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feature article - Cross Rhythms Magazine (in English)

from: Cross Rhythms, online, Friday 26th January 2007
author: Mike Rimmer (UK)
website: http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk

»» John James: The Newsboys Ex-lead Singer Speaks About His Fall And Restoration

In one of the most painfully truthful interviews ever given by a Christian music artist, one-time member of the Newsboys JOHN JAMES spoke in depth to Mike Rimmer.

Newsboys c1990, John James 2nd from left
Newsboys c1990, John James 2nd from left                           [enlarge pic]

It's 1995 and in High Wycombe the Alliance "summer showcase" is in full flow bringing together a mixture of British and American acts. For a journalist like myself, it's an ideal opportunity to meet and interview a pile of bands and I'm wandering around the backstage area in the afternoon before the gig while the bands are soundchecking. PFR, Iona, 65dBA, The Worldwide Message Tribe, re:fresh and Hydro are all there waiting for their moment to set up and over in a corner are The Newsboys. Their singer John James is sat on a chair joking with his band mates when I dare to interrupt them. "Excuse me, are you John James," I ask politely. "Who wants to know?" comes the growled response.

Frankly the interview is a disaster. The press room is above the hall and every beat and synth driven groove of the Tribe's soundcheck fills the room where we're chatting ruining my recording. John won't get serious and seems content to answer my questions with flip and jokey comments. Frustrated, I close the interview and hang around for the gig. The Newsboys really go for it. As it turned out though, things weren't right with the Newsboys. Within a year an announcement was made that John James was leaving the group to return to Australia to be involved in local church ministry. It was James and Pete Furler who had formed The News, the band from which the Newsboys originated, in the mid '80s. After some local success, James, Furler and manager Wes Campbell had emigrated to the USA and, after an uncertain start (the 'Read All About It' album for Refuge) the Newsboys had gone on to CCM stardom. For their frontman to quit seemed a major blow though as it turned out Furler switching from drums for the vocal mic brought the Newsboys even more success. But what of John James? The silence down the years from the one-time CCM star James has been deafening. And so it came to pass that in October 2006 I found myself at a barbecue in a Brisbane park. It was just a few families and singles having fellowship and it was the embryonic beginnings of a new church in the city. The pastor of His Church was going to be singer David Evans, known in the UK for his ministry at the Cross Rhythms festival. David was sitting laughing while teasing another of the church's leaders, John James.

As is the fashion when musicians get together, they were swapping war stories from days on the road. Even recently when they've been ministering together things haven't always gone smoothly in the churches where they have presented a mixture of music, preaching and honesty for the churched and unchurched to experience. Always the journalist, I asked John for a few general comments about his time with the band. He said, "I feel really blessed. We started here in Australia. Just a bunch of guys - dreams, hopes, aspirations. Uneducated but passionate. We started this band here and looking back, I remember the thrill and the excitement. I think a lot of people wish that they could taste and experience life in a successful band and it's pretty amazing to be on stage in front of tens of thousands of people. An arena filled with people. The excitement! The electricity! Hearing people bellow out in one crescendo an anthem. Singing every lyric of every one of your songs. It's like you're this conductor standing on the edge of the stage just conducting this huge crowd and taking them on a journey throughout the night. It was the most incredible experience."

He continued, "With the Newsboys, we were fortunate enough to be a part of doing some huge concerts. My last tour with the band was the Take Me To Your Leader Tour. That was one of the most successful tours that year in America, Christian or secular. It was a massive tour. At that time we were signed with Virgin Records and distributing secular in the US and so often the Virgin guys would have their reps and different guys come out to our concerts and they were blown away. I don't know what they expected. They knew it was a religious/Christian band. We were obviously the only Christian band, so to speak, on their label."

John got animated just thinking about it and chuckled as he said, "Mate, I don't know what they expected; to come out and see a bunch of guys in long flowing gowns wearing sandals and beads and chanting on a stage, dancing and singing 'Cum By Yah'? But they'd come out and see this massive production. The most incredible show. The spectacular. The multi-media. The antics. And arenas filled with people. I mean it was powerful for them! It was really exciting for me to be a part of something so big. To experience it."

