Interview from IPI Magazine (Initial Point Information) with John Schlitt
Year 3, Number 17, March 15, 1992- Petra: 20 years of ministry
By Arturo Allen
It was Tuesday in the morning and I was checking the list of questions while I was waiting anxiously the telephone call. 10:00 a.m. Ö RING!
I met John Schlitt for first time in 1986, a few months after he became part of Petra and during the recording of "Back to the Street". After this occasion I saw him many times in conferences and concerts, always attentive, smiling and with a heart willing to serve. Even so, this was my first chance to interview him.
I answered the phone and after the typical greetings, we prayed, putting ourselves in Godís hands and asked Him to guide us and to give us wisdom and peace.
Arturo: Hey, John, what influence has Petra had in your spiritual life?
John: When I became part of Petra, I had five years of being a Christian, and in a nutshell I can say to you that being part of Petra has motivated me, encouraged me and has taught me a lot of things in my daily walk as a son of God.
A: But, hasnít it been difficult to keep a balance between ministry and family life?
J: Of course it has. It is not easy to have to leave your family and be traveling. In my case, for example, it has been a big sacrifice no to see my wife or my four kids for two or three weeks, because we need each other and love each other. The only way that we can keep this balance is because we count on Godís support and the support of our families.
A: Does your family ever travel with you when youíre on tour?
J: Yes, but not very often; only on very special occasions. But Iíll tell ya something, that when itís possible - it is a blessing!
A: John, how did Petra begin?
J: Petra started 20 years ago in a Christian college by four Christians that were in a biblical study in Fort Wayne, and besides of being musicians, they loved rock.
One day, they got together and started to put Christian lyrics in popular songs. Some time later, they started to write their own material, and in 1974 recorded their first disc with Myrrhís mark, titled "Petra," and was produced by Billy Ray Hearn, now president of Sparrow records.
A: Was it hard to introduce rock as a musical style for talking the Christian message?
J: I think so. In fact, I was told that during the first concert in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of the members of the band asked the audience who liked rock ín roll. Some raised their hands. Then he asked how many liked country music. And hundreds of hands raised in the auditorium. Then, just jokingly, he told the ushers - could you escort all these people to the exit? The problem was that the public didnít know it was a joke and they started leaving. Just imagine that! (laughs).
A: What does Petra try to get by combining rock with the Christian message?
J: We try to travel all over the world proclaiming Jesus Christ. And when I say this, I mean that we are sharing what God is doing in our lives. We donít pretend to be musical "Billy Grahams," but we only want to share something real that we have found that for us is very important, and Iím talking about how big Jesusí love is.
Basically what we do is use a musical style that it is familiar to young people and that we know they will listen to, and communicate a message that we want to be heard.
A: Tell us some specific examples where you can see these goals have been reached.
J: One of the most tangible ways are the letters that we receive, not only from young people, but also from parents, pastors and youth leaders that have been impacted somehow by Petraís ministry. It is curious, but Petra has 20 years of ministry, so the people that listen to Petra are not just teens.
I remember when the album "Back to the Street" came out. John Styll, CCM Magazine editor, wrote that Petra created a bridge in a generational breach, saying that while he was listening to "Back Sliding Blues" (Petra, 1974), his son was listening "Back to the Street."
But getting back to your question, I believe without a doubt that in the concerts is where we see - in a tangible way - the fruit of the ministry.
A: How is a Petra concert?
J: A Petra concert is something very exciting. I believe that if you were deaf and entered into a Petra concert, without listening to the song lyrics, and you could only see the lights, you wouldnít notice any difference between us and any secular music concert.
And with this I mean quality, since the Lord deserves the best and we try so that everything will be excellent. Even so, Iím convince that your spirit would reveal to you that something is different, because it is. It is a different event because it glorifies Jesus Christ.
A: Josh McDowell, author of books like "More than a Carpenter" and "Evidence that Demands a Verdict", has made two tours with Petra. Why?
J: This is very simple. Josh had a very important message to share with youth, a message that we believe 100%: sexual abstinence out of marriage. After we prayed, we felt Godís direction to travel and minister together and I want you to know that has been an incredible experience. Josh is a great man who I admire a lot and heís also a great friend, always beside you to support, exhort and love you.
