WHAT I REALLY WANT TO KNOW... AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKEY NEEDLEMAN
1. Tell our readers a bit about Mikey Needleman. ministry, marriage, family, etc. I have been involved in music and youth ministry since my high school days. Upon graduation from college at Kansas State, my music was really flourishing and I took a position at a parish in Overland Park Kansas as a youth minister. I then moved on to classroom music teaching at a Catholic grade school. I married my best friend, Allison, in 2012 and we had our first child MJ the next year. By 2014, my music was providing so much for my livelihood, that I went freelance for a while, just booking opportunities of all kinds in music and ministry—very often both. This was a scary time because while God was providing plenty of opportunities for work, there was always uncertainty of income—especially with our second child, Anderson on the way. In 2016, I was called back to work on staff for a brand new Church in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas later to be named St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Olathe, KS. I am the Director of Evangelization and the Director of Worship for this BRAND NEW Parish. We are currently meeting in a public school gym on the weekends for Mass as we continue to grow and prepare to build a permanent church. We are currently at 700 families, and the population of the area is growing every day. On top of all of that, I am often asked to speak and play music for events all over the country. 2. Were you involved in music and ministry before you met your wife? Yes, I got into music ministry when a youth minister asked me to play guitar at his church for Sunday Mass. I continued to stay involved for the remainder of my high school days. When I went to college, I found myself performing at secular gigs as well as staying involved with the diocese providing music where I was needed. I met my wife shortly after I accepted a position as a youth minister, but we met at a secular concert I was playing and became best friends almost immediately. We didn't actually start dating until a couple years after, so she was well aware of my schedule and my lifestyle before we even started a romantic relationship. Which was a huge deal for me, because I was free to be myself because she already knew me.
3. How do you balance ministry responsibilities with marriage and family life? The balance of ministry, music, and family is tricky because, for me, it's almost hard to compartmentalize the three. They are all so closely connected and move with each other. Sometimes I need to put a special focus on one of the three, but often if I ignore one, the other two are affected negatively because I am not fully living out my vocations. My wife's support and understanding are the most important things to keep this ministry/career/vocation thriving. She is a self-employed hair stylist, so her schedule is also somewhat fluid. We also have family in town on both sides of the family that are very willing to assist with whatever our family may need. All of those things work together to make the big picture a possibility; we are very blessed!
4. What do you prefer: electric or acoustic guitar? Drums! No joke. While I RARELY get the opportunity to play drums, I feel like I am a drummer trapped in a guitarist's body. I feel the most alive when I am playing drums. BUT! Alas, there are much less opportunities for a drummer to lead worship, so I stick to acoustic guitar when I lead worship and perform as it gives the most natural versatility and is familiar to the congregations.
5. What guitar do you use to travel with? What is your dream guitar? The current guitar I play and travel with is my Taylor 614 CE. And I love it. With the amount of gigs I play (usually about 250 a year if you count Sunday Masses), it's next to impossible to keep it adequately humidified, clean, and free from dents, dings, and scratches. So it looks well traveled, and I am constantly having to get work done on it, but she still sounds great and plays wonderfully. I am very thankful for that guitar. Dream guitar? Hmm, probably a Custom 24 Paul Reed Smith Electric. Charcoal Blue Quilted Top. I could never afford it and I would actually rarely play it, but it truly is a beautiful work of art.
6. How do you write a song? Melody first? What about lyrics? Typically, I have the subject in mind first when I write a song. Is this a love song? Is it a communion song? Is it a responsorial Psalm? Etc. Then I write the chord changes and melody ideas to fit that style or emotion that should be felt for that song. When it comes to Church songs, I try not to come up with anything new and profound lyrically, because the profoundness of the Church is already sufficient. I also run the risk of writing accidental heresy if I start stirring up the words and make it too creative or artsy. So the lyrics have already been written throughout the past 2000 years (more if you consider the ancient writing of the proverbs and psalms). I just find new ways to present them, like puzzle pieces to bring together to show the beauty and truth of Jesus that is unchanging. When it comes to more secular songs, I typically just try to have fun with the words, melodies, and chords to keep the listener interested and wondering what's going to happen next, which is really fun!