I had a flashback of their Take Me To Your Leader tour performances and what struck me was the way that John and the band created pop music events that were certainly entertaining, but did they lose sight of the ministry amongst all the hi-tech production elements? "I think we were always passionate about the ministry," he replied, "but I think as we evolved and things changed maybe the focus began to shift to some degree in regards to our blatancy of how we articulated that on stage. We were very passionate about the entertainment side. We always were, whether we were in front of 10 people or 10,000 people or 100,000 people, we never ever took the stage and didn't give a 110 per cent. We wanted people to go away feeling, if they paid 20 dollars for a ticket they got a hundred-dollar ticket show. We always did our best to captivate people. Take them on a journey. Maybe the way we delivered the simplicity of the Gospel changed like you said as we became more 'successful'. Maybe in some areas we gained a lot? Maybe in some areas we lost something too?"

From his time with the band, it is certainly true that he sang lead on some of the band's most classic recordings. John agreed, "Yeah, there was 'Shine' and I think 'Take Me To Your Leader' and 'Not Ashamed'. It's like they've become classic songs. And sometimes to be honest, if it wasn't for the sake of the people like yourselves that are interested in doing an interview with me or sometimes people coming up and still asking for an autograph or I'm asked to speak somewhere and tell my story, it's almost seems like such a world ago now. I almost have to pinch myself and say, alright, yeah that's right. I WAS in a band! Oh yeah that's right, we DID do that! But some of these songs, yeah you're right, they've been sort of placed in Christian music history now as being 'classic Newsboys songs'. I feel pretty fortunate that I was a part of it." So could he still sing "Shine" now if I played the karaoke version of it - would he know the words? "Nah!" he laughed, "I had trouble remembering the words when I was IN the band let alone seven and a half years later!"

Our chat was going well so I asked John about whether he'd be willing to record an in-depth interview about his time in the Newsboys and also to talk honestly about why he had left. He was reluctant to go public with the details and I didn't think the interview would happen. So my wife Pippa and I drove north towards what they call the Sunshine Coast. It's certainly well named because even in Australian springtime it was warmer than a British summer. We stopped off at Australia Zoo, established by the late Steve Irwin, where I learnt how to avoid being eaten by a crocodile! (Don't go near the water!). As a tropical rainstorm thundered and rain struck the roof of the car with a sound akin to a drum kit being thrown down a flight of stairs, we headed up the wonderfully named Bruce Highway towards the resort of Mooloolaba as a beautiful double rainbow lit the sky.

The Newsboys got their start on the Sunshine Coast where they made a name for themselves on the local music scene. John James still lives there and another phone call led to us meeting for a coffee. The hotel where I stayed was across the road from a packed beach and I settled into a coffee shop to read, drink and wait for John to arrive on a sunny Friday morning. We talked for about an hour where, off the record, I asked a lot of searching questions and John shared what he was willing to talk about in a recorded interview and what he'd prefer to keep private. There are some things which he prefers to keep quiet about, believing that it would be unhelpful to speak about them in public. I promised to respect his wishes so that what you are reading are simply the confessions of a man who made plenty of mistakes, has been to the brink and been rescued by a faithful God. John James has chosen to tell his own story and to let others tell theirs, if they choose to.

Newsboys c1991, James 3rd from left
Newsboys c1991, James 3rd from left                                   [enlarge pic]

Being in a hugely successful band clearly had its own pressures for John. As he admitted to me, by the end of his time in the Newsboys John's Christian life was shattered. "It didn't happen overnight," he explained. "You've gotta understand. You've got a bunch of young guys that one moment we're tanning on the beach in Mooloolaba and some years later we're in one of the biggest Christian bands around. The success, the fame, the money, the screaming girls, the autographs. It's like, how do you deal with that? How do you process that? You're in this schizophrenic lifestyle where you're surrounded by thousands of fans that are wanting to touch the very sweat that falls from your brow. They're wanting your autograph. They're wanting to reach out and grab you. And then I'm meant to come home and make the transition from this surreal, schizophrenic, adrenaline-packed lifestyle to come home to be a dad and a father and a husband. And I found that after a period of time I wasn't able to make that transition back to normality of lifestyle. There wasn't anyone mentoring or helping me to deal with this, mentally or emotionally. It's like you've got people that surround you and help you to become successful but no-one really mentored us in regards of how to keep our heads in check. I don't care who you are, you put ANYBODY in that sort of environment for long enough and unless you have countermeasures to help you process and deal with that, man it's gonna mess you up big time! And over a period of time it began to take it's toll. Only in little things. It doesn't happen overnight. Maybe a value dropped here. A standard lowered here. But it began to eventually take its toll on my marriage - the pressure of it."

