Jim Houser ’91 confers backstage with Steven Curtis Chapman prior to a concert. Photo courtesy of Jim Houser.
by Jim Houser ‘91
May 7, 2007
It was and still is a regular problem for him: too many hit songs to play and only so much time in a concert evening. A few years ago, I found myself sitting on the tour bus of a man with 50 Dove Awards, 44 number one singles, five Grammys, and nearly 20 years of touring and ministry, arguing with him about what songs to cut and keep. The truly stunning thing was that I was winning. As Steven Curtis Chapman took the stage, I climbed to the cheap seats with our beloved paying concertgoers for the first half of the show to see if my compelling and profound case for “Speechless” had been right.
I was tired. No; I was exhausted. I had been away from home for rehearsals and the start of Steven’s new tour for over a week now, and, unlike the road crew, I just hadn’t been able to master sleeping at 70 miles an hour. The work on my desk back in Nashville was piling up, I missed my kids, I missed my wife, and she needed some relief. I was already supposed to be home, and I was very ready to be there, but fulfilling part of my job description of artist manager had me in an arena instead.
When a 70-city tour starts, Steven — always a perfectionist — tinkers with all aspects of the concert night after night. He had asked me to stay out on the road until he was certain every piece of the evening was at its best because he said he valued my perspective and opinion. I loved my job and knew how fortunate I was to have the opportunity, but I distinctly remember not wanting at all to be there that night. I was wondering if what I was doing really mattered. Sure, I’m honored he wants my feedback, but come on, who are we kidding here? Steven doesn’t need me. Hello — he is Chapman! No one will ever know I’m here tonight. No one will see me, no one will care.
The college-aged women I sat down next to in section 327 were ready to rock. They were there to soak in every moment. They sang every word at the top of their lungs and referred to the guy on stage as “S-C-squared.” They cheered with excitement each time he started another of their favorites and listened intently to every story he told. In short, they’re the type of people who inspire us management types to keep going in the face of piracy and other challenges that are slowly killing the music business. Eventually, the young lady in the seat next to mine mistook my exhaustion for indifference. About 50 minutes into Steven’s set, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. She leaned over and said something I will never forget: “You know,” she said, “you really should listen to his music. Steven’s songs brought me to Jesus and have changed my life, and they could change yours, too. Isn’t this an incredible night!?”
I still smile about how God tapped me on the shoulder that night. God reminded me that He doesn’t need me, but that in His unbelievable goodness, God invites me to serve using what He has given me. Even though it’s true that I’m certainly not indispensable in my role with Steven, I was indeed where I was supposed to be. Unseen, but heard, serving and supporting in just the way God created me. Encouraging and loving my client and friend — even when he’s not perfect; discussing; arguing; planning; listening; challenging; researching; cheering; praying; helping him do this thing God is using him so powerfully to do; and helping my staff do the same with our other clients. However God calls musicians to use their redemptive gifts, we serve them with all the passion and expertise we can muster.
In 1987, I walked on the Cedarville College campus as an insecure young man, wondering if I had what it took to really be anything. I was angry with God for taking my dad “too early” and complacent and distant about the Jesus I knew. It was the pivotal moment of decision on whether or not I would live out the faith I might have. ’Ville chapels, professors, staff members, and priceless friendships at Cedarville changed my life, literally. Dick Walker ’74, Jim Leightenheimer ’80, Wes Baker, Dave Samuel ’86; the Carr 6 guys: Dave, Kelly, Matt, Jeff, Randy, Eric, Paul; and Becky, Jen, Laurel, Curtis, Kirsten, Sue, and others, loved me and showed me Jesus. I am in their debt. I’m certain God gave them to me. They helped me find my voice. They believed in me before I believed in myself. They saw potential; they taught me in actions and in words that God was closer than I thought, that He cared for me, that He was pursuing me, and that He could not be outrun.
I’ve learned that it’s foolish to measure our impact — the reach of our voice — by an economy that isn’t built like God’s. I have learned that I am an excellent number two or number three guy, and that it’s not about me anyway! I’m not the visionary, and I may never be seen or recognized for any of my work; in fact, that’s probably the plan. God has given me this opportunity to use my abilities and serve the creative musicians everyone sees. So now I make a career out of being unseen — just offstage, helping the guy onstage make it happen. I am the person who is responsible for those lights I’m not standing under, those speakers not amplifying my voice, the video screen I’m not on, and the buses and trucks that got them all there that night. If all goes well, the artist’s music and ministry hopes for the night happen without anyone seeing me. I’m no longer discouraged by that; in fact, I thrive on it.
Maybe sometimes you feel unseen and unheard in your job or family or life. Can I encourage you? I know Someone who sees. I think wherever we have the opportunity, God can and will use us — if we let Him, if we trust Him, if we’re listening. I’m trying to trust Him again for that today … and then I’ll do that tomorrow … and then I’ll do that the next day … and the next.