Staff Photo: Keith Farner Richie Sissom, Shadowbrook Baptist Church's associate pastor for music and worship, credits his mother for developing his passion for music at a young age.
SUWANEE -- From his days in a stroller, Richie Sissom has had a passion for music.
His mother even remembers a time when Sissom belted out a song in the middle of a department store.
Sissom, who has been the associate pastor for music and worship at Shadowbrook Baptist Church since 2007, credits his mother with introducing him to music, what has become a lifelong devotion.
"From the time that child was born," his mother, Michelle said, "all he cared about was music."
Sissom's mother, who was a vocal performance major at Memphis State, helped him see how powerful music ministry can be.
"Without a doubt, she had a significant influence on me choosing music ministry," Sissom said. "Not just for the sake of loving music, but seeing how music can be used to really minister to people. So it's really a love of people and music combined."
The music roots in his family run deep as his mother was named after the Beatles song, "Michelle." She was also offered a contract by Sun Records, Elvis Presley's record label, and lived in the same neighborhood as the King.
As a high schooler, Sissom had to choose between two loves: running and music. He picked music, and as a college sophomore realized it was the right path after he had to have two knee surgeries to repair a genetic defect.
His cartilage, it turned out, had been worn down from running miles for Brookwood High.
"God gave me a painful confirmation that you made the right choice," said Sissom, who was relieved he didn't take an offer to run at the University of Florida or other schools.
While he ran at Brookwood, Sissom earned a nickname at his home church, First Baptist Church of Snellville, "Richie Curtis Chapman," a nod to one of Sissom's favorite artists, Steven Curtis Chapman.
Chapman and Michael W. Smith, two well-known Christian singer-songwriters, inspired Sissom to take his career aspirations to Nashville, Tenn. Sissom didn't make it to Tennessee, but his career path began with a music evangelism ministry.
Sissom recorded an album in the late 1990s, in which he wrote eight of the 10 songs, and traveled the country to perform at youth camps and churches.
Unfortunately for Sissom, the success of his evangelism ministry didn't translate to Nashville recording labels.
So in 2001, when his wife entered physicians assistant school at Emory University, he found a more stable job with a steady income and insurance at Hebron Christian Academy. At Hebron, Sissom developed a student-led praise and worship service. Four years later -- with a baby in the family -- Sissom was called into church music and served at Oak Hill Baptist in Lawrenceville. Sissom worked at Oak Hill for two years before he moved to Shadowbrook.
With a range of jobs in the Christian music industry, Sissom said his career growth has been more about dealing with people. When a staff member serves at a church for several years, they interact with parishioners on a personal level, through celebrations and tragedy, he said.
"Leading them in music is just a small part," he said. "The trials, and if you stay at a church, you're committed to walking through those things with people. Music really becomes irrelevant, it's do you love people? Are you interested in people first? Are you going to minister to people first? The music becomes secondary at that point. If I don't love them, if I'm not going to be there to minister to them, walk through hell with them, then really the music is not going to matter a whole lot."