This is the story of two unlikely friends whose relationship is what I like to call… “a God thing.”
Walker Hayes moved to Nashville in 2005 as an aspiring artist to chase his dream. Today, the world knows him best from his #1 song “Fancy Like”, made famous through TikTok .
Craig Cooper moved to Franklin, TN to follow his dream of starting a church that would share the Good News of God’s love and see lives transformed. He is now the pastor of Redeeming Grace Church, and gets to experience the life changing power of God every day.
Walker & Craig were complete strangers who had no idea that God would change both of their lives and the lives of the people who encounter their story.
Walker wrote this song for his friend, Craig, that only begins to tell the story of their friendship and how God is working.
Through their example, here are a few things I think we can learn about friendship and reaching people for Christ by living in community:
Don’t judge a book by its cover and be open to what God can do.
Walker Hayes reluctantly walked into Redeeming Grace church as an alcoholic atheist. He hated church. He’d been burned by church before and was only there at his wife’s request.
Not wanting to be there in the first place combined with the discouragement from his music label dropping him, Walker was content to fade quietly into the background.
Thankfully, from his first interaction with Craig, he could tell there was something different about this church. They weren’t trying to impress anyone. It was more genuine and real than the typical church he had experienced. Even knowing Walker didn’t want to be there, knowing he was drunk, and knowing he thought that church was a joke, Craig still greeted him with a smile and said “I’m glad you’re here”.
Although Walker didn’t immediately change his mind and fully embrace this new church life. It was Craig’s decision to accept Walker as he was. That’s what opened the door to a growing friendship between their families.
Be Real. Be There.
The Cooper and Hayes families began spending lots of time together and just seemed to click. They felt like they had known each other all their lives. God worked in the most unique ways to connect them and grow their bond (including their families dogs being sisters!)
Walker worked at Costco in the mornings while playing gigs in small bars and restaurants in the evenings. Craig loved Walker’s music and would show up to support him whenever he could. Craig met him where he was. It didn’t matter that Walker wasn’t a Christian. It didn’t matter that some of the places Walker played were places that many pastors may not want to be seen. He invested in the friendship and prayed that one day the Lord would use Walker’s gifts to bring people to Jesus and even bring Walker himself to Christ.
Walker was also Craig’s encourager in his preaching. Craig once asked his friend why he was so supportive if he doesn’t believe in what’s being preached. Walker told him:
“I know you believe it, and if it’s true, it’s the greatest news in the world and everyone needs to hear it.”
See a Need and Fill it.
After a record deal fell through, the Hayes family van was taken away from them. They were left with one unreliable car that wasn’t big enough to safely carry the whole family. There wasn’t enough money coming in to purchase a new one.
One night, the Cooper family showed up to Walker’s son’s baseball game and gave the Hayes family their van! Although their family was not rich, Craig and his wife felt God telling them to give their family van to their friends and purchase another used vehicle for themselves. They chose to put the needs of their friends ahead of their own. Walker was hesitant. It wasn’t a proud moment, being in a position where you have to accept help from someone else. Craig told him “someone did this for me once, let me do this for you.” Walker graciously accepted.
Don’t give up.
While Walker was out on tour, he read “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” by Rosaria Butterfield. A book recommended to him by his wife. It challenged his thoughts and taught him about the transforming power of Jesus. He related so much to the author’s feelings that he secretly bought a Bible and began reading for several days before he confessed to his family that he was eager to learn more.
Soon after, He met up with Craig for dinner to tell him that he believed in Jesus!
Through struggles with alcohol, career ups and downs, and the loss of their 7th child at birth, Craig had stood by Walker and had shared in both his joys and sorrows. His years of prayer had been answered. Now, he was able to rejoice with his friend who had found salvation.
Instead of spending years pressuring Walker to become a Christian, he lived by example. He cultivated a friendship and lived out God’s love.
Walker now says,
“I’m not who I was. I am a new creation and getting newer everyday.”
Tell your story.
Walker wrote a song called “Craig” that tells the story of the van and what it meant to him. Craig was greatly touched by the tribute, but wanted to keep the song private. He didn’t want attention brought to himself by helping someone in need, but God had different plans.
The song ended up on Walker Hayes first album and a new version features Christian recording artist MercyMe. The powerful story of love and friendship in this song is reaching people and motivating them to do similar acts of kindness.
They have even started a movement called “Be a Craig” where they are working to help encourage others and motivate people to “pay it forward”
The Hayes had the opportunity to buy the home next door to the Coopers. The first thing they did was to take down the fence between their backyards. #ultimatefriendshipgoals
Shortly after they became neighbors, the world shut down due to Covid. Being quarantined together gave them the opportunity to write the details of their story in a book called “Glad You’re Here – Two Unlikely Friends Breaking Bread and Fences” which has now been published by Moody Publishers.
Their story is real, it is full of hardship and victories. These are men that are not perfect. Sometimes they make mistakes and sometimes they get it right. Just like the rest of us. When we decide to tell the real story of who we are and what God has done for us, people listen.
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