He continued, "I remember when it started. I'd come home off the road sometimes and find my wife crying. I tolerated it for a while. I remember one day I came home and I was just so fed up. She was weeping and I'm like, 'Woman, be quiet! What's your problem? We've gained the whole world! Your only stress in life is: "How many pairs of shoes should I buy today?" We've gained everything!' But my wife could see something much bigger than the success, the fame, the money, the position, the career. She saw our marriage starting to erode and fall apart. My wife is the sort of person who when she stood at that altar and said, 'I do', 'Till death do us part', she believed that. And now she's seeing us starting to drift apart. I was starting to become very isolated. You're surrounded by thousands of people but you're really lonely and you become very insular and very isolated and it really started to take its toll. Our marriage began to spiral downhill, dramatically. Slowly at first but then as time went by it began to go faster and faster and faster."

It was at this point that John began to take solace in alcohol. "I think for myself, I worked HARD. We concerted HARD. We toured HARD. But I also played hard. And for me alcohol was an escape. Obviously it wasn't something that was public knowledge. I justified it as it helped me to process and deal with the pressure. Now whether that was a crutch or not, I think after a while it became the dependency, where I needed that constantly. And eventually it really started to take a grip in my heart and my life to the point where the alcohol was a serious problem. It's amazing how you can be in front of so many people but we do such a great job of hiding what's really going on. We become masters of hiding the truth. Why? Because we have an image to uphold. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating this allure, this perception of perfection. And the last thing we want people to know is that we're actually just real people who deal with real problems."

He continued, "But we found ourselves thrust into this position because we're 'pop stars'. You never see people who are plumbers or gardeners or accountants. 'Wow can we have your autograph?!' But we happen to be in an environment, as artists, as musicians, where we're put on pedestals because of who we are. It's a crazy, crazy lifestyle. But I did a fantastic job of hiding that and masking that. It's almost like you become very sneaky. You don't mean it to happen, it's a gradual process, but eventually you have to come to the realisation that you have an addiction. A real addiction. And yeah it really took its toll on my life and my marriage. I got to a place that at one stage where I was drinking a carton or two of alcohol a day. That's a lot! I got to a stage where in the mornings for breakfast I'd have two six-packs! So by lunchtime I was just totally intoxicated. And this went on every day."

This obviously began to take its toll on life in the band. Did he ever go on stage whilst drunk? "You know what? As terrible as it sounds and actually I'm ashamed of that, I did, yes. Nobody would have guessed. You can be surrounded by so many people but you're still very protected. I think it got to the point where it was becoming such a problem and my marriage was really starting to fall apart so I confided in the band about how severe it was. They were totally blown away. Especially Peter. I remember the night we were in the studio recording some vocals. We'd cut all the music for the 'Step Up To The Microphone' album and I was about to record the vocals for 'Entertaining Angels'. I confided in Pete and started to open up, telling some of the stuff that was going on in my marriage. And he was just blown away. I don't think he really understood how he could deal with that. It was pretty devastating for the band because they didn't know how to deal with it either."

But hadn't the band seen the deterioration in him? He pondered, "I think they did but sometimes, you know what? We can see stuff but sometimes we don't want to admit it. Because you've got to understand that we're a part of a big machine. It's our career. It's our livelihoods. Actually you've got many families involved. Many people involved. Their livelihoods, their careers. It's a big moneymaking machine. Sometimes you don't want to see problems. Even though they're slapping us in the face. They're screaming out to us. But sometimes we choose not to see them. And sometimes, honestly, we become blind to them even though to others on the outside it can be so blatantly obvious. It's almost like we choose to be blind and not to see these things when we don't want to."

