Bishop Marvin Sapp is a force to be reckoned whether he is singing or raspily imparting beneficial spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. No one would argue, Bishop Sapp has a gift, he can move us in stunning ways with his natural oratory skills for helping us see, savor, and feel the glory of Christ. He has also interpreted God’s message to this generation through song that is purposeful, winsome, and very moving. Bishop Sapp’s preaching not only excites and informs but transforms!
Bishop Sapp was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When he was 9-years-old his parents divorced and the world as he knew it seemed to crumble little-by-little right before his eyes. He found himself rebelling throughout most of his teens and his pent up resentment/anger led to drug and alcohol experimentation. A diagnosis of epilepsy was actually Bishop Sapp’s saving grace. Instead of taking the prescribed drugs that were given to Bishop Sapp, he was convinced that prayers would cure him of his ills and they worked! He has not suffered an epileptic seizure in over 30 years.
Bishop Sapp had always been involved in the church and as a matter of fact, began singing gospel there at the young age of four. He joined a number of gospel youth groups and eventually enrolled at a Bible College in Indianapolis. In 1990, when Bishop Sapp was approached by gospel singer Fred Hammond to join the urban gospel group, Commissioned, as a replacement for a member who had left, he could not refuse the offer. After a six-year stint with the group, Bishop Sapp left to pursue a solo singing career.
The now contemporary gospel artist went on to create the 2007 mega classic and crossover release, Never Would Have Made It from the album Thirsty. The single was named Song of the Year by the Associated Press and continues to be one of the most inspiring and emotion-filled songs ever recorded. Thirsty is Bishop Sapp’s best-selling album to date and is certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The recipient of 24 Gospel Stellar Awards, two Soul Train Music Awards, two BET Awards, eight BMI Songwriter’s Awards, plus 11 Grammy Award nominations went on to record Here I Am in 2009. In 2015, Bishop Sapp was named Billboard’s Top Male Gospel Artist by the famed recording industry publication. Other inspirational gems that Bishop Sapp has recorded–Not the Time Nor the Place, You Are God Alone, and I Believe are all classics that will continue to stand the test of time.
Despite his stellar career successes, Bishop Sapp experienced tragedy when his beloved wife of 18-years, Dr. MaLinda Sapp, passed away in 2010 after battling colon cancer. She was only 43-years-young. The college professor managed his career, negotiated his contracts, dealt with lawyers, executive-produced and edited his videos, MaLinda was Bishop Sapp’s right-hand everything so when she passed, the blow was unbearable. But before MaLinda died, she made her husband give her one last gift and here is what she expressed, “Promise me that you’ll live.”
So after his wife’s passing, Bishop Sapp knew he had to keep going even with a heavy heart because he had three children to raise. Now Bishop Sapp’s two sons and daughter are all college educated and focused on making their grand mark in this world. And as far as keeping his promise to live, Bishop Sapp has forged on by taking his brand to even greater heights.
Besides Bishop Sapp’s duties as the founder and senior pastor of the Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he is an ordained bishop within the Global United Fellowship where he oversees over 100 churches. Bishop Sapp also manages several business ventures, and this year, he added yet another job title to his already extensive resume as a radio show host. He partnered with Superadio to produce the nationally syndicated program the Marvin Sapp Radio Show that is currently in 30 markets across the country.
Bishop Sapp took a breather last year to pen his seventh book, Suitable: Choosing and Being Chosen by the Right Mate that candidly discusses dating, marriage, and the lessons he’s learned as a result. The man who readily admits that once-upon-a-time, he was seeking a woman with “hips, lips, and education,” now realizes this is what he wants but not what he needs.
These days Bishop Sapp’s life is moving at warp speed, but he took a moment to chat with 50BOLD about life lessons, overcoming tragedies, setbacks, and the blueprint he has laid out for his life that is beyond inspirational.