The fruits and the blessings have been so big that we felt it was from the Lord to make another tour together, so in fall of 1992 we will be traveling again with him, and though I donít know yet what the subject is that the Lord has given to Josh this time, Iím convince that it will be something really special to the youth. The Lord uses him in an incredible way. I can tell ya that there wasnít any single concert with Josh where there wasnít a special spiritual anointing!
A: Tell us about the movie "Beyond Belief."
J: We are really excited with the fact that now it is available with Spanish subtitles, since it has been something we have been praying for, because we believe that the message of this movie crosses cultural barriers.
The principal subject of the video is a young man that lives in the United States and that faces difficult situations of daily life: for example, the divorce of his parents and the fact that his brother is going through a very hard situation. I wonít tell you more, because I donít want you to lose interest. But itís a video that opens the young manís eyes to the fact that, in the middle of tests and difficult situations, thereís always the trust and dependence in Jesus that makes us go on in victory. I consider this one of the best projects we have ever done.
A: What about the new projects?
J: I want to say that we are really happy with Beyond Belief, and we feel that the Lord has used it a lot. We thought that it would be good to make a "Beyond Belief 2," but we didnít feel peace either.
We felt that we needed to grow and modernize the sound according with what the youth are listening to today so we can communicate the Lordís message in a more effective way. We are convinced that musically, "Unseen Power" establishes a musical bridge with young Christians and non-Christians, that allows us to communicate the message in a more effective way.
Besides, Iím honest: we all love it. In a certain way, this was an album conceived by all the group, and different than some earlier projects. Each one contributed more individually.
A: Which song is your favorite of the new album?
J: Thatís a really hard question, because, truthfully - I like them all. But if I had to chooseÖmmmmmÖ I think it would be "Dance". Though "Ready, Willing and Able" and "Destiny" are really good too. Now, of the ballads, "Hand on My Heart," "In the Likeness of You" and even though you wonít believe it, "Hey, World."
A: What plans does Petra have for celebrating their 20th anniversary?
J: Many of the plans are in the oven at this moment between our record company and our manager. I know an "Unseen Power" video for May is being programmed, titled "Backstage Pass" and it will show a lot of the life of Petra behind the scenes and the life of each one of the members.
Besides, there are plans for a trip to Mexico, but though I donít have all the details, this is something we have been praying for... and not just Mexico, but Central and South America. There are many brothers and sisters in faith that we have a lot to learn from, and we could see it when we traveled to Peru to film a part of the movie "Beyond Belief." It was an experience that changed our lives.
A: Is there something you would like to say to IPI readers?
J: Iím not gonna talk for all the band, but I tell you that the body of Christ breaks any barrier, cultural or of language, and that itís very exciting to know that we have a God that has no limits and that loves us all and that we can always trust in Him.
THE 20 YEARS (page 20-21)
In the beginning, God created. And He saw it was good. And we know that since the beginning when the dawn stars sang of joy, the "music" has been part of their general program.
In the Ď50s, the musical trends like blues, country and gospel fused to create a new genre called "rock." In the Ď60s with the cultural phenomenon of the Beatles, it became evident that the youth not only just said "We want rock!" but that they clearly identified themselves with a cultural language. But, the church asked itself if this was good or not.
In the Ď70s, when the "Jesus Movement" swept all the U.S., many of those who rocked Ė with rock becoming a common denominator - received Jesus as their Savior and King. And that was just a natural progression for them: the desire to communicate their new and precious faith in the familiar language of their cultural group.
PETRA was the first band to experiment with the mix of rock and the direct message from the Gospel. And through the Ď70s and Ď80s, they helped to define the best of rock with a Christian message.
Petra is a band that, since their beginnings, have been completely different from other rock bands. Letís go to a time where this kind of music faced an enormous rejection from some society sectors (a thing that hasnít change at all).
Even so, what made Petra different was that Petra went beyond a music style. It was a life style. In that time, the music with Christian messages was a copy of a traditional model; quiet music with beautiful and poetic lyrics where "other styles" were rejected for being "different."
Then Petra was born; a band that decided to use rock as a vehicle to communicate the good news of salvation in Jesus, joining with a growing number of musicians that had the same vision. As a logical consequence, a wall of rejection and criticism was raised by the religious communities that said that rock was a music straight from hell. It seemed, before the parents and religious leaderís eyes, inconceivable that someone thought of something like that.
