Member Spotlight: Christian music pioneer Randy Stonehill

Marcia Krahn  ·  Mar 30, 2017

After decades of touring, Randy Stonehill is more passionate than ever about knowing and serving God.

One of the fathers and pioneers of contemporary Christian music, Randy is enjoying his 47th year of ministry, having written over 500 songs that have appeared on 27 releases, with more on the way. He was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2010. 

In his concerts, Randy is “tenacious about getting out of God’s way, and pointing people’s hearts to Jesus.” 

He has come to see himself as merely a messenger, a conduit of the Lord to bring love, hope, joy, and liberty. That motivation is reflected in the lyrics Randy writes and the way he shares. 

“I want people to come away from my concerts focusing on the essence of existence—to worship Jesus with our whole lives and go on a grand adventure where only the Holy Spirit can carry us,” he says. “And frankly, nothing but that will ever satisfy our longing.”

Leslie Stonehill's servant's heart comes in handy

Randy and his wife, Leslie, travel together ministering in concerts throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.

Leslie is Randy’s helpmate, best friend, and prayer partner, enabling him to do what God has called him to do both on and off stage. She assists with the logistics, communicates with people before and after concerts, and fills in where needed—even singing harmony occasionally.

Considering Leslie’s vision for ministry and her servant’s heart, Randy knew he didn’t want to leave her at home. One of their first decisions as a married couple was for Leslie to join Randy full time on the road and minister with him.

Accompanying them is Nigel, their 21-year-old dog. Nigel is “a wonderful, natural ministry tool for sharing the Gospel,” Leslie says. Strangers who don’t have time for a lengthy conversation will gladly accept a business card with Nigel’s picture and a Scripture on the back. 

Ministry has driven Randy since the time he was saved in 1970. Even then, he recognized that God had placed him at that point in history to be on the ground floor of a new Christian musical genre. 

“I was a young man and a young believer trying to put one foot in front of the other,” Randy says, “and I got a simple ministry directive to take the timeless truth of the Gospel and share it in the musical vernacular of the day.”

In 1973, Randy’s song “I Love You” gave him the opportunity to sing in the Billy Graham teen film Time to Run. Then in 1976, Christian music legend-to-be Keith Green asked Randy to help him write the lyrics for a new melody. That song, “Until Your Love Broke Through,” became a hit and has been recorded by several other artists through the years. With songs like “King of Hearts” and “Shut de Do,” Randy’s reputation as a pioneer of contemporary Christian music was firmly established.

Randy’s concerts draw many who came to Christ in those days of the “Jesus movement.” Fans walk up to him and say, “You’ve been my friend for 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to meet you.” They tell him how one of his albums, often the first Christian album they ever owned, challenged and encouraged them in the Lord. 

But some admit that, as the years passed, they lost their first love. 

“Maybe they failed in some way and now feel disqualified,” Leslie says. “Hearing Randy, even though he’s singing some new songs, reminds them of where their walk with the Lord used to be. They are reminded that, in spite of their brokenness, they are not forgotten by the Father, that God says, ‘Yes, you are standing in the rubble of your own creation, but you are not done. This is where I start, and you begin again, and you can finish well. You can keep your eyes on Me from this point on and grow from here.’”

Concerts are only one part of Randy's ministry

Randy and Leslie view his concerts and songwriting as only one part of their ministry, because worshiping God with their whole lives means living for Jesus every moment. Whether they are buying groceries for someone in need at a grocery store, sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, hanging out at home, or singing in front of 5,000 people, they want to love out 2 Corinthians 2:14, to diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ wherever they are, whatever they do.

Musically, Randy worships God by accompanying himself on the guitar as he sings the whimsical ditties, heart-melting ballads, songs of grim warning, or joyful encouragement that he has written. 

One of Randy’s greatest joys is to have written songs for so many years and see them, by God’s Spirit, impact peoples’ hearts. 

“There’s a mystery about songwriting that belongs to God, a creative spark from Him that introduces me to the right meter and makes that first bit of melody and lyric come pouring out,” Randy says. Is this song slow and brooding? Buoyant and melodic? The idea won’t leave him alone. Bit by bit, little pieces of the song come throughout the day.

Leslie enjoys watching Randy in writing mode, “because it’s the way God built him.”

“We’ll be in a conversation, and suddenly he’s reaching for a pen and paper because he heard a lyric in something one of us said,” Leslie explains. “I watch all these little pieces of paper and all these notes floating around until they come together to create a song. When the spark comes—God’s creative process—we’re grateful.”

While songwriting has never lost its joy for Randy, even his most evocative songs can lose life being performed in concert after concert. When that happens, Randy tells himself, “Buddy, don’t you dare complain. Be a grateful servant and a man of God, and just sing these songs as if it’s the last night of your life.” He offers it all to the Lord and watches Him make it live in the people’s hearts.

One of the greatest compliments Randy ever received, a highlight of his ministry, occurred when his father was dying. The only way Randy could communicate with him was through song. He sang his ballad “Breath of God,” and sensed the Holy Spirit working on his dad’s heart. His dad responded, “Gives me the chills,” and gave his life to Christ nine days before he died.

Life on the road can be difficult, but it brings Randy and Leslie a rich store of treasured times, deepening their relationship. Adjusting to a different hotel every night can become unsettling, and homesickness seeps in. They’ve learned through the years to joke about getting to visit their home next week or about taking pictures to remind them of where they live instead of counting how many days until they are home. 

When someone once asked about the strain of constant travel, Leslie replied, “We love our home, but in a deeper sense we realize that our home is wherever we are together with Jesus.”

Whether at home or on the road, Leslie says they want to “live in the now with the Lord, enjoying every moment with Him and being excited about what He has us doing.”

See also: "Why SMI? Stonehills like the personal connectionand "Advice from Uncle Rand"