Was John ever involved in recreational drugs as well? "Unfortunately yes I was. And again that's not something that I'm proud about. I'm really ashamed about that. Especially when I left the band. Like I said, there were no restraints once my career with the band came to an end and I confided in the Newsboys and I was forced to step down. Then all restraints were taken away and then the alcohol spiralled out of control, the drug use. I got to the point where I was spending hundreds of dollars supporting a cocaine habit. Really, I just started to lose perspective on life and everything."

So far, John and I had talked about drugs, alcohol and rock'n'roll. What about sex? John admitted to being sexually involved with other women. He explained, "That was not only devastating for my life but it was devastating for my wife. She left me. She took my eldest daughter and went back to Australia. My marriage was over but I was so messed up mentally and emotionally it was almost like saying good riddance! Go! Because then that gave me the freedom to reeeaally party and do what I wanted. I was just losing the plot so bad. By this time I was out of the band so they couldn't help me because they were touring so much. They wanted to but what were they going to do? Put a leash around me and police me? They were touring all around the countryside. Nobody's there. I'm wasn't connected to church. I'm wasn't connected to them. I was a guy with nice 'toys', nice cars, and I had access to money! It was like no restraints. I'd lost the God-perspective. Boundaries had been removed and I just lost the plot."

He continued, "One of the benefits about being one of the 'owners' of the company, the band. . . We were very fortunate to be in a place financially where a lot of the 'toys' - the bells, whistles - were paid for for the band. There's a lot that comes with success and one of the by-products of success is that you're in a position where you surround yourself with a lot of nice toys. I know once we were cruising down the road in the tour bus and we passed this great-looking motorbike shop. So I think we stopped and bought a whole lot of 4-wheelers just there on the spot! Paid for them on the MasterCard or whatever. We'd be into 4-wheelers so we'd buy everyone 4-wheelers. Then we'd be into motorbikes so we'd buy everyone motorbikes. And then a new motorbike would come out and so we'd sell them and buy everyone new motorbikes, you know? Like I said, in the Newsboys we worked hard but we played hard."

Newsboys c1992, James 2nd from left
Newsboys c1992, James 2nd from left                                    [enlarge pic]
With his band days behind him, as John's lifestyle spiralled downwards so did depression and doubt.

"Can you imagine the battle, as a man and my own ego and my own mind, that I'm trying to fight?" he asked. "Every day, having everything. Gaining everything. Being in this incredible position of influence, success, notoriety, fame.and now I've lost ALL of this?! It's like my whole world is being raped from me. My entire sense of value, validation, my sense of worth is taken from me and I realise, I HAVE NOTHING. I'm feeling like an empty shell of a man. Nothing to validate anything I do. It's like I'm totally lost. I'm broken. My life's purpose, the Newsboys, has just been taken from me. How do you deal with that? How do you process that?"

He continued, "And that's why I ran as fast as I could. I couldn't face up to the harsh reality of who John James was. It was terrible. I hated the reflection that looked back at me. I hated the eyes that stared back at me. You know, the eyes are the windows to my soul! And that's why half the time I constantly was drunk or high on drugs. I HATED the quietness of lying in bed at night because if I ever was sober or had my right sense of mind I would start to contemplate the heart and the soul of John James. And I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't face that."

Fans will remember that when it was announced that John had left the Newsboys a statement was issued saying he was returning to Australia to start a preaching ministry. Nothing could have been further from the truth. "You've got to understand; love covers a multitude of sins, you know? Possibly protecting me? Possibly protecting themselves? What would have been better? To say 'John's an alcoholic and a drug addict and he's been unfaithful in his marriage. He's been sleeping around. His wife's left.' How would that have helped me? I think the best thing for me was probably to protect me. My wife and I were dealing with enough rubbish with the pressures and everything. So I think they really covered for me and maybe a bit of that too was to protect the Newsboys' best interests."

