10/30/05 — Ministering with his music

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Ministering with his music

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 30, 2005 2:07 AM

Every fall, Mitch Ham says he gets the fever to record some of his music. The fever broke a year ago while he was attending a worship conference in the Great Smoky Mountains.

"I was in my room praying that the Lord would help me to team up with someone to help me with this," he recalls. "Within 30 minutes, I was at breakfast across from a man. We teamed up that very morning right after that prayer. He looked at me across the table and said, 'I think we're supposed to do this.'"

The man was Nick Coetzee, who has been a producer for Integrity Music, Maranatha Music and various other artists. He also produced the first U.S. release of the popular Christian recording, "Shout to the Lord." Coetzee would become a big part of Ham's recording project and will be among the featured performers during a free concert Friday night to promote the release of Ham's CD "In the Father's Arms."

The concert will be held at The Lord's Table, the church Ham helped found and where he serves as minister of music, beginning at 7 p.m.

Recording his music has a goal for years, but the timing was important, Ham said.

"So many people just record and go into a project to try to get something out," he said. "I didn't want to do that. I wanted to do something that I had my best effort into and that everybody had put their best effort into."

His commitment to the church was also a deciding factor.

"I've been in music ministry for 20 years and have deliberately stayed away from the recording. I wanted to make sure I was at a certain level," he said.

He plays several instruments, primarily acoustic guitar and keyboard, writes and arranges music and sings. But he said he did not feel inclined to be out on the road promoting himself, so he shied away from recording.

There is a fine line between worship leader and artist, he said. Ham said he wanted to establish himself as a worship leader first and make sure the focus was on worship as opposed to entertaining. Worship, he said, is not performance-oriented.

That is why the songs chosen for his CD are centered around praise and contain messages designed to make the listener think.

"I enjoy choosing words and saying a lot in a very short period," he said. "I love writing songs that take you down to a long, adventurous place that you could do a Bible study on."

Ham said he has written on the backs of napkins and scraps of paper, whatever is handy when ideas come to him. He wrote three of the nine songs on the CD and said they center around relationships.

"The theme is loving God," he said.

Although he became a Christian as a teenager, Ham said he got away from the church during the time he was playing secular music.

The Greene County native began performing professionally in 1979, playing beach music for a year with The Showmen. He went on to play rock and roll music with the band, Sidewinder, appearing on "Star Search" three times before being bested by the country band Sawyer Brown.

While on the road, he said, he was in a hotel room in Atlanta when "the Lord spoke to me. I came back and stopped playing music, began to work with youths, playing guitar for them."

It was during that time that he felt called to be a worship leader and to teach worship. For the last seven years, he has led seminars all over the world, including India and Romania. Next year, he has plans to go to Napal.

Even though he travels extensively, he said he feels it is important to be based out of a local church. It is one of the reasons the latest project took more than a year.

"I'm very committed to my church and have worked joyously beside my pastor, Bill Wilson, for eight years now," he said. "I submitted to my pastor and work beside him and have a great relationship with him and our people at the church."

He also credits his family with being his rock. Married nearly 25 years, he and his wife, Jo-Ellen, have three sons, Adam, 22, Nicholas, 18, and Jacob, 18. Jo-Ellen sings backup on the CD and is featured on the song "Dance with Me."

Other voices from the church were also used in the recording, he said.

Despite being involved in worship and singing with congregations, Ham said going into a studio was a bit of a shock to his system.

"I found out things about me that needed to be better," he said.

He is quick to add, though, that "the CD was not done because God told me to do it; it was done because I asked God if I could do it.

"I did it because I felt like I could share the stuff that He had given me."

He said his prayer was that God would help him do this and would put the right people in his path to accomplish it.

"I wanted to be at the point where it wasn't so focused on me," he said.

Later this year, there are plans to release an instrumental version of the CD and Ham said he has already written some songs for a project that might happen next fall.

At Friday's concert, he will be singing songs from the new CD and leading worship. In addition to Coetzee, other featured performers will include D.J. Coles of Goldsboro and The Ross Wright Band.

"In the Father's Arms" is currently available for purchase at Christian Soldier and can also be found at The Lord's Table and on his Web site, www.mitchham.com.