Joel and Luke Smallbone, the brothers who make up the Christian band for KING & COUNTRY, have a special connection with Southeast Christian Church—one that extends beyond the walls of the church.

“We don’t have another relationship with a church like Southeast in the rest of America,” Luke Smallbone said. “So, it’s a really special thing to be able to be in Louisville.”

For KING & COUNTRY will bring its Burn the Ships tour to the KFC Yum! Center Saturday, Nov. 23, and they have asked Awaken Worship, Southeast’s music ministry, to open the show.

“We’re so excited and honored to partner with our friends for KING & COUNTRY right here in Louisville,” said Matt Bayless, Southeast Worship Arts pastor. “They have been a welcome presence each time they have come to Southeast—both for their great music and humble hearts really impacting our church in so many ways. We invite our Southeast family and the whole community to join us as we kick the night off in worship!”

Awaken will play several of its original songs, such as “Light My Way” and “Kiss the Wave.”

“We’ve been coming to Southeast for years and to see that the church is contributing to music through Awaken Worship has been cool to watch,” Smallbone said. “When the Renaissance was taking place, it was taking place through the church. The arts were led by the church. We’ve lost that way a little bit. Music is no longer led with its creativity from the church. If we’re in touch with the Creator of the world, then our creativity should be good. When you have bands like Awaken Worship, it’s cool to see that it’s coming from the church. The church is saying we need to have a place in creating excellent art.”

Smallbone said for KING & COUNTRY has played in Louisville about 12 times in the last nine years. The band last visited Southeast in May for Celebrating 30 Years of Ministry with Pastor Dave Stone.

“Whenever you visit a place like Southeast, it’s not the building that makes you feel welcome, it’s the people that make it feel like home,” Smallbone said. “A lot of times we go from place to place, and we are seeing strangers every day. To be able to come to a place where you already feel known and accepted and loved—that’s one of the greatest gifts.”

Louisville is the second-to-last stop on for KING & COUNTRY’s 2019 North American tour.

“From the production side it’s the most elaborate show we’ve ever put together, but inherently, we want it to be the most personal because the whole idea of ‘burn the ships’ is about leaving the past behind and leaving yourself no option than to move forward into a new day,” Smallbone said.

“When they come in, we want people to feel this intentionality and this weight that hopefully something significant will take place in their lives tonight.”

‘Burn the Ships’

The title track of the “Burn the Ships” album comes from a story about a Spanish explorer who landed in unknown territory in the 1500s and then gave the order, “Burn the ships,” so his men would be committed to their mission, to go forward and not look back.

“We don’t want to live in the past; we want to move forward,” Smallbone said. “There are things in everybody’s pasts that you have to get rid of—in some cases physically burn and in other cases you just need to get rid of them however you can emotionally. For us, that is the title that represents this collection of art and work best.”

Smallbone said we probably all have met people who never seem to change, even for years on end.

“We’re designed for change and progress … to grow and to mature,” he said. “If you live in the past, you don’t allow God to do a new work in your life.”

Smallbone wrote “Burn the Ships” about his wife’s past struggle to overcome an addiction to anxiety medication.

“Whether the song is successful or not, I’m so proud she is willing to share her story,” Smallbone said. “She said to me, ‘If God would take my panic attacks, He can have my story.’”

Hope Collaborative

A portion of the Nov. 23 concert’s proceeds will benefit Hope Collaborative, a church-based community development organization aimed at uniting local churches around the cause of meeting felt needs and addressing the root causes of those needs within the community in the name of Jesus.

Hope Collaborative, a Southeast local missions partner, provides a public school outreach program, which mobilizes the church to serve in public schools as mentors and volunteers, and Hope Place, a community center in South Louisville that offers after-school and summer programs for school-age youth, job training, adult-education classes, a women’s fitness center, microenterprise opportunities for refugee and immigrant women and community events.

“The impact of Hope Collaborative across greater Louisville is tremendous already,” said Jay Schroder, Southeast Missions Local Partner team leader and Hope Collaborative board member. “Hundreds of students from multiple school districts now have life-transforming relationships with loving adults. Immigrants, refugees and neighbors in the Beechmont neighborhood have opportunities to learn skills like English, sewing, construction or dance while more importantly building community to overcome trauma and most importantly experiencing the love of Jesus.”

For more information or to serve with Hope Collaborative, visit

Through adversity

While starting to work on their album four years ago, Joel and Luke Smallbone looked back at their previous album, “Run Wild,” to see which songs people connected with. The common thread among their most popular songs was that Joel or Luke had a personal connection to the stories in them.

“We challenged ourselves on ‘Burn the Ships’ to make every single song on the album have a personal story,” Luke Smallbone said. “People want something that is authentic and real. Some of the greatest moments in my life have come through significant hardships. If I didn’t have those things take place, I’d be stuck.”

One of Smallbone’s most intimate songs, “Need You More,” came out of a near-death experience with his 2-month-old son, Leo.

One day while Smallbone was cutting grass, his wife, Courtney, came running outside screaming, “Call 911,” as she cradled Leo, who was blue from lack of oxygen. Courtney prayed over and over, “In the name of Jesus, bring back my boy.”

Miraculously, Leo took a big gasp of air and started breathing again as they were waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

While Smallbone was driving alone to the hospital after having his brother Joel come over and watch his other kids, he began singing a tune: “I need you more, more than ever before.”

“It was just my soul’s longing,” Smallbone said.

Smallbone recorded the tune on his phone, and that recording, with road noise included, became the basis for “Need You More.”

Leo is healthy now, and doctors aren’t sure what caused him to stop breathing that day.

Dynamic duo

Joel and Luke Smallbone have been performing together for more than a decade, and Luke doesn’t foresee ever having a solo career.

“Joel is one of my best friends in the world, but we are very different. We have learned to embrace our differences and partner together,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do music alone. Things don’t work so good without us together.”