Back to Work
By the end of the 1976 break, “Acts” had redefined their ministry. Both questions, “Should we continue?” and “Do you feel that God has called you to this work?” were answered in the affirmative by everyone. Furthermore, by taking the year off from touring as a group, they’d learned a number of personal lessons: how to better appreciate each other, and how to allow each person freedom to be himself. Consequently, 1976 marked a major turning point in their ministry. Following their recommitment, “Acts” went back into the studio to record The Roar of Love. Says Annie, “For the first time we had fun in the studio, and that came from a new sense of freedom and release.” Part of the fun could be attributed to the fact that the studio in which they recorded the vocals did not have a window through which Buck could see the singers. Normally, while recording, Matthew loved to “cut up,” laughing and goofing off until the second the “Record” mode was triggered. Yet because of his incredible vocal ability, he could still hit his notes. Meanwhile, Annie and Nelly would be convulsing in laughter, and Buck would be fuming in the control room. On The Roar of Love, since Buck couldn’t see the singers, he never knew what was going on behind the partition. Although the album was completed, the release date of The Roar of Love would be long delayed by contractual and copyright problems. Yet, the detours proved to be providential.
Birds of a Feather
About that time, Billy Ray Hearn left Myrrh to begin building a new record company, intent upon ministry. He phoned Buck one day to ask him if he had any ideas for a name for this new company. “We’re thinking of ‘Chalice Records,'” said Billy Ray. “What do you think?” Buck thought for a while before suggesting “Sparrow.” Why Sparrow? “It’s a bird that can fly high, but there’s a humility in the sparrow, and simplicity,” Buck explains. “The Bible says the Lord’s eye is on the sparrow.”
When Sparrow began, “Acts” was among the first of many artists to sign-on. The albums Through a Child’s Eyes (Annie’s first solo album), Mansion Builder, and The Roar of Love (which they were finally free to release) quickly followed.
Matthew also recorded his first solo album for Sparrow. The album was intended to be titled Matthew 18, a humorous “take-off” from the name, “2nd Chapter of Acts,” and referring to the fact that Matthew was then eighteen years old. A series of delays held up the album’s release, and it was finally re-titled, Toward Eternity.
Despite the delays, Matthew’s first solo project produced some powerful music, including songs like “Hold On,” “It’s Alright,” “Noah’s Song,” “Angels Unaware,” and “Summer Snow.” Several songs on the album were written especially for Matthew by renowned songwriters such as Michael Omartian and Keith Green. Beyond that, the album was the first project on which Matthew enjoyed freedom to experiment with his wide-ranging vocal styles. “Some people say I sound like two different people between the “Acts” albums and my own solo work,” says Matthew. “In a sense, that’s true. In the “Acts” arrangements, I was always singing the third. And, I wrote very little of the material, especially in the early days. On my own projects, I do a lot of different things.”
Their relationship with the founders of Sparrow Records was one of the most influential factors in the “Acts” ministry. Annie and Buck readily acknowledged the impact of Billy Ray Hearn and his wife, Joan, both upon the group and in their personal lives. They’re one of the most sensitive couples we’ve ever met,” says Annie. “Our whole purpose was to minister, and the Hearns understood that. Billy Ray desired to start a record company of music ministries, not just Christian recording artists.”
Buck credits Bill Ray with teaching him the record business. “The wonderful thing I quickly learned about Billy Ray was that I could trust him. When we first signed with him at Myrrh, I knew nothing about the record business, so I asked a lot of questions. And Billy Ray always gave me an honest answer. Even if the answer was not in his best interests, he always told me the truth.”
Because they refused to “go with the flow,” “Acts” was often perceived as a “radical” group. Actually, much of their “stance” just ran counter to the direction they perceived Christian music to be heading, toward commercialism and to a focus on “Christian super-stars.” “We created real problems for Sparrow in the early days,” Buck recalls, “because we didn’t want to be interviewed by certain magazines, or be on the cover. We didn’t want to do anything that smacked of self-promotion. We didn’t think it was right to use superlatives, because those drew comparisons. All we wanted our record company to do was to put out the information: ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts has a new album.’ That doesn’t make it easy for a company to promote a product. “I would much prefer the days of our beginnings to what we have now,” Buck continues. “There wasn’t anybody clamoring to do what we did, or what ‘Love Song’ or any of the other early ‘Jesus Music‘ groups did. There were no ‘charts’ for us to be number one on. Contemporary Christian music charts didn’t exist. I think it’s sad that, today, Christian music has become an industry rather than a ministry. I don’t really know the answer to this—We used to fight against it continually, and we got ourselves into a lot of hot water. We tried to avoid those things that, in our view, were not edifying to the Body of Christ. “Now, we have so many magazines, music charts, and popularity contests, it all has the potential to put ministries in competition with each other, rather than coming alongside and working together for Jesus.”
