Growthtrac’s Jim Mueller chats with former Newsboys’ Phil Joel, founder of the Zealand Worship band and deliberatePeople ministry, about marriage, music, and putting God first.
So your new worship band Zealand Worship is touring with MercyMe this spring. How did that happen?
It’s the first night of the MercyMe spring tour and our band just did our soundcheck. It was a little nerve-wracking, as every opening night is! But I’ve known MercyMe vocalist Bart Millard for some time, and he liked our version of “Good Good Father,” so he invited us to join them on tour. He thought it would be fun.
I just love the song “Good Good Father.”
It’s just a cool song. We heard it a while back, and love what it says about God — “You’re a good, good Father/You are perfect in all of your ways/It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are/and I’m loved by you.” We thought that message is so important to proclaim. But we wanted to do our version with a little more oomph, a little more vim and vigor.
It was on the EP you released last September, wasn’t it?
Yes. We’re continuing to work on the EP. We had a soft launch last fall, without a lot of hoopla, but that’s okay. The album will come out in August 2016.
How does Zealand Worship compare to being in the Newsboys?
There are some similarities, of course. But the emphasis is quite different. Actually, after I exited the Newsboys, I got invited to lead worship, but I didn’t really know how to do that. That’s not really my thing, I thought. But as I led worship, my heart opened to a whole new world.
The Newsboys had an element of corporate worship in their music, but worship is about leading people to the Lord, not about the band. It’s about proclaiming who God is and helping people remember that. That’s why we named this band Zealand. We’re zealous for the land, zealous for the things God has. So if our concertgoers buy a tee-shirt on the way out the door, that’s nice, but we don’t really care. The focus isn’t about us; it’s about seeing people get closer to the Lord.
Is your wife, Heather, normally with you on tour?
She is as much as she can be! She manages the band and we homeschool our two kids so she’s kind of busy with those two, but she’s out as much as possible.
How old are your kids?
Our son just turned 12 and our daughter is going to be 16 this year. Heather and I have been married 20 years. Time flies.
Is it hard to keep family and marriage a priority when you’re touring?
When I was with the Newsboys, I was out on the road 200-plus days a year. When I would return home, my son would run to the door and greet me, and that was great. But when he turned three, I noticed he didn’t run to the door to greet me anymore. I could see something happening to him. He knew I was going to leave in a couple of days, so why engage? My son obviously wasn’t conscious of this because he was only three. But I started to see a disconnect and knew that wasn’t good. It was my job for my kid to see the Lord in me and he couldn’t if I wasn’t around. I couldn’t be the dad or husband I needed to be if I wasn’t with my family, giving them my time. That’s when I backed away from the Newsboys. It was a little scary, because that was my livelihood. But God is good, and where he guides, he provides.
So now I usually leave home in the morning, do a concert Saturday night, attend church Sunday morning and minister, then fly home Sunday night. That’s been my practice for the last eight years and it’s been great. Now that my kids are older, they’re actually excited for me to be back on tour. This month I’ll be out Thursday through Sunday, then back home Monday through Wednesday. But this isn’t going to be my normal practice.
When’s the last time you and Heather had a date night?
Ah, our kids are getting to the stage where they’re old enough to look after themselves. But as much as the date-night thing is important for a lot of people, it doesn’t feel quite as important to us. We build that kind of thing into our daily life. Usually we make the kids dinner and hang out with them, get them off the bed, then make ourselves a second dinner and stay up a bit later. It’s a date night at home. Because we travel a lot, we don’t always want to be out of the house. We like being home and being creative. It’s kinda fun.
Tell me about your ministry deliberatePeople.
Heather and I both grew up in the church; we were surrounded by Christian stuff. But honestly, it wasn’t until 15 years ago that we got serious about seeking God, about specifically getting up early and meeting with the Lord daily, speaking to him and listening to him as best as we could. And this has quite literally changed our lives. It’s changed the way we do everything.
Did you use a particular study?
We used a one-year Bible reading schedule at the time and just called it our “appointment book with the Lord.” And we still use it. We keep our appointment with him every morning, before the day gets too crazy!
Now we don’t do this together. Heather sits in the living room, and I sit in another room. Then often we come together to talk about what we felt the Lord saying. This revolutionized our lives. When we realized other people could benefit from spending time alone with God, deliberatePeople was born. We began putting together resources and encouraging others to engage in this very simple practice. Spend time with the Lord — and see what happens!
Has this practice improved your marriage?
Well, it improved our marriage vastly because it causes you to throw yourself into a position of saying, “Lord speak to me, show me things I need to change, I need help with everything.” The first year we did this, we began to hear from God — which sounds strange and even kind of conceited. But he truly wants to speak to us, and when he does, it is kind of a wild thing, and you do the things you feel he calls you to do. For us, it’s meant continually pushing things aside as opposed to taking on more.
The Bible’s quite clear: Be still and know that I am God. When we are still, we shut down the noise a bit and begin to hear from God. Even though starting our day with God sounds like work, it’s not. It just takes a while because we’re not brought up to think it’s a normal thing to do. But inviting the Lord into our day, walking with him through it, becomes more natural over time. It becomes a way of being as opposed to a way of doing.
Are there other things you do to grow spiritually?
Heather and I are good communicators. We talk through everything, and we’re very honest. My wife is my number-one fan but also my number-one critic, which is great. I am the same for her. I want the best for Heather. She’s not here just to make me happy. I’m here to help nurture her, to see her become more of what she’s meant to be (and she’s already a pretty great person, by the way).
Sometimes, when we enter into marriage, we get caught up in thinking it’s all about how you’re going to get what you need from your spouse, and how they’re going to make you happy. But after a while, you actually realize it’s the other way around.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave your kids?
I know this much. My kids can see that the first thing Heather and I do every morning is spend time with the Lord, and that’s important. They also know we base all our decisions on what we feel the Lord wants us to do. We ask the Lord what he feels we should be doing with our time and with our money. And so they know that, and they are part of that conversation. I hope they carry that into their lives, that they see this as something very natural and normal, not something strange.
What else would you tell married couples?
We go into marriage for all different reasons. We hope our love is sincere and straightforward; we want the best for our spouse. But sometimes, we get into marriage with some selfish motives, too, thinking we can get the love we think will make us happy and complete from our spouse. But the reality is, we’ll never be satisfied until we truly open our hearts to the Lord. And when we open our hearts to God, he will satisfy us with the love of a Father to a son, to a daughter. When we receive that love, then we can give love. God IS good, and when we allow ourselves to get love from him, we’re not trying to claw love out of our spouse.
Sometimes it takes a while to figure that one out. But drawing away, being still, opening our hearts to God every day, has been a huge practice for us. We encourage other young couples to do that as well. Obviously you need to love one another well, but don’t forget to love God well too. Allow him to love you, because you’ll be a whole lot healthier and your marriage will be stronger if you base it on having him in the middle of it. Bring God into it all. And watch what he does. We individually need to seek God and allow him to love us and nurture our heart, and then we can love our spouse well.
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