It was an old guitar that singer/songwriter Tony Elenburg loved dearly. When he was a teenager, that guitar was Tony’s best friend and constant companion. Later as an adult, when he arrived on the doorsteps of Nashville, Tennessee, that guitar helped him accumulate ten Top 20 radio hits on national Christian radio as well as numerous other songs recorded by artists such as The Little River Band and Steven Curtis Chapman. Considering his success, you can imagine Tony’s surprise when walking into his office a few years ago, the sight of that same old guitar seemed to remind him only of failure.
“I always said I was going to be the best songwriter to ever hit the Nashville city limits,” says Tony with an acute sense of humor, “and half of that came true – I hit the city limits!” For some reason, the success he had achieved became curiously empty. He felt as if he had fallen short. So began the journey … where God began revealing His purposes for music.”
It wasn’t the first time in Tony’s life he had to wrestle with difficulty. As a boy, he fought a long, hard battle with polio that left him with a life-long limp. That struggle taught Tony many early lessons about his faith and God’s plan for his life. “God revealed a wonderful aspect of Himself to me through polio; unfortunately, we can often be so consumed with seeking God for healing, that we miss what He wants to teach us through the trial. Like Paul, I have seen God’s strength made perfect in my weakness. I’ve seen a precious side of infirmity … God’s all-sufficient grace.”
With his latest CD release, Be Still, it is apparent that Tony is in a different season in life. Tony admits the selection is an eclectic mix, from a personal song written for his daughter’s wedding entitled “Today My Heart is Full” to the story title song, which is as close to autobiographical as Tony has ever been with his lyrics.
“’Be Still’ is a story song about a young man and an old man,” Tony explains. “The young man is full of vision, passion, and energy and wants to conquer the world, but hears God tell him to be still and recognize Him as Lord. The old man, though somewhat disillusioned, is more reflective; who’s vision and passion is more tempered now with wisdom and experience, but God’s message is remarkably the same – be still and recognize His sovereignty. No matter the season of life, God is consistent … He never changes.”
Tony’s previous recordings, The First Farewell (produced by Phil Naish), First Things First (produced by Greg Nelson and Naish) and Compassionate Heart (produced by good friend Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Marion and Tony) all generated successful radio singles. But with his new CD, Tony reveals a new layer and sensitivity of his songwriting gift by writing songs for congregations. And in his role as worship pastor for Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Prosper, Texas, Tony emphasizes the value of giving the congregation a song by which they can have an encounter directly with God; effectively removing the musicians and worship leaders as the focus of worship.
“‘Spirit Come’ (on the new Be Still project) was one of the first songs I wrote for congregational worship. While it is thrilling to see a congregation “getting their heart around” a song you have written, it is also sobering, and a heavy responsibility to accurately approach the presence of God, and lead others there in a priestly manner.”
So, how does Tony feel about his old guitar these days? He now sees it as an instrument to help the next generation of artists and songwriters find context for their gifts within the Kingdom of God. “What a shame if those young artists and writers should begin their journey where I did … and what a blessing if they can begin where I end!”
“The pursuit of a larger platform (world-wide, nationally) is not inherently bad” says Tony. “It is, after all, the Great Commission (“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19). But if our artistry, as with all of God’s creation, does not as its primary purpose and objective, promote the Glory of God, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it falls woefully short of its intended purpose and power. To those artists who walk in this foundational understanding, the size of the platform will cease to be of concern; the number of songs one is recognized for, will cease to motivate; the only name of importance becomes the name of Jesus … the only true measure of success!”