For a similar reason, throughout their ministry, “Acts” usually shunned most of the major Christian music festivals. Besides being a sound-technician’s nightmare, the outdoor concerts did not lend themselves to their concept of their ministry. “We always felt that we were the strolling violinists walking by the table where the two lovers-Jesus and His Bride-were seated,” Buck reveals. “Our role was to encourage the romance. But it’s tough to be romantic with Frisbees whizzing by your head. Consequently, we felt our ministry was more effective indoors.”
An “Acts” concert was designed to usher the audience into a worship experience. Annie notes, “We believed God had called us to be a wooer of the Body of Christ, so they could come and be loved by Jesus and be healed.”
In the early years, the emphasis was primarily upon evangelism, but then the Lord led “Acts” into a broader ministry, building up believers. Buck contends, “One of the greatest revelations we received from the Lord was that we were not primarily called to preach people into the Kingdom-although we almost always provided some sort of opportunity to meet Him. In most every concert, people did. But we felt He was telling us simply to let people see Him, and let them enjoy His love, and new believers would be born into the Kingdom of God.”
“Acts” sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading was not accidental or peripheral. Throughout their ministry, they would gather each January to pray and seek God’s priorities for that year’s ministry. Annie recalls: “Some years, He’d tell us, ‘You are going to be planting. You will be harvesting in three years, but this year you are going to plant.’ Another year He’d say, ‘This year you are going to be ushering people into the presence of the Holy Spirit,’ or “This year is going to be a year of deliverance.'”
One such “word” came to the family during a time of prayer in 1977. They sensed the Lord telling them that, starting in 1978, they should no longer depend upon ticket sales for support of the ministry, but that they were to return to doing “offering only” concerts. God promised that He would meet all of their needs if they would trust Him. This was no small step of faith, considering the enormous expense of putting twelve people and equipment on the road from city to city, plus supporting the group’s members and families. In addition, “Acts” determined that the offerings should be divided equally between the local concert sponsors and themselves. If a sponsor did not receive enough to pay expenses, 2nd Chapter would take money from their portion of the offering to reimburse the promoter.
That year, every need was met. “Acts” ministered to more people than ever before-their audiences nearly doubled in number, and more people came to know Jesus than in any previous year of their ministry.
Prayer was an important key to “Acts” success. Each morning while on tour, the group gathered in one of their hotel rooms to read a brief passage from the Bible, to share from their hearts, and to pray together. “One of the reasons we did this in the morning,” says Annie, “was because by the time we got to the concert hall, there was so much to do, too many distractions.”
Still, when the 2nd Chapter of Acts bus and truck arrived at the auditorium, prayer took priority over unloading. “We’d gather in a circle on stage and pray again. We’d asked for protection, so nobody would get hurt. We’d pray over the auditorium, too, to establish the Kingdom of God there,” Annie recounts. “Then right before the concert, we’d have one more short time of prayer-a ‘flare prayer’ we called it. We’d always invite the stagehands to join us, and many of them did. Some of them came to know Jesus.”
Because of their emphasis upon worship and exalting the Name of Jesus, “Acts” often found themselves thrust into spiritual warfare, even before the concert began. Again, there were no “how-to’s.” “There were no pat formulas,” says Annie. “We just attempted to stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit. When we encountered evil, we dealt with it by pleading the blood of Jesus.”
On one occasion, “Acts” was scheduled to minister in a movie theater. The same complex housed several other theaters, in which the owners where showing raunchy films. As Buck recalls, “As was our custom, we took time to seek the Lord before the concert. But as we prayed, we just felt slimy. Then the Lord spoke to us and told us to proclaim the blood of Jesus. “We began to pray-loudly, in the name of Jesus, against any evil principalities and powers in that place. As we did, a horrible odor permeated the auditorium. It had not been there before we began praying. But as we continued praying, the odor went away. That night, the largest number of people to date came to Jesus during the concert.”
In 1981, “Acts” moved from California to Texas. The group had been seeking some space where they could build homes, as well as a central headquarters for their ministry. Also, they wanted a more central location, so they could redesign their touring schedule, hoping to cover the country in shorter tours. It would also enable Nelly and Steve Greisen, married three years now, to spend more time with their son, Andrew.
