Wednesday, March 24, 2010
ReWind Wednesdays: Phil Cross, 2005
Phil Cross: Choirs, Concerts, and Commitment to Christ
Over twenty years ago, one of the most prolific writers in Southern Gospel penned his first song. Almost 400 songs later, souls are still being reached in and out of the church for Jesus Christ. Songs such as “Champion of Love” and “Jesus Built a Bridge” brought the name of Phil Cross to the forefront of Gospel Music, and his group, “Poet Voices”, is once again sharing his many songs with audiences across the nation.
The distinctive sound of “Poet Voices” has survived several group member changes and even a short retirement. Last year, Phil Cross joined with Mark Lanier and Greg Crowe to become the current trio whose songs are again blessing hearts everywhere. Each member is a gifted soloist in their own right, and the schedule of the group allows them to continue their own ministries as well as that of Poet Voices. Sharing new original music written by Phil, Poet Voices presents a program designed to uplift Christ and unite believers through song, laughter, and the message of God’s love.
Southern Gospel artists are not the only ones privileged to be able to sing the music of Phil Cross. Choirs have also had the opportunity to share with their congregations chorale compositions of songs such as, “I Am Redeemed” and “Everlasting Peace”. Through the years, Phil has seen his ministry spread to that of the local church choir, introducing many to Southern Gospel for the first time. Phil recently shared some thoughts with Sgmradio about this challenge.
“The response has been amazing. I have worked in several churches that have had no Southern Gospel and they have loved it. I try to stress that it’s not about style, but substance. There is no Christian music that does a better job of teaching about God than Southern Gospel and I have found that people are getting it. Southern Gospel is extremely complementary with contemporary praise and worship music. It gives the congregation the ‘revelation’ before the ‘adoration’.”
Music in the church seems to be one of the major sources of discord, and often brings division and disharmony to an otherwise united body of Christians. Discussions range from style and beat to instrument type and the appearance of those leading the congregation in worship. It can be difficult for music ministers of any kind to introduce an unfamiliar type of music, and artists face the same complex issue, especially those bearing the label of “Southern Gospel”.
“There are basically two purposes of music according to the scriptures: teaching about God and praising God”, Phil states. “The songs of Southern Gospel primarily teach about God. The challenge is to sell Southern Gospel to the music buyers in the churches. Mostly, these ministers have been educated by a system that embraces praise and worship music. Ideally, we would all get over the “style” and begin to focus on the “substance”. Maybe, we need to package the music and not tell them it’s “Southern Gospel”. The very title “Southern Gospel” is very limiting. Truly, I believe the songs, though few in number, are making it to the mainstream church. They make it because they fill a need in God’s kingdom to lift up Christ. They make it because people in the pews relate to the gospel message.”
Congregations have been relating well to the music of Phil Cross as he has traveled across the country presenting chorale workshops to choirs of every denomination. This ministry has now merged with Poet Voices under the title of “Hearts in Harmony”. Host churches form a mass choir, and work with Phil and Poet Voices, as well as the talented Tim and Mary Alice Lovelace, to produce an evening of variety, celebration and praise. This seems a natural extension of Phil’s vision for both the Church and Poet Voices.
Phil expands on this vision for ministry: “Professionally, I want to continue to work to promote “substance” and balanced music ministry to the church. Maybe a few churches will be enlightened to make sure they have “teaching” and “praising” songs in their worship. I’m going to work hard toward that end. I believe it’s important.”
Love for the Church and for the Lord is echoed in some of Phil’s own personal musical preferences. Venerated hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, is the one writer that he would most like to craft a song with. “Though she was blind, she saw more about God than any writer in history.” And when asked about the song he wished he had written: “The greatest song ever written is “Yes, Jesus Loves Me”. The greatest answer, YES, and the greatest fact, JESUS LOVES ME.”
On a personal level, Phil Cross has an unswerving dedication to his commitment to Christ. Like most of us, he aspires to be more disciplined in maintaining spiritual and physical health. After a period of change, he is thrilled to be ministering with a group once more yet still being involved with local churches. His writing still crosses many stylistic barriers, with one of his most recent praise songs, “Precious Holy Lamb”, remaining close to his heart as a personal favorite. With the inspiration for his songs coming from life itself, there will certainly be many more Cross songs with the impact of, “Saved to the Uttermost”, “One Holy Lamb”, and “Champion of Love”. We look forward to hearing many more songs of praise from the pen of Phil Cross.
Article first published in Summer 2005 on www.sgmradio.com . Used by permission