“What is it like to work with Travis Cottrell?”
That’s a question I’ve grown accustomed to during my first year at Englewood. To those of us who know him well, the fanfare surrounding our friend can be humorous at times because he’s just so normal. Yet, we are all equally aware that every accolade Travis receives is well deserved. His accomplishments in the world of Contemporary Christian Music are well noted (they don’t give those Dove Awards to just anybody), but the realities behind the man are much more impressive than his public notoriety.
When Travis and his wife Angela moved to Jackson, TN ten years ago, few people could believe it. Why would such a gifted artist leave the conveniences of the Nashville metroplex for such a small city? Why would a man who leads worship for arenas full of believers restrict himself to the service of a single congregation? Certainly, his friendship with then Pastor Ben Mandrell was a big factor. More than anything else, however, was the divine calling Travis and Angela felt as they followed the Lord to Englewood.
God has done an amazing work in our congregation through the efforts of our most well-known member. With faithfulness and integrity, he has taught all of us how to worship Jesus more fully. Now, ten years later, we are all saddened by the news that God is calling Travis away. On the first Sunday in July, he will begin a new season of ministry as the worship leader at Brentwood Baptist Church, just south of Nashville.
I expected this might happen at some point, but I regret that Travis and I did not have more time to work with one another. Do not confuse my disappointment with anger, however. We all love Travis and Angela because they obediently followed the Lord to us. Loving them less for following the Lord away from us would be contrary to everything we’ve celebrated over the last decade.
Saying goodbye is difficult, though, largely because Travis has been so effective serving the Lord here in Jackson. Working with him has been a breath of fresh air for me. I have never doubted his support nor questioned his motives. Let me share what I appreciate most about this special servant.
Perhaps more than anything, I admire his humility.
The rare combination of uncontested skill and genuine humility is difficult to find. Yet, despite his being the most talented man in nearly every room, I have repeatedly watched Travis fade into the background in order to push others into the light repeatedly. Though he graciously accepts compliments, he never seems to seek them. While many are seemingly anxious to boast about their accomplishments, Travis seems more comfortable celebrating others instead. In fact, I imagine he is secretly angry because I have written this post, exposing this admirable quality! I love this brother because he doesn’t simply say that all glory goes to Jesus; he shows it.
His love for people inspires me.
When our family visited Jackson for the first time, my oldest son was struggling with the prospect of leaving the familiar surroundings of our Texas home. Mr. Travis, as my kids have come to call him, invited us over for an impromptu visit. We laughed, ate tacos, and had a great visit. What I most remember, though, was the patience with which Travis answered my son’s questions about living in the Hub City. He shared how he, too, initially struggled to leave his home when God called him to Englewood. Next, he explained how thankful he was that his family obeyed the Lord. Travis also answered specific questions about our church that made all my kids feel better about relocating. It was a powerful moment that God used profoundly in my son’s life. Moving was much less frightening from that point forward. I will never forget the kindness he and Angela showed us.
My first week here in Jackson, Travis took my children out to lunch (by himself!). Then, a few months later, we attended one of his concerts at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. My four-year-old daughter, who hasn’t figured out she cannot marry Mr. Travis one day, was frustrated that in this setting she did not have his undivided attention. Not wanting to disappoint her, Travis left us amazed when he joined us in the balcony just to say hello between two of his songs.
I could go on, but I am simply illustrating the powerful ways Travis shows others he cares about them. Our stories are not unique. Staff members and congregants alike will tell you about similar experiences they have shared him. He rallies believers to meet needs. He works hard to create moments people will remember. And he does it all without any ulterior motive for something in return. Whether it is distributing food to needy families while hiding behind a mask or empowering others to fulfill their calling, every room is better when this brother is in it.
He dances before the Lord.
In 2 Samuel 6:14, the Bible says that David danced before the Lord with all his might when the Ark of the Covenant was finally returned to Jerusalem. Interestingly, his wife Michal rebukes him for the indignity of his worship. Remarkably, King David cared nothing about how others perceived his worship and only about whether God received his worship. The whole scene reminds me of Travis. He is not unkind, but neither does he care what others think. He does not simply lead in worship, he worships. No clowning around. No entertaining. Just one worshipper leading others to do the same.
The greatest compliment I can give my friend is that often, on Sundays, I would forget that it was time for me to preach. The music was so moving and God-focused that I would often be lost in the beauty of worshipping the Lord rather than mulling over what I was about to say. No one has ever led me to worship our Savior like that. Travis makes me want to love the Lord more and His joy is contagious. He has, even in the short time we’ve worked together, made me a better pastor.
Oh sure, I recognize that he has tremendous gifts. But because of his refusal to steal the glory for himself, our church has been free to focus on the Giver of those gifts. Though I always appreciate the excellence and skill with which Travis serves, I seldom dwell on these things because He always points me to Someone else.
What’s it been like to work with Travis Cottrell? Better than you can ever imagine. But not for the reasons you think. The man behind the music is even better than what the world sees. And he’d be the first to tell you that is only because of Jesus.
I will miss him deeply.
I will always count him as a friend.
I will always turn his music up loud in my car.
And I will keep worshipping Jesus with my whole heart, just as he has taught us to do.