Even though he has a new record on a new label and is dad to a new baby, Mark Schultz is returning to his roots in so many ways. With his soon-to-be-released album All Things Possible, Mark is rediscovering what’s at the heart of his faith and ministry – the unconditional love of God… a love that makes all things new, and well… possible.
Family Christian: So, it’s been a few years since your last album. You came out with an instrumental record Renaissance that was exclusive to Family, but the last one that you did with Word was back in ’09, correct?
Mark Schultz: Yes, I think it was 2009.
Family: So since you’ve had a quieter couple of years from the music scene, what has been keeping you busy?
Mark: Well, we had a baby—number one. My wife Kate, who’s an OB-GYN has had like eight years of schooling, school then residency. She told me after her first week of residency where she worked 100 hours, “You might as well just find something to do for four years and just come back and see me when I’m done because I don’t think I’m going to see you ‘til then.” So that was a busy touring time and record time and we knew she was going to be busy. Well she’s now done with that and has her own practice here in Nashville, and so for the first time, we’ve gotten to really hang out with each other since we’ve been married anyway. In some ways it feels like we’ve been married for seven years, but in other ways it feels like we’re newlyweds, which is nice. And we’re about five months into a new family with Ryan here. I would say since my last record, this season has been very family-oriented, which has been pretty awesome.
Family: So when you wrote your last record you were married, but moving into this one you’re in a new season of parenthood. Do you feel like the writing process has changed a little?
Mark: I do. When I was a youth director, my most productive time was like five o’clock in the afternoon until about eleven o’clock at night. I’d just go to the chapel and lock the door and make a pot of coffee and write songs. I realize now that we’ve got a child and my wife works regular hours, that 5-10 pm is when people hang out. So I’ve had to adjust that a little bit and realize that now I’m not just a singer and a songwriter, now I’m a dad and we’ve got kind of a normal family structure. I’m just kind of learning how to balance all of those things together.
Family: You’ve written some pretty impactful “love songs” through the years. Now that you’re married and a dad are those songs still part of your repertoire? Do you still find yourself writing those songs?
Mark: Interestingly enough for this new record, I wrote a song for my son, Ryan before he was born. It talks about what all went on before he arrived. Like, I talk about marrying his mom and about us getting ready for him to come. And how excited I am. I can see his smile, and his mom holding him and how it’s really great. And the chorus is that I’m imagining these things. So it was kind of fun to write that for my son. Someday when he gets old enough to hear that song and appreciate it, I think that’s going to be a cool thing. I’ve never had that in my life before. Usually I’m writing songs for other people. And then I wrote a song called “I Will Love You Still,” which is the last song on the record, which I actually wrote with my wife. Funny enough, a lot of songs I write with my wife because I’ll be walking through the kitchen, and I’ll get stuck on something – I can get stuck on it for three months. I’ll be singing it and she’ll just say, “What do you need?” I’ll tell her and she’ll just come up with a line. And I’ll be like, “Hey, where were you three months ago?” She’s a great songwriter. But we actually sat down and wrote this one together, and it turned out really neat. So that’s fun as well. This is more than you asked, but I’ll say even in a broader sense, when he was just a few weeks old, I was driving somewhere – I think we dropped his mom off at Target so she could go get some baby stuff. She said, “Hey, just drive around the block a couple times. I’ll be right back.” So I did, and my song “I Am” came on the radio, and man, I got choked up as I was driving. I looked in the rearview mirror and said, “Hey Ryan, it’s your dad singing.” And for the first time I realized that, “Oh my gosh. He doesn’t even know that this is what I do” you know? And it was really neat for me to share that with him even though he’ll never remember it. For me, it was kind of a neat moment.
Family: Tell us a little about the thematic elements of All Things Possible. We can obviously hear those three words and a few Bible verses come to mind, but what does Mark Schultz think about when he hears those words “all things possible”?
