To Touch Eternity

Scott MacLeod left behind a successful music career to reach the poor.

Now this Nashville pastor leads a multifaceted church community that’s changing an inner city through divine service.

Scott MacLeod never thought this moment would come: All these years later, talking to a guy who runs a Christian music label and distribution company about a business idea. But that’s what he’s doing on a Thursday afternoon in January. He’s sitting in a plastic chair in a nondescript room. There are CDs spread across a table.

This is strange because MacLeod, 43, spurned the Christian music world more than 15 years ago, which is how this whole thing started—the warehouse across the street full of goods for the poor; the old brick foundry, with its wheezing furnace and exposed ductwork, where MacLeod’s service-oriented church of 120 people meets.

In the early ’90s, MacLeod was a Christian musician and songwriter in Nashville, Tenn., touring with some of the biggest names in music. It was everything he wanted—the reason he packed up his car and moved from Canada to Nashville in 1986—but it wasn’t everything he thought it would be. MacLeod saw the hypocrisy and mixed motives of people in the Christian music industry; he saw Jesus for sale, which led him to re-examine the words of Christ. What else was he to do?

Upon reading the Gospels with fresh eyes, there was something disquieting about Jesus’ words, something that soured MacLeod on playing music only for the clean, baptized people. After all, didn’t Jesus open His ministry by quoting Isaiah 61 (“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” NIV)?

MacLeod soon found himself in a Bible study with other disillusioned musicians. They weren’t there to gripe, but to talk openly about these things. And these sessions weren’t all talk. A small contingent started a grass-roots street ministry. MacLeod, a drummer, brought bongos; others brought guitars. The idea was to play music and feed the poor in the worst parts of Nashville, but it was debatable as to who benefited most from the exchange: the served or the servants. MacLeod felt more alive than he ever had, that he had, in his words, “touched eternity.” Two years later, he was ministering full-time to the marginalized and homeless, long before social justice became a buzzword in conservative evangelical circles.

I know almost none of this as I sit in the plain room off the sanctuary of MacLeod’s industrial-looking church, listening to MacLeod and two other staff members discuss distribution ideas for their church’s music CDs with the music executive. “You have to tell your story—a lot—before it ever gets in Christian bookstores,” the executive says as MacLeod holds up an album with the words “FOUNDRY SONGS” on the front. MacLeod, who I met only moments before, looks at me in the corner and smiles. “We’ve got a story guy right here,” he says. I grimace, wondering if this is going to be the same old story: a tale of corporate principles brought to bear on ministry, of well-intentioned people distracted from a kingdom of descent by a kingdom of self-promotion.

But after the music executive leaves and the staff members file out, everything looks different. I notice the thin, ugly carpet; the plain walls with only a whiteboard and a bulletin board—a few lonely sheets of paper tacked up, including one that says, “MORNING DEVOS!!!” in black marker. I notice how plain MacLeod’s green sweater is, and that he’s wearing white athletic socks with black shoes. Suddenly, MacLeod is reaching for his laptop and pulling up a Bible verse he wants me to see. He moves closer and turns the screen in my direction. It’s Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats:

“The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (vv. 34-40, NIV).

MacLeod looks at me and smiles: “‘You wrote songs for me’ wasn’t on the list.”

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