by Tracy Darlington
Jimmy Needham Interview
are no lone rangers in the kingdom of God. We must do this life together."
When singer/songwriter Jimmy Needham was in high school, he couldn’t get enough of the blues. Blues music, that is. While he was never able to pinpoint exactly what about the blues “stirred him up,” he was always drawn to singers with a little soul in their voices.
Of course, he didn’t know it at the time, but his love of the blues would soon make its way into his own music. But rather than a response to heartbreak or social injustice-- common themes of mainstream blues music-- the soul that resonates in Needham’s vocals comes from what he’s most passionate about: his relationship with Jesus and sharing the Gospel with anyone who’s willing to hear.
Jimmy took the time to share with us about his life, his albums, and his passion for evangelism.
Tracy: You say in your bio, “Entertainment is fine, but if it’s not bearing fruit for the Lord I don’t see how any party benefits.” Can you explain?
Jimmy: 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we are to do it all to the glory of God. Therefore, the ultimate end of every pursuit of humanity, including entertainment, should be to make God famous. Everything we do should point to Jesus. If I’m going to make my career about making music for people, the music I make must bring glory to God, and if it doesn’t, I believe I’m wasting my time, and yours.
What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you first started in music?
I’ve learned how dangerous this job is. In fact, I am becoming convinced that the most dangerous place for the human heart is on stage. I knew getting into music that the temptation to make things about myself rather than Christ would be great, but I didn’t quite know how great. Now I’m learning how to guard against having a higher view of myself than I ought.
What inspired you to record your 1st album Speak?
Speak was partly inspired by my own discontentment with status quo Christianity. I was looking around at the status of American Christianity and it was breaking my heart. Most of the people I would share the gospel with when I went witnessing at the bars in college were professing believers. Most all of them were smashed out their minds as well. Therefore, a lot of the songs on “Speak” are challenges to the Church to get off the fence of mediocrity and really side with Christ in the work of Christ.
What message do you hope people will come away when they listen to your cds?
When people listen to my first record, “Speak” I hope that they would leave with a renewed hunger for a life that reflects the character of Jesus. Then, I’d advise them to pick up my second record, “Not Without Love”, which I wrote as a follow-up to the “Speak” record. From the new record, I hope that the listener would come away with the understanding that we can’t give what we don’t have. By this I mean no matter how “holy” we want to be, or how much we want to reach the lost, we can’t accomplish this unless our pursuit is motivated by a deep love for God. We can’t distribute His love if we aren’t receiving it from Him as well.
What’s your favorite song on your albums and why?
On “Speak” my favorite song right now is “The Gospel”. It was, in my opinion, one of my most successful attempts to communicate the freedom that’s found in the good news of forgiveness from sin.
On “Not Without Love” I really like “Forgiven and Loved”. It’s a very personal, introspective prayer-like song that basically asks God to remind me again of the sweet fact that there is no more condemnation for me now that I am in Christ.
How did you become a co-leader of a street ministry team?
My friend was a leader the previous year, and he asked me if I’d like to head up my own team the following year. I said yes and during my junior year at Texas A&M I took folks out with me to the bars every Thursday and we would just begin conversations with people.
What was that experience like for you?
There were both good and bad things about it. I learned how to effectively and biblically communicate the gospel with someone. It also helped me get out of my comfort zone and talk to people I didn’t know, which was a good thing. In hindsight however, I would’ve done some things differently. I feel like, for me, it began to breed a spirit of legalism. By that I mean I began to think that was the only way to properly share the gospel with people. I now disagree with my former self.
Why do you think there’s such a need for one-on-one evangelism?
The reality is, there is only one reason that you and I are still on earth as Christians. It’s the same reason that the Bible says Christ hasn’t come back yet. Our great remaining purpose here on earth is to see more folks come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Though God doesn’t need us to accomplish this mission, He has chosen to make us participants in this great work of evangelism. The current statistic is that less than 2% of Christians share their faith regularly. We are sitting on the greatest and sweetest news in the universe, the only hope for a lost and dying world and we’re telling no one about it! We are missing out on the greatest honor in the cosmos, namely being God’s ambassadors to people who don’t know liberty from sin. Billions still haven’t heard or still don’t believe. I’m not saying you have to join an evangelism team or anything. But I am challenging you to become so enamored with the person of Jesus, that from your heart’s overflow you must speak about Him whenever an opportunity arises. Please join with me in making disciples of all the nations. Please.
Is there a story that happened to you while you were on the street team that you’ll never forget?