As a founder member of the band, John was a part owner of Newsboys, so when he returned to Australia were they still supporting him financially? "I had no financial support from the band," he said simply. "My time with the band was severed and came to an end. I had to get a job. You've got to understand, one moment I can go out and buy anything, next minute I'm flat-out. I can't even buy a toaster on credit. I had nothing. I literally lost everything. One of the most crushing moments I remember was that day when I had to stand in the unemployment welfare line. And then that interview - that was hard. I nearly broke down and wept in that interview. I really wasn't qualified to get a job anywhere so my wife made these little sponge cakes. For several years I sold them door-to-door. That's how I earned an income."

The fact that John James is still married and is walking with God today is nothing short of a miracle. The story of the turnaround in his life began six months before he returned to Australia while he was still living in the USA. His sister is married to a pastor. One night she was woken from her sleep. John told the story, "She began to weep and cry on my behalf. God really impressed on her heart that my wife and I were going through something truly devastating. Something was going on in our lives, to the point where she spent the night just sobbing and weeping and praying for us. A couple of months later, just before we came back here my sister was at a conference with a couple of thousand people. And there was this visiting minister from somewhere overseas and amongst the preaching, amongst a sea of people, he stopped and he walked down the aisle and singled my sister out and stood her up and gave her the most encouraging word. He said, 'Ma'am I don't know you but God's given me a message for you. A word of encouragement. You have a brother and I see God is on a rescue mission to save his life. God's going to reach out, grab your brother, take him out of the environment where he is. Because the environment where he is at the moment is detrimental and is destroying his life. God is going to take him out of there and plant him back here in Australia where he can be nurtured and become healthy and grow strong.' Several weeks after that we ended up in Australia, and neither my sister nor the minister knew anything about what was going on in our lives."

Once back in Australia, John and his wife planted themselves in his sister's church where his brother-in-law was the pastor. He remembered, "My wife literally saved my life. It takes two to be willing for any restoration and the guts my wife showed and her willingness to forgive and work at our marriage was a gutsy move. That first year and a half was hell on earth - the healing process was very difficult. I'm fortunate that we were surrounded by awesome folks at a great church. They just loved us and took us under their wing. They didn't love us because of who we were or what we could give their church but that we were just a couple that were broken, bleeding, left for dead on the side of the road. It was their love and their mentoring that helped us through this journey. Some days we felt like we were winning. Some days we felt like we were losing. But over that first two years they were able to mentor us and disciple us. Some days they were just an ear to listen, not offering us tons of advice. Sometimes they were just there to cry with us."

If you're a fan of Christian music, you may be surprised to hear that the Christian music scene could be described as a detrimental environment. Yet for John James, it certainly was. He explained, "You've got to understand. The Gospel Music Industry, if I can sum it up in that terminology, is a great concept. An organised tool to get the message of Christ out through music, through concerts, through record labels, to distribute the message. A powerful tool. The industry is not the problem. The problem is people's lives in the industry that have become messed up and lost perspective of what it's all about. It's become about the money, the industry, the success, the fame. We've lost focus. I want people to understand because sometimes people ask me, 'Are you bitter now on success, money, fame, position?' I say, no of course I'm not. Influence, money, success, position.those are powerful, incredible tools we can use to influence masses of people. Mighty tools! Those things aren't the problem. Money, success, is not the problem. It's when we allow our hearts to be seduced by those things, where it becomes all about the money, all about the success, all about MY career, MY ministry. That's the problem right there! So I'm not down on those things. Man, I hope one day I have the opportunity to influence masses of people and have the resources to do it. If I'm trusted in that position again, I guarantee you I'll do business differently because of my understanding now. Because of my perspective and my focus now."

The beach at Mooloolaba is one of the best on the Sunshine Coast with its golden sands and at that time of year, plenty of sunshine. There's the intriguing "Loo With A View" which wasn't quite what I was expecting. Instead of a toilet with a great view of the ocean, you get a toilet and upstairs above the loo, the view. It's an observation platform! On the beach people sunbathe and surf and lifeguards do their thing to keep an eye out for those struggling, always ready to rescue those who are drowning.