50BOLD: First, let me just start by saying it’s an honor and I am grateful to be in the presence of a such a mega talent. You have helped millions of people get through hard times via your inspirational music. You’ve taught us to adopt an attitude of gratitude that we need to make it through each and every single day. So thank YOU!
BISHOP SAPP: Thank you so much!
50BOLD: Ok, now what was it like growing up in the Sapp household?
BISHOP SAPP: I grew up in a divorced home. My mother and father got divorced when I was a child. My mother raised four boys by herself, but she made sure we were really focused on pursuing our dreams. She wanted us to strive to be as successful as we could possibly be. The passion that was instilled in us, we each still have to this day. You know, my older brother just retired after 30 years as the assistant superintendent at a juvenile facility here. Another brother is a comedian. My baby brother owns a barber college. So all of us are entrepreneurs. Growing up with my mom, you know, she didn’t play!
50BOLD: All right. So, she was a disciplinarian. It’s hard to raise four Black boys singlehandedly and have them ALL turn out great.
BISHOP SAPP: My mom was the warden!
50BOLD: A warden? Well, a warden-like character works when you’re trying to raise boys by yourself (laughter). How old were you when you received your spiritual calling and how did it happen?
BISHOP SAPP: I’ve always known, I guess, even when I was a little boy. My brothers, the neighborhood kids and I would play in the backyard. When all the other kids were playing tag and all that kind of stuff, we played church. I was the pastor. I had deacons. I had choir members. I had ushers. It seems strange, but I did play church and I was around 7-years-old. I think I accepted my call to become a preacher when I was around 22. I really decided to commit to doing the will of God at that age. Now from a musical standpoint, I had been singing since I was four. And I always sang gospel music. I never sang secular music at all and never had a desire to do so. God is so amazing to me!
50BOLD: Well I’m sure you’ve counseled countless people. What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from who?
BISHOP SAPP: The best advice I ever received was from Thomas Dexter Jakes (TD Jakes). Whenever I get the opportunity to spend time with him or go minister at his church, I always, always beat him over the head with questions! He once told me, “Marvin in this season of your life, you need to friend up. Friend up!” And I think that was the greatest piece of advice I had ever received because you can’t go anywhere in life hanging with people who are on your level. The only way you can get to a higher level is to hang with people who are already there, and hopefully, and prayerfully, they will bring you up to their level. You have to find people who are doing what you desire to do and who are mastering it. You should observe them. Either you can be mentored by walking with them, or you can be mentored from a distance, and this is how you can become a better individual. So this is the greatest piece of advice I had ever received!
50BOLD: Just such insightful advice! I also refer to you as a multitasker and this is quite an understatement! Can you tell us a little about your business ventures, what fuels you, what makes you keep going? Do you ever feel like throwing your hands up and just shouting, “I’ve had enough!”
BISHOP SAPP: Sure, I think everyone gets to a point where they just want to say, “I’m sick and tired of all this!” I believe, however, that you’ve got to remain focused and driven. I strongly believe that when God gives you a gift or a talent that it’s for a reason.
In a church setting, we try to put people in a particular box. If you sing, you can’t preach. If you preach, you can’t sing. If you preach, you can’t own stuff, you know. But I’m more than just a singer. I’m an entrepreneur. I own my own full-service salon. I own an event center. I was president and founder of a public charter high school. I have my own daycare. I’ve written seven books. I believe very strongly in the parable of the talents. The intent of the parable is that whatever talents God gives us, we, in turn, have a responsibility once it’s been placed in our hands to multiply the gifts we’ve been given. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been trying to make sure that I maximize my every talent.
50BOLD: And you have been so successful at it. Tell me, when did you actually say to yourself “I made it!” Or have you yet to utter these words?
BISHOP SAPP: I don’t think I’ve “made it” so…
50BOLD: No! Really? Even with all of your successes you don’t think you’ve “made it?”
