By Jennifer LaPrade
Dan Dean of Phillips, Craig and Dean is one of the three full-time pastors who make up Phillips, Craig and Dean, is a family man who loves his church and is doing what God has called him to do. As the son of a pastor, Dean’s spiritual guidance started at an early age. “There have been different points of epiphany in my life where God really broke through,” Dean said. “As a second grader, I recall having a spiritual encounter with God. I remember kneeling at the altar, praying. My dad was there, and I remember feeling God’s presence.” During his teenage years, he felt a distinct call from God to minister. “I never thought I would become a pastor, but I knew God wanted to use me somehow,” he said. Dean’s love of music also started at an early age. Traveling as a solo singer and songwriter for eight years, he performed original songs at small churches and events, and he became a Worship Pastor at his church in 1985.
A new chapter of his life began in 1991 when his friend and fellow musician, Randy Phillips, asked him to be a part of a new Christian music band. The plan was for each of them to invest five thousand dollars, make an album, and then travel to try to sell enough copies to break even. “We didn’t even think it was a real possibility that we could do it,” Dean said with a smile.
Phillips and Dean believed there was someone out there supposed to complete their group. As they prayed for clarity about the third member of their band, they felt led to approach Shawn Craig, a talented Christian music writer who had already garnered musical success. Craig had a Song of the Year, In Christ Alone under his belt.
Since the band wanted to do all original songs, they felt Craig was the perfect fit. Therefore, the group Phillips, Craig and Dean was born. They met in October of 1991 at Dean’s church in Irving, TX and learned three songs each of them had written. The next day, they went to the studio and got a demo ready. Little did they know their small beginning on a foundation of passion was about to catapult them to where they never dreamed of. After recording the three songs on an album, there was a sudden demand for them. Before they knew it, they were asked to perform at a showcase in Nashville, Tennessee.
The year was 1992 and the trio only had their three original songs and only three performances together. This was no standard enough to perform at the Nashville showcase. Rather than pass on the offer, the group rushed to learn some more songs. By the time they performed at the event, they were such a hit that they were signed to their first recording contract a few weeks later. “What happened with us does not happen in the music realm very often,” Dean said. “Obviously, the Lord’s hand was in it. I would say beyond that, we were three guys who were just being faithful at what God had called us to do. We weren’t trying to knock down doors; we were just being faithful. We were all active in the local church, writing songs for our local congregations and singing when we had the opportunity.”
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]wenty-two years later, Phillips, Craig and Dean are still going strong in the Christian music industry. They have had a whopping 21 #1 singles, 13 albums and over 3 million records sold. They have won several Dove Awards. Each band member is still a full-time pastor in their individual Texas churches. “It doesn’t usually happen that way,” Dean said. “It’s just been an amazing journey. First, God’s hand has been on it all. Secondly, it’s doing what you’re supposed to do wherever you are. People don’t see all the years in my 20s when I was singing wherever they opened the door for me to sing. I remember having a concert one time for eight people and still performing a full concert, and I don’t know if they were even happy to be there.” Dean’s advise to those who want to break into the music industry or pursue any kind of passion is to do what God puts in front of them and walk through the open doors. “If it’s His will, he’ll open the rest for you,” he said. “It continues to happen. God keeps showing up,” he concluded.
Dean credits his family and local church, Heartland Church in Carrollton, Texas, for playing a role in keeping him grounded. He has been on staff at the church for 28 years. He started as a Worship Pastor and now serves as the Senior Pastor. When asked if he gets the royal treatment from his congregation, he replies:
“They are not impressed with number one songs; they are happy for me, but they are not impressed.”
Along with his church family, Dean reveals all the hard work he put in also keeps him from taking the success of the group for granted. “I’ve worked really hard most of my life,” he said. “Early on it was applying myself in practice, trying to learn how to be a great writer and surrounding myself with people who were really talented. I heard a friend of mine say, ‘Greatness leaks.’ Therefore, if you can get around great people, it leaks off on you. By the time success came, I wasn’t a young kid. It was with some wisdom and awareness that it was fleeting. It could be gone tomorrow.”
Dean mentions that even through all the success, God made sure to give them all little lessons in humility from time to time. He recalled an example of a 10-concert run in Branson, Missouri where they performed matinee and evening performances at the 2500-seat Glen Campbell Theater. “The theater was spectacular and lavish,” he said. “The first two or three concerts were great, but we walked out on Monday for the matinee concert and there were 25 people there. There were more people in the parking lot to park the cars than people we were supposed to sing to. You learn you’re not all you’re cracked up to be sometimes, but you still go out there and sing and enjoy it. We gave those 25 people in a 2,500-seat auditorium a great show. The Lord has ways of keeping you where you should be” he concluded.
