A Conversation with Reese Roper from Five Iron Frenzy

One of the goals of The Tin Soldiers ministry is to develop a community where we can encourage one another to learn, as Paul said, to be content no matter our circumstances.  Contentment is a major issue for so many of us, especially in the area of our work.  So often, I hear friends and acquaintances express restlessness over their particular situations with their jobs.  Some of the most common statements I hear are…

*Why can’t I find a job I am passionate about?

*My work feels meaningless, like I am just a cog in the machine.

*I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing…and I don’t understand why God doesn’t make it clear.

*I have achieved more than I could ever dream, but I am still not fulfilled.

These statements are the starting point for my conversation with Reese Roper, frontman for Five Iron Frenzy.  I’ve been friends with Reese since my band played our third-ever show with FIF, back in 1996.  He is someone I can honestly say desires to please God with his life.  He is also clever, hilarious, and a good lyricist.  Reese has experienced his fair share of ups and downs in his travels through the music industry and beyond, and his story is one of personal perseverance in faith through life’s questions.  I believe his words will provide some encouragement for the discontented among us, and give proper perspective to those searching for direction in the area of career.  It should be noted that questions and answers provided here in this piece are not meant to be gospel truths, but rather lessons we have personally learned from our experiences.  We share these experiences to spark discussion, provoke thought, and hopefully, help those who feel directionless.

Schwab: Reese, for those who aren’t familiar with you or your music, please write a bit about your story, both as an artist and just as a “dude.”  Tell us about starting to play music, your career with FIF, and your job since the band “broke up.”  What was the catalyst for taking a break from music to pursue an entirely different path?  What brought you back to doing the music alongside your “other” job?

Roper: Well, we started Five Iron when I was in college.  It was a pipe dream for most of us to ever be successful, but somehow we were.  At first, our goal was just to try to open up for any punk or ska band that toured through our town (Denver), but within a year we were signed, then touring the country…and the world.  It happened so fast and seemed so powerful that it was hard to question wether or not it was something that God had ordained for us.  But after many years, most of the guys started getting married.  Instead of touring with eight people, which was difficult enough to orchestrate, we had wives and kids as well.  As our popularity waned, so did our willingness to travel with such an entourage, and it became increasingly difficult to tour constantly like we were having to do to make ends meet.  We also grew tired of playing mainly just for Christians, which was largely a product of our record label’s influence.  So about ten years ago, we formally broke up.

It’s weird going from something that works, something that you know God is behind, to seeing it dwindle.  For me, I felt very lost soon after FIF broke up.  I had tried to put together a type of “super-group” with Sonnie, one of our guitar players, and it fell apart.  I had one class left to finish my biology degree-a genetics class that I took my Junior year and found out that I needed more than the C- I had received for my degree requirements.  And when I took the class again, I got ANOTHER C-.  Then, I broke up with my second fiance’.  I was lost.  Our old record company president reached out to me at that point and asked if i wanted to create a new band to do the one thing that both of us regretted never being able to accomplish-breaking into the general market.  We made one of my favorite albums ever, and tried to make it happen for two more years, but it was like butting my head into a brick wall.  Nothing worked.

The one good thing that came from that debacle is that I met my wife while we were recording.  After the new band fizzled, she encouraged me to finish that one class, and somehow I pulled out a B+.  I graduated, and took the first job I could with a biology degree, as a laboratory technician in a genetics lab.  It sucked.  After a few more career turns, I went back to school to become a nurse at the prodding of my wife.  So, that’s where I am now.  I’ve been a nurse for four years.  In the meantime I finished the last album for our Five Iron side-project, Brave Saint Saturn.  And recently, we have reformed Five Iron Frenzy on a pretty limited level.  

Schwab: It’s in our DNA that men find a great deal of meaning in our careers (check out the curses in Genesis 3, for starters).  But today, many guys are having difficulty determining their “calling” in terms of work.  And as a result, they are having a hard time finding contentment.  From your experience, what is the relationship between calling, career, and contentment as it relates to dudes?

