By Mark Ellis —
As a believer still young in his faith, God showed him that his passion for music was an obstacle to spiritual growth. After he sold his guitar and parted with many of his albums, God honored his sacrifice in a surprising way.
“Before I came to Christ, I was heavily involved with music – it was an obsession for me,” says Brad Coleman, the new pastor of worship and arts at Christ Church in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Although raised in a stable, Midwestern home where he attended church on Sundays, a personal relationship with God was lacking through his high school years. “Church had little to do with the way I lived or the core of who I was,” he notes. Coleman was never outwardly a rebel, but fell into hedonistic pursuits with friends. “I partied but I didn’t go crazy,” he says.
When he left for college, he decided to leave some of the revelry behind. “I had an awareness the party scene was stupid, but I fell right back into it. I had nothing that would give me the backbone to say ‘I’m not going to do that.’”
At Miami University of Ohio, Coleman came face-to-face with two art students, Chuck and Rich Bostwick, who left an indelible mark. “This was the first time I closely observed two people who had a dynamic, growing relationship with Christ,” Coleman recalls. “Their lives were absolutely informed by their relationship with God.”
As he watched the Bostwick twins up-close, he admired their skill and dedication as artists. “They were hardworking and had a great vision,” he notes. Their winsome personalities seemed to light up any room they entered.
On several occasions they invited Coleman to consider a personal relationship with Christ, but he was resistant. “They never shied away from entering into that kind of dialogue without condemnation,” he says.
Coleman always had the same response to their appeal: “That’s awesome for you. I personally don’t need that, but I’m glad you found it.”
However, his outward stance belied an inward tension. “I clearly did need it,” he admits now, “because I couldn’t resist following the crowd.”
Independently, Coleman’s roommate was talking with friends at Campus Crusade for Christ. He brought home a copy of “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell and left it sitting on their coffee table.
As Coleman walked by the coffee table, the book seemed to be calling his name. One day he sat down and started reading. In the book, the famous apologist, evangelist, and author lays out his journey from skepticism to belief in the risen Christ.
“I called the next day and asked the Bostwicks to come over. I said, ‘Tell me how to do this. I’m ready.’”
The twins directed Coleman in a prayer to receive Christ. “They led me in expressing that desire to God, giving myself to Him, and opening my heart to Him,” he says.
Coleman immediately noticed a change in his identity. “The way I saw myself from that moment was as a Christ-follower. It made me think about everything differently.”
The Bostwicks began to disciple him. It was an exciting time, as the Bible came alive to him, with many surprising insights. “I thought it was about one thing and came to understand it was about something entirely different,” he notes. “I found out it was about a relationship with God and walking in His presence. I started to practice His presence naturally.”
In his early season of quiet communion with God, he discovered a favorite prayer posture. As he walked back to his apartment after late-night studies, he laid down in a field of grass and gazed up at the stars, where he could take in some of God’s majesty and beauty. It was a sweet time as he grew in the wisdom and nurture of the Lord.
Coleman was also blessed by meeting his future wife, Margy, in the art department at Miami of Ohio. The two formed a deep bond centered on their growing relationship with Christ.
But one thing began to trouble Coleman after his first few years as a Christian. His unusual passion for music seemed to be a distraction to his spiritual growth.
“I decided I would give up music altogether,” Coleman recalls. “I sold a really great guitar for next to nothing,” he says. He also put another guitar away in a case, with rope tied around it. Then he gave away many of his record albums and boxed-up the rest.
“I thought I couldn’t do both – grow in my relationship with Christ and be a musician. It was too much of an idol in my life.”
After Brad and Margy finished graduate work at the University of Massachusetts, they went on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ.
To his “dismay,” Brad found himself and Margy stationed at the Crusade headquarters. “I didn’t have anything to do. I had no skills that would be useful at the headquarters,” he thought.
But after a short time, he inquired about the music ministry, and became an administrative assistant to the director of the music ministry.
One day he found himself in a brainstorming session to develop ideas for a music group that could reach high school students. “I pitched an idea for an early rock and roll, rhythm and blues review band,” he says. Everyone at the meeting seemed to like his idea.
A few days later, the music director approached him. “We need someone with the vision for this group, who really understands the music, and who plays guitar,” he said. “I know you used to play, but I don’t know how well.”
Then he added something important. “I think it’s supposed to be you.”
Two months before this happened, Coleman had one of the most unusual dreams he could remember. “Jesus appeared to me and it didn’t feel like any other dream,” he says.
“Jesus was immersed in white, riding a white horse. He got off the horse and presented me with a guitar case. I opened the case and light came streaming out of it. There was a gleaming white guitar inside.”
“It was as if God was saying, ‘You sacrificed this for me. I’m giving it back to you sanctified, restored, and redeemed.’ This was the moment God restored music and the pursuit of music in my life.”
Coleman played a leading role in the formation of “The Convertibles,” which became a very effective evangelistic tool with Campus Crusade for over 20 years. He traveled and played with the group for the first several years of its existence, then went back to graduate school to earn a masters degree in fine arts.
Some consider him one of the most gifted worship leaders in Southern California after his 20-year involvement at Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach. Now he carries his guitar case back to the Midwest, where he will lead a new flock into creative expressions of worship.
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