7. How many records/CD’s have you released over the years? I have four recordings that are on iTunes, Spotify, in production etc., all Short EP's, 5-6 tracks each. I also had a basement produced CD that pops up every once in a while that I wrote and recorded between 2002-2004 in college. Its funny when somebody requests one of those songs, because often I have forgotten how they even go. The last three EP's were published by World Library Publications (WLP) over the past six years and are very liturgical and written with the liturgy in mind.
8. Tell us what advice would you give to someone who feels called to do music ministry but has a family. I would really consider inviting their spouse into that conversation and discernment. And discuss what kind of levels of ministry there are (small groups, parish youth ministry, diocesan events, regional ministry, national and international). It truly is a team effort and without that support for the spouse, it just isn't going to happen the way you expect it to. God gave you your spouse and your calling. If they aren't syncing up, it isn't going to work. But I would encourage ALL couples to consider getting into some type of ministry together and start at the local, parish level. From there, you'll be able to start to feel how God is calling you out of the boat further and where he is leading you. But do it with your spouse's hand in your hand the entire time.
9. What is the greatest compliment you have received concerning your ministry? When something I have done has moved somebody toward the sacraments, that is always something that I feel is the biggest compliment. Many conversations have started with music and end with an invite to Mass for a nonbeliever or a fallen-away Catholic who then ends up going through RCIA. As a youth minister, when one of my teens went into seminary and citing our times together as part of that discernment or a parent that is moved to go to confession after decades of being away when hearing my talk at a parish or something, that’s a great compliment. These things happen often, they aren't due to my words; they're because of the Holy Spirit working in my ministry. The compliment is that God would allow me to be a vessel for Him to work through, and the blessing to be able to see the results of His work.
10. We were talking the other day about playing worship music and being a worship leader. What is the difference? Sometimes, we are just playing uplifting, positive music for a group to enjoy and be inspired by. For example, at a church festival or youth rally, we are playing worship music as background music or a way to get people pumped up. That's just simply playing worship music. That's easy and doesn't take a ton of intentionality. It's when we LEAD worship, that it gets more intense and intentional. For example when we are leading music for adoration or for Mass or something, our job isn't to show the congregation Jesus; He is already there. Our job is to help lead the hearts of the congregation closer to Him. The right song selections, mood, and ability to pray the lyrics so that the congregation takes their focus off of you and enters into this deep prayer—that's leading worship. And there isn't a specific perfect way to do it. Leading worship is, in itself, a prayer and a movement of the Holy Spirit.
11. Did you ever second guess your calling as a music minister? Like all the time. I think that's natural. I think half of it is lies from the evil one, and the other half is insecurities and acknowledging your faults and inadequacies. But just as often I witness the fruits of my calling, and it tells me "you're in the right spot." That is very affirming. You just kind of have to stay humble but also press through those insecurities because the work of God isn't supposed to be easy.
12. How has your family and marriage impacted your ministry? I think that when I got married, like my awareness just got so much bigger. When I became a father, I realized how much tunnel vision I had in a lot of aspects of my life. Being a husband and a father has opened my eyes to see unfathomable depths of God's love and His hand in my life. The love of a bride, for example, was something I had never experienced and reflects the love that God has for His Church. When I met my son, my heart was just overwhelmed with a new feeling that reflected the love that God has for His children. And my music is affected by all of that. Not to say that "now I get it." It's more like "now I understand how much I don't get it." And that gives me hope because there's so much more that God has to reveal to me that I had no idea about.
13. You have a job with a parish, a traveling ministry, along with family life; how do you balance your time? What are your priorities? Remembering my primary vocation of being a husband is the main thing that I have to do. I have to keep my wife in the loop for all the reasons I described above. When I do that, I feel like it helps me to see where I need to put my focus. I also have a pastor that is very supportive of my family needs as well as my national ministry needs. If everything plays nice together, it can all work, but I have to be intentional to my wife and family first.
14. When you write music and minister, how do you keep it fresh? How does it not just become another show? I think that reading new books and listening to new music really helps to spark inspiration. There's so much content out there that inspires me to write and minister. And that conversation of content that is constantly being absorbed starts internal dialogue and creates angles that I've never considered before. That's what starts the creative process and then I kind of let that all marinate and it starts to come out in my talks, conversations, and my music.