During the summer of 1980, the group visited their friends, Keith and Melody Green at the new headquarters of Last Days Ministries in Lindale, Texas. A piece of property next to Last Days was for sale, and before long the 2nd Chapter of Acts and Last Days were neighbors.
The group had been living in Texas slightly more than a year when tragedy struck. Their good friend, Keith Green, was killed in a plane crash, along with two of the Green’s children and nine others. “Acts” was in New York, ministering at a street crusade with evangelist, David Wilkerson, when they heard the news. “Keith’s death rocked us,” says Annie. “We all felt our vulnerability like we never had before. We just wanted to wrap our arms around Melody and the others at Last Days, to let them know how much we cared.”
Looking back, Buck believes a high standard for all of Christian music was lost at Keith’s death. “I think Christian music would certainly be different,” Buck says, slowly and quietly. His love for his friend is obvious. “And probably it would be better had Keith not been killed. The music ministers would be better because Keith held up such a high standard. It required everyone else to raise their level of integrity, to measure up.”
Annie remembers a softer side of their friend. “In 1981, Buck and I lost a baby because of a tubal pregnancy. It was one of the toughest times of our lives. We had to fly home empty-handed, with heavy hearts. When we deplaned at the airport in Dallas, there were Keith and Melody and another friend, Winkey Pratney. They’d brought Keith’s bus to pick us up at the airport. When we arrived at our home, there were flowers all over the house, and a huge sign that said Welcome Home!”
In 1983, “Acts” took a full year off from touring, to seek new strength, new direction. This break was far different from the one they’d taken years before. They had no question about continuing as a group; it was a matter of stopping the hectic travel pace long enough for the Lord to do some restorative work.
As Buck recalls, “God told us, ‘I have some surgery I want to do on you and you need to hold still.’ Holding still meant not running all over the country, but to be at home where He could communicate with us on a more personal level.”
Although they spent the time at home, 1983 was still a busy year. They built their own recording studio that year. The same morning the studio was finished, “Acts” began cutting tracts for the album Singer-Sower, which contained songs such as “Takin The Easy Way,” “Spin Your Light,” and “Room Noise.”
For Matthew, 1983 was a very important year; he and Deanne Paul were married in September. For the Greisens, the rest allowed them time to enjoy parenting the two boys Andrew and Jesse. As Nelly recalls, her family came to the forefront of her priority list. “The Lord was showing me that He cares about every detail of my life. My ministry to God is not just standing in front of people singing. My ministry to Him is simply to have a heart filled with love and gratitude to Him, expressed in whatever task I’m doing. “God is far more concerned about who we are-our character-than what we’re doing; far more concerned with our attitudes than our actions. “I think wives and mothers especially need to understand this, because we deal so much with the mundane. Being a mother is very important to God and is a high position in His eyes. We are the hand of Jesus to our children. They learn about God by seeing our commitment to Him, lived out in our homes. We can be pillars of strength to our husbands as we help release the gifts God has placed in them. And we do this by being consistent and available with our love.”
When “Acts” returned to the road in 1984, they felt revived in every sense. “When we went back out in 1984, we were amazed that the arena of Christian music had changed so much since 1982,” says Annie.
Buck felt strongly that part of the explanation for the downward slide was Keith Green’s absence. “It seemed as though once this incredibly powerful standard had been removed, the flood dikes were opened to all sorts of things. For whatever reason, Christian music began to be highly diluted from a spiritual standpoint.” And it seemed that the Lord had a distinct message waiting for them. While ministering at an international missions conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Lord spoke to the group through the leaders of the gathering. His instructions were clear, and encouraging:
God will give you prophetic words to restore the foundations of holiness and purity in the church and in the world.
Make your plans large – God is your partner!
As you sing, I will bring new life into existence.
Move as one. Keep ‘short accounts’ with God and with each other.
God will use the group to encourage Christian musicians and to release other musicians in ethics, love, and guidelines.
Keep your eyes open to the ‘small people,’ stage hands, helpers, and others. Some of your most significant work will be done in these areas.
Pray that God would show you how to give the ‘family unit’ time. He will provide time for the families.
Each one of these messages had a deeply personal impact upon the members of the 2nd Chapter of Acts. Interestingly, as their ministry moved into its final stages, every word that was revealed proved to be true.