Aside from singing, God blessed Dean with the ability to write songs. When asked how he gets his inspiration for new songs, he revealed “it happens at any time and any place.” Reading the Bible and being out in nature also inspires him. With excitement in his eyes he recalls with fondness, Freedom’s Never Free, his favorite song ever written.
The inspiration for the idea came when he was in Europe touring a battlefield, and came across a plaque that said, ‘These are dead only if we forget.’ This saying became the basis of the song.” Another successful Phillips, Craig and Dean song, There’s Nothing Left to Prove, was written by Dean after he found out his friend lost his father to prostate cancer. He wrote it to commemorate his friend’s father’s wonderful life.
When the conservation moved to how his family copes with his absence, Dean was quick to credit his wife Becky, for being an epitome of strength. He describes how she has been there for the family and how the children now all grown up understand why he was often gone. “There were perks that made up for my absence” he added with a smile.
Another chapter opened in Dean’s life after he received life changing news in 2012. Although he knew he had a high risk of prostate cancer because of his family history, he made it a point of duty to get checked every year. The Saturday he received an early morning call from his doctor informing him he had prostate cancer, was a tough pill he said he had a hard time swallowing. “The word ‘cancer’ is a word that carries with it a lot of negative, faith-killing and fear-inducing thoughts. I’m a human being. To hear those words, ‘You have Cancer,’ was tough. I underwent surgery to remove the cancer and it’s now in remission.”
This experience inspired him to write a song — I Choose to Believe. “What you have to do in a crisis is make a choice because your faith is going to be assaulted,” he advised. “Christians somehow mistakenly think we don’t go through things like this, so we don’t have a choice to make. Am I going to continue to choose to have faith in a God who has for whatever reason allowed my body to be infected with cancer? It’s not always easy, but I made a choice to continue to believe that the God who is with me in the sunshine moments is also with me in the night season” he concluded.
Although Phillips, Craig and Dean are still traveling, Dean makes sure he is home almost every Sunday to be with his family and church. “We have a wonderful group here and I call this home,” Dean said of his Heartland Church family in Carrollton. He also beamed with pride as he talked about his three children and grandchildren.
When asked if he has plans of slowing down soon, he said he plans to continue making music as long as the doors are open. “We’re going in the studio soon to put finishing touches on a Christmas album. I don’t know what the future holds, but I guess as long as people continue to buy the albums, we will probably continue to make more of them. We’ll just see what God has. I’ve learned to never try to outguess what God has. Just walk in step with him and He will direct” he added.
“Proverbs 3:5-6 is my favorite verse” he answered when I asked him. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. He will direct your steps, and that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Dean promises to continue performing wherever God calls him to perform. He related the story of how he recently put on an impromptu, private show at his parent’s retirement home in Arkansas. “Dad gathered a group of folks and said, ‘I want you to hear my boy!’ I sat down at this out-of-tune piano and sang songs. We made about 20 or 30 people happy, including my dad who has always been my biggest fan. I loved it. I’m a singer. When the stage is dark, I’ll still be singing somewhere” he concluded.
Dean describes Heartland Church as a great relational church that feels like a community of friends. His son serves as the Worship Pastor and Dean himself performs musically from time to time at the end of his messages.
His advice to people is to focus on the true spirit of Christianity, which is loving one another and loving God. “Anytime you put your eyes on a man, no matter how good a speaker he is or how talented, you will always be disappointed,” he said.
“If you get close enough, you will see flaws, mistakes, errors and a person in need of God’s grace. That’s all of us. You’ve got to take your eyes off of looking at a person, a structure or a church or any religion. It’s never what Christ’s message was about” he said.
The interview concluded with his opinion of the state of the church today. “Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds,” he said. “I think in the middle of all this dark blackness, the church is going to be forced to come together and set aside their petty doctrinal differences. You see that happening in crisis moments. Titles, positions and denominations don’t matter” Dean concluded.
For more information on Phillips, Craig and Dean, visit their official website at www.phillipscraiganddean.com. For more information on Heartland Church, visit www.theheartlandchurch.com. Heartland Church is located at 4020 Nazarene Drive in Carrollton and holds services every Sunday at 9a.m. and 11a.m.
Jennifer LaPrade is a Dallas based writer.