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The Mays family also includes two younger children, in front, Jonathan, 4 and Caroline, 5.

It took a brain aneurysm for Michael Mays to finally choose a direction in life.

He knew he wanted a career in the music ministry, but he didn't know in what format. What he did know, he says, is that he had to figure it out himself.

"I'd long wanted to get into the music ministry but was pretty much hampered by fear," says Mays, who attended Grace Baptist Academy and graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in music.

And despite his confusion, he didn't want anyone else's advice, "which was stupid because other people knew more about how to do it right than I did."

If you go

› What: Michael Mays Music Ministries

› Where: Hixson First Baptist Church, 5800 Grubb Road

› When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.

› Information: www.michaelmays.com/ministry.html

Then came the aneurysm, which he calls "a blessing."

"In 2000, God gave me the blessing of a brain aneurysm. It was located in a place that caused severe headaches; most brain aneurysms do not cause any pain, they just rupture and the patient dies," he says.

"God used my infirmity to remind me that, if I kept trying to do his ministry on my terms, this would be the kind of thing he'd have to use to convince me that I'm not really so competent in directing my life as I fancy I am."

So he submitted to God's will and set out to accomplish his dream. In 2004, he graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, with a master's degree in church music and a concentration in vocal performance.

That led to the creation of Michael Mays Music Ministries and Mays and his family, who live in Waverly, Tenn., are professional singers who perform faith-based concerts across the state. Along with his wife, Joy, and the three oldest of their five children, who range from age 4 to 12, are part of the ministry, including writing most of their own music.

"Most of our stuff is contemporary Christian. It generally trends toward the inspiration and adult contemporary," Mays says. "We've begun broadening our offerings a bit to include praise and worship and Southern gospel."

Family friend Michele Kleckner, also of Waverly, says she first met Mays and his wife when they all attended a church in Dayton, Tenn., where Mays was minister of music.

"I enjoyed his leadership and, when I heard Joy play piano, it was breathtaking," she says. "When they decided to go into this ministry, I asked them to let me minister alongside them."

Kleckner says audiences appreciate the Mays family's eclectic style.

"There is variety to what they present; it serves many preferences," she says. "I see a special ambience with the Mays as a family when they are in front of people — their joy of presenting their strong faith through music to whomever is in front of them.

"The children also look forward to singing for the Lord," Kleckner says. "Knowing them on a personal level also gives me a clear view of their true purpose. They are the same on the stage and off with one goal — to present their faith and invite others to it."

Mays' own childhood prepared him well for the ministry. He says he was "saved" by his mom in his own home when he was 7. His mother, also named Joy, encouraged his singing talent and accompanied him on piano. He took voice lessons throughout college.

But it was his father, Sonny Mays, who first encouraged him to perform before an audience.

"In addition to being a policeman with the Chattanooga Police Department, Dad was also an itinerant evangelist, and he would frequently have me sing a solo when he preached," Mays says. "The first song I ever did was 'Jesus Loves Me' in German."

And the music ministry is his family's primary focus, he says.

"Almost everything we do is directed at growing the ministry," he says. "Of necessity, we're doing other things ancillary to the ministry to address living expenses. I give private voice lessons, sing professionally as soloist in concerts and in operas and am currently working on a certification as a voice-over artist. Joy has just started her own at-home business proofreading court reporter transcriptions."

Meanwhile, the family performs about every two weeks, he says, including a performance in Chattanooga about once a month.

"We're primarily focused on weekend engagements, though we're certainly open to singing whenever a church or organization needs us," he says.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

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Michael Mays and his family including wife Joy, and three of his children — 12-year-old Jacob, 10-year-old Natalie and 9-yar-old Elena — perform Christian music in the family's concert ministry.
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