But through everything, Bob Hartman, student that founded Petra, didnít get discouraged; he knew very well what he was called to do. His first disc was made in 1974.
Even through the "too early" appearance and the lack of being completely accepted, the music of Petra has reached more of 4 million teens. They have toured all of the U.S. and beyond, reaching places like the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Finland (Europe); Canada, Hawaii and South America, and also Australia and New Zealand.
Though Bob Hartman is the only one of the Petra original members, the public has always accepted the members that have come, have left or have remain in the group. Former members are Greg X. Volz (lead vocals since 1977 to 1986); Rob Frazier (keyboard, guitar and vocals in 1979); Mark Kelly (bass and background vocals since Ď81 to Ď87); John Slick (keyboard since Ď81 to Ď83).
The present members are: Bob Hartman (guitar and founder); Louie Weaver (drums since 1982); John Lawry (keyboard and background vocals since 1984); John Schlitt (vocals since 1986) and Ronnie Cates (bass since 1988).
Since the beginning, the emphasis of Petra was the topic of the battle. For the group, the Christian is in a continuous fight - and must be - against evil, claiming the victory in Jesus.
There have been many songs and discs in Petraís existence that has caught the youthís tastes: More Power to Ya, Not of This World, Beat the System, Captured in Time and Space - double album in concert - (Greg Volzís last contribution), This Means War!, On Fire, the great Petra Praise, Beyond BeliefÖ. and the newest of all, Unseen Power, that it is an extraordinary sequel of itís predecessor.
As a total there are 15 productions and 3 collections since 1974 to date, without counting the Beyond Belief video album that opens a new concept in movies, presenting the story of a young Christian confused in his faith, disappointed in God and with his parents.
This video album is another example of the way that Petra has extended their music, since the topics of the movie are visible in the six Beyond Belief videos that appears in the plot. In one of them, exactly the one that gives the name to the video album, Beyond Belief, even the band members appear with Chad, the kid of the story, while he learns to trust in God and let himself to be guided by Him. The movie includes a video filmed in Peru for the Missionary Organization Teen Mania that makes trips in summer with teens willing to collaborate in Godís work even out of their country.
All this might be what explains the "Petra" phenomenon and itís acceptance by young people, mostly teenagers, since there is an identification with the music and the message that Petra proclaims in their songs.
Petra has not only obtained the recognition from Christians, but has also received nominations for Grammy Awards, as Best Gospel Contemporary Band, in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988 and in fact, Beyond Belief received a Grammy Award as the Best Gospel Group in Rock in 1991.
Also, Petra has received many nominations to the Dove Award, given by the GMA, and has received the same Award on many occasions in categories like Band of the Year (1991), Recorded Song of the Year (1991) and Video of the Year (1990).
The group recognizes the importance of the church work in the youth, and thatís why they have joined with a million of pastors and youth leaders for giving strength to the work of youth groups and for creating the group Petra Warriors.
This group works through devotionals and Bible studies provided by Petra, and also with a phone line that works 24 hours per day, binding teens all over the U.S. in prayer for the schools.
The principal campaign was guided to putting back the studentís constitutional right of praying in their schools. Petra sent the petitions to the teens that write them and they promised to extend the petitions to their friends, to get signatures in their schools and churches, so the petitions could be sent to the President of the nation. Christian bookstores and radio stations distributed the petitions too, in a gigantic effort to defend the religious freedom that the USA was founded on.
This had so much success, that Petra produced a video event of the album "On Fire!" with supplementary material for kids and their leaders.
The new Petra album is called "Unseen Power" and itís producer - again as we expected - the "dynamic duo" formed by the brothers John and Dino Elefante - according to the publicity given to the album, Petra comes back stronger than never, with the lyrics and the music that characterize the band.
Soon Petra will travel to Mexico to present a concert for the benefit of the waif children sponsored by Ministerios de Amor (Love Ministries) and Piedra Angular (Angular Stone, record company). Surely Petra will be well welcomed by many teens that have been blessed through their music and ministry.
Petra means "rock" in Greek, and has, for the group, a double meaning: one is the logical relation between the word "rock" and "rock" music; and the other, the most important, is the "Petra" (rock) on where the church is edified: Christ, the Son of the living God.