Roper: I really wish I had an easy answer for this. The main thing that I have found, is that we as a society-and particularly as Christians-are obsessed with “finding our calling.”  Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s just that we have made such an enormous deal out of it that we all expect to become the president one day, or superheroes.  If that were the case, who would be the dads?  Who would fix our clogged pipes?  It’s easy to overemphasize our need to find our “calling” and then imagine our calling as being something that the world sees as fantastic.  I think the greater challenge is to look around at where we are, be aware of what brought us to that point, and try to find God’s presence in that. I really don’t believe that God makes mistakes, and I think he has allowed us all to become who we are today for His purpose.  I believe that there is a reason most of us are stuck in jobs that go nowhere, or living out what the world sees as average and menial.  If we want to be content, we need only to find God in that.  Really, for me, when we were touring the world, I was never content.  I still felt like we should be doing better, and that we could always do more. I feel that now as a nurse.  I felt it as a student.  We can always push ourselves harder, but that doesn’t necessarily make us content.  What makes me content are small things…like getting a good nights sleep, or a good cup of coffee, or a great conversation, or really having a worshipful moment with the Lord, or high-fiving my two-year-old daughter.  When those things come around, it doesn’t matter what job I am doing, or where I live, or what my prospects for the future are.  God will take care of that stuff.  You may end up doing something that is not grandiose in the obvious sense.  But I do want to throw out that I think that when God calls you to something, it will scare you.  It doesn’t have to be orthodox at all. And you’re right.  It is in our DNA to never be satisfied with what we produce in our vocations, but we do gain satisfaction from the DOING of those jobs. That is where the meaning will come from.

Schwab: I think much of what you said hits home.  In my experience, contentment isn’t found when you put too much stock in your circumstances, because your circumstances will always change.  It isn’t found in a dream job, no matter what it is, because you will always be craving something more by worldly standards.  Really, I’ve found contentment is linked to faithfulness in the small things and thankfulness in being provided for.  And speaking of being provided for, many of us guys seem to have a real issue in that arena specifically.  We think if we are making a lot of money it means we are living out our true calling.  And likewise, we tend to think if we are not making good money, we must be doing something wrong.  How big of a factor should finances play in our career direction, as Christians?

Roper: We represent a God who was born in a barn, who become a carpenter, and then humbled Himself to become a homeless preacher, walking from town to town to heal the sick, and then was executed between two criminals. That is our example. There is a vast difference between “muzzling the ox while he is treading out the grain” and driving a Lexus.  A man cannot have two masters. 

Schwab: What about the believer who works in public ministry, or a Christian organization?  As someone who has worked in the Christian music industry is there a line that should be drawn between public ministry and commerce, and what would be the Biblical basis for such a line?  In other words, for the man who makes a living either directly or indirectly from the gospel, is it wrong to equate success with wealth?

Roper: I have struggled with this from both sides.  When you work for the church, you are beholden to please the church itself and its members to earn a living.  When you work for yourself, you are usually broke. The Apostle Paul both said that it was okay to get paid for ministry, and went against his own advice by keeping his day job as a tentmaker.  My advice is to pray about it.  Some people in ministry love their jobs and feel like they are given every bit of freedom that they desire.  Some, like myself, can’t stand it, and have to keep their day jobs.  As far as ministry vs. commerce, I think it’s okay to do get paid for your ministry-up to a point. There is a point when you are taking advantage of the weaknesses of others to make money, and that is wrong.  In fact, it is the one thing that Jesus actually got violent about.  He chased the money-changers from the temple for doing what a lot of church leaders are doing today.  

Schwab: What do you think is the biggest challenge or obstacle that young, Millennial men face today in determining their calling? 

Roper: There is too much noise.  It is so hard to quiet all of the voices that are vying for our attention.  I think it is important to separate yourself from the noise, and just listen to God sometimes.  Press on.  If it was easy, you wouldn’t appreciate it when you got there.  If you feel stuck, pray about it, and then look for God in the small things where you are.  And enjoy the small things. Give your kids a high-five.  Go have a good cup of coffee.  Be at peace.  God is in control. 

You can visit Five Iron Frenzy on Facebook here.  You van visit them on the web here.

Read excerpts from The Tin Soldiers here, buy a copy in print here, and as an ebook here.

 

 

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About Andrew Schwab

Andrew Schwab is the author of five books and has written for publications which include Relevant Magazine, Time/Life, HM, CCM, and Alternative Press. He has spoken at over two hundred festivals, conferences, churches, schools, and fellowships all over the world. His band, Project 86, has sold nearly 500,000 albums worldwide.

  • http://facebook.com/peacemercutio Andy Lundman

    Thanks so much for this article! It spoke to me right where I am. My band is about to leave on our first legit tour and I tend to get so nervouse about being able to afford it and worrying about normal relationship stuff in the band. I also have a normal job working AV and get very little fulfillment from it. I tend to get restless and anxious about all of these things but I forget to be still and know that He is God and He’s got this.

    Thanks for both of your music and your ministry. Both of your bands have been incredibly instrumental in both my passion for music but, more importantly, the forming and solidifying of my faith and relationship with God.

    Love you guys! God bless! Hopefully I’ll see you on the road!

    Andy Lundman

  • Justin

    Thank you. Dealing with this right now and I am encouraged by this.

