Part Two: The Ministry
Brian Free and Assurance are among the top artists in Southern Gospel, as shown by the awards and accolades bestowed on the group. Great harmonies and a strong message combine with a unique sound to make this quartet one of the best on the road today. In this second part of the Scoops interview with Brian Free and Bill Shivers, the men discuss the ministry and message of Brian Free and Assurance, with politics, political correctness and even a little preaching thrown in.
From Brian Free’s beginnings with Gold City in 1982, his distinctive tenor voice and ability to connect with an audience has opened doors for him and his group to speak to the hearts of listeners nation-wide. He and lead singer Bill Shivers have learned to use this opportunity for ministry. Speaking with concert goers after a program gives them an occasion to hear the hearts of their listeners and to speak the Word of God into their lives on a personal basis. What they hear from their audience is as varied as the people themselves.
“There is such a wide variety of what people will talk to us about, from the loss of family members, to physical problems such as people with cancer and job loss,” Free shares. “More than anything, what I hear is health issues and not just in the older crowd. We have people younger than me that will come and say they have been diagnosed with cancer or Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus. It’s not all negative, there are people coming up and talking about praise reports. There are people saying to us, ‘Hey, God healed my wife’, or ‘God gave me a job’. So we do hear both, it’s not just asking for prayer. It’s testimonies too.”
Whether the one-on-one discussions are positive or negative, this type of sharing after an evening of singing and preaching can take its toll on any artist. Free admits that once they get back on the bus, the first thing he does is crash. Shivers notes that as ministers they need to be spiritually fed also and the group has material on the bus to assist with that process.
“We have about eight or ten churches around the country that we’ve been to, that we know the pastor and the staff really well,” says Free. “Pastors that we’ve heard preach, been a part of their ministry and we know all about them. Each week as they do their sermons and put them on CD for their congregation, they also mail us one so we can listen to them while we are going down the road.”
“We read and we pray and we do what we have to do every day as a Christian to keep us on track,” Free continues. “But there are times when you give so much and so hard, that you get to the bus and you are just exhausted, mentally and physically. But that’s all a part of it.”
Shivers agrees and adds, “But God always gives us strength. He won’t put anymore on us than we can bear. He knows that this is part of what we do, you might call it the ‘burden of the ministry’.”
“God has been speaking to me lately about being more compassionate,” continues Shivers. “He really has. I try to pray every night, no matter how tired I am and to give God His time. He has been talking to me about being more compassionate to others, seeing other people’s hurts and not thinking about myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in whining moments and pity parties. So many people do that. So I’m trying to be more aware of others and be more compassionate.”
Growing in their spiritual life, as shown through their compassionate hearts, is a priority for Brian Free and Assurance. Free says he has personal study materials that he uses on a consistent basis. “I enjoy F.J> Dake and have been an understudy of his for many, many years. He was from my area and was in his late nineties when he died. His Bible study is all King James Version and the Dake Bible is all KJV with his notes and references. Everything he writes about, he sends you back to other scripture to reference. You aren’t just taking his word for it or anything like that.”
“He has a course called ‘God’s Plan for Man’ which I have on mp3. It covers everything from the pre-Adamite world to the Millennium and everything in between.” Free laughs, “Dake is teaching at college level, so it’s like listening to a college professor and can get a little boring at times.” Shivers agrees that the course is quite comprehensive. “It gets very deep. And [mimicking Dake] It’s – monotone – like – this – all – the – time…” Both agree however that Dake has a deep knowledge of the Word of God and the study course is “pretty cool”.
Free and Shivers both have also acquired a deep knowledge and love for the Word of God. It seems that Free has the gifting of an evangelist, although the thought of pastoring, for the moment anyway, is not part of his immediate plan. “God called me to preach, but He hasn’t called me to be a pastor. There is a huge difference.” Free emphatically continues, “I will not pastor a church unless God absolutely, unmistakably calls me, writes it in the clouds, etches it in the sand, carves it on my forehead… It’s going to have be a call of God, without doubt. It will not be self-called! If I ever do something like that in my life, it will be something I know was God. If people only realize what a pastor and his family go through to lead a church! It is something I do not want unless God wants it for me. It’s a hard job.”
Free and his team of godly men endeavors to follow the call of God wherever it may lead. They are fully aware of the fact that their audience is drawn from every walk of life and many belief systems are represented on any given night. Neither Free nor Shivers are men to mince words or back down from their convictions regardless of the type of venue or church denomination. Sometimes, the after-concert conversation may turn to politics, and even that subject is not avoided.
Shivers comments, “Some people are more vocal than others.” “Don’t ask me if you don’t want to know!” says Free. Both men agree they will answer questions posed to them. Shivers adds,“That might not be the most popular thing to do. But you have to take a stand.”
Free continues, “The way I look at it, if somebody asks me for my opinion, they deserve an answer. If it’s going to offend you, then don’t ask it. I am a conservative, Christian, Republican. I believe in how this country was founded; I believe in the freedoms of this country; I believe we should not be ashamed of anything this country has ever done. I’m a pro-lifer, not pro-choice. It is not a choice, it is a life.”