BISHOP SAPP: No, because I think that when you get to that place of “making it,” you tend to become complacent, satisfied. I’m not satisfied! I’ve been exceptionally blessed with some great things but I don’t think I’ve reached the end of my achievements. When you ask me have I made it, it makes me feel as if I can’t go any higher and I don’t look at God like that. I’m ready for my second round. I’m excited about doing things for God. I’m excited about him introducing me to other new things in my life. I can say, “I’ve made it” once I see Jesus because this is the real goal. And this is not being overly spiritual, this is just my thinking, man. My thinking is that you never really make it until you accomplish the goal of seeing Jesus.
50BOLD: We featured a piece on a man who wrote about his grief when he lost his wife of 38 years. The response to the piece from our readers was just so overwhelming. We realized just how much people are really hurting out here. Tell me something, you went through the wringer after losing your wife MaLinda. You also had to also cope with the untimely deaths of not only your biological father but your spiritual father, and musical mentor as well. How did you personally deal with the loss of your loved ones? What advice would you offer to those who seek healing as they try to cope with passings in their lives?
BISHOP SAPP: I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. I cannot understand how in the world people make it through challenging experiences without a relationship with God. I don’t know how they do it! If I didn’t have a cemented, established, concrete relationship with Jesus Christ, I probably would have lost my mind for real!
I lost three major individuals in my life–my father, musical mentor and spiritual father within a 90-day period! And then two years later, I lose MaLinda, the love of my life! So everyone who held my secrets, everyone who was important to me were ALL gone! And when you go through traumatic experiences, you know, it makes you feel so frustrated. It makes you wonder. But you know, thanks be to God, I had a relationship with Him. Since my wife was a licensed psychologist by profession, I also had enough sense to sit down with a licensed therapist, who actually helped me navigate through the emotional rollercoaster ride I was on.
I think one of the issues with the church is that we’re so focused on praying through circumstances and there’s nothing wrong with this. However, we also have to find someone to discuss our problems with as well. I can tell Jesus all my worries, all my struggles, all my issues. By the same token, I need to have someone like a trained professional to help me process and navigate through the challenging moments in my life.
My children and I have a therapist who we still see every now and then to make sure we’re keeping everything together.
50BOLD: You recently wrote a book about dating. One would think that dating would be different for a man of your stature, being a man of God and all, is it?
BISHOP SAPP: There is no difference.
50BOLD: I can understand. I’m sure there are church people who think puritanically and expect you to behave a certain way because you’re a bishop. We’re all human and yet people like you are held to a higher standard. But tell me, what are some of the characteristics that your ideal woman should possess?
BISHOP SAPP: Oh Wow! I’m drawn to extremely attractive women by the world’s standards and I know this is going to upset a few people. A woman has to be smart too. I’m into intellectual women who possess the ability to articulate a thought, can conjugate a verb and who are well-read! We can discuss politics or other topics. For me, however, I’m just looking for someone who fits my lifestyle and my purpose.
Everyone is not a good fit!
My wife and I were married for 18 years and we were together for 20. I constantly travel across the country, preaching, teaching, so it takes a special kind of woman to handle my schedule. And then too, not everyone can deal with the fact that I’m a sought after individual. It’s one thing to be with someone, but to be secure in that relationship is something else. And you have to trust, where you can’t trace. You have got to trust when you don’t see me. And therein lies the problem.
If I’m dealing with someone who only wants to be with me because they strive to attach themselves to the persona they see on stage or at the pulpit, then there’s going to be a problem. Who I am on stage and who I am at the pulpit is not who I am at home.
50BOLD: There is so much tragedy, misery, political turbulence, and global unrest, what advice would you offer to us who are trying to get a grip on the ills of this world? What would you say to us who are trying to hold on but are having such a hard time doing so?
