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Musician Trades Fame for God’s Purposes

Debbie White


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Growing up, Kurtis Parks had one dream, “I just wanted to be adored. I wanted to be a rock star. I am writing songs to be famous.” 
In 2004, at the age of 21, Kurtis thought his dream was coming true. He had just passed the audition for "American Idol.” He was ecstatic. He was on his way to Hollywood. “I thought, 'Okay, this could be the big break. This could be the moment!'"

Kurtis grew up a preacher’s kid in the small mountain town of Salem, Virginia. He showed a talent for music at an early age, a talent his parents encouraged him to pursue. His father was convinced God had given him this “gift” for a reason.
Kurtis remembers, “My father said, 'We are going to start a church. I don’t know where or when, but when it happens, you are going to be our worship leader.'" 

His dad was right. By the time he was 15, three years after giving his life to Christ at a church summer camp, Kurtis was leading worship at his dad’s church. It put him in the spotlight and he liked it. “When those accolades and praise came, it was all absorbed. It was like, 'Okay, I’m good, I’m awesome at this, right?'"

By the time Kurtis left for college at Virginia Tech, his dreams had far outgrown the walls of the church. He saw his future filled with recording contracts and concert halls filled with adoring fans. He formed a band at school and they were a hit around campus. Playing in clubs and at parties, they even opened for national acts like Sanctus Real and Howie Day. Kurtis says, “Anytime I could be on stage, I just loved it.” 

Meanwhile, Kurtis continued to lead worship at church. “I would still call myself a Christian," he says, "but I didn’t pray much. I was just going to church, going through the motions.” Then, 2004, Kurtis auditioned for season 4 of “American Idol” and punched his ticket into the first round of competition. Although he made it to the top 50, Kurtis was eliminated. “I thought this was it. I was so devastated. I’m 21. I thought my life is over.”

Back home, it was his dad’s encouragement that fueled the young man’s desire to keep going. Kurtis remembers his dad’s wise words. “He said, 'Hey, if this isn’t what God has for you, just imagine what He has. He was probably referring to worship, but in my mind, I’m thinking, all right, I’m going to get famous some other way.” So Kurtis recorded his first album and in 2005, he signed with a small record label. Having recently married, Kurtis moved himself and his new bride, Sarah, to Nashville. Kurtis says frankly, “I am still really selfish, I am still going for fame, and that is all I want in life."

Then came reality. Kurtis was on the road constantly, performing and promoting his album. The weeks rolled into months, and then years. While Kurtis would have some success, his dream of stardom always seemed just out of reach. Kurtis says he will never forget that painful time. “It was just utterly disappointing. You keep justifying it, like, 'Hey, it is going to happen one day, but that day never comes.”

Kurtis never expected that a life changing opportunity would arise in 2007 that had nothing to do with achieving fame or success. A mass shooting occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech. In the wake of the tragedy, students, parents, and professors turned to one of their own to write a song to help them process the pain and grief. It was Kurtis'. The lyrics, “with questions on our minds, we wonder where the future lies, so we look up to heaven with hope in our eyes," comforted students, the families of the victims, and resounded well beyond the campus.  

Kurtis says he never expected such a hurge response. “We were getting hundreds of emails from students saying, 'This song is what is getting us through this season.' And we were invited to play the song at funerals and fundraising events, with all proceeds going to the families of the victims. Major radio and television outlets asked to use the song to help tell the unfolding story.” Kurtis says he finally started to realize what his father had been saying all along. “I had no idea a song could do this for people and maybe this is why God gave me the gift of songwriting.”

Now God had Kurtis’ attention, but the real breakthrough was still months away. In 2008, he was invited to another well known television program, “American’s Got Talent.” Kurtis admits, at first, he was tempted, “This is the turning point of my life. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is everything I have ever wanted.' But God was doing something in my heart. For the first time, I listened to that still small voice that warned me about going down the path to fame and stardom. So, I said, 'Okay God, let’s try it your way.'”

Several days later, Kurtis fell to his knees in prayer. He says, “It was a true repentance moment. I’m just over and over again saying, 'God, I’m so sorry, I am so sorry.' Everything started to make sense, like God was showing me that I am here to write songs that make Him famous. And the peace I experienced at that moment was overwhelming. I finally realized that I didn’t have to strive anymore.”

Kurtis is now a father of two, and uses his gifts and talent as a worship leader and song writer to bring glory to God. He says, “All of us are given a purpose, and until we walk in that purpose, life is going to seem futile, like an endless pursuit. But when you surrender to God, then you will find peace, then you will find joy."

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About The Author

Debbie White

Debbie is proud to be a “home grown” 700 Club producer. She gives all the credit for her skills to mentors who are the “best in the biz”, and a company like CBN that invested in developing her talent. Joining CBN as a freshly minted college graduate with a BS in Psychology and the zest of a new Christian, she was eager to learn television. Over the next 20 years, she held many challenging roles, but found her “home” producing testimonies for The 700 Club. Like Eric Liddell as he ran in “Chariots of Fire,” she feels “His pleasure” when she produces one of God’s life-changing stories.