“Acts” might never have recorded their best-selling album, had they not been sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction. During one of their last tours, three separate individuals approached them in three separate cities. Yet all three had the same message: “I believe God has a word for you-that you should do a hymns album.” “If one person had something such as this,” Buck said later, “we may have missed it. But when all three brought the exact message….”
Besides instructing them to produce one of their most inspiring albums, God was providing a financial resource for them in advance. When the last concert was sung, Hymns I & II, would continue to sell briskly. “Acts was not the first contemporary group to do an album of great hymns from the past. Nevertheless, everyone involved with the project sensed a special anointing upon the Hymns albums. The arrangements were so fresh, so vital, so filled with life, love, praise, worship-and yes, majesty.
Buck sensed the Lord speaking to him as he and the family listened to the first rough vocal mix of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” As Annie, Nelly and Matthew sat in the studio listening to their voices, Buck heard another. “The Lord spoke to my heart and said, ‘I have chosen you to breathe life back into these songs for your generation.'”
All of the songs that “Acts” recorded had that “special touch,” or else they never made it onto an album. “Other than the Narnia album, in which the songs came over a period of five years, we’ve never written songs specifically for an album, says Annie. “We never said, ‘We’ve got to do an album. Let’s write some songs!’ To me, that concept is backwards. That’s not why you do an album. Only when you have something to say, only if God has provided the music-then do an album.” Nelly agrees, “Recording an album isn’t a goal, it is an end result. When I have something I feel that God wants me to say, I’ll say it, but not until.”
One example of the way such inspiration works is the song, “Fight the Fight,” an inspiring anthem that became a rallying cry for the pro-life movement in America. How did it happen? “Melody Green called and asked if we’d sing in Los Angeles for the kick-off of the Walk Across America Campaign in the effort to save unborn babies,” says Annie. “We were praying about whether we could attend. Our schedule was already packed full. One day I was sitting at the piano and “Fight the Fight” just came to me. We felt that was a clear indication from the Lord that we should go. Then Steve Greisen suggested a multi-artist project that would eventually involve over 100 Christian artist on the song and a video. The project was produced by Steve and close friend Dan Collins and all of them donated their time to do the record.”
Calling It Quits
When “Acts” came together in January 1988, to seek the Lord’s direction for that year, they were stunned but not surprised by the Lord’s instructions to them. The guidance they received was this: “Complete what you have committed to, but don’t take anything new. I have other things I want to do with all of you.” “We’d all felt for a while that a change was coming,” says Annie. “There’s always a stirring when the Lord is about to do something.” Part of that stirring came several months prior to 1988, in the form of a message from the Lord through a friend. The words were simple: “I am going to do something new. Do not be afraid.”
At first, the members of “Acts” kept the news of their disbanding within the family. Then slowly, they began to share the information with their closest friends. “Once we understood what we were to do,” recalls Buck, “I presented it to Jack Hayford, our pastor and spiritual counselor. Jack confirmed what we were feeling. He said that he’d been feeling the same thing in his heart for some time, as well.” Hayford told Buck, “I was excited when you guys were honored with a Dove Award for the Hymns album, because I felt that you would be winding down soon.”
When “Acts” met in January, they had concerts booked through the middle of August 1988. They realized that each concert would be their last in that city. To prevent anyone from thinking that they were attempting to exploit or play upon their public’s emotions, they decided to avoid telling their audiences the news until the final tour was close to completion.
Pastor Jack didn’t agree. “If you came to my town and I didn’t get out to the concert, then later discovered that it was your last concert in my area and I had missed it, I would be extremely disappointed. You owe it to your audience to let them know. Otherwise, it’s not fair to all the people who’ve loved and supported you through the years.”
Once the “Acts” announced their final tour schedule, the response from friends was overwhelming. In every city, they sang to packed auditoriums, and the Spirit of God moved mightily in each concert. “That last time around was unbelievable,” says Buck. “Such an incredible amount of love and support was poured out upon us by the Body.”
“It was heartbreaking, too,” adds Annie, “because we realized that we’d been a part of so many people’s lives.” While Pastor Jack’s reaction to the news of “Acts” break-up was positive, many others remained unconvinced. “Believe it or not, some people were angry that we were quitting,” says Annie demurely. “They’d say, ‘This cannot be of God, because when we sang they could still sense the anointing. So they assumed that we should continue. But we knew. Most people who came, though, said, ‘Hey, we just want to tell you how much your ministry has meant to us.'”
Nevertheless, knowing that they were doing what God had told them to do did not make the final concert-in Houston, Texas, on August 12-any easier.
