“What if I told you God doesn’t need you, He wants you?” asks Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North when talking about their No. 1 song “Control.” “What if I told you that your loveliness to God doesn’t rise and fall with your usefulness to God? God doesn’t need us to be successful, He wants us to be surrendered.”
“Control” is Tenth Avenue North’s third top Christian Airplay single and 12th Top 10 radio single. Lead singer and acoustic guitarist, Mike Donehey shares with Young Salvationist how he met Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Treasure.
PM: I read about your terrible car accident in 1998. Could you tell us about that and how it affected you?
MD: It came along out of the blue. We heard screeching tires. I heard my friend shouting. He had caught the edge of the road and over corrected. We started fishtailing back and forth. Then we hit the corner of the road and the car flipped five or six times. I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, so I got thrown out of the car. My buddy was fine, but I broke my back in two places, broke my head, and ripped my ear off. He climbed out of the car and found me on the road unconscious. I flat lined five times on the way to the hospital. They immediately said, “He’s not going to make it.” The next day they said, “Well, he’ll never walk again.” And the next day they said, “Well, he’ll never run again.” About a week later they said, “He may be able to make a full recovery.”
For the next two months I had to lay on my back. That’s when I first asked for a guitar. The first songs I started learning to play were by Jars of Clay. That was my senior year. I didn’t realize I could write songs where I wrestled with my faith. That was a revelation to me.
PM: Praise God. His hand was definitely on you. So, how did you meet Jesus?
MD: I met Jesus as a savior early on, but mostly because He sounded like a really great option to avoid getting spanked. At age five, it was presented to me as, “Jesus will take your spanking for you.” The promise of Jesus taking that punishment for me? I was like, “Sign me up!”
Then right before my car accident, I went to a magnet program for theater. I went to a month-long summer intensive called Governor’s School. There, I met kids who didn’t think or believe like me. During that little intensive, I felt that I met Jesus as my Lord for the first time. I started really thinking about these “rules” that I had heard my whole life. It was the first time they sounded like a good idea.
Night after night I would sit in this amphitheater near my dorm in my freshman year of college. About 20 or 25 kids, and then some nights 80 kids, would worship. No PowerPoint. No stage. No microphone. For my freshman year, I did this probably twice a week. That’s when I met Jesus as a treasure. I experienced the presence of God in ways that I didn’t know were possible.
PM: Was that when God started steering your heart from theater to music?
MD: Yes, though I didn’t know it. He also had to thwart my theater plans. To be perfectly honest, the first time I saw kids worshipping in that amphitheater I grabbed my guitar and went down just because there were good looking girls there. In the meantime, I didn’t get any roles in the plays for school. I actually was going to transfer. I was so mad about it and thought, “I should be getting roles. I’m a really good actor, da-da-da.” But because I had all this spare time not being in the plays, I started messing around making music with some buddies I had met.
As a theater major I was required to audition for every play my junior year. Well, I actually had to turn down roles my junior and my senior year that I was offered because our band was getting all these offers to go play at places. You’ve got to trust that God’s doing stuff when it doesn’t feel like He is.
PM: Amen! Of your new album, Followers, you wrote: “God’s will in my life isn’t a plan, and it’s not necessarily a dream. God’s plan for my life is a position of my heart.” Could you tell us more about that and what Followers means to you?
MD: Yeah. I’ve written a book that’s coming out next year based on that idea, and it’s going to be called, Finding God’s Life for My Will. I say, “The dream isn’t finding out the will for my life, it’s actually finding God’s life for my will.” It’s not, “How can I leverage God to give me what I want?” It’s, “How can I surrender everything I am to the life of God?”
We’ve been playing in churches for 18 years now. It’s always amazing to me—if you walk through the hall of any church, you’ll see an advertisement for some kind of leadership conference. The thing that’s so fascinating to me is Jesus never asked anyone to be a leader.
All He said was, “Follow me.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4 says, “Look, some of you are going, ‘I follow Apollos.’ Some of you are saying, ‘I follow Paul.’” Twice he says, “Don’t think of us as leaders, think of us as servants.”
Paul’s actually saying, “Even if you think of me as a leader, I don’t think you should. But at the end of the day, I can’t control if someone wants to call me a leader or think of me as a leader.”
As far as I can read scripturally, I shouldn’t be thinking of myself as a leader, or aspiring that people would call me one. Instead I should ask, “Where do I need to follow?”
Doing this removes so many other voices we don’t even realize we are hearing. I don’t care what my reputation is. Jesus had the reputation of being a drunk and a glutton. I want to leave a legacy of loving God. Followers stemmed out of this and what we’ve been doing as a band for a long time.
PM: Tell us about your single, “Control.”
MD: “Control” came out at a moment when we thought God was asking us to give up the band. It became apparent that to be the husbands we needed to be, to be the fathers we needed to be, we needed to cut how much we were touring.
Writer Frederick Buechner said, “People in ministry are the guiltiest of this, that they don’t know how to take care of themselves.” We’re absolutely not supposed to live for ourselves, but we are supposed to take care of ourselves. Buechner also said, “Because a bleeding heart does no one any good if it bleeds to death.” In the same way, before I try to go minister to the world, I need to be ministering to my heart and family.
When we thought it may be the band’s last year, that’s when I wrote “Control.” Even with reducing our shows that could be useful for His Kingdom, I felt God say, “Your loveliness doesn’t depend on how “useful” you are. Your loveliness to Me is because I’m a God of love and you’re My treasure. You’re My son.”
God doesn’t use us because He needs us; He uses us the same way I “use” my daughter to help me make pancakes. It actually is harder for me, but I bring her into that process. Why? To give her dignity and value and to be close to me. God’s inviting us in because He wants to be near us.
PM: How do you keep God at the center of your marriage?
MD: I think it first comes from allowing each other the space and freedom to feel. For me and my wife, we’ve learned this really valuable little question that we ask whenever I’m coming home, because to be honest, I think reentry is the hardest part of being in a touring paradigm.
When I leave she has to turn into a single mom, in a way. Her allowing me back in can be difficult, and so when I come home I basically ask, “Hey, what do you need from me?” Maybe she needs space. Maybe we just need to sit at the table and hang out tonight. She may even need to go hang out with her girlfriends and connect with them because she’s been sitting with the kids for the last three days. She loves me, but may need to connect with them before she can connect with me. Marriage is honoring her by admitting that I’m not the answer to all her problems—she actually needs friendships apart from me.
We also try to pray once a week for an hour together as a special prayer time.
Captain Pamela Maynor, Editor of Young Salvationist