Mark: Well, I’ll tell ya. I came up with that idea a few years ago. I was riding my bike across the country. I tell this story in my concert sometimes. I feel like God was with me when I first started, even though I was a little out of shape and everything. I dipped my back tire in the Pacific Ocean and started down California and I knew I was heading to Maine, and I felt like, “Hey, God’s with me.” I got about 20 miles into the trip and I thought, “Yeah, He’s with me. He’s not trying as hard, but He’s still with me.” And then I got the top of my first mountain and it just wore me out. And I was like, “Okay, He left me for a little while.” And we got to the first church for the first concert to raise money for orphans and I remember there were about 400 people at the church and I said, “Hey, I thought you told me that this was packed.” And they said, “It is. It only holds 400 people.” But as soon as I started talking about being adopted and what I was doing and threw out the set list and just started singing, man, my heart just opened up and poured out for orphans. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I felt like God was taking over. At the end of that night they took up some money that we had raised and took an offering. The minister came over and said, “Hey, this isn’t bad for our little church. I’m not sure what you’re used to.” Well, we hadn’t done it before, so I wasn’t used to anything. That little church of 400 people had raised $20,000 for orphans that night. I remembered a quote from Bono of U2. He used to say, “God bless my records, bless the singles.” And then he had a friend tell him, “Hey, why don’t you quit asking God to bless what you’re doing and just do what God’s doing because it’s already blessed.” And, of course, I wrote for The James Fund, and The James Fund having the verse [about how] true religion is taking care of orphans, and it hit me that night after that concert riding my bike across the country, “Man, God said true religion is taking care of orphans, so if I’m riding my bike for that cause and I’m doing concerts for that cause, I’m not in control of it anymore because it’s God who’s doing it and I’m just following along with Him in what He’s already doing.” And that’s how we raised all the money for that. I thought, “I want to live like that. I want to live for God’s purposes, not my own purposes ‘cause I know they’re already blessed.” I know the Bible verse, “With man it’s impossible. With God all things are possible.” And that’s where this record took root.
Family: What a great story. Do you find that statement resonating in every area of your life?
Mark: It’s interesting. We just had a meeting about this this morning as we were talking about the record. I think what’s so interesting is people might have a time when they experience God and say, “That was impossible without God. I know that was God that did that.” But our memories are short-term when it comes to those things. We’ll say, “Oh, we’ll never forget this mountaintop experience where God has done these things.” And it feels like we get about a year away from that and we’re like, “Ya know, I just haven’t felt the presence of God in anything.” And then He does something again and we’re like, “Oh, I do remember.” We’re called to remember, ya know? And so I just start thinking about all these things. I have a great example. I did a tour and made the last record. We were in Italy, and I was just [feeling like], God’s forgotten me a little bit and I need a place to play the record. And I just feel like I need a place to play the piano. And my wife said, “We should pray about it.” So we did, and later than night we went out to get something to eat and we walked down the street. And here we are in Florence, Italy and she looks over and says, “Hey, is that a church?” I looked, and I said, “It is.” We walked in the church, and there’s all kinds of art on the ceiling and everything. And my wife is like, “Oh my gosh. That’s awesome!” But it didn’t mean anything to me. Then I saw a grand piano and I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s awesome!” I went and talked to the minister, and said, “Hey can I play this piano sometime?” And he said, “Sure. Come tomorrow and play it.” So I went the next day to play the piano. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon, and about five kids came in. They were American kids that were studying in Florence. The minister said, “Hey, will you play a song?” And I said, “Sure.” And they were like, “Hey, will you play another song?” And I was like, “Sure.” So I played about four or five of my songs. And then one of the kids raised his hand and said, “Hey, you play an awful lot of Mark Schultz songs.” I said, “Listen, I’m a big fan.” But, I stayed there for the next few weeks that we were over there and became their praise and worship leader for those five kids and their youth director. I just loved it. Then by the time we were finished with the record and were leaving there, there were thirty kids coming to that church. They were excited and they felt like they [had] won. I was excited and felt like we’d won just from the experience of being there. I feel like that was a moment for me when God said, “Hey, you know what? I’m with you, and you can do ministry anywhere.” It doesn’t have to be what you’re used to. I think about that. I think about the bike trip. I think about meeting the youth minister on accident that I ended up working with for ten years, who’s still my mentor, just running into him at a restaurant one day. I tried so hard to get into the music business when I first got here and I was going nowhere fast. And then I ran into a youth minister who was just crazy enough to hire me from being a waiter. It really changed the direction of my life.
Family: So before you started your musical career, you were a youth pastor and it still sounds like it’s in your blood. Do you miss that to some extent?
Mark: Oh man! I really do. At some point in time I want to get back into that because I feel like I became so energized when we were over in Italy. The kids would come in and we were so excited to see them, and hug them, and encourage them in what they were doing. It’s so interesting. My wife comes away from really deep one-on-one conversations and that energizes her. For me, I’m more of the guy who’s slapping high-fives with people and hugging them and encouraging them and showing up at their events. That energizes me and that wears her out. So having deep conversations for too long with me starts to wear me out. We’re “opposites attract” in that way. Man, I love being involved with youth, whether it’s the college age or high school age. Plus, I think when you’re writing songs and telling stories, you kind of run out of material for yourself. And it’s so refreshing to see what God’s doing in the lives of others and their families and with them personally. I think God sets things in our hearts that make us come alive. Definitely, hanging out with youth and leading them and helping them grow spiritually is a thing that is awesome for me. It makes me come alive.
