By Leslie J. Griffin
Pastor Marvin L. Sapp, founder and senior pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids. And he’ll tell you he’s a regular kind of guy who just happens to be a preacher and a national gospel recording artist. “I’m a father first”, said Dr. Marvin L. Sapp during an interview and concert in Detroit that celebrated Bishop Edgar L. Vann’s 35th year in ministry. “My family is my first ministry.” Millions have been inspired by his global mega hit Never Would Have Made It. The four-time Grammy-winning phenomenon is back with his ninth album entitled I Win, which features three songs composed by non-industry lyricists.
He continues to win in the industry while setting glowing music chart records. Dealing with the untimely loss of his wife Malinda, he credits his children with getting him through the rough moments. A warm, open and in-person interview with the artist revealed the Marvin L. Sapp some may not know.
You’ve had a tremendous career in gospel music that has crossed all genres. What has that been like for you?
Yes it has been over 20 years. God has so graciously blessed us that we’ve been able to cross over, so to speak. People just enjoy what we do.
Did you ever imagine you’d have this much success and how do you define success?
Well, I never imagined that I’d have this type of notoriety. Success in and of itself is relative. I just thank God for the platform that he’s given us in order to share the word of Jesus Christ through music as long as we have. You know, music is seasonal but to be able to do this for 23 years, you know, it’s been a wonderful ride.
You’re back with your ninth album entitled I Win. Please tell our readers more about that.
I Win is more of an introspective look about what I’ve been through and what I’ve come through. It gives me the opportunity to make concrete declarations about my life. I had an opportunity to work with some of the greatest producers out there, like Aaron Lindsey. I did something that most artists would not do and that is solicit people on Facebook to send songs in. We received more than 2,000 songs and we listened to all of them. Three of them made the record. I just believe God kind of positioned me to be like a conduit and my responsibility is to give a platform to people who normally would not have one. And so that is my assignment right now. And I just think if I keep doing that – that God will continue to keep blessing me.
What is it like to hear your own music constantly in the rotation?
I don’t listen to the radio (giving a hearty laugh). No, seriously. I’m not a big radio listener. I think the first time I heard my stuff on the radio, it was really unbelievable. You know, after you’ve been doing it for a period of time, you don’t expect it. So, you know, now I get in people’s cars and stuff and they play your music. They think you want to hear your own music (smiling), and it’s like man I sing this every night…I don’t want to hear this. But, you know, if it’s such a blessing to other people and if they want me to know that they’ve purchased my music, then that’s just great.
You’ve overcome some very challenging times. How is your family and how are you able to balance the church and its cares?
My girls are here with me and they will be 13 and 15 this year. And my son is at home and he will be 18 and off to college this year. I think we are adjusting well. It is very challenging trying to navigate through this fold, through life’s process and with being the one individual and not having that backbone of the family. My wife was the stabilizer of our family as I have a very very unorthodox life the way I make my living through traveling.
So my wife did a phenomenal job of raising our children to the point where you know I could touch base with them daily and Skype and things of that
nature. So when I was gone, it was not like I did not have a hands-on touch to my kids. You know one of the greatest things that ever happened to students in school and parents (with emphasis) is this thing called RenWeb. It’s an electronic tool that allows me to see how they are doing in school. So I always know when they are not doing their homework. I know their grades and I can call them and get on them. Now, they hate it (smiling) but it’s a wonderful tool for me. It’s just, well, you’re fathering from a distance. But this is normal for my kids because this is what they know. This is all they’ve ever known with their father traveling so, you know, we shut down and we take trips together. I spoil them to the best of my ability. You know, they are great kids and they are good students. They’re not disrespectful and they don’t cause too many problems. I could not have asked for greater kids. It’s great.
How did you become Marvin Sapp the singer, Marvin Sapp the preacher and the entertainer?
Well, I prioritize it. I keep everything in its proper perspective. First and foremast I am a father. That’s my first responsibility. My first ministry is to my family. And then after being a father and a pastor I’m a recording artist. So if I keep those things in that perspective and keep prioritizing, it works for the good. You know when I get on stage, those three individuals work together in order to produce something that we think is wonderful from a standpoint of being a pastor and a singer. It becomes, you know, I don’t want to say magical but rather something that is God-ordained.
What inspires you and what are some of your challenges?
The people inspire me. The testimonies that you get from them talking about how they almost gave up and how they lost someone that they loved and how they never would have gotten through it. HE Has His Hands On You…even though I did not sing that when I came to Detroit it also inspires me. It’s been such a great blessing to so many people and when you hear those testimonies, those things are fuel to keep you doing what you do. And if you did not have that, all of the trials, tragedies and tribulations and tests, you will just be like forget it, it’s not worth it because you don’t feel like you’re making an impact. So I think that God has been good in spite of it all and He has allowed us to do some great great things for the Kingdom of God. And I’m just enjoying the ride.
What do you do in your spare time?
(Laughing). I hang with my kids (he points to them in the room). We do stupid, silly stuff. Spring break is coming up and I have to drag them on the road with me a little bit. We’ll do three days in Atlanta and my daughter wants to go and visit Spelman College so I’ll make sure we get her a wonderful tour while we’re down there. Then after that we will catch a plane to Florida and hang out there for two or three days and do some shopping and go to a Miami Heat game. You know, we just do normal stuff. We are a normal family in a difficult situation right now. But above all we are a family and that’s what it’s all about. So we’re gonna do kid stuff. You know I like games and I get in the swimming pool and we do all that. And that’s what they want me to do. They want me to be daddy, not the recording artist (or the reverend, I interject). Naw, they can’t stand that (laughing). Daddy tell ‘em we ain’t takin’ no more pictures. (impersonating his children)
What words would you share with the gospel industry?
Awwww, man. I mean, let’s just keep doin’ what we do because we are making an impact.
Is the message of the gospel reaching souls?
Oh, without questions it is. If we keep our message clear and if we keep singing about Jesus and Him being crucified, and keep it gospel, then lives are going to be made better and I believe the rest of their days will be the best of their days.