Meet Ronnie Freeman

Ronnie Freeman reminds me of me a decade ago," says Grammy and Dove Award-winning artist Michael W. Smith. "Heís passionate, devoted to his family and has a real gift when it comes to the piano and songwriting. I think his voice is one the church will really want to hear."

Itís not every day that Michael W. Smith makes a statement like that, but on new artist Ronnie Freeman he couldnít have been more serious. In fact, Smith signed Freeman last year to his now five-year-old label, Rocketown Records.

Freemanís self-titled debut album, on which the artist wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs, releases on Rocketown in May. Born and raised in Montgomery, Ala., as the second of four children, 28-year-old Ronnie Freeman inherited his motherís love of music and at age 7 began playing the piano. By the time he was in high school, Ronnie was writing his own music and participating in both band and chorus as well as singing duets with his mom in their home church. He also took part in the national Fine Arts Festival, an Assemblies of God talent competition.

More recently, Ronnieís served for the past two summers as a worship leader at Northern Californiaís JH ranch. "JH Ranch is primarily a father/daughter, father/son ranch," says Ronnie, "and itís designed to help restore or establish strong relationships between fathers and their children through practical life lessons and biblical examples. The camp also offers youth programs and has just recently opened a mother/teen program. Serving at this ranch has been one of the most amazing experiences of my Christian life. At the end of each program, the campers have the opportunity to share what they feel God has shown them or spoken to them. I remember watching a daughter sob as she poured her heart out and her father coming up right in the middle of it and asking for her forgiveness over not being the father that he should have been. I've heard testimonies of teens who were incredibly skeptical about coming to the ranch but by the end of the week had found freedom from some of their fears out at the high-ropes course. When I think of the phrase ĎGod works in mysterious ways,í I think of the ranch."

Despite all his experience creating and performing music for the camp and churches, for Ronnie, the road to doing music full-time has been full of stops and starts. But itís been a journey thatís found Freeman developing into a man who takes his faith seriously, especially now that heís come to a better understanding of grace.

"Most of my strong relationships growing up came from my family and my church," Ronnie says. "The church was the foundation of my social life, but I never understood grace. I lived in fear that I wasnít saved. Obviously, my relationship with God wasnít foundationally strong. Everything depended on works. I didnít understand Romans 8, and I lived in condemnation."

After graduating in 1995 from Southeastern College in Lakeland, Fla., Ronnie took a position as a music minister/choir director back in his home state. Though friends and family encouraged the approachable young man to pursue his own music as a career, Ronnie admits he was scared to give it a shot. It wasnít until his pastor noted that he envisioned him singing and writing music for young people that Ronnie felt the freedom to chase his dream

"When my pastor told me what he saw me doing with my life, I suddenly felt like an eagle that was unshackled. I realized that I could still minister to the church without being on a church staff, and that my gifts actually are better suited for a career in music."

For the next several years, Ronnie enthusiastically pursued his new dream, encountering many of the typical ups and downs of the music business. "The latter half of the Ď90s found the glitter getting knocked off the idea of a record deal for me. I wanted to write and play my own music, but I was finding it difficult to handle Nashville politics and the folks who wanted to change the way I write."

But that all changed when Smith signed Ronnie to Rocketown. His May 21st debut, produced by Bryan Lenox (Michael W. Smith, Sonicflood, The Katinas), promises ministry-driven songs of conviction aimed to equip the church community. Its 11 tracks are full of piano-based pop tunes that are as uncompromising in their message as they are memorable in their melodies. Fellow songwriter Tony Wood says that Ronnie is not as much a storyteller with his music as a "revealer of beliefs, longings and uncertainties in a heart of faith."

"When I think of the Father," Ronnie say, "I think of mercy. I just feel like Iíve been forgiven so much. I havenít committed the sins the church most easily points out, the external things, but it all comes down to the fact that any sin separates us from God. When I think of all the things I deserve and how He has spared me, I canít help but think of Godís mercy."

While musically Ronnieís most influenced by the strong vocals of such acts as Truth and 4HIM, heís also a big fan of Christian artists like Cindy Morgan, Steven Curtis Chapman and Nichole Nordeman. Lyrically, he has a mission all his own as he hopes to cause believers to evaluate their relationship with Christ. "I think my record is challenging the church to ask, ĎWhat are we doing? Are we sitting still and strictly getting fat off of Godís blessings or are we moving forward with Christ?í"

Married to Leslie and father to Hannah, 4, and Josiah (or Jo-Jo), 2, the Freeman family currently makes their home in Nashville. After opening a handful of shows this spring for Phillips, Craig and Dean, Ronnie will spend the rest of this year supporting the album by traveling to over 100 different cities throughout the United States as well as participating again as a worship leader at the JH Ranch.

Though he loves his new career, Ronnie finds that heís no longer as consumed by a mentality of works when it comes to his faith. Rather, he serves out of a longing to be the man God wants him to be, a man trusting in God to do the ultimate work.

"I donít have to be a superhero. I donít have to go out and save the world because I know that I donít ever determine the results. All I have to do is be salt and light in the darknessóthatís what Iím called to be."

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