We were all outside of a club that drew a lot of teens with the live music they had. I was sharing the gospel with this group of high schoolers. They were all really listening and asking questions. It was really a sweet time. Remember though, wherever God is working, the Enemy is not far away. Behind the students were this guy and girl who clearly did not like what I had to say. The girl, in order to distract my listeners, was screaming at the very top of her lungs very unpleasant things. At that time I had these big novelty tracts that were oversized hundred dollar bills. They’re always fun to hand out and people get a kick out of them. The guy had apparently gotten one for himself and came right up to me when I was still talking. He then lit it on fire in front of my face! Things were pretty intense, but hey, people were able to hear the gospel that night. Jesus told his disciples that if we suffer reproach for the name of Christ that we should rejoice because our reward is great in Heaven. So…WOO HOO!!!
Do you have any advice for someone trying to reach their friends for Christ?
Pray that they’re hearts would be softened. The reality is “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Here is the truth, unless God grants them repentance, they will never escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:25-26). So, beg God to do a work on their heart. Also, pray that he would create an opportunity for you to share the gospel with them, and that he would give you courage to speak when the time comes. Remember, you can’t save your friends. Only God can (John 6:44). So, don’t feel like you’ve failed if they don’t immediately humble their hearts after you talk to them. God is pleased with your obedience, not how many converts you have.
A couple of other thoughts: make sure you’re preaching the right gospel. The information you share with them is like a key. If you give them the wrong key, it will never open the door of eternal life. Search the Scriptures to make sure your gospel is Jesus’ gospel. Also, if you would like a good resource, John MacArthur gives a great articulation of the gospel on his website www.gty.org. Just click on “the gospel” tab on the home page. Lastly, be careful how you live. Make sure your life backs up your speech. Whether you believe it or not, your lost friends are watching you. You are a model of Jesus to them. Make sure the picture they are getting is accurate (1 Peter 2:12).
Are there any steps you take to stay on track spiritually?
There are many things that keep me on track with God. A couple big ones are that I am daily in the Word of God. The Scriptures are like bread and we must eat daily, lest we become malnourished (Jeremiah 15:16, Job 23:12, 2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12). Another big one is community. I make sure I have people in my life who are encouraging me in my walk with God, and challenging me to press on. There are no lone rangers in the kingdom of God. We must do this life together (Proverbs 27:17, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24, ).
What’s the coolest prayer God’s
ever answered for you?
I was the first one in my family to come to Christ. I prayed fervently for each of them and slowly but surely, they are all coming to know Christ, My brother first, then my mom and now my dad. Praise God!
What’s the biggest obstacle in your life God’s helped you overcome?
God helped me break free from my pornography addiction, which I struggled with since I was nine. Now I am walking in victory and getting to help others in the battle.
What’s one great thing God has done for you this year?
I’ve just been really grateful for His provision this year. Things were tight there for a while, but we’ve been able to pay all the bills, which is actually a big deal. He is so good to take care of His people.
If you knew Jesus was coming back in 24 hours, what three things would you do?
Hopefully, nothing would change about the way I was acting. I might go door to door and give folks a heads up, but that begs the question, why am I not doing that now? Why’d you have to ask such a convicting question?
If you could say one thing to this generation what would you say?
I think I’ll side with John Piper’s plea. DON’T WASTE YOUR LIFE! Don’t get lost in the lesser things of this world. There’s only one thing that matters, and it’s NOT building your kingdom, but building His.
What’s the most memorable place Jimmy Needham has ever played?
There are a lot of great places I’ve played. Honestly though, the most rewarding and memorable one are at the least notable places. I played for a small youth group a couple years back. I did an hour concerts and only played 4 or 5 songs. God’s Spirit just showed up and began to speak through me to these kids who, a moment before were talking and distracted. In that hour though, not a word was spoken. The gospel dropped on them like a bomb. I look forward to seeing the fruit of that night in eternity. That was one of my favorite places I’ve played.
Anything else you’d like to say to TitleTrakk.com readers?
Enjoy making Jesus famous in your hearts and in this world.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I can hold my breath for 2 mins. 10 secs. Impressive, huh?
In high school I was the vice president of the hacky sack club. No autographs please.
When you’re not singing, what do you enjoy doing?
I really like to grill a lot. Cooking in general is kinda becoming my thing now. Nothing like some nice hot fajitas after a long month of touring.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I had a bowl of arguably the greatest cereal in the world, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Milk that expired yesterday, 12 grain bread, leftovers
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A tall Caramel Apple Spice
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Andrew Peterson’s “Resurrection
Letters, Volume II”
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.