"Christian music's going in a lot of different directions right now,
and it's confused."
Entertainment Channel -
It's always been a dream of mine to interview artists who have seen
Christian music literally "grow up" to be what it is today. That
dream was partly fulfilled when I interviewed John Schlitt, lead
singer of Petra, in Nashville recently. We talked about Petra's
beginnings, the heart of artistry, and Petra's new ventures on Inpop
J Man: In the beginning, Petra wasn't even received by some of
your peers. What did it feel like, and how did you get past it?
John: Well, even though I wasn't at the start of Petra,
through the years I felt their pain! And the first 14 years that I
wasn't a part of [Petra], there was a lot going on. Actually, for
the first 10 years, they're weren't a band. They were just a group
of guys who did records every once and a while. They used their
music to go to churches and coffee houses. I wouldn't call it just a
hobby, but at the start it was part-time. Petra really went full
time in 1980. Those first eight years were discovery for the band.
J Man: What kind of advice would you give to someone in the music
industry who might be experiencing the same type of criticism that
John: Be honest to yourself. And by that I mean, your
relationship with God. Your relationship with Jesus Christ has to be
true between you and Him. If you can be honest with Jesus Christ,
and be your best to Him.
Don't get me wrong, you're supposed to be the best [entertainer] and
get His message to the masses, that's your job. But I think you're
ultimate goal should be that you have that peace with God.
If you say you're going to do something, do it! And find out what
you're doing it for. In other words, if you want to be in Christian
music to become a millionaire, don't do it; be a Christian that goes
into the secular market. But if you're doing it because you feel
that you can see lives changed for Jesus Christ through a music
style you love, then do that. And God will bless that. Your goal
can't be to be rich. Your goal should be that you do what God put
you there to do, and then God will make sure you're taken care of.
J Man: What do you think about where the Christian music industry
is going? Do you think it needs to improve, do you think we're on
the right track?
John: Christian music's going in a lot of different
directions right now, and it's confused. There [are] steps being
taken that are great, and there are others that are suicidal. I
guarantee that God will take care of this. He'll shut the doors that
everyone thought should be opened and open the doors that everyone
thinks were supposed to be closed.
I think as a Christian artist, this should be your goal: If you get
the chance to play the music God has laid on your heart, do it the
best you can. With whatever budget you have, make sure every cent is
spent wisely. If you call yourself a Christian rock band, then you
better be the best that's out there, better than the secular market,
'cause God ultimately deserves the best. Even if you have one-tenth
the budget, the Holy Spirit can help you through that. Through the
Holy Spirit, all things are possible.
And you have to remember what Christian music was created for: To
see lives changed and the Gospel go forth into the world. No, not
every song on a record should be a three-minute sermon. But the
vision of an artist and that person's ultimate goal should be that
they see lives changed.
J MAN: Why was there a downsize of members in Petra?
John: In this situation we had a brand new record label, and
Petra's been through a lot of changes the past five years since Bob
[Hartman] left touring. A lot of changes, especially in guitar
players, and we actually went through a change before [Revival]
was built. [Inpop's] vision was, "We want the old guard with new
producers." They think it will be the best of both worlds. The only
question we had was, "What about our band that travels with us?" And
they were adamant that they wanted just the old guard of Petra with
So the goal of the downsize of the members on the CD was to get back
to the basics of a pure Petra record and bring it up to the 21st
century. This is Petra's twentieth record, and it's what the label
wanted to do as the first one. I was up for it. Hopefully it'll be
J MAN: Petra was performing modern worship when it wasn't "cool."
What started the idea for Petra Praise records?
John: We started doing praise and worship in response to the
kids and youth pastors, and they loved it. At the time we recorded
Petra Praise, we were between record labels and neither
really wanted to do it. Word agreed to do it basically as a signing
bonus, but it wouldn't count toward the contract. It would just be a
special project. And the CD sold better than the two before it, and
they were hot. It was one of the best tours we ever did. Everybody
was going, "Why didn't we think of that?" It was actually to fill
the gap when kids would come back to church after a concert like
ours and feel like traditional worship was boring.
J MAN: When someone walks away from a Petra experience, what type
of message would you want them to walk away with?
John: If they're Christians, I want them pumped up! I want
them spiritually pumped to live the Gospel after they leave. If
they're not Christians, I want them walking out as baby Christians.
That's ultimately Petra's goal, and that's what I want to see