Salvationist composer Phil Laeger recently moved his family from Australia to New York. He spent his summer performing in small, intimate gatherings. Prior to a performance at the Kingston, N.Y., Citadel Corps, Laeger spoke with SAConnects (magazine).
When you minister at an event such as this, what do you hope people will take away? When people see me play and hear me sing, my hope is they will see Jesus. I hope the Lord uses me in whatever way He wants to use me when I play at corps and at other places. For each gig, I pray over what I’m going to do. I don’t use a cookie–cutter approach. I sense what God is saying. My goal is to be faithful in what the Lord is laying on my heart. If He blesses somebody, ministers to somebody, gives somebody a word, or encourages somebody in his or her faith journey, then I’ve been a good and faithful servant.
Your music has been used during the Pier Ministry at the Old Orchard Beach Camp Meetings. How does it feel to see your work presented? It’s amazing. It’s great to do music that has a redemptive message in front of people who are not expecting it. We must use all available means to tell people Jesus loves them. It’s fantastic.
What’s your latest project? The latest thing is a side project called “Yes to Yes.” It allows me to do something different with my music. It’s fewer church songs and more songs about relationships. It’s not divorced from my faith, I just look specifically at the relationship I have with my wife. They’re love songs and songs that work through the difficulties of marriage, love, family.
What is God showing you in your music today? It’s the same thing He’s showing me in the rest of my life—that you don’t have to be anything special to be used by God; you don’t have to have any special gifts or talents or abilities or be the best in your field. The Lord delights in humility. God wants you to give Him the best you have. Trust Him to use what you have. Don’t make too much of yourself, but keep your head down and do the work. When I make music, whether it’s on the piano or with my voice or when I write, the goal is to use what I have and trust everything God wants to do through me, He will do. Rather than showcase how great I am or how clever I can be, I just show up and faithfully do the work.
Most people know you best for performing “I’m in His Hands.” What’s the story behind that song? When Commissioner Stanley Ditmer, the author, was close to his promotion to Glory, I got a phone call from my friend, Bernie Dake. He asked if I would do a new arrangement of the song. He sang it over the phone. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Commissioner Ditmer had written it when he was young. It meant a lot to my parents’ generation and was a great source of comfort to them. It’s really cool I got asked to put new music to it.
When did you know God called you to be a musician and composer? I don’t know if I can pinpoint an exact time, but shortly after I graduated from high school in 1995, I was floundering. At that time, I wasn’t active in my faith. One Sunday, someone asked me to come back to church. It was at the Atlanta Temple Corps, but I couldn’t tell you much else about the meeting. At the end of it, I felt I needed meaning and purpose in my life. I knew God was real and everything I had been taught was true. I said, “OK, God, I’ll give this thing a chance.” From then on, I read my Bible and prayed. I already played the piano. I said, “Lord, if you want to use this for something, do it.” As I played, sang, and wrote, God opened doors.
Talk about your early life. I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were officers in the Southern Territory [and were stationed for a time at the training college]. Probably around age five, my faith journey began. At the same time, I started playing piano. I also remember having thoughts about Jesus. The piano was my way to express myself through music.
Who has influenced you? I’m definitely influenced by Keith Green and Rich Mullins, two of my favorites. There’s also been a heavy Billy Joel influence and other guys like Ben Folds. I grew up listening to everything from James Taylor to Earth, Wind & Fire. I’m eclectic. It helps when I’m writing. I can draw from a wide range of influences.
What does the future hold? Right now is a big time of transition for my family. My wife [Sarah] and I have prayed a long time to be on the same page and be able to minister together. She prays for physical, spiritual, and mental healing for people. She loves to worship and to pray for them. She’s also passionate about women’s ministries. We’ve prayed for a ministry we can share. We may be on the cusp.
by Robert Mitchell
— Phil and Sarah Laeger have three children. For more information about Phil’s ministry, visit www.laeger.net.