Family: Let’s talk a little bit more about the record, then we have some quick bullet point questions for you. It seems like there’s always a song that’s put on a record but for some reason or another, you never hear it on the radio. What song is that from All Things Possible?
Mark: I hope it’s not most of them. (Laughs) It’s true, there’s always a song that you go, “Hey, that didn’t turn out how I thought it was going to.” I always kind of think of songs as kids. Like when you’re first writing them they’re young and just being born and you’re so excited. And you hope they grow up and go out and reach their full potential. That’s always exciting to see. There’s always some of them that over-achieve, and you’re like, “How in the world did you become president?” And there are always the ones that you just knew great things were going to happen [from] and they’re never heard from again. So I think writing songs are kind of like being a parent in seeing how your kids are going turn out, not knowing. But I’ll tell you one song that probably won’t be a radio single, but one that I just absolutely love [called “One Day”]. The genesis of it happened when I was doing a concert. I was playing the song “I Am,” and it was just me and the piano and I was singing. I look out in the audience and people have their eyes closed and a lot of people are singing along with the song. I look about half-way out into the audience and there was a row where there are a couple kids in wheelchairs. As I hit the chorus for “I Am,” I look out there and this boy is smiling with his head thrown back and both his arms straight up in the air celebrating, making fists and pushing them straight up in the air like he’s just watched somebody score a touchdown. I’m singing “I Am,” and I just get choked up. I have to stop. I thought to myself, “That kid gets his own song.” For him to hear these words about who God is and what God can do and people thinking in their seats that they’re trusting God and loving God. But for this kid, in my mind he’s thinking, “You know, someday I’m going to meet God face to face and I’m going to kick this wheelchair to the curb. I’m going to start running and I’m never going to turn around and look back at this wheelchair again.” The chorus is “One day we’ll touch the Healer’s hand. One day we’ll be whole again. One day He’ll take every sorrow and wipe our tears away. One day.” When I started writing this song and thinking about that kid, man, I gotta tell ya, it reminded me that there are things in my life that I know God could touch and heal. People with cancer, He can touch and heal them. And what that day is going to look like compared to what this world looks like. I love singing that song in concert. Like I say, it may never be a single, but I think about that little boy with his hands up in the air in his wheelchair, knowing that better things were coming when he gets to heaven.
Family: Mark, what are you listening to currently?
Mark: Whatever my wife has on her computer. I wish I could be better at telling. I’m like a radio guy. So I listen to whatever’s on the radio and I hop around a lot. I wish I could be the guy that tells you, “Hey, here’s my favorite artists that I listen to.”
Family: Well not necessarily your favorite, but currently, who are you listening to? And if you can’t think of one, that’s okay.
Mark: I will say this. I’m real encouraged. I think, and I could be wrong, but I think Christian music, as far as artists that are singing, as far as their voices and everything, I think they’re getting better. I think they just keep getting better. Now, of course, I can’t think of any of their names, but (starts singing) “there’s got to be more to life.” No, not that one. That’s like ten years old. I’m thinking about two girls. The one that sings the song about the rip in her jeans and the dent in her fender.
Family: Francesca Battistelli.
Mark: Man! Unbelievable voice! Just unbelievable voice! And there’s another girl singer, and I can see her face. She had a record called Gold.
Family: Britt Nicole.
Mark: Oh my gosh! Dude! You can find any of those girls on mainstream radio. They would compete with anybody in my opinion. I think they’re unbelievable. The Afters. When I hear a great song on the radio, my antenna goes up. I just go, “That’s a great song.” I’m a big fan of those artists for sure. And as well, I listen to country and I listen to pop and I listen to talk radio and it’s just whatever’s on the radio. I just switch back and forth.
Family: Are you a book reader?
Mark: I am getting to be more of a book reader. My wife has a problem with book reading – she loves it so much. I’m just joking but, when she was in residency, she had to study medical books like all day long, so to relax she would just get a novel and read it before she went to bed. I was like, that’s hard for me to believe someone can do that. But I do enjoy books, especially when we’re traveling. It feels like we’re always delayed or something’s going on. If you’ve got a book in your hand, you’ve got a better way to pass the time.
Family: Alright, these are short questions. I don’t know how short the answers will be, but what is your favorite cookie?
Mark: (Laughs) You mean, you’ve got short questions, and I just go on for fifteen minutes about my favorite ingredients ever?