As Matthew remembers it: “We finished the concert and the 7500 people attending rose to their feet, and clapped and clapped. Nelly and Annie were crying and I was losing it. I think it had finally dawned on us: This is our last concert. This is it!… We weren’t tired of ministering to people or anything. It was just God’s time for something new.”
Where Are They Now?
All of the members of “Acts” continue to be actively involved in ministry. Annie has done solo albums, and doors have opened for her to have a solo ministry in numerous churches. “It’s a much more simple ministry,” says Annie. “In some ways, it is more intimate. It’s just me out there.” Is it difficult to sing without her brother and sister? “Sometimes it is,” Annie admits. “I’m so used to them being there. I can hear what they would be singing. Nelly and Matthew have song backgrounds on some of my albums, though. So in that sense, I still have them out there with me, but I really don’t think we’ll be doing any more tours together-not unless the Lord tells us to do something.”
Ironically, after 20 years of concert ministry, many people do not realize that Annie, Nelly and Matthew are family. People often ask Annie, “Do you know Matthew Ward?” or “Do you know Nelly Greisen?” “Yes,” quips Annie, “I changed their diapers.”
For Nelly who had changed her share of diapers, her life with her growing boys and husband Steve would get a new focus. They moved to Colorado where their lives have blossomed. With the boys grown now and on their own, Steve’s production and distribution company Reel Productions, LLC / Exploration Films keep them busy as a couple. They love motorcycling in the mountains, enjoy diving and serve with the numerous opportunities that come their way. Nelly remains a loving mom who “just happens” to have a great voice for singing. “My greatest pleasure is enjoying hanging out with my two adult boys…and of course my loving husband Steve.”
Matthew has also recorded solo albums since “Acts” retirement, has faced and overcome a bout with cancer and also continues to be involved in full time touring and speaking.
Over the years, Matthew has received several offers for a secular music career, all of which he has refused. “I don’t want to sing dead music,” he says. “Singing in front of people of the last things that I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Matt. “I was always scared to death, nervous and insecure. But that’s probably one of the things that has kept me honest with what I do and not allowed me to get puffed up. Because I realize where I’ve come from. All the while, I’ve known that God was calling me to use my gift for Him. I look at it as an honor. Matthew and his wife, Deanne, are also busy parents. They have three delightful daughters: Megin, Morgan, and Mattie.
What was the enduring message that God gave to the “Acts” to share with the world? “Sometimes we feel like an old record being played over and over again,” says Annie. “The message is the same: To see the Body of Christ healed, and to see people’s needs met. There is hope in Jesus. There is no situation too great that He cannot take care of.”
What does God want to say through music today? Buck and Annie answer almost in unison, “Jesus is Lord!” Jesus was never popular. We can’t make Him ‘more palatable’ to our generation. He was despised and rejected. We cannot put him in 20th century trappings and expect that everybody is going to love Him. He is King of kings and He calls you to die to yourself-that will never be popular.”
“All we ever wanted,” Buck concludes, “was for people to see Jesus. If anything made us different, it was our fervent desire to please the Lord and to be obedient to Him, regardless of the costs. We only wanted to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.'” When asked what burning words God has placed upon their hearts today, Annie and Buck are quick to respond simultaneously: “It’s gonna rain!” Buck elaborates: “The Word of God says that we are to wait for the former and the latter rain, that in the last days God is going to pour out His Spirit. There is coming an outpouring of His Spirit and an ingathering that will make the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the early ’70s pale by comparison. We can see that beginning already. It’s gonna rain!”
Some years ago, at the Christian Bookseller’s convention, “The 2nd Chapter of Acts” sang three songs and sat down. Their songs brought a sense of worship, holiness-a sense that, in the vehicle of three human voices, Jesus was exalted. To hear Annie, Nelly and Matthew sing of Him, their Risen Lord, was almost to see Him…almost to feel His touch.
Afterwards, a well-known and respected man of God approached them and said of the 2nd Chapter of Acts ministry, “The frame never out-did the picture.” “That was our earnest desire in all we did,” Buck finishes. “That the frame would never out-do the picture. And the picture always had to be Jesus.”
This is the end of “The Frame Never Out-Did The Picture”. We hope you enjoyed this history of The 2nd Chapter of Acts.
If you are interested in 2nd Chapter of Acts recordings on CD, or Digital Download check out our recordings page at :2ndChapterofActs.com
© MMVIII 2ndChapterofActs.com
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