BISHOP SAPP: I would tell people (this advice might sound cliché) that what will truly get you through challenging times is to have a true solidified relationship with God. It amazes me as a preacher and teacher that when people are going through things they want a pity party. They want to stay at home and then get mad because no one has called to check in on them. But guess what, they didn’t have that connection to a church. So I think people need a strong solidified relationship with the Lord, you know, especially when things get tough, and challenging. We all need something to hold on to especially during those rough times. I mean this is how I made it through the turbulence in my life. You’ve got to hold on to God in the midst of it ALL!
50BOLD: So true. Now you’ve certainly taken entrepreneurship into the stratosphere. What’s next for Bishop Sapp?
BISHOP SAPP: Oh Wow! There are so many things coming up for me. I have a brand new album that I’m finally working on. I’m looking forward to recording a live CD. I’m also focusing on trying to make other things happen. I mean you know, God is doing a whole lot of things for me. I just believe that the best is yet to come. And I’m honestly looking forward to whatever He has in store for me in the future.
50BOLD: So now I’d just like to ask you a few rapid-fire questions. Who is your favorite singer?
BISHOP SAPP: I like Peabo Bryson without question.
50BOLD: What’s your favorite sport?
BISHOP SAPP: Basketball.
50BOLD: Do you have a favorite movie?
BISHOP SAPP: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
50BOLD: No! Really?
BISHOP SAPP: I have the film on my phone and watch it once a week.
50BOLD: You’re kidding!
BISHOP SAPP: I’m amazed at how Willie Wonka took something as simple as chocolate and created an entire world from it. We actually possess that same ability.
50BOLD: What’s your favorite place in the world?
My favorite place on the planet believe it or not is Walt Disney World in Florida because I’m amazed by it! I’m in awe of the man who took a rodent and then created something so spectacular! This just speaks to the creative abilities that God has released in us all. We just need to tap into them. Whatever you are passionate about, you can make it happen for YOU!
50BOLD: Don you have a favorite food or a favorite dish.
BISHOP SAPP: My favorite dish used to be pig’s feet. (laughs)
50BOLD: Oh yesss, I can sure relate! My favorite dish used to be chitterlings but now I know better. (laughs) OK now, and lastly, what is your most powerful gospel experience?
BISHOP SAPP: Amazingly enough, the most powerful experience I’ve ever had in my gospel career was not as a solo artist but as a member of Commissioned while at a concert. We were in Stockton, California. I will never forget it! The Spirit of the Lord hit! There were around 6,000 audience members at the venue. The Spirit of the Lord hit so many others as well. All of us performers just jumped off the stage and began laying hands on people in the audience–myself, Fred Hammond, Mitchell Jones included and honestly, the moment sticks out in my mind. It was the first time I had ever experienced God using us so very collectively. I’ve always laid hands on people as a preacher but just to see how God…, man-oh-man! I mean we laid hands! We EACH must have laid hands on at least 600 people. As a matter of fact, we had to pay a major overtime fee for the venue because we were ministering for at least two hours after the concert had ended. So that moment will always be a memorable one for me.
50BOLD: Talk about powerful! I’ve got chills! You’re offering so much by way of inspiration and life lessons that can really help carry us through our days. You would think that more people would be on board with the word of the Lord.
BISHOP SAPP: Well, you know, I think that the world is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. There are demonic forces, powers that work around us doing what they’re supposed to be doing–deceiving and confusing individuals into not believing at all. Since all of these diabolical things are happening all around us, we have to stay on course as believers of God. We must remain prayerful to the will and the way of the Lord. I think that if we remain focused and keep doing what God has called us to do, then the Harvest will be ripe. The problem is that the laborers are few. God needs more of us who are committed to the faith. I think, if we remain committed to Him, things are going to get better–I just truly believe it because the Bible says so. For now, I’m just going to hold on to what the Word of God says.
50BOLD: I believe it and I receive it! Your recording, I Believe, is one of my favorite songs. The power/message behind this song is just awe-inspiring. Bishop Sapp, interviewing you has been a true honor, please keep fueling us with your spirit, thank you.
BISHOP SAPP: I will! It has been a pleasure.