The Great Reversal - Art Imitates Life as Worship Leader Greg Sykes Crafts Songs of Hope, Redemption
The Great Reversal
Art Imitates Life as Worship Leader Greg Sykes Crafts Songs of Hope, Redemption
“This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.” Mark 10:29-31 (The Message)
God has a sense of humor. Just ask singer/songwriter Greg Sykes. The worship leader has struggled with insecurity for practically his entire life. Yet ironically, Greg finds himself on a stage sharing personal stories and songs with people he doesn’t know most every weekend.
“It’s my worst fear,” admits the Canada native and Franklin, Tennessee resident. “I’ve always struggled with insecurity, terrified to even walk across the front of my classroom if I showed up late to class when I was a kid.” You’d never know it based on the confident way Greg wears his heart on his sleeve onstage with a vulnerability that became the foundation for his ministry and his debut, Reverse (Integrity Music).
While Reverse is his first solo project, Greg has been engaged in the Christian music community for years, co-writing with everyone from All Sons & Daughters, Paul Baloche and Brenton Brown to Meredith Andrews, Leeland Mooring and Jaci Velasquez. His original songs have been featured on a variety of critically acclaimed albums, including Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns of Fanny Crosby, I Am N, a collaboration with Voice of the Martyrs, and Majesty in a Manger, a Christmas album for which he co-wrote and recorded the title track. In addition, Greg is a GMA Canada Covenant Award nominee (Male Vocalist of the Year and Praise & Worship Song of the Year) and winner of a Covenant for Inspirational Song of the Year for his song “Faithful.”
It’s his personal journey of faith that inspires his award-winning songwriting as words and melodies have held the key that unlocked his soul since his early teens. Home was a tense environment for Greg, with his father leaving for a season as his parents struggled in their marriage.
“When I was around 13, my dad moved out of the house, and that rocked me,” he reflects. “I just couldn’t understand why. I think that was around the first time I experienced what, looking back now, was depression. I was just really sad. I struggled to even interact properly with kids at school, but my solace was found in music.”
“I remember sitting on my bedroom floor with the door closed, listening to my favorite songs on repeat for hours,” he shares. “I’d listen closely to the harmony, the nuances of different vocalists’ ways of singing and then, most of all, the lyrics always moved me... I’m so grateful my mom and dad bought me CDs, records and a great sound system so that I could spend time consuming and studying music as a kid.”
His mom also bought him a guitar when he was 15, and Greg took enough lessons to begin playing the songs he was listening to at the time. While he began learning guitar and forming bands with friends in high school, his family life continued to ebb and flow. Despite his father’s temporary return home, the couple eventually divorced, leaving Greg and his younger brother and sister confused and emotionally distressed. “Looking back, I think that was harder on me than I realized,” Greg says.
Following high school, Greg moved out and started working construction in St. Catharines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls, where he still resides today with his wife and two children when the family isn’t in Tennessee. At 19 and on his own for the first time, he found himself despondent and alone one night in his basement apartment.
“Money wasn’t doing it. Attention from people wasn’t doing it, and that was what led me to an encounter with God on a Friday night when I was at the end of my rope,” Greg remembers. “I just said, ‘God, I’ll give you a shot if You’re real, but I’ve made a mess of things, and I don’t know what else to do’.”
That was when he stumbled across a Michael W. Smith DVD his mom had packed in his suitcase when he left home. As he watched the concert video, something began to shift.
“I was overwhelmed with the words he was singing,” he says of Smith. “Right in front of the TV, I got on my knees and said, ‘Okay, Lord, I give you my whole life. I want to use it for You, and I want to do music like that guy’.”
Like a scene plucked from a movie, the following day while scanning the newspaper, he saw an ad for a local church at the bottom of the sports section. “The newspaper read, ‘Need hope or need a new start?’,” Greg explains. “It was just sitting out on the kitchen table, and I thought, OK, I need a new start. I’ll go to church.” From the back pew the next morning, he instantly recognized several selections the congregation was singing, namely “Above All” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart”—songs he had heard Smith sing, songs written by his future friend, mentor and labelmate, Paul Baloche.
Through a series of circumstances only God could orchestrate, the very first Sunday he attended church, happened to be the worship leader’s last Sunday. Gradually, Greg mustered up the courage to audition for a backing role on the worship team. Little by little, he was given opportunities to take the lead, and he eventually was hired as a staff worship leader. That was 15 years ago, and Greg’s been serving in worship ministry ever since. But music wasn’t the only “new start” for Greg. It was at this church that he also met his wife, Pam.
Life was good for the young family as Greg honed his musical talents while also building a successful real estate business. Then, everything was upended as he began to lose his voice and the young couple began experiencing tension in their marriage.
“I was on the brink of losing everything dearest to me… my wife and family and my music,” he reveals. “The doctor said I might not be able to sing again or even talk properly.”
As Greg underwent vocal rehab and he and Pam went through intense counseling, he watched God heal and redeem his voice and his marriage. And he was reminded that Christ is at work in all things, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing. “Sometimes God works in reverse, and the best, most practical example in life is what the enemy means for evil, God has a way of turning it and using it for our good,” Greg attests, referencing the title track of his EP. “The Kingdom of God—the way He works—is so often the reverse of how we would think naturally… it’s so upside down.”
“Reverse” is based on the Beatitudes unfurled in Matthew, which Greg says give weary sinners great hope. “We’ve got a chance,” he says. “If you feel meek, if you feel insecure or weak, it’s okay. Those are the people God uses.”
His five-song introductory Reverse EP is filled with transparent lyrical substance, worshipful moments and expert pop production thanks to renowned producers Seth Mosley (for KING & COUNTRY, High Valley) and Bryan Fowler (TobyMac, Hollyn). Additional songs on the album testify to the ways God chooses to work in our lives and the willing hearts He uses along the way.
“Just the Beginning” finds Greg grateful for second chances as he sings, “This is the start of the rest of your life / This is the moment where love and truth collide… I see redemption with every page that turns.” “I thank God that every moment is a new beginning. Every day, every morning, there’s new mercy and there’s new hope, no matter what happened yesterday,” he says of the track. “I just believe that we’re always at the beginning of seeing what God really has for us. It just keeps getting better.”
Meanwhile, the deeply personal “Impossible” is an ode to God’s ability to overcome our fears and struggles. “This is my testimony in a song,” he asserts. Insecurity is a battle he feels he’ll always fight. “That is the truth up until yesterday, and it just may rear its ugly head at certain points for the rest of my life. But I’m no longer a slave to it. I know who and whose I am… I’m a child of God, loved and enough just as I am.”
No matter the struggles he’s encountered throughout his life thus far, Greg has come to rely on the God who has been with him every step of the way in undeniable ways—a God who may not always do things the way we expect, but a God who never fails us.
“With God, nothing is beyond repair. No situation is hopeless. Often, the things that look like the end for us are the very places God begins to redeem or show His strength and presence in our lives,” he contends. “I just believe that God is always with us in our story, so there’s always hope.”