to come in every now and then and just hang out with you for a few days, then sit around the room and tell you, 'I've been observing this in your personality, etc.'"

Being mentored and mentoring others is only part of the equation for Christian maturity. There's another dimension called accountability. Iron sharpens iron. Joshua and Caleb understood this. So did David and Jonathon, as well as Saul and Barnabas and the other disciples. Says Smith, "We share everything together in our lives. We really try to show each other a lot of love and encouragement. But there's also some rebuke when rebuke needs to happen."

Accountability enables the band to stay focused on cultivating that servant's heart. It helps reign in narcissism and allows the waters of humility to seep through the pores in the ego.

Click to hear a clip from "Livin' Off Your Love"

"When you first get into Christian music, you're playing in front of people and it's really cool; people are giving you all this praise," Smith observes. "You start thinking. 'This is awesome, we're a great band.' But somewhere along the way God shows you, 'I'm pretty much in charge of this whole gig.'"

Time changes perspectives on many things -- including family. Big Tent formed as a bunch of single guys in 1993. Now, four of its five members are married, two with young children. Suddenly, the adrenaline and novelty of weeks on end in a tour bus aren't as appealing. There is a yearning for balance. In turn, the band has made a commitment to be at home on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and, usually, Wednesdays. Says Wiggins, "That's a luxury that is afforded to people who have sort of been in the industry for a while. We get more money per night than we ever have, so we can afford to take off some time to be with our families.

"Other artists may say, 'Let's go full time and make more money,' but that kills your family. When I decide not to do a concert, even when there's a lot of money on the line that can buy my family a lot of things, I understand what it's like when Jesus talked about leaving the 99 (sheep) and going to the one. A couple of thousand people a night seem like the 99, but you leave that to go and minister, in my case, to three people."

The band members' spouses and kids do travel with Big Tent when it's convenient. But often, the rigors of interviews, sound checks and the like afford little windows of quality time amid the ostensible glamour.

Click to hear a clip from "Love Me Like You Do"

Walking hand in hand with the band's measured increase in record sales, concert income and family members is a more mature evangelistic vantage point, informed by a steady and intense study of God's Word. "We have a guy that we meet with who is a road pastor," Smith says. "We've been developing an intercessory prayer group that surrounds the band. They pray for every event that we do. They're surrounding our families and praying for our families. We have Bible study when we're out on the road. We all get together about an hour before the show and study a chapter from the Bible."

During the show, when Wiggins takes a break from singing and presents the gospel in some format, he discusses insights from that day's Bible study while they are fresh in his mind. This allows for a new offering of faith each day.

Considering the evangelistic aims of a Big Tent concert, Wiggins says he doesn't believe the band has to have "the right song with everyone's head bowed. Christ didn't sneak off while everyone's head was bowed and the organ was playing softly and jump onto the cross. He bore our shame in broad daylight."

He adds, "I'm into weeding out those people who at the end of the night ask themselves, 'Now why did I go down?' To me, it's not about numbers. It's about devotion to Christ."

Wiggins asserts that this is "revolutionary thinking" for many people, who are looking for a certain number of decisions for Christ due to the time and money being invested. "It's so whacked out. When we go to God with an attitude that it's not my pleading that brings people to God, and humbly ask him to move in a mighty way and see his Spirit work, we have seen more people go to Christ. We've dropped the systematic presentation of the gospel."

The new album's title track is an anthem written for this year's Greg Laurie Harvest Crusades. The song was inspired by Moses' advice in Deut. 30:19-20, for the children of Israel to make a choice between "life and death, blessings and curses," to "choose life so that you and your descendents may live."

Says Smith, "Over the past year, we have had to challenge ourselves every day to make sure that we're choosing life and that we're choosing eternal life. There's nothing we want more than to be with Jesus and strive to be with him every day. Sometimes you get too busy and miss out on your time with God, because you haven't chosen to make it a really integral part of your day."

A special CD is packaged along with ==Choose Life== that features excerpts from Laurie's messages. Explains Wiggins, "It's a CD that you can give to your friends. At the end of the CD is the song. I think a lot of times if you get an album you like, you're pretty reluctant to give it away. But part of being into Christian music is to share it with others who aren't Christians."

It's a time of joy for the band. ==Choose Life==, Smith says, is a "happy record." Happiness comes from a life that is balanced. Joy comes from a life that is given away.

Notes Wiggins, "I think the few first {{Big Tent}} records were by fairly new Christians -- not angry young men, but definitely men with this passion and this zeal to tell people about Jesus. I think the music sometimes came off almost angry for some people. But now that we've grown in our faith more and more, we've learned that there are times to be angry and not to be angry. You can only learn that when you start putting all of that energy into submission to God. You can deliver a strong sensitive message without it being heavy handed."