"In 1967, I was born in Mississippi to a couple of hymnal singing, God fearing, go to church every time the doors are open type Baptist folks. My Mom and Dad owned a TV & Appliance store in the town of Monticello and I spent most of my childhood years running the streets and back roads of that little country town. Looking back now - it was a lot like the little town of Mayberry off of the Andy Griffith Show. My childhood nickname was Opie, which I guess was quite fitting looking back now. It was peaceful, quiet, and safe. Everybody that lived there pretty much knew one another and it was a very close knit community.
My mother was a Sunday School teacher and my dad was a deacon at our local church and they both sung in the church choir. I learned all about God and Jesus in Sunday School (that's me up above in 1970 - the third one from the right) and I spent the first 13 years of my life going to that small country church. During my early years of life, I was allowed to listen to two types of music: Country music (Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, etc...) and as they used to say - good ole Southern Gospel church music. I loved music at a very early age. My highlight of each week was having the opportunity to watch the old television show 'Hee Haw' on Saturday nights. I would sit and watch Glen Campbell and Buck Owens play their guitars and I would laugh hysterically as Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones told their jokes and did their comedy skits. Life was simple and good.
At 10 years old, my life changed in many ways. I had saved up my money from working in my parents store and I was able to buy myself a set of blue sparkle Ludwig drums from the local music store. I spent hours beating on those drums and playing along to my parents record albums and 8 track tapes. Unfortunately, also at the age of 10 years old, I was bullied and picked on quite a bit by some of the local kids in town and by some of the teenagers at my church. It caused me to have a lot of self-esteem problems and their mistreatment scarred me in many ways. Believe it or not, I still deal with some of those scars even today. Music and that drum set became my safe place and my sanctuary and I would play them for hours at a time. By the time I was 11 years old, I was playing in local country bands with guys two and three times older than me. I even got to play on-stage with David Frizzell and Shelly West one night. I was in heaven or so I thought.
Right before I turned 13 years old - my life and mindset began to change even more. I was introduced to Rock n' Roll music and I was never the same again after that. I started listening to bands like KISS, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, etc... and the lyrics to their songs began to impact me in a very non-positive way. I bought into their messages. During that time-frame, I got to experience my first of many rock concerts. I went to see Reo Speedwagon in concert and a few weeks later I saw Van Halen in concert and at that point I decided that I wanted to make playing music my career. I wanted to be a rock star and nothing else. My parents had hoped that I would take over their stores one day and become a business owner, but instead I decided that I wanted to see the world and I couldn't get out of that small little country town fast enough. That same year, I decided to pickup a guitar and the drums began to take a back seat. I taught myself how to play by watching other guitar players and by trial and error. I spent hours and hours each day with that guitar in my hands.
Unfortunately, this was also the year that I turned my back on God and the church. I wanted nothing to do with it anymore and I walked away. I was tired of being bullied and I had watched some very hypocritical things happen there. After experiencing all of that my mindset became this: 'If this is what Christian love, church and God is all about - I don't want any part of it.' I never went back to church again until I was almost 30 years old.
At that point, I became the prodigal son that Jesus shared about in Luke 15:11-31. I immersed myself into the world of rock n roll and the lifestyle that went along with it. Just like the young man that Jesus had talked about in that parable - I lived the wild life and I finally came to the end of myself. I was in the pig pen of life and I knew it. I was trying to claw my way out of it, but I couldn't get out of it on my own. I was a dead man walking.
Now let's telescope to Sunday morning - July 28th, 1997. On that date my whole life changed. At 12:38pm, a radical transformation took place in my life and I've never been the same man since then. That was the day that I met Jesus Christ and came face to face with Him. Just like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son - He saw me on that hot July day and He ran to me. He took me in His arms and I truly felt His love and grace for the very first time in my life. I had been dead and He made me alive again. I had been lost and He found me. He saved my life here on earth and eternally on that day. As I stated above, I was born in 1967, but in 1997 I was born again.
A couple of years later and by God's leading - I surrendered to the ministry. God then asked me to pickup a guitar again, and to utilize the gifts that He had given me for His glory. I started playing and writing songs and before I knew it, I was playing in local churches around the area. A couple of years later, I was licensed as a Pastor and I then went on to serve as a Youth Pastor and Worship Leader at a couple of churches.
In 2001, I recorded my first Christian album 'This Is What I Believe' and I started touring regionally and occasionally nationally. The song 'Forever' took off and it opened many doors for me. It spent multiple weeks as the #1 song on some of the national Christian music charts and it was the most downloaded Christian genre song on Amazon for months. It also spent more than 15 weeks as the #1 song on the Amazon Christian music chart. In 2003, I recorded my second album 'Song of My Heart' and shortly afterwards I went on the road full-time as a Christian recording artist, worship leader and evangelist. I traveled all over North America and abroad sharing the love of Jesus Christ through music and speaking.
I never thought in a million years that I would be playing a guitar again and singing and especially not speaking in churches. I had played secular music for years and I had given up on music and I had quit playing completely for a period of time. I had said and thought that I would never do it again. God had other plans. I learned a valuable lesson - don't ever say or tell God what you are not going to do.
A couple of years later, I moved to Hershey, PA and then later to Lancaster, PA and I based my ministry out of there for many years. While living there, I partnered with a large ministry based out of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area and then later served on staff at a large church in the Lancaster area as their Contemporary Worship Pastor and Discipleship Pastor. I released 3 additional music albums while living there: "Stairways and Exits, "Proskuneo", and "The Worship Project". In 2010, I moved back down South and I now reside in the Baton Rouge, LA area with my wife Mary Beth and our dog Edmund.
At the beginning of 2012, I came off of the road and I once again thought that I was possibly done with music. Then in 2014, my life was shaken like never before. By no fault of my own, I was involved in a work-related accident that left me with a brain injury and a back injury. The months that followed were extremely scary for me and I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride that I could not get off of. I was shaken to my core and I was knocked flat on my back. When you are in that position there is only one way to look and that's up. Fortunately for me, Jesus Christ was there looking down upon me. He reached down and took my hand and He has walked along side of me and at times, even carried me through my recovery journey.
Through this journey, Jesus has shown me once again that my personal thoughts and plans are not always the same as His plan. He's not done with me yet and He has made it clear to me that He will never be done with me. I'm His ambassador and He wants to use me to lead others to His throne of grace, mercy and love. He wants me to teach others that worship is not a genre of music, a church service or an event. Worship is a life-style. It's a way of life.
God is now opening up the next chapter of music and ministry for me. I am looking forward to all of the future opportunities that He has in store for my wife and I. All of the new songs that I've written since 2011 are snap shots of the love and admiration that I have for my Savior - Jesus Christ. Each one of them tell a story in itself and at the same time each of them are part of my story and my journey with God. I hope that you will find them to be an encouragement to you and of help as you walk out your own journey with God and as you follow along in the dust of Jesus' feet.
Over the years, God has allowed me the privilege of praying with and leading thousands and thousands of people to Jesus Christ during ministry events. He has also allowed me the opportunity to encourage countless others to seek a stronger relationship with His Son Jesus. Seeing lives impacted for God is what drives me to do what I do for Him. I am so looking forward to watching God change thousands and thousands of more lives in the coming months and years. The greatest high in this world is to watch Jesus Christ come into someone's life and to change them from the inside out.
To use the words of Isaiah - this is my personal prayer and proclamation to God: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” - Isaiah 6:8 (NIV)
"God - I'm ready - Here am I. Send me." I press onward now and the journey continues. I look forward to worshipping with each of you and to seeing you all very soon.
Your brother in Christ,
<>< brian neal <><