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Today I’m featuring an interview with singers and songwriters Mark and Stephen Altrogge. And at the end of it all I’ll be giving away three copies of their new CD. Mark Altrogge is Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, a position he has held for over twenty five years. Mark has written numerous worship songs that have been published and recorded by Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI Ministries), Integrity Music, Glad, Anne Herring, Matthew Ward, and others. His most well-know songs are “I Stand in Awe” and “Forever Grateful”. He and his wife Kristi have five children (one of whom is, of course, Stephen). Stephen Altrogge is twenty five and recently married Jen. The couple are expecting their first child in September. Stephen attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a degree in Management Information Systems, and has recently begun serving as pastoral intern at the church.
Mark and Stephen teamed up to record In a Little While which has just been released by Sovereign Grace Music. It is available in CD or MP3 format and if you are interested you can download a free song at the Sovereign Grace site.
Mark and Stephen were kind enough to talk to me and to answer some questions about the album, about the state of worship music today, and about who would be likely to win if a fight broke out between the Altrogges and the Kauflins (because we’ve all been wondering about that, haven’t we?).
Tim Challies: How did In a Little While come about? Why did you decide to record an album together?
Stephen Altrogge: Originally the plan was to do an album of just my dad’s songs, which I thought was a phenomenal idea. If anyone should have an album, it’s my dad, who has been writing God-glorifying songs for the last twenty-five years. At some point along the way the decision was made to include me on the album as well, which really astonished me. However, I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to work together with my dad on this album.
Mark Altrogge: The originator of the idea is Pat Ennis, executive director of Sovereign Grace Ministries. One of C.J. Mahaney’s burdens for Sovereign Grace Ministries is that we seek to pass a passion for the gospel on to the next generation. I believe that part of the idea for the album was to express this burden for the next generation and our joy in seeing God beginning to bring this about in many families. I was astounded that Sovereign Grace would want Stephen and I to do an album together.
TC: Why did you settle on In a Little While as the title for this album?
SA: The title is from the song of the same name. We felt that In A Little While led people in a direction of hope for the future and eager expectation of what is to come. In a short time we will see the glorious face of Jesus Christ. In a little while all tears will be wiped away, all sorrows erased, and we will be filled with inexpressible joy. We live in a world of suffering and sadness, but only for a little while. Soon the night will be over and we will be in heaven with Christ for eternity. What a glorious thought!
MA: It’s good for believers to be regularly reminded that our hope of glory is seeing Christ’s face. And though our trials can at times seem heavy and unending, in a little while we will see that compared to the weight of glory our trials are producing, they are really only light and momentary.
TC: Stephen, which of your father’s songs on this album do you like best and why? And Mark, which of Stephen’s songs on this album do you like best and why?
SA: My favorite by far is the song ‘Be Exalted’. I love it for two reasons. First, it beautifully expresses the desire of the Christian’s heart. As a follower of Christ, my desire is to see Christ exalted in everything I say and do. My passion in life is to see Christ magnified, glorified, and lifted high. My heart says, “Be exalted oh God in my life!” This song captures that desire. Second, I love the song because it is really catchy and has a great melody. It makes you want to sing along. The combination of glorious truth and beautiful melody is what makes this song so good.
MA: I have a hard time choosing a favorite of Stephen’s songs, but I would say, “You’ll Provide for Me”. The first verse reminds us that the God who feeds the creatures of the earth will surely care for his children. Then it points to God’s promise in Romans 8:32 that he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to meet our greatest need, reconciliation to God, will surely provide for all our lesser needs. The chorus is a passionate cry, “So I will trust in you!” Verse 2 expresses our need to rest in God’s goodness and sovereignty - we can’t emphasize these aspects of God’s character enough. In response to God’s goodness and sovereignty we cry out, “So I will trust in you!” All this set to driving, memorable music.
TC: Do you intend for these songs to be used for corporate worship? Assuming you’ve already introduced these to your congregation, which songs have proven best as songs suitable for corporate worship?
SA: I would be disappointed if these songs were not used in corporate worship. These songs were written primarily for the church, with the hope that through these songs people would find their affections for God kindled and their hearts drawn to God in love. We haven’t introduced all the songs to our church yet. However, we have done “At the Cross”, “I Will Cast My Cares”, “Hail the Risen King”, and “You’ll Provide For Me”, which have all worked well in corporate worship.
MA: I hope that all the songs will serve churches. That is always our goal.
TC: As Christian songwriters, do you ever feel pressure to write the worship song of the year—to write this year’s “How Great is Our God” or “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (or perhaps I should say the next “I Stand in Awe”)? Do you ever find that it is difficult to be satisfied with anything other than a smash hit?
SA: By God’s grace, I don’t feel pressure to write the worship song of the year. My desire is to write songs that will bring glory to God and serve the church. I don’t need to write a smash hit to do those things.
