Beyond Coincidence By inSpire with Josh Cunningham

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inSpire - Josh, you are not a stranger to the music world. You have been involved in songwriting and performing for many years. Where did it all come from and how did your musical journey began?

Cunningham - Playing and writing music is something I have done since my teenage years. As a thirteen year old kid growing up in the backwoods of a small rural town in Australia, I became absolutely obsessed with the guitar. Not only did it give me something to do with my time, it also gave me a vehicle for expression. Some years earlier, my whole family had started guitar lessons, but I was too small for the instrument so they gave me a ukulele instead. Shortly after that, the family moved to a town where there were no uke teachers and I gradually lost interest in it.

At the age of thirteen, I was at a birthday party for a friend and we watched the movie "Back to the Future" starring Michael J. Fox. The scene where he played Johnny B. Goode at the high school prom totally captivated me and I decided then and there what I wanted to do with my life. I found the old family guitar hiding in a closet and worked out how to play the song from the movie by listening to it on a cassette tape we had recorded straight from the TV speaker! There began a love affair with the guitar, which eventually grew into a love affair with songwriting.

Many years later however, I entered into a love affair with Jesus Christ and music and songwriting became so much more in every sense. Now I can see the purpose of those many years of being involved in music on a professional level. It is sometimes easy to reflect on your past and wish that you had made different decisions. The reality is none of that time and experience was a waste. I learned much, gained invaluable experience, and developed a voice and a style through all those years which God is now giving me opportunity to use for His glory and His purposes.
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inSpire - Can you give our readers a glimpse into how you spent your years between high school and now (or recently)?

Cunningham - During high school, I always knew I wanted to do music but was "encouraged" by many well meaning people to get a solid qualification in a reliable occupation first so I would have something to "fall back on" if music didn't work out. After high school I applied for and got accepted into an economics degree at university, but my heart was never really in that. I took a year off and decided to travel around Australia with a band from my hometown before doing the responsible thing and getting qualified as an "economist."

During that year I met a couple of sisters who were traveling the country playing music as well. We had an instant connection — both musically and personally — and in 1992 we formed "The Waifs." Over the almost twenty years that followed, we enjoyed a successful career, recording multi-platinum albums, touring the world, opening up for artists as diverse as Bob Dylan  and Keith Urban, and even winning several ARIA awards (Australia's version of the Grammys). I found myself meeting many people during these years who witnessed to me in many different ways.

After one such "chance" meeting I became convicted that these experiences weren't coincidence or chance at all and that God was trying to reach me. My parents had prayed for many years that God would send people into my path to share His love with me as I toured and played music. Their prayers were answered. You can imagine their joy when they heard I had decided to give my heart to Jesus.

Many years earlier I had made the decision to not take up my position at university, figuring that I could always go and study some day when it was something I was interested in and at a time that I actually wanted to do it. In 2009 I had the desire and the opportunity to study something I was truly passionate about - Jesus - and I attended ARISE, an evangelism training school located at the time in Sonora, Calif. I had already begun to use my songwriting and musical gifts for God, but after the ARISE course, I knew that I wanted to be involved in full time ministry. I stayed in Sonora as a Bible worker the following year, during which I met my incredibly talented and beautiful wife, Jackie. We were married in January of 2011 and have been full time "musicianaries" ever since.

inSpire - That’s quite a story. It is amazing how God patiently pursues us and subtly appeals to our hearts through our circumstances. Where do you want to go next with your music?

Cunningham - Since becoming a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I have tried not to think of aspirations and ambitions in terms of "I" and "my." My whole understanding and perception of music has changed, to the point where I recognize my gifts and talents as God given and not the product of some happy genetic circumstance or the result of my own hard work or effort. Those talents were given for a purpose, and so the agenda in terms of "my" music — which is really God's music — has to be informed not by a personal desire or dream, but rather by a clear conviction as to what God would have me do with my abilities and the music He has inspired me with. So in short, my desire is to be better attuned to the voice and leading of God as He tells me where to go next with His music.

As I contemplate the great commission and the directive to go into all the world, preaching the gospel to every creature, and making disciples, I look at my own place as a "musicianary" in the grand scheme of all that the great commission entails. I believe that music is an important avenue for fulfilling the great commission. It has been my long-held belief that the Seventh-day Adventist church would benefit from a healthy, active, Spirit-filled music culture that embodies and expresses the Bible truths that we as a movement have been raised to proclaim. If we as a people (both individually and collectively) are indeed having a vital, living relationship with Jesus, then we should give birth to an authentic, creative, contemporary music (I use that term not to denote a genre or style) culture that reflects and expresses our experience.

Song was clearly a way for God's people in the Scriptures to preserve, document and express His activity and involvement in their lives. Given that God is still actively involved in the lives of His people and is the author of all true inspiration, we should see an abundance of inspired creative expression of that activity produced by His people today. Yet often it seems this is not the case. Why? Perhaps for too long, music has been kept in a stranglehold of mediocrity, division and debate rather than being afforded it's rightful place as the true blessing and powerful tool that it can be.

Ultimately though, God's work is not stymied by such things and I know that He is using music in places and ways that I am unaware of. I sense however, that something is happening within Adventism, and it is my desire to be a part of what God is doing to create a musical culture that is Biblical, spiritual, inspired, inspiring, evangelistic and current within the Adventist church. Music that reveals God's character, proclaims God's truth and plays its part in hastening the Second Coming of Jesus.

The other aspect to all of this is the practicality of taking the gospel to all the world through music. Since becoming a Christian, my involvement in music has centered largely around playing for Sabbath services, evangelistic meetings, church events and concerts, all done exclusively in our churches. While these have all been a great blessing, I have come to ask myself the question as to how effective I am being as a musician in terms of finishing the work.

I am an Adventist Christian and I love playing music for Adventists in Adventist settings, but if my role in music ministry effectively amounts to only that, then I am not living up to my calling. The great commission requires a venturing and reaching out, a seeking out; an almost aggressive mission that takes those engaged in it to new places and people rather than simply inviting others to come where we are. It is my belief that there are so many more avenues to reach people through music than those we are currently involved in.

Both ministry and music can happen in ways and settings that are outside the conventional and the traditional spheres. And this doesn't necessarily make either expression inferior, invalid, nonspiritual or wrong. I recall many instances of playing gospel songs that God has inspired me with, onstage during my time as a member of a secular band, playing in a secular venue and sensing absolutely the working of the Holy Spirit as people listened to words straight from Scripture. Getting to interact and witness to people as a result of this provided many incredibly enriching experiences, not to mention the opportunity to answer questions in interview situations both in print, radio and television about my faith. As strange or even inappropriate as it may sound to some, it actually seemed to me, both at the time and in retrospect, to be one of the most powerful and effective forms of ministry that I have been involved in.

Jesus' ministry here on earth took Him to places and people that many religious traditionalists of His day disapproved of and rebuked Him for. If He calls me to do, or be in the same kinds of situations, then I will gladly go. Whatever the details are of what that may entail I don't know--and I am happy not to know for now.

As I stated earlier, being better attuned to the voice and leading of God as He tells me where to go next with His music is my desire. Simple as that.

inSpire - Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. We wish you and Jackie the very best as you continue to sing and play on God’s behalf.

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This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 Click here for content usage information.