Newsboys c1994, James on left
Newsboys c1994, James on left
[enlarge pic]

For John James, it was definitely God who was keeping an eye out for him. Despite drowning his soul in drink, God rescued him. Remembered John, "When I came back to Australia I can remember being at church and the turning point for me." His voice broke with emotion as he shared, "We'd been back about three months and I was sitting in church with my wife. We would come half an hour late and we'd leave early so that we didn't have to talk to anybody. It was so difficult even sitting there in church, at the very back. One day this minister who was visiting from overseas, in the middle of a service in our church of about 1200 people, he walked down the aisle. He didn't know my wife and I. He stood my wife and I up, and it was like he read our mail! He used words like, 'the success and the fame and the notoriety is nothing compared to what God is going to use your life to do.' It was such a word. You've got to understand; I'm dealing with the guilt and the shame that I have messed up my life. It's like my life now is being devalued. God could never use me again. And now here's this man who doesn't know us, doesn't know our background, and he is speaking words that through this healing process we're gonna get to a place that God is going to use us powerfully."

He continued, "We just hit the ground weeping and crying! And that was a catalyst that breathed life into dead bones. It's like something of a miracle happened that day. Something took place inside me. There was a transfiguration in my life that day, that the simplicity and the power and the relevance of God impacted me so dramatically that God gave me the strength to end it right there. The alcohol ended. Even though I was an alcoholic somehow it ended. The cocaine ended. No rehab. Supernaturally something happened in my life that day."

"Actually, what's crazy is that the minister went to the pastor's for lunch. They said, 'Do you know who that was?' And he goes, 'I don't have a clue.' And then they told him our story and he broke down and wept. And that night we met him again and he spent time with us just talking. What's funny is that about a month later the same thing happened again! It's like for the next several months every minister from overseas who came to our church singled us out. It was like God went out of his way continually to the point I know people in church were probably getting sick and tired, wondering why it was always us being singled out. It's like God went out of his way in spite of how we were feeling to say, 'Listen, you guys are so precious to me. Even amongst this hell you're going through, I'm right there with you. Even though you feel so devalued, like your life has no meaning or purpose let me say, I'm going to use you to do great things still. I want to use you.' That was so liberating for me!"

In the middle of the encouraging words from God, there was the serious business of a marriage that needed to be restored. John admitted that this was taking time. "I honestly wish I could sit here and say it happened overnight. But probably it was about two years. That first year was SO hard. SO HARD. Countless hours of counselling. We spent time with people that just loved us and mentored us. I had to learn all over again what it meant to be a husband. A good husband. I had to relearn what it meant to be romantic. I had to earn my wife's trust back again. I had broken her heart. I had to earn her trust. I had to give my wife a reason to fall in love with me all over again."

"I came to the realisation, either the Word of God is true or it isn't. Either it can change my life or it can't. If it can't then I'm wasting my time but if it can then I'm going to do everything that I can to allow it to change my life. Eventually our marriage was a relationship restored and since then we've had children. It doesn't mean I'm a perfect husband but I believe I'm a great husband. There was a renewing of my mind. The renewing of what it means to be a dad and a father and a husband. My entire value system changed."

It was nearly lunchtime and John and I were sitting in the hotel suite where my wife and I were enjoying a few sunny days on the beach. My wife was off being pampered in the hotel's health spa whilst John and I were catching up. Compared to the person he was when he was fronting the Newsboys, John is a different man here at home in Australia. He admitted that one day he'd have to move to Brisbane when the new church takes off but for then his family were enjoying the benefits of living on the Sunshine Coast. But what does he do now? "Well you know some days I ask myself that same question!" he laughed. "What am I actually doing with my life? My wife and I are very passionate. We tell our story. We're passionate about life. I'm passionate about my children. Passionate about my family. But when I do have the privilege to minister I work a lot with high school students. I LOVE going into high schools. Working with teenagers. I'll be one of those guys, if they still let me, that'll be 80 years old and still involved in youth ministry! I love working with young people. It's in my blood. I love doing conferences that deal with music because they think, 'Oh, John James from the Newsboys, let's get him!' But I come from such a different perspective."