  • Andrew Nash

    Amen.

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/tmcaspersen Tor Caspersen

    Good article.

  • Todd Denham

    It’s so encouraging to hear about topics that I’m dealing with from two Godly dudes with two varying personal stories in their lives. I’ve listened to Five Iron and Project since the 90′s and I can say I was inspired by both your bands back then enough to attempt my own music odyssey this past decade. I had started a semi-successful band and followed it’s many stages for almost 6 years never really feeling fulfilled with how things were going. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that felt the Lord leading me away from this thing that I had worked so hard for so long to make happen. But the more I brought it up the more I knew it was right. When I handed the reigns over to my good friend to carry on I was rewarded by seeing the band take off and become even more successful in a far shorter time by the fact of me having left it. However, I personally have spent the last year in 4 different day jobs trying to find the thing God has been leading me toward. I truly have faith that God works all things out for the good of his people and to his own glory in the end, but it is always encouraging to hear of the same trials and fights of faith coming from two people that I admire very highly. Which is obviously another way God is encouraging me through this time as well. Thank you both for sharing! Just what I needed right about now. God Bless!

    • http://www.jasoncarr.com Jason Carr

      Wow, what a humble response to an arguably difficult situation. I can see your love for Jesus and your relationship with him through those words.

      Also very much appreciated the article…lots of wisdom there coming from Schwab and Roper. It’s great to see that my old (and occasionally current) habits of pouring over the lyrics to Project and Five Iron songs have not been unfounded.

  • http://www.cctruckee.com Eric Montgomery

    Love you, Schwab. Love you, Reece. You guys are real examples of the love of Christ in an industry of plastic. I’m a pastor, employed full time, and wholeheartedly agree with what you guys were discussing. I hold very loosely on my title, position, and paycheck, knowing that at any time God may choose to change all that, but the one thing I do know is that no matter what He has me doing, I will be serving Him still. Maybe not within the confines of the church, but serving Him nonetheless. I completely agree with Reece that when God puts a burden on many peoples’ hearts, their inclination is to look for the grandiose position that will astonish others in their lives. When most of the time, the calling of God is in the everyday things; that we would be found faithful to love and serve those God has already put in our lives. And if we ARE faithful in those things, our rewards will be the same (if not more) than those with the “high and lofty” positions. And for one more “agreement” here, most of us need to turn down the noise. Turn off the TV, go outside and spend time with family (whoever that may be to you) and with the Lord.
    Thank you again guys!! This was super encouraging!

  • Matt Shockey

    I was very, very encouraged by the thoughts of both Schwab and Roper. However, I noticed that, in the small, this-is-who-I-am biographical paragraph, it seemed really important to include, “His band, Project 86, has sold nearly 500,000 albums worldwide.” I know that a press -agent might have written this, not necessarily Schwab himself, and that LOTS of other Christian writers/bloggers/preachers/musicians do the same thing. So I don’t mean to be harsh or single anyone out. BUT, doesn’t that statement about 500,000 albums being sold sort of undermine one of the central points of the interview with Roper? “Our identity is in Christ, not in our job titles, income, accomplishments; and we need to be content with the everyday and God is giving us meaning in the mundane…but I just want you to know that my band has sold 500,000 albums.”

  • Matt Shockey

    In addition to my first comment…I also want to admit that I’m guilty of doing the same thing in my own life, just on a less-public scale, which makes me no better. I so easily give in to the temptation to name drop a fellow musician I used to be in a band with and is now quite famous, or how many books I’ve read, or whatever. I have to apologize to God for this daily, and the growth has been slow :)

    • cody

      The “About Andrew Schwab” section gives the author credibility. If you did not know who Andrew Schwab was you might want to know about some of his accomplishments before you took any advice from his blogs or listened to any of his points he might be trying to get across to the reader. I feel it does not “undermine” any of his points. It is the same type of stuff you would see on a resume.

  • Kirsten

    I believe that God also blesses those who serve Him faithfully and honestly. I personally, want Five Iron Frenzy to have the success of Justin Beiber if they reach more people with their talents and message. How they use that “wealth” is between them and God. They deserve success for the talent and joy they give to many many fans!

  • http://leftoversenjoy.blogspot.com L Kyle

    Well put. I would encourage all men to have an eternal perspective. The things we think matter here on earth will not matter for eternity. No one in heaven will care that you were famous on earth because their eyes will be fixed on Christ. And God will only care that you were obedient to what He called you to. I tell my two sons that it doesn’t matter if they are garbage men or the president, if they are not obedient to God it will be all for not. The problem for me is taking my own advice ;).

  • Asklionheart

    Really appreciate this


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