Pointing people to the Cross

Greater Vision sings at Sand Spring Baptist Church on November 18. From left are Gerald Wolfe, Jon Epley, Rodney Griffin and Chris Allman.

Greater Vision’s Jon Epley talks about legendary trio’s mission in its music

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. — Jon Epley could only break into his Kentucky country boy smile as he described the schedule he’d been keeping with Greater Vision in 2021.

“We have been so busy,” the Ohio County native said. “In the last two months, we have done 42 concerts. We had ninety concerts canceled last year so this year we are making up for it.”

It’s another way of saying COVID might take the acclaimed trio off the road for a while but it will not silence its message.

And that message is why Epley, Rodney Griffin, Chris Allman and group founder Gerald Wolfe travel around the United States. They are carrying on a tradition that has been going for 30 years, singing the gospel of Christ at churches and arenas or anywhere they can.

And it’s all about pointing people to the cross of Jesus. They are songs like “For All He’s Done” or “I Never Could Praise Him Enough” from the 90s and re-recorded on the latest CD, “The Journey,” which was released this year. And there are more recent songs like Epley’’s “You Are My King” on the same CD.

Fordsville, Ky., native Jon Epley sings during Greater Vision’s concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church on November 18. (All photos by John Herndon)

Whether those who hear Greater Vision sing are wandering through life without Christ or have been faithfully following Him for decades, Greater Vision’s message is to point them to Calvary. 

“Yes!” Epley exclaimed when asked about that observation. “That’s what we try to do. We try not to sing many songs, if any, that are just ‘fluffy,’ I guess you would say, songs that don’t really say anything. We try to always pick songs or write songs — all the songs that Rodney writes or Chris writes or I try to write, we try to say something. We try to have a message of encouragement or salvation. We try to do that with every song.”

With the world seeming to be crumbling before our eyes, the gospel message resonates every time it is presented. To the normal Greater Vision audience brimming with the faithful saints, the message of hope in Christ is especially sweet.

“I think discouragement is greater than it’s ever been right now,” Epley observed. “I think it’s because the old devil knows his time is limited and he’s attacking Christians and Christianity right and left. We see so many discouraged people, so if we can encourage them to keep serving the Lord and keep smiling and keep their heads up, then, hey, we have accomplished something.”

Epley, who grew up the son of a minister in Fordsville, added that the COVID-19 pandemic that forced cancellation of 90 Greater Vision dates last year has hurt churches deeply but there is a light in the darkness.

Jon Epley sings at Sand Spring Baptist Church on November 18.

“The church took a hit from COVID and so many people got used to sitting at home and watching church and now they don’t want to come back,” he said. “And then I believe that the people are really on fire for the Lord, they are more excited than ever because they were away for a while. Now that we are back, they are excited because they appreciate it with a new appreciation.”

Epley says he and Greater Vision have personally seen that passion. When we talked, Greater Vision had just delivered a concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church, near Lawrenceburg. While the auditorium was not packed, the crowd was one of the largest at Sand Spring in 2021. 

That November 18 crowd was enthusiastic and involved as Greater Vision performed for more than 90 minutes and mingled with the audience during a 20-minute intermission. While every crowd is different, the enthusiasm is almost universal.

“We are seeing some places sold out again,” Epley said, “but when you have an event like this and then you have a year like 2020 where you have to skip them, for some reason, it throws people off and it’s hard to get them all back in the routine of coming again. So, I am really hoping Larry (Briscoe, one of the leaders of the Sand Spring concert ministry) and everybody can build this back up to what it used to be because this has always been a great place.

“Tonight, I thought, it was a great crowd.”

Greater Vision brought one of the concert season’s largest crowds to Sand Spring Baptist Church on November 18.

And the message was all about Christ. There were songs proclaiming him as Savior. There were songs proclaiming Him as Lord. And there were songs challenging the listener to deeper and more effective service. There were songs preaching salvation and songs preaching encouragement.

Like most nights, different songs touched different people. “Every night, someone will come up and say, ‘We cried,’ and they will mention a certain song. The next night, it will be a different song that will touch somebody. 

“I know Gerald has always wanted to do songs with a meaning and a purpose and so that is what we try to do. We try to pick songs like that.”

It’s all about the message even in an era when critics predict the death of Southern Gospel music. But, Epley says, the criticism is not new.

Nor is it valid in his mind.

“We hear that over and over,” Epley said. “They say, well, it’s all old people and it’s dying off. But if you go back and watch concerts from 50-60 years ago, it’s all older people. It’s always been a more mature audience. Teenagers like stuff that’s fun and you know teenagers can’t relate to songs about troubles and trials, but as you get older you desire to hear songs about the troubles in life and the struggles and so gospel music always reaches that older audience. So I do not agree (that Southern Gospel is dying). In fact, I feel a resurgence of gospel music coming back on.”

Jon Epley has a deep love for singing about Christ.

That’s the thirst for the good news and encouragement of Christ. And Greater Vision is part of one of the most successful projects of lifting others up in the church today.

It’s the Gospel Music Hymn Sing, a series of concerts that bring together some of the top names in Southern Gospel for a night of praising the Lord with the old hymns of the faith. 

It was Wolfe’s vision to encourage older Christians when many churches have abandoned the hymns in favor of a more contemporary sound. “Gerald saw that and had a burden about that,” Epley said. “He said there are so many people sitting in the pews that miss those songs.  So we see people coming and they are crying. They haven’t sung those songs, the hymns, in church in years. They sing the songs and it brings back the memories and they love them.”

The ministry extends to nursing homes across America. “When Gerald got on the bus and said he wanted to do (the hymn sings), he said there are 15,640 nursing homes in the United States. He said I want to mail a free DVD set to every one of them. We thought it might take a lifetime, but in less than two years, the Lord brought the money in and we mailed out 15,640 sets of hymn sing DVDs to every nursing home in the United States. The letters that we have heard back have been amazing.”

A new DVD was taped at Lee University in the summer and the next event is scheduled for New Year’s Eve at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn. On the program that night are Greater Vision, The Mark Trammell Quartet, The Mylon Hayes Family, The Whisnants and Jim & Melissa Brady. 

Several Hymn Sing events are scheduled for 2022 around the country. 

Epley, who now lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, said Greater Vision is off the road until that night but will stay busy until then as they prepare for another great year of sharing the gospel in 2022.

Whatever that brings, you can be assured that it will all be about the message of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Greater Vision is getting ready for a big Hymn Sing in Morristown, Tenn., on New Year’s Eve and looks forward to a great 2022.

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