For the past two weeks I've shared installments of a conversation I had with Eric Owyoung of Future of Forestry. Today, I share the last installment where Eric shares his thoughts on the church as venue and personal calling.
Eric’s band Future of Forestry has made a name for itself since 2006, with it’s nine studio recordings (original and collections) and Christmas DVD, Solstice. Eric has garnered a reputation for creating awe-inspiring music with a live concert experience that is beautiful and almost otherworldly.
Thanks for stopping by the site and enjoy the final conversation with Eric.
Tim: Tell me about how the church can be more involved and get behind artists and help them along?
Eric: Worship leaders and pastors who are the lead people for the arts in the church are my key supporters when I’m on the road touring. I have the choice every place, every city I go whether I’m going to play a venue that is secular with a secular promoter or a church. A lot of bands have a hard time playing churches, which is understandable because they want a neutral—kind of common ground—venue so that a non-Christian or a Christian or a person of any religion could still go to their concert and they could still influence those people.
But I think the church is an amazing partner for artists when they understand the vision of the artist. If the vision of the artist is to do an overtly Christian concert where there’s worship, an altar call, and things that are expressly religious in nature, that’s one thing.
I like when the church makes itself accessible as a music venue. And, since we’re talking about beauty, I want my concerts to be an awesome night filled with beauty and power for Christians and non-Christians (or a person who’s thinking about the faith) alike.
So, when I go on the road and have youth pastors or college pastors or worship leaders come alongside me and say they want to support and promote the show by selling tickets to their group and getting the word out there to colleges and schools, then I’m going to build a substantial crowd who are new to the music, as well as tap into the Future of Forestry fan base. That’s the biggest thing you can ask for with regard to the church coming alongside and helping out.
I literally have a few guys across the country who I know personally and are huge fans and supporters. I call them up and say, “Let’s do a show,” and they say, “Just give me the date,” and I know that show is going to be sold out.
Tim: So you, in some respects, prefer the church as a venue even though—and you can speak to this—I see your music as having love songs and creative songs and worshipful songs. So it’s like a best of both worlds. Is that true?
Eric: Yes, there’s a lot of everything. Everything has been honest from my life in terms of the things that I feel. I don’t only feel things in a Christian sub-culture way. I fall in love with someone and I write a love song, but it may not be what you hear in the Christian sub-culture a lot.
But, in my opinion, it should be because that’s a daily part of my life. There are songs that are about very specific Christian things or themes and there are songs that are about falling in love. To me they’re just an outflow of my life.
So yeah, when it comes down to venue, I always feel torn between the church versus the secular venue. I think what I’ve evolved into is doing my best to transform the church venue into a place that doesn’t feel like a religious place. By doing that I’ve started touring with full sound and lighting production so no matter where I go I can make it feel like a great quality rock concert.
I’m not dependent upon a really good venue, but I’m not going to lie—the vibe that comes from a secular venue is a lot of fun and I understand why bands want that most of the time. I would say that about 25% of the dates I do are done in a secular venue—and on my current Young Man Follow tour I’m doing two dates out of 10 that are secular dates. And I enjoy that. But like I was saying, when it’s a secular venue you don’t have the support that you really thrive on from the church.
Tim: Eric, thanks for the great conversation and for your inspiring music. The new album is fantastic. Would you give the readers a parting thought? A lot of people deal with the calling on their life. Tell us about when you knew you were called to make music.
Eric: I tend to look at calling very loosely in that I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how people have any prescribed destinies. I believe more that it is our job to look at our hearts and our desires and what inspires us.
Saying that, I don’t know if I ever had a moment where I thought, Hey, this is my calling and I’d better do it whether I want to or not. But I had a lot of feeling in music, and as I leaned into the feeling, I saw things happen. I try to encourage people in that. I don’t understand the concept of obedience in the sense of “I really don’t want to do this but God’s going to make me have a career that I hate,” or something like that. I don’t think He works that way.
I think that if we are close to God’s heart that the concept of Him sharing His desires with us is something that overtakes us so that we want to do those things. That we don’t go and do missions because it’s some sacrificial burden of misery, but it’s something we want to do because we love to watch other cultures be embraced by God. So it is our desire.
For my life, I just thought I wanted to do something and as I continue to grow I want to do those things and other things. I feel that if I woke up tomorrow and decided I really wanted to be a film director, I don’t think God would hesitate to say, “Hey, let’s make sure you’re doing what you love.”
This interview will be printed and distributed in its entirety at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta next week in the Review of Leadership Thought & Practice, of which I am the editor. All content here used by permission.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.