Bart Millard

Bart MillardI CAN ONLY IMAGINE

   Meet Bart Millard, lead singer of the MercyMe Band. He married his childhood sweetheart and they have five wonderful children. This is his story.

   My parents divorced when I was three years old. My mom remarried a couple of times and by the time I was in third grade, my step dad was transferred. They moved away and decided to keep me and my brother together. They thought it would be better if we lived around family and attend the same schools. We lived with my dad from the third grade on.

   What a lot of people didn't realize, was that my dad was incredibly abusive to only me. He had a really bad temper and whenever he had a bad day, he would take it out on me. I don't recall many weeks where I wasn't beaten three, four, five times a week. I was eight years when I saw my dad cry. He beat me so badly that I had to sleep on my stomach. From the back of my neck to the back of my knees, I was black and blue.

   He returned to my room and said, "Why are you crying?"

   When he turned on the lights and saw what he'd done, he started bawling. This went on until the sixth grade, when I went through a growth spurt. I guess I became a little too big to handle and he never laid a finger on me again. But he tore me apart emotionally, which was worse than being beaten. This went on until my freshman year in high school. During my freshman year, my father was diagnosed with cancer. This was bittersweet for me; because part of me was glad and I thought that all of this would come to an end. The other part of me was devastated because he was my dad.

   Even with all the turmoil at home, I found refuge at church and school. At the age of thirteen I attended a church camp and was saved. I met Shannon at camp and she became my girlfriend in the seventh grade.

   I was still seeking approval from my Dad. He played football for the Greenville High School Lions and I wanted to be like him. Dad said, “That I would never be good enough. And that he would never let the opposing team tackle him.” I tried not to be tackled and my leg was shattered. I was told that I could never play football again.

   What I didn't realize at the time, I was given a front row seat to see the gospel transform my dad. My dad went from being this monster; to being this man who was desperately and passionately in love with Jesus. I don't say that lightly because quite honestly, I didn't want grace to be given to him. I didn't want him to get away with his abuse scot free. Change was undeniable, and we never prayed growing up, not at dinner, not at Easter, or at Christmas.

   Then all of a sudden, I heard dad in his room each night; praying for my mother, brother and myself. As he cried, I thought, "Who is this guy?" We had a family Bible. I watched my Dad wither away because of the cancer. There'd be nights, when I found him asleep with his face in the Word. I would go in his room and put the Bible on the night stand, and he would wake up. We started having these conversations just about stuff for hours.

   There was always a moment in every conversation when he'd be in tears and saying, “I'm so sorry for everything that I've done to you. I wish I could fix it.”

   Looking back at those conversations, a part of me was being healed. Dad passed away when I was a freshman in college. In those four years, he went from being this man that I was afraid of, to a lover of God and family. I didn’t want to be abusive like he was. I was afraid that I was going to be that kind of husband and dad when I had my own family. By the time he passed away, he was the guy I wanted to be when I grew up. Dad had become the Godliest man I’ve ever known.

   I was fascinated with sound systems and enjoyed singing. I asked our music teacher who was also the glee club director, if I could run the sound system. She agreed, and saw potential in me and said. “I would be singing a solo.” I refused the offer, but ended up singing a solo. This was the beginning of my career in singing.

   While in college, I joined a Christian band called MercyMe and became the lead singer. We purchased a travel bus and would play anywhere we were invited. I thought we were better than we were, but I was told by agents in Nashville that we weren’t good enough. This was a crushing blow and I wanted to quit the band. While we were traveling all over, Shannon would not answer my calls. I was in despair. Our promoter encouraged me to write music that came from my heart and soul.

   All I could think about was my Dad passing away and was inspired to write a ten minute song called “I Can Only Imagine.” The song laid on the shelf for eight months. We decided to ask Amy Grant to introduce the song and she agreed. We had a packed house, and Amy couldn’t sing the song. She called me forward to sing my song. The applause was deafening after the song. Our 1999 debut has remained at the top of Christian Songs Charts. I ran to Shannon in the audience after the song. The rest is history. My story was introduced to theaters on March 22, 2018 and has been a smashing success. Click here to see and listen to YouTube:

   If the Gospel could change my Dad, it could change anyone.

   I married Shannon, who was my first girlfriend in 7th grade. She knew my dad; we didn't date that whole time. She came to her senses in college, but we’re still friends the whole time. She knew that a transformation took place. It's a sweet story and tragic at the same time. Shannon wanted to help me figure this out.

   She said, “We should go to counseling.”

   I said, “Yes, whatever you think.”

   This godly woman saved our marriage and my life.

   Shannon said, “We need to go back to your childhood.”

   I didn’t want to go there because of the hurt. For two years, we realized how to make the connections. She said, "You know, if you've ever wondered what you would've been like in a Godly family environment, just watch your middle son Charlie. Because he's just like you were,” and I started bawling. I’ve got to play the role of the dad and try to get some of it right.

   It got me to wonder, if I could ever sit down and have a conversation with the eight year old version of me. What would that look like? With everything that you’ve gone through in your life if you can have a conversation with that younger version of you, what would you possibly say? The blessing and the curse of being a songwriter is in my therapy to write songs about it. I thought it would be a cool idea for a song, not realizing it's going to be one of the hardest songs ever written. Not to mention that it had to be about three minutes long and rhyme. I didn't know what to say or know where to start. I was driving my car one night, and it dawned on me what to say. I remembered a friend telling me there's nothing I could do to make Christ love me anymore than he already does.

   For two years, he would text me on a regular basis and tell me that I was righteous and redeemed. You know what? I started to believe not only who I was in Christ; but as somebody who was actually normal. I met a guy that could look me in the eyes and regardless of the things that I've done, whether right or wrong and saw me as a brother of Christ.

   The things I've done in my past is not my identity today. I've never seen anything like it. I could sit with the eight year old version of me and know exactly what I would say. I would just tell him he's holy, righteous, and redeemed over and over again. That turned my world upside down at forty. I don't know what any of you are going through personally. I don't have to know. I don’t know of the things that you've done or have been done to you; but I can tell you with all my heart and everything that I have, I believe 100% that Christ is bigger. My guilt was gone. I was set free.

Bart Millard is the lead singer for the MercyMe Band Bart Millard Hearing His Voice Testimony

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