Joel Brown came to Mars Hill Church in 1998 to play in the band, but he stayed for the gospel.
The son of missionaries, Joel was sure he’d heard it all and was not looking to learn anything when he first walked through the doors. “I was just excited to get the chance to play drums at a church,” he says. On the outside, he looked like he had it all together, he says, but on the inside he was incredibly proud. “I had heard the gospel my whole life, but I was living kind of a pharisaical existence, I was a guy who was a whitewashed tomb by every account,” he says, using a term Jesus used against the Pharisees in the Gospels. “I just was full of pride and self-righteousness, and I didn’t really think that I needed God,” he says.
But then he started paying attention to Pastor Mark’s sermons, and something changed. Hearing the Bible opened and Jesus’ gospel preached every week showed him his true situation. He heard about the grace of God and saw how much he needed the gospel of Christ’s grace for himself, despite his morally upright life.
Later, he took a break from playing at Mars Hill to do some playing and touring with bands outside the church and out in the world. It was six years later that he says he felt called to come back to the church, but this time with a much different approach and heart than he had before.
“God had kinda corrected my thinking on what music in the church was about,” Joel says. “I’d had so much pride in trying to create music that was cool and I was so disinterested in creating music that was edifying [for the body in worship].” It was a painful lesson from God, but now, he says, his vision for worship music is to be expressive and glorifying to God as well as engaging and edifying for the body of the church, and not his own artistic agenda. In 2009, Joel was installed as an elder at Mars Hill. Today, he is the production pastor at the Downtown Seattle church.
That dependence on Christ’s grace is still something he holds tightly, and it’s made his way into his music. A while ago, he had been working on a Charles Wesley hymn called “Depth of Mercy,” for his band, Kenosis. “I was struck by the fact that we can’t understand grace without understanding the depth of our sin first,” he says. This stanza, in particular, which he repurposed as a chorus, is a profound one for him:
There for me the Savior stands
Shows his wounds and spreads his hands
God is love! I know, I feel
Jesus weeps and loves me still
“Man,” he says, “You see Jesus on the cross, and you see that he meets you there with grace—it just brings you to your knees.”