15. What do you want people to remember after coming to one of your events? I always want people to know that God has an unfathomably beautiful plan for your life, one that you could never create for yourself. And that can be somewhat frustrating, but also comforting knowing that you are the lead character in His love story for you. All of my messages tend to point back to this overall trust in the Lord's perfect plan.
16. How many kids do you have? How old? I have two boys: MJ (Michael Jordan) who is four and Anderson Blaise who is two.
17. When you record music, do you play all of the instruments? Lately, I have been blessed enough to have band members that are much more talented than me in a lot of ways. So I let them play their instruments on the recordings. But early on, yes, I was playing quite a bit of the instruments myself. I like playing a lot of the instruments but try to leave those to the professionals.
18. Do you travel with a band most of the time, or do you do solo concerts more often? Out of the 150 events I did in 2017, I did about 80 of those with the band. Usually the big events are with the band. But also, I feel that each event, depending on what the goal of the event, can benefit from discerning proper the amount of production, gear, sound, etc. to accommodate to the feel of the event.
19. How long have you been doing ministry full time? I have been doing ministry as a career for about ten years now.
20. Where can people find out more about your ministry and how to book you? www.MikeyNeedleman.com is the best place to get all the info and reach out to me. But if you google my name, you'll find all kinds of stuff. My email is MikeyNeedleman@gmail.com
21. What question do you wish I would have asked? What are some obstacles that affect your ministry? Insecurities, the physical limitation of my voice, tiredness, the attraction of selfishness and sin, the amount of hours in a day and days in a week, the cost of recording and traveling, just to name a few. Ministry is hard! That’s not something people like me like to talk about, because we want to have the impression that we have it all figured out. But there's been a few times that I am flying to an event with absolutely no voice because I had eight gigs over the past five days and I am just absolutely spent. But I don't have the choice to say, "I'll just sit this one out." So I put on a smile and do my best fully knowing that I wasn't physically able to give my best. It's in those moments of weakness that I need the comfort of the Father and my family.
22. What question do you regularly get asked that drives you a little nuts? How long have you been playing guitar? If I said eighteen years, would you believe me? If I said five years, does it matter? If I said two weeks, would that impress you? Usually that question is followed up by somebody then telling me how long they have played or how long one of their family members has played guitar. It's not a big deal, but to me it's an empty question. It's twenty-one years, by the way. I know—I should be much better.
23. What is next for your ministry? We shall see. I just pray that God puts me where I am supposed to be, and that I can trust in that. I pray that God gives me the courage to take certain steps if I am supposed to and the humility to stay put even when I want something that He doesn't. Maybe I'll be playing music at the Vatican. Maybe I'll be playing music at Mass every Sunday. As long as that's where I am supposed to be, I am happy.
24. How do you grow stronger as a husband and father? Prayer to St. Joseph, often. I also try to read a lot of books that deal with authentic masculinity and attend men's retreats and conferences. It's much easier to just like "check out," and allow the world to spin and not care. But we are called to be the spiritual leaders of our home and to intentionally live life with passion and purpose.
25. Do you have any family activities you do for Lent? We are going on walks this Lent. We are going to try and go on one a week. It's a little thing, but hopefully will give us more time as a family not in front of a TV. I am excited to hear about what's going on in my wife's heart.
About Mikey Mikey Needleman has always had a heart for speaking to people about the things that make life worth living - Hope, Truth and Love. With his unique style of real life story telling, Mikey engages audience of all ages and sizes. Mikey has been leading and speaking to groups when he began getting involved with youth groups in high school. Once college came around, it was decided - Mikey would become a youth minister upon graduation. Mikey, continued to expand his ministry in the meantime, working for various churches and ministries to grown in his speaking abilities. Upon graduation, Mikey was immediately hired as a youth minister where he lead a youth group for 4 years, all the while continuing to expand his music ministry and be invited to serve other groups all over the nation. God continued to call Mikey out of the boat when he became a classroom music teach at a local elementary school as he was being called deeper into freelance ministry. Mikey has served as a youth minister, music school teacher, a music minister, worship director and is currently the evangelization director at St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Olathe, KS.