MA: Very few songs ever get to the Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman level. I don’t consider myself even in their league. Actually, I don’t even think about trying to write the next worship hit, (I don’t think Chris or Matt do either). I just want to write the best songs I can and hope God will use them to glorify himself and bless local churches. I also hope that some of these songs will minister to individuals who are suffering, to encourage them to trust God’s wise and loving plans.
TC: What is the key (or what are the keys) to writing a worship song that honors God and stands the test of time?
SA: I think the key to writing a worship song that honors God and stands the test of time is the combination of glorious biblical truth and beautiful melody. God is honored when our hearts are engaged with His truth. For this to happen there must be a combination of God-honoring truth and heart-stirring melody.
MA: I agree with Stephen. I would just add that the best worship songs have something fresh and creative about the way the truth is stated and something fresh about the melody and arrangement, and the lyrics and melody are memorable.
TC: Mark, how has being a senior pastor at the same church for over 25 years influenced your song-writing? Does this give you a different perspective than a person who deals exclusively (or almost exclusively) with worship or music?
MA: Being a Senior Pastor for over 25 years has definitely influenced my songwriting. I have had the benefit and responsibility of spending time reading and studying, and being equipped by those over me who care for me. Being involved in the trenches of local church life and pastoring, I’ve seen the challenges people face and how solid doctrine benefits believers. All of this helps me as a songwriter who desires to serve the local church.
TC: If I am properly gaging the Christian music industry, it seems that we are just beginning to emerge from a brief worship craze during which every artist had to release a worship album or two. We’ve seen a huge number of new worship songs created in the just the past five or ten years. Has this been a good development for the church? Did this time result in an outpouring of God-honoring songs that have blessed the church and that will stand the test of time?
SA: There have been some phenomenal songs and some not so good songs written in the last ten years. In some ways this increased focus on worship has been very good for the church in that it has resulted in songs such as “Blessed Be Your Name”, “In Christ Alone”, and “Here I Am To Worship”. However, I think there is a danger of thinking that worship is solely about singing. Worship is first and foremost about living a life that honors God. Singing songs of worship is just part of the picture.
MA: Worship music has come a long way from my early Christian days when I would sing, “This is the Day” and “Joy is the Flag Flown from the Castle of my Heart” over and over (though for me as a new believer, the truth that “this is the day the Lord has made” was revolutionary). Stephen mentioned some great recent worship songs, many of which were recorded on “artist” albums. This has been good for the church - our church has benefited from many of these songs. I’m glad more and more people are writing worship songs. More songs for churches to choose from - more glory to God! Keep ‘em coming! Obviously, there will be more average songs, but more good ones will rise to the top as well.
TC: What are your hopes for this album? How will you measure its success?
SA: I have two hopes for this album. First, that God would be glorified through these songs. My desire is that God would use these songs to glorify and magnify the name of Jesus Christ. And the great thing is, I know that this will happen, because God is in the business of glorifying Himself. Second, I want to see people’s hearts stirred with fresh love for God through these songs. My prayer is that God would use these songs to create new affections in the hearts of many Christians. I believe God will do this as well, because He desires to see His people love Him with all their hearts.
MA: I hope God is glorified, his people edified and encouraged to delight in him more. As someone has said, God has not called us to be successful, but faithful. We (and the folks at Sovereign Grace Ministries) have tried to be faithful with the measure Christ has given us. Jesus will do what he desires with the album and I hope it pleases him to bless churches and stir individual Christians to love, trust and follow him.
TC: Stephen, rumor has it that you have just finished writing a book. Can you tell us what the book is about, who is publishing it, and when we’ll be likely to see it on store shelves?
SA: I recently wrote a book entitled “Game Day and the Glory of God: Playing, Watching, and Talking Sports For the Glory of God”. This book seeks to determine how a Christian might play, watch, and talk about sports in a way the pleases God and brings Him glory. As Christians, we are called to do everything for the glory of God, including playing, watching, and talking about sports. This book is meant to help Christians do that. The kind folks at Crossway Books have agreed to publish the book and I’m guessing it will hit the shelves sometime next year.
TC: And really, the most important question of all: if Bob and Devon Kauflin were to take on Mark and Stephen Altrogge in a tag-team wrestling cage match, which pair would win and why? (Asking this question allowed me to learn that “Altrogge” apparently passes muster in Microsoft’s spell checker while “Kauflin” does not)
SA: Hmm, that’s a tough question. Let’s assume for a moment that each of us is armed with his primary instrument. In that case I’d have to give the victory to the Altrogge’s. After all, how is Bob going to use a grand piano as a weapon? However, if the fight was based purely upon brute strength, I’d have to give the victory to the Kauflin’s. However, if lightsabers were involved…
MA: Bob isn’t mean enough to beat me, and he’s so tall that when he would go to grab me all he’d get is a few wisps of my hair from my increasingly wispy head. By that time, I’d have taken out his knees…now Devon, he’s pretty mean…….
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