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MercyMe: Spotlight on Worship

By Tim Branson
The 700 Club BART MILLARD: We try to do everything that we can to make Christ the center of attention. Our goal is to kind of broaden the definition of worship. I know that God has always used us as a forefront for people to draw closer to Him and get into His presence.

ROBBIE SHAFFER: I think more than anything, the way we write musically and especially lyrically just kind of comes from an overflow of our lifestyle.

TIM BRANSON (reporting): MercyMe is a group of unlikely musicians whose song "I Can Only Imagine" thrust them from obscurity into the frontlines of Christian, worship music.

JIM BRYSON: Stylistically, people say pop/rock, or rock/pop. It is pretty much along that vein. We used to think we were Cajun/country, but not really.

MIKE BRYSON: We used to think we were a rock band until we started touring with bands like Audio Adrenaline.

JIM: We’re the AC poster boys.

BART: We’re like the Tom Jones.

TIM BRANSON (reporting): The band formed in 1994 when singer/ songwriter Bart Millard teamed up with guitarist Mike and keyboardist Jim Bryson. The trio later added Robbie Shaffer on drums and Nathan Cochran on bass. They became the classic, struggling band. Their goals were sometimes less than idealistic…

JIM: to eat, to pay the bills on time, and not have the gas shut off when we come home, which happened.

TIM BRANSON (reporting): Six years and six records later, MercyMe remained virtually unknown. But that changed with the release of a song that swept through the Christian music market: "I can only imagine." Bart Millard wrote the song in 1999, eight years after his father died of cancer. He was inspired by some of his father’s last words.

BART: He used to always remind me that I was kind of getting the wrong end of the deal because I had to stick around here. I remember right after he died everyone used to tell me, 'If your dad could choose, he’d rather be in heaven than here.' As a believer, I understood that, but as an 18-year-old, it was pretty hard to swallow.

TIM BRANSON (reporting): "I can only imagine" hit No. 1 and could even be heard on secular radio. Fueled by the song’s success, their debut album, Almost There, went gold in less than a year. In 2002 the song earned the band three Dove awards, including Song of the Year. MercyMe doesn’t see themselves as primarily a rock band, but as worship leaders. Their success has brought an added sense of purpose to that role.

NATHAN COCHRAN: It has definitely made us more aware of probably why we should do what we do. We have always had a mindset of everything we do glorifying God, but because now it is on a bigger level and we’re right in front of people’s faces all the time, we’re making efforts to make that much more sure that our hearts and our minds are in the right place.

ROBBIE: People are asking us what our secret is, and there is not really a secret other than we’ve just been very faithful with what God has given us. We’re going to continue doing that because if His glory isn't received out of anything we do on stage, we shouldn’t have been there and we shouldn’t have been trying. Our job wasn’t completed.

TIM BRANSON (reporting): The band’s popularity continues to grow. Their second CD, Spoken For, has done nearly as well as the first. But the bottom line for MercyMe is not record sales or awards it is, and always has been, about putting their focus on God.

MIKE: [Our goal is] to do things that are going to lift Him up and glorify Him and not bring attention to ourselves as much as we do to Him in whatever success we have, on whatever level it is. I think for MercyMe, as long as we constantly remind ourselves of that and embrace that and look to the future of where God’s going to take us, I think that’s one of the biggest aspects of worship we can do.

BART: I am just sitting back and trying to take in the idea that the God who created everything around us, He didn’t call the mountains or the forest or the ocean to spend eternity with Him, but He called us. It will boggle your mind. I mean, you could spend the rest of your life pondering that a God that is so huge would be crazy in love with us to the point that on the day of judgment, Christ would step out and say, 'This is mine.'

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