[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time.  Who do you think should be on the list?].

Steven Curtis Chapman. Lyricist and Musician b.1962

If anyone in Christian music could accurately say “I wrote the songs” it would be Steven Curtis Chapman, the most honored songwriter and one of a handful of the genre’s dominant performers in the last 20 years.

Chapman received Christian music’s Dove Award for Songwriter of the Year every year from 1989-1995, and again in 1997 and 1998. He was also honored as Male Vocalist of the Year in 1990, 91, 95, 97, 98, 2000, and 2001; and Artist of the Year in 90, 91, 93, 95, 97, 2000, and again last year, 2009.

In fact, Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman are the most honored artists in Dove Awards history.

I met Steven Curtis Chapman on the way to prison. In 1994 I had negotiated an agreement with Chapman’s representatives for Prison Fellowship Ministries to be main sponsor of his “Heaven in the Real World” national concert tour. [Heaven in the Real World was one of two albums to go platinum (sold more than a million copies) for SCC.]

Steven had become interested in Chuck Colson and his prison ministry work and call to faithfulness, and had included a Colson voice over on the album Heaven in the Real World’s title song. As part of the sponsorship agreement, Steven would perform in several Prison Fellowship in-prison outreach programs, PF would gather names of mostly young people at concerts and get promotional space in the CDs, a concert hand-out and other places, and the SCC team would receive a sizeable amount of sponsorship money—six figures—from PF.

It was fairly revolutionary for a conservative organization such as PF, and although it was difficult to measure the impact on the organization, it was probably helpful all around—particularly providing more youthful names for the organization’s aging donor list.

It was on the way to one of the prison programs that I met Steven, flying to the area together, sharing a van. It was the first of many visits with a young musician who seemed to get younger with every passing year to stay popular with young audiences.

While stardom has had a bad influence on numerous Christian music stars, Chapman has always impressed with his authentic and consistent life and work. I found that to be true as he sang and spoke with energy and compassion to both arena crowds of tens of thousands adoring fans and to a few hundred often-stone-faced prison inmates—some of whom shared the faith and others who were just looking for a few hours outside their cell blocks.

It was a trip into the belly of one of the nation’s prison beasts—I believe it was in Indiana—that led to Chapman’s striking and inspirational song: “Free.”

Back in the news in the last year with the tragic death of his youngest child, who was hit by the family car in their driveway. He’s handled it was characteristic honesty and class, and some of the passion of the time is evident in his new album, Beauty Will Rise. He spoke about the tragedy and the album recently on Good Morning America.

Filed under: ChristianityJim

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