Shivers adds, “I believe marriage is between a man and woman.” Free says, “Yes sir! Absolutely, it is between a man and a woman, that’s it. Anything else, according to the Word of God, is an abomination in the eyes of God. It is not up for debate. It is not up to anyone or their particular group. It is not being non-tolerant, but if God doesn’t tolerate something, then neither will I. If that offends someone – get over it!” Shivers emphatically agrees. Free concludes, “Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger. The message is there, take it or leave it. It’s in the Word of God.”
Anyone who has heard Brian Free and Assurance will concur that this is a group that does not dilute the Scripture or vary from their stance on the values stated within the Work of God. Friends of Free also agree that this man of God is completely grounded on the Bible.
Mike LeFevre of the LeFevre Quartet, sang with Free during their years with Gold City Quartet in the 1980’s. LeFevre says, “I’ve known Brian since we were in our teens. We sang together for a short time, followed by seven years with Gold City then over three years with Brian Free and Assurance. I can tell you that Brian has been a true friend. If you don’t want to hear the truth about something, don’t ask Brian. He will tell you just the way it is, like it or not. I love that! More than anything, Brian is a good man, a man of God and I’m proud to be his friend!”
Another friend who agrees with LeFevre’s assessment of Free is Bryan Hutson of Soul’d Out. Hutson shares, “I have been a fan of Brian Free since he sang with Gold City. I met Brian years later and became his friend. He is probably the most consistent tenor to come along in many years. I am most impressed with his stance on the things of God. He makes no apologies for standing for the truth of God’s Word. I pray that blessings will continue to follow Brian’s life.”
The uncompromising stance of Brian Free and Assurance may actually be detrimental as some churches or venues may consider the group’s conservative view-point too rigid. Free acknowledges that this may be the case but makes no apologies. “There are some denominations like that. They believe in homosexuality in the pulpit. There are those who are pro-choice, they believe in abortion, they believe in gay marriage. But you know what?” Free pauses and continues more forcefully. “The message we carry is the Word of God. If you are not willing to accept the message of the Word of God, do not have us in to minister.”
“We do not want to come if you are not going to be responsive to the message we are delivering which is the Word of God,” says Free, very seriously. “If the Word of God offends you, you are the one with the problem not us and not the Bible. So if that offends somebody, they are the one with the issue and they are the one that needs to get into the Word of God, read it, find out what it says and pray for understanding.” Free earnestly adds, “They need to pray that the Holy Spirit gets a hold of them and pray that they get saved so they would really listen to the Word of God. Then all those issues would be resolved.” Free pauses while Shivers says, “Amen”. Free concludes, “I’m not saying that if you don’t see it our way, you are lost. I’m saying if you don’t see it God’s way, you are lost. Period.”
The passionate declaration of his beliefs brings out the evangelist side of Free, as even the interview set became a pulpit for anointed preaching. The men settled back with comments of, “Let’s take up an offering!” before discussing their next priority: Family. All the men of Assurance are married with children, and Brian became a grandfather in July of 2011. Free didn’t hesitate when asked how he would like his grandson Jude to remember him in the future. Free says he would like Jude to remember: “That I stood up for what the Word of God says without compromise; that I was not afraid of offending somebody or making someone mad. That I was not concerned with trying to be politically correct, to avoid and evade the truth. That I always stood for what the Word of God said and didn’t back up an inch, whether it offended somebody or not.”
Free continues, “That’s why our country is in the shape it’s in and why the Church is in the shape it’s in. It’s because we have abandoned the Word of God. We’ve become too afraid of offending somebody with the Truth. If the Truth offends you, obviously –it’s a no-brainer – you are the one with the problem. The Truth is the Truth. It’s not up for a debate or a committee to get together and decide whether the Word of God is true or not. It is. Take it for what it says, read it and live it. I’m not perfect – none of us are. It’s black and white; there is no gray area. You don’t live whatever life you want to live because you think it’s right. You don’t make your own religion. There is only one path to God, contrary to what many people say.” Shivers agrees and reiterates: “ONE way!”
“There is one way to God and one single way, according to the Word of God,” continues Free. “Period. There is no other way, so if you found your own little way and you think that is going to get you to heaven, you will burn in hell. There is no compromise to it. It’s either God’s way and you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are born again and covered by His blood, you live for Him, you believe He is your Risen Savior…or you don’t.” Shivers again agrees: “That’s the Gospel. That’s what we sing.” Both men sit back again and look at each other. Free laughs, “Now we are GOING to take up an offering…” Shivers raises his hand: “Hallelujah!”
For Brian Free and Assurance, Gospel Music is not just a job. It is who they are, as they minister in word and song, following God’s call on their lives. There is no room for compromise or political correctness, only for the message from the Word of God. As their song “I Believe” says, they ‘believe every line, every word, every story they’ve heard’. Through this, God has been changing them. And that makes this a Season To Remember for Brian Free and Assurance.
For more information on Brian Free and Assurance, go to http://brianfreeandassurance.com/
First published February 2012 SGN Scoops http://www.sgnscoops.com/