After the concert ends and the fans leave, one person heads to the hotel with the rock band Third Day; their minister.
He prays with the five musicians, advising the men, all in their 20s, how to handle the adoration of teenage fans. They confide in him about relationships with their new wives, with each other, and with God, who they believe wants them to spread his message through music.A few Christian rock bands, including Third Day and 1998 Gram-my winners DC Talk, have pastors who travel with them to help them practice the message they preach.
The pastors don't think of themselves as enforcers. "I try to stay away from that definition," says John Poitevent, Third Day's 27-year-old road pastor. "I am not a spiritual watchdog or a spiritual policeman."
Instead, Poitevent and Michael Guido, a pastor from Nashville, Tenn., for the group DC Talk, say they form friendships and build trust with the musicians. Guido also tours with Audio Adrenaline and Jars of Clay.
Such pastors also offer suggestions for better spiritual living on the road, says Frank Breeden, president of the Gospel Music Association based in Nashville. The GMA, which announces the annual Dove Awards, recently elected a chaplain for the industry.
"These bands are well-known celebrities to their fans and beyond their fan base," says Breeden. "There come the temptations of fame where, in any given day, you are prone to feel like you are above normal morals and society. I know these bands, record labels and managers are very concerned about this."
Four years ago, scandal hit the Christian music industry when Michael English, named best artist by GMA in 1994, returned his Dove Awards and left gospel music. His departure came after he admitted to an affair with gospel singer Marabeth Jordan while both were married to others. Jordan, pregnant with his child, later miscarried. English is now trying to launch a comeback.
Such cases, Breeden says, caused the gospel music industry to address the artists' spiritual side.
For Third Day, that means Poitevent. He leads Bible study every other day, prays with band members before and after concerts and offers individual counseling with musicians and crew. "He's helping us stay focused on what we know God has called us to do," says guitarist Brad Avery.
After touring for a year, the band hired Poitevent. Since then, the musicians have written a mission statement to shape business decisions with secular record companies in a competitive Christian music industry.
Avery compared the band's need for a full-time road pastor to the body's need for food. "You can only run so much on one meal. It's the same situation spiritually," the 26-year-old says. "You go to church. The pastor speaks a message from God . . . if that's all you do one time a year, it's probably not going to do it for you."
Poitevent sees his ministry a bit differently. "What Third Day really desired was somebody who could be there for them," says the pastor, wearing jeans, Birkenstocks and a T-shirt at The Atlanta Vineyard, a church in suburban Dunwoody where he has an office. "These guys can't go to church because they are on the road. I'm a pastor for a church of five."
Paid positions such as Poitevent's may be rare. Indeed, he and Guido claim to be the first paid road pastors in the country. And training appears to be equally rare. An Internet search of Web sites for major Christian colleges turned up no such programs in the United States.
Not ordained by a denomination, Poitevent attended the School of Evangelism of Youth with a Mission, an interdenominational missions organization in Tyler, Texas. He then trained in New Orleans for an inner-city ministry.
Poitevent heard about Third Day when band members were still in high school in suburban Atlanta. And he met drummer David Carr in 1993, on a mission trip to Monterrey, Mexico.
Poitevent kept in touch and became friends with the band, leaving Texas for Atlanta with only $20 after Third Day offered to pay a full salary. But the pastor decided to draw half his income from donations from friends and churches, and half from Third Day. He declines to disclose his salary.
On the job for just more than a year, Poitevent is as flexible about his duties as about his finances. Before concerts, he often acts as a roadie, setting up lights and doing other chores. He also counsels a couple in another band and hopes to serve as a road pastor or find a colleague fro a group of teen musicians.
A singer and guitar player, Poitevent considers this road ministry a calling that mixes what he loves to do. Yet that also presents the toughest challenge. Touring with his congregation at least 20 days a month, he often must draw the line between being a friend and being an authority.
"There's time when I crack the whip," he says. "If they get attitudes that are out of control, I just say, `Hey man, you know, you're a leader. You can't afford to have an attitude because other people are going to follow you."