A Better Love

The last few years have been sweet ones for Drew and Ellie Holcomb. Their band, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, which also includes Rich Brinsfield, Nathan Dugger and Jon Radford, has enjoyed the kind of success other musicians dream about. They regularly sell out shows in venues around the country, their latest album “Chasing Someday” debuted on the Billboard 200, their single “Live Forever” was used in the NBA’s kickoff commercial, and their music has been featured in shows like Parenthood, House and Oprah. Furthermore, Ellie’s ep “Magnolia” reached #1 on the iTunes Christian/Gospel charts.

While this commercial success brings the Holcombs tremendous satisfaction, they reserve words like “honor” and “privilege” for their work in Young Life. With strong ties to the mission through Drew’s family history, the couple has played on more than 40 weekends and nine camp assignments in the last six years. They also stay involved with their local Young Life area in Nashville, while constantly traveling with the band.

Last year, that travel consisted of more than 240 days. Drew and Ellie take it in stride, joking that life on the road is like the movie Groundhog Day. Ellie said, “You’re just eating at a different Chick-fil-A each day.”

In one such Chick-fil-A in College Station, Texas, the Holcombs recognized one of their fans (an increasingly common occurrence these days). “She was a Capernaum friend named Wendy,” Drew said. “We saw her and said, ‘Wendy?’ and she screamed, ‘Drew and Ellie! Come to our club! Stay with us!’” It was a touching reminder to the Holcombs of how their influence continues to spread.

“The Valley”

Every summer Drew and Ellie open their hearts to the thousands of kids they see at camp. Just like Young Life leaders, the Holcombs earn the right to be heard with kids they don’t know. They build much of this trust through their music.

“Music is something that speaks to a lot of different people and, like humor, it can cross great divides and break down walls,” Ellie said. “I was amazed that kids who didn’t really know us would come up and say, ‘This is my story.’ What an honor to be on the receiving end of hearing kids’ brokenness. It’s then we can speak of Jesus, who handles brokenness better than anyone.”

As with the talk progression at camp, where the speaker leads kids through the Gospel over the course of the week, the Holcombs also use a musical progression to help kids experience the good news through song. “It’s a marriage of the music and the speaker,” Drew said. “It’s not about us, but about our place on the team.”

Ellie said, “Each week Drew and I sing ‘The Valley’ after the sin talk — it’s a place of crying out to God for rescue. The next night after the cross talk we all sing it in club, and I can’t get through it without crying — ever. Seeing kids singing, ‘Come and find me in the darkest night of my soul.’ It’s a pretty holy and humbling and beautiful moment ... It’s such an honor to be a little part of a kid’s story.”

The impact of the music doesn’t end at camp, however. “Kids associate their camp experience with our music,” Drew explained. “Ellie always says our music becomes the soundtrack to their salvation. Because of that, the music has a lot of personal meaning to kids and also to leaders, who see their kids go home listening to the CDs they’ve bought at camp and singing ‘Better Love,’ rather than the flavor-of-the-month pop song.”

“I Like the Way You Hung the Moon”

Drew and Ellie know their marriage is also a powerful part of their message. “Kids are automatically drawn to someone who can play music and sing,” Drew said. “But they’re also drawn to the fact that we’re married and do it together.”

Ellie added, “We’ve learned so much from each other. I meet with a couple of leaders and they’ll ask, ‘What’s a Christ-centered relationship look like?’ It’s about me having Christ as the center of my life and Drew having Christ as the center of his life and the two of us coming together, and learning and encouraging and sharpening each other.”

“As well as giving each other space when needed,” Drew said.

“Grateful for Your Love”

The Holcombs’ Christ-centered marriage also shines back home in Nashville, where they serve on the Young Life committee.

“The committee connects us to the local work,” Drew said. “We want to be a part of building something in Nashville. For us, being on the committee is a way to be part of a support team for good leadership. Our area director, David Ott, is doing great work. The area has started Capernaum and urban work and we’ve hired a WyldLife director.”

“Committee work is a massive faith effort because we’re all young working people. Almost everything we do on committee is a dream. ‘Should we try this?’ Through David’s leadership and the committee’s work, we’re in a healthy area. We don’t just want to meet the budget and survive. We’re not here just to keep the machine running. We want to thrive.”

“Committee teaches me more about prayer than anything else,” Ellie added. “We’re not able to be there for every meeting, because we’re out of town so much.” Four years ago the Holcombs moved around the corner from “one of the toughest high schools in Nashville,” Ellie said. “I told David, ‘I dream about having Young Life there. I tried to break down doors, meet with people and get things started, but realized we can’t really lead that.’ It broke my heart and David said, ‘Why don’t you just pray every time you pass that school for someone to lead it.’ So I prayed for about four years.

“I’ll never forget the day David called and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but there are two men who’ve raised $80,000 to bring on an urban staff guy, and they want to start at Stratford High School.’ I just burst into tears. Even though we can’t be there, we can talk to Jesus anywhere.”

Committee has become a place of community for the Holcombs. Ellie said, “We just laughed so hard at our last committee meeting and it’s such an opportunity to see God answer prayer.” Undoubtedly, the folks on their committee would say Drew and Ellie are an “answered prayer” all their own.

“Live Forever”

The Holcombs’ involvement with the mission seems natural, when you consider the part Young Life has played in Drew’s family history. His grandparents, Chubby and Marge Andrews, met during the early days of the mission. In the early stages of courting, Marge “invited” Chubby to attend a Young Life weekend with her, where Jim Rayburn was speaking. She made it clear that if he chose not to attend, their relationship might end before it started! A reluctant attendee, Chubby heard Rayburn share the Gospel, and began a relationship with Christ.

Rayburn and Chubby struck up a friendship that weekend and, over the years, Rayburn continued to care for Chubby and his faith. One time he went as far as driving from Dallas to Chicago where Chubby was a surgeon. While Chubby worked, Rayburn donned scrubs, too, and taught the young believer how to study the Scriptures. The Andrews caught the Young Life bug, and helped bring the ministry to Memphis in 1943. Their children grew up immersed in Young Life; one daughter, Nancy, married Hamp Holcomb. One of four children, Drew was born to Hamp and Nancy in 1982.

“Because Young Life is such a part of our lives, our songs are a natural fit,” Drew said. “We didn’t write ‘Live Forever’ for Young Life; it was written for my nieces and nephews, but it was written from the perspective of the love I have for them that I learned from Young Life. My parents were Young Life kids. The way they do life is relational and people-driven and patient. It just spills out.”

One thing’s for sure. The Andrews/Holcomb legacy is rare: Next year marks the 70th year the family has been involved with Young Life.

Drew is especially thankful for the role the mission has played in his life. “My life would be a colder and lonelier place without Young Life,” he laughed, “because I literally wouldn’t be here without it!”

Want to know more about serving on committee like Drew and Ellie? Please contact your local Young Life office!