Family: If you want…
Mark: Man, I need to be careful what I say about this because somebody might bring me one to a concert. You know what? I really love chocolate chip cookies. I’ll just be honest with you. I do. And, here’s where I start to get longer on my answer, my mom makes these, they’re kind of peanut butter but they got the Hershey’s Kiss in the middle. My mom makes those for Christmas every year so I tell her those are my favorites, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and say that.
Family: Those are the bomb. What is your favorite restaurant?
Mark: Favorite restaurant, you know what? I would say it’s Bin 54 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They’re all about steaks and French fries. I love ‘em!
Family: Have you ever been cow tipping or snipe hunting?
MS: (Laughs) I think I was involved in snipe hunting without knowing about it when I was younger. I have an older brother and cousins, so they had me do several things where I made a fool out of myself, so snipe hunting was in that I believe. I lived in Kansas and never tipped a cow, my whole life. So, no, I’ve never tried. I never wanted to tip a cow, just for reasons of not wanting to get hurt.
Family: If Family Christian invited you on a cow tipping trip, would you come?
Mark: (Laughs) If I were to be officially invited to a cow tipping, I would have to believe that I would give it a try. I was never formally invited, but...
Family: One last question, and Mark, you sort of answered this, but in a concise answer, what is God doing in Mark Schultz’s life right now?
Mark: Man, that’s an interesting question. I would say this, and let me think about where I… oh yeah, I remember. My wife and I have been watching sermons from Andy Stanley in Atlanta, and he just did a series. I’ll never forget, this happened just a few months ago, but this is kind of revolutionary in my life, to realize that I’m accepted by Christ and that I’m loved unconditionally. And I gotta tell ya, most of the music artists that I know or just in general, really are approval-seeking people. I know I am. I’m a big approval seeker. Like, I would rather not have any conflict at all. I would just rather people just like me and be really happy with me. That’s a hard way to live your life. When you’re reinforced on the stage, when you write a song and people clap, it’s reinforced. You say, “They like it. I did something that people like.” I don’t know why it’s taken this long to realize that I’m loved unconditionally and accepted by Christ, that that’s the highest order. That’s the thing that I focus on. And I gotta tell ya, I’m glad we’re talking about this because I have to go do something right after this conversation to remember this. But I think that’s the biggest thing, living my life free of people’s opinion. Their opinion of you can go up and down as the day goes on, but knowing that I’m accepted by Christ lets me live a little freer and a little happier and a little not so much walking on egg shells around hoping everybody likes me. You know what I mean?
Family: To be perfectly honest, Mark, it’s not just artists. It’s everybody. We all have that problem. Don’t you think that every person struggles with selfishness and pride, at times?
Mark: Yeah. I think that’s right. Ya know, there’s something in a study where I’m thinking I’m accepted by Christ and loved by Christ that, in a weird way, it kind of takes the pressure off me to have to be everything to everybody or feel like I need to live up to this great standard or to not let anybody be mad at me. And just say, Hey, you know what, some decisions are tough to make, but knowing that if I’m living fully for Christ, if I’m wanting his okay more than man’s okay, ya know? I think it’s all that wrapped up together. But, man, when I’m not focused on that, it gets to be a huge trap. It’s a huge trap to fall into.
Family: You hit it right on the head. It’s understanding that Christ loves us. Christ took our sin and so He comes to us and says, “You know what? I see it all. You don’t understand how depraved you are and I do… but this is how much I love you.” The more we can contemplate that, it seems that some of those battles with pride and self-worth tend to dissipate.
Mark: Yeah. I know when I first heard these words, when I first watched that sermon and I really let it set in, I felt more peaceful than I had in a long time. You know, because you’re making a record, especially this record, and you want people to like it and you want radio singles and you want the record label to like it. You want your family to like it. There’s so much pressure and you feel like you have to live up to this and you don’t want to let people down. I remember having almost a moment with God one time when I was praying several years ago and I was like, “God please help this record to sell. Let it have a great single. Let it be great.” And I felt God saying to me in my heart, “Hey, do you love to write songs about Me? Do you love getting up in the morning and writing a song about Me? And then go to bed at night still excited about that song and excited about the next one tomorrow? I’m not going to stop you at the gates of heaven and say, ‘If you’d only sold 10,000 more records I’d think about letting you in.’” He goes, “You were born to do this, so I just want to cheer you on. I want you to love what you do and love what you’re doing. I don’t care about the record sales. I’m not keeping tabs on that. I’m just keeping tabs on your heart and are you being true to who you are?” And it took me back to that moment and was just really freeing for me.
Family: Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We so appreciate your wisdom and your honesty here. You’ve really encouraged us, and we’re so thankful for that.
Mark: Oh, thanks to you too. I love it.
------ For more "Four Questions With..." check out these blog posts.