He laughed, "I come from totally another angle because they want to hear about the how-to and the success. 'How do we write number one songs?' But I come from the other angle and talk about character, foundation, family, marriage, integrity. And it's almost like, 'What is that?! We want to hear about, how do you write number one songs? How do you write great music? How do you perform on stage?' So I do lots of schools." Continued James, "I do a lot of travelling to churches but at the moment the thing that's really inspiring me and David Evans is that we're looking to pioneer a church, pastor a church in 2007 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. It is very bizarre for me because honestly that's one thing I said that I would NEVER do! It's amazing. It's like it seems not that long ago that my wife and I swore that we would never ever live in Australia and now here we are! But the concept of pastoring and being involved in pastoring and pioneering a church never appealed to me. Scary as it is for me I find myself getting excited and dreaming about it! Getting stirred in regards to doing something significant.

You know what? For me, I may never stand on a stadium stage again and be a part of influencing big crowds. But for me half the battle was coming to terms in my heart and in my mind that for the rest of my life, God may just want to use me in a corner of the world and that maybe I'll never have my name in lights or no-one might know the 'great exploits'. But if it means talking to a bunch of kids in a high school classroom - 20 kids? - so be it. If that's where God wants me I am prepared to say, 'Yes Lord I'll do it'. Or does John James still crave the excitement and the rush of the big arenas? Do I like the concept of that? Who wouldn't! But it's coming to terms: 'God, if you put me in that position one day again? Awesome! But if you don't, I am prepared to be obedient, happy and content.' I want to feel that I'm still running the race and at the end of it, it's still 'Well done good and faithful servant.'"

Driving me home from the church barbecue the previous Sunday, David Evans had confided in me that since his last concert with the Newsboys, John had not sung a single note in public and didn't want to. For someone who had enjoyed having the world at his feet while he sang his band's classics, this seemed like an odd state of affairs. Surely there were plenty of people who would offer John a solo contract. "I haven't sung in seven and a half years with the exception of a friend of mine, Andrew Ironside who asked me to cut one track on his album and I did it for him. That was really difficult. I've not sung since I've left the band and part of that is the healing journey I'm still on. The truth behind it is that the dynamic of my ability to sing was the team - the dynamic of the Newsboys. It was a band. It was Peter and I. It was the dynamic of a group of mates on stage. Myself? I'm not a soloist. I've never ever believed I really had a great voice. I believed I was a great entertainer. I had the ability to take people on a journey in that band environment. And also for me, probably that was one of the things that I was able to hold onto. Even though my career was over, for a long time it still gave me that sense of worth because people looked at me with awe and went, 'Wow! He's the lead singer of the Newsboys! Wow, will you sing?!' And I'd say, no I don't sing anymore. 'Oh pleeaase will you sing?!' But I was afraid that if I did sing and I didn't meet the expectations then the perception of: "WOW! Here's the lead singer of the Newsboys!" would be gone and people would say, 'Gee he's really not that good of a singer.'"

John James has been through a great deal. With the band he's scaled the heights of success and yet life in the band dropped him down to the depths of despair. Through rediscovering the unconditional love of God and the truth that God doesn't write any of us off, he's rediscovered the love of a long suffering life and now things are back on track, God has given him a fresh sense of purpose. For a while, he'll admit, it was a close call but it looks like his healing is nearly complete.

Back in Brisbane, my wife Pippa and I stayed a few days with David Evans and his wife. It didn't look like the final part of John's healing was far off. David confessed that he really wanted to see John sing again and John himself admitted, "I've put my hand up with David, with the pioneering of this new church, to be involved in the music in regards to worship and singing and song-leading. It's going to be so hard. You'd think after more than 15 years of being a frontman it comes so naturally but for me, to be honest, man that is probably going to be one of the most scariest things I've ever done in my life. That's part of the journey of my healing when I can get up there. It's not about how good I am. It's not about the crowd. But it's the fact that God wants to use me. Great singer or not. Big crowd or small. That God says, 'I want to sing through you. Open your mouth and sing for me.' That's going to be quite a moment for me that first day!"

Mike Rimmer ««

About Mike Rimmer
Mike Rimmer is a freelance journalist/broadcaster. He presents three programmes on Cross Rhythms radio and lives in Birmingham .

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