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That's what I love about ministry: Former Nashville songwriter sees God's providence in call to plant churches
May 10, 2007
By Jeff Robinson
Adam Dorsey with his wife Christi and son Jacob.
Adam Dorsey has packed so much living into the past decade it might make for a good country/western song on par with "Walkin' the Floor Over You."
As any fan worth his salt knows, an authentic country verse contains at least three elements: a major heartache book-ended by loving and leaving. Dorsey, a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has experienced all three in spades over the 10 years.
But Dorsey, himself an accomplished writer of country tunes, is quick to point out that his storyline differs from the typical country lyric in that God has been the chief actor who has orchestrated the verses of his life's song both for Dorsey's good and God's glory. Thus, in Dorsey's narrative, heartache is a minor note.
In talking to Adam Dorsey, three main loves emerge: Christ, family and music. A native of Riverside, Calif., Dorsey was converted as a young boy. His love for country music also took root at young age and accelerated at 16, when Dorsey's father gave him his first guitar. A songwriter was soon born.
"I've probably written 200 or 300 songs since I was 16," Dorsey said. "I started writing songs immediately to help me learn to play the guitar. It is definitely something God has given me a love for and the ability to do on some level."
At 18, Dorsey moved from California to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter. In 1997, his senior year as a music business major at Middle Tennessee State University, Dorsey met the woman who a year later would become his wife—Christi Leigh Doyle. That year, Dorsey also signed his first publishing deal, one that paid $800 per month.
Dorsey seemed to be on the fast track as one of Nashville's bright young songwriters. But little did he know that God was going to teach him the discipline of patience as he toiled for seven years without scoring a major label recording, waiting tables to help support his family.
"I got totally rejected for seven years," he said. "I loved what I was doing, so I kept at it. These companies would say, 'your doing a good job, these are good songs, but we don't want to cut any of them. Just keep writing.'"
"Both Christi and I worked during the day and I waited tables at night. I had this new wife whom I loved dearly, but we weren't getting top spend any time together. It was pretty frustrating, but God was definitely working in our lives and looking back, we know that now."
In 2001, Dorsey seemed to be at the pinnacle of his big break. Craig Morgan, a relative newcomer to Music Row, recorded a Dorsey-penned number titled "Old Green Tackle Box" for Atlantic Records. Cold disappointment—and the dog-eat-dog reality of the music business—slapped Dorsey in the face when Atlantic decided not to release the song.
A few months later, the couple learned that Christi was going to need a liver transplant. So accelerated was her liver disease that Vanderbilt University immediately put Christi on its transplant list. Worse, the couple's doctor told them that the liver condition would prohibit child bearing. In December of 2003, the Dorseys joined a waiting list to adopt a baby.
"We really learned to trust God," he said. "We strongly desired to have our own child, but as soon as we got the news we started thinking about adoption. As hard as it was to accept, we still knew God's plan was better than ours."
Soon, Dorsey learned that Morgan had chosen one of his songs, "That's What I Love About Sunday," for an upcoming album. But the news was tempered a few days later when Dorsey's publishing company informed him that his contract would not be renewed.
To make matters even more confusing, Dorsey said something strange was going on inside his mind. As he and Christi were growing under sound biblical teaching at First Baptist Church of Spring Hill, Tenn., Dorsey began to sense that God was calling him out of the music business and into the ministry.
"Craig Morgan had just recorded 'That's What I Love About Sunday' for his album and Christi had just started a new job at a new company with a big promotion," he said. "But I couldn't get the sense of God's calling to ministry off my mind. I told Christi, not knowing what in the world she would think, but she said, 'I've thought for a while that He was.'"
Dorsey's call to the ministry proved to be, in the words of George Strait, a fire he couldn't put out. Yet, the commercial success as a songwriter that had eluded him was approaching at the speed of the Orange Blossom Special. In November of 2004, Broken Bow Records—a small independent label—released the first single from Morgan's new album: "That's What I Love About Sunday."
By March, the song chronicling Lord's Day activities with a Mayberry ethos had climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. On March 26, 2005, it reached No. 1, where it remained five weeks, setting a record for chart success by a song from an independent label. Staring up at Dorsey's song, which was co-written by Mark Narmore, were songs by big-label artists such as Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Alan Jackson and Rascal Flatts.
"We started watching the charts and it just kept climbing higher and higher," he said. "It didn't make any sense for a song from a small independent label to climb that high. God definitely blessed us. I watched this knowing the whole time that I was going to leave songwriting for the ministry. Never did I doubt God's calling."
In November of 2004, the Dorseys had adopted their son, Jacob. The couple was in the delivery room at the birth mother's request when Jacob was born. The young woman chose the Dorseys to adopt her son in spite of Christi's liver disorder, which remains unresolved today.
"We saw God work in an incredible way with us adopting Jacob," he said. "The birth mother chose our profile because her grandfather had a liver disorder and was completely cured. What we thought might prohibit us from adopting God used as a catalyst for adopting Jacob."
In May of 2005, the Dorseys bade farewell to Nashville and moved to New Orleans where Adam enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. But their leaving days weren't over. In August, Hurricane Katrina demolished the Crescent City and put New Orleans Seminary, and most of the Dorseys' worldly possessions, under water. Soon, the family found itself on the road again, this time bound for Louisville, Christi's hometown, and Southern Seminary.
After initially thinking their sojourn at Southern would be temporary, the Dorseys decided to stay. They hope to serve as church planters in Newfoundland, far from the steel guitars and neon lights of the Music City.
"Christi and I spent a week in Newfoundland with Dr. J.D. Payne and other Southern students in May of 2006, and after returning we sensed God calling us there to do church planting," he said.
"All along, I was planning on ministering as a Navy chaplain but in June I was pulled out of my first church planting class by a phone call from the Navy recruiter who told me that I was medically disqualified from service because of childhood asthma.
"I have learned very clearly that we can make our plans, but God is in control. While I will miss songwriting, I know that preaching the word is a far greater calling because it will impact eternity."