One half of the duo, Across the Sky, Justin Unger was touring with big-name Christian acts. However, life on the road was taking its toll on Unger and his marriage and he began to pray . So in 2003, he did the unthinkable—he gave it all up to become a worship paster. After offering his music career on the altar, God gave it back to Unger, not only leading worship but with his latest album, Disengage. The bouncy album was recorded over six weeks as Unger traveled from his home in Prescott, AZ to Nashville. Disengage is a call for Christians to leave their agendas aside and disengage with the world, so they may find who they are in God. It takes someone like Justin Unger, who was willing to give it all up, to tell a story like this. And because he’s a stand-up guy, Justin agreed to “Take 5 with Backseat Writer.”
Like you, I remember being a teenager thinking I must have done something horrible as a Christian because the whole “Christian life” wasn’t as joyful as it was marketed. It was hard and other teens would say the cruelest things about my faith. I’ve heard other teens talk about the same thing. Why do you think teenagers and other Christians feel this way? Also, do you think this is one of the reasons some walk away from the faith?
I absolutely believe that this is one of the key reasons why some Christians walk away from their faith. It’s called suffering. Suffering for Christ is part of God’s plan for us to be like Christ. Although at times it seems so hard and unbearable, persecution for our faith is one of the healthiest ways to grow. God is so faithful to give us the strength we need and confidence we need to persevere in those times no matter how hard and painful/ What an honor or suffer in this world for the one who suffered so much for our sake. John 15:18 says “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet, because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” When I remember all that Christ went through for me, it makes my trials seem so small. Hallelujah!!
Disengage seems like a funny album name from a guy who clearly wants us to engage with Christ. So what’s the story behind the album and the title track, “Disengage”?
The simple answer to this question is LUKE 9:23! “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake. To what advantage is a man who gains the whole world and is himself destroyed or lost.” Although the word “disengage” seems a bit negative, it is so fitting according to this passage to describe our role as Christ-followers. We are called to disengage from ourselves and this world and then, like you said, “engage” with Christ completely. WOW!
When reading your biography, I couldn’t help but think of when the Apostle Paul wrote that he considered all things lost for the sake of knowing Christ. It seems like you were willing to give up what you thought would make you happy and give you money, but instead you found more happiness being in the center of God’s Will. Why are we so afraid to trust a God who knows us intimately with our lives and our careers?
I believe a lot of times we get caught up in our flesh and the enemy uses those opportunities to get a foothold, which causes us to stumble. Instead of surrendering all we have to Christ and letting Him write the story, we like to take the pen out of his hand jot down our plans. Let’s get personal here–in my grandma’s bathroom back home, there is a little picture frame with a quote that says, ” If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I think if we can continue to surrender our plans and our earthly desires to the Lord, he will honor and bless us in ways we can’t imagine.
You have a really neat website at JustinUnger.com, complete with chord charts! Was it important to you as a worship pastor to make your music reproducible for corporate worship? Additionally, has being a worship pastor changed the way you write songs?
Absolutely! As I continue my journey as a worship pastor, I am driven to use and create songs that can minister to the entire body of Christ and not just the one here in Prescott. As I continue to write songs, I feel led in a way to connect with the worshipper on a personal level. Although worshipping with music can be done in many ways, God has given me a passion to be creative and think outside the box.
What are one or two songs by another songwriter you would love to cover on a future album and why?
“You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham and “If I Stand” by Rich Mullens. These are two of my all-time favorite songs, but I have an entire list of songs that I love by other artists. [Amy's note:: "If I Stand" by Rich Mullins is my all-time favorite song!]