When Keithon Stribling reflects on how he ended up touring the globe as a production manager for professional music artists, he points back to life-shaping experiences he had as an apprentice with the Issachar Center for Urban Leadership
“I think that’s what Issachar taught me, that you can’t stand back and wait for someone else to do it for you. You got to do it,” he said. “The community that I get to be a leader in now is this music community.”
Keithon, a graduate of Montebello High School in Denver, found out about Issachar through his involvement with the youth ministry organization Young Life and, specifically, through his relationship with his Young Life leader, Art Williams. Keithon excelled in instrumental music programs in high school, and he wanted to develop this passion further in college. The Issachar program, which offers academic scholarships to apprentices, played a vital role in making college a reality for him.
“I didn’t know how I was going to go to college; I just knew I wanted to go,” he said. Once in the program, Keithon enrolled in Colorado Christian University’s (CCU) School of Music. As an apprentice, he also volunteered with Young Life, where he mentored high school and middle school students in Denver.
It was a pivotal conversation with Issachar board member Terry Leprino during his second year as an apprentice that ignited his pursuit of music as a career.
At the time, Keithon was wrestling with whether to follow in the footsteps of his mentors who worked in youth ministry or follow his lifelong passion for music. When he finally made the decision to pursue music in earnest, he was anxious about how Leprino and his other peers in the Issachar program would react to his decision.
“She (Terry) looked at me dead in my eye and was like, ‘Ok. Do it. What do we need to do to get you there? How can I help you?’ and I cried, man,” said Keithon.
Keithon also met his wife Jordan at CCU; they married in 2011 and then moved to Nashville, where Keithon found work in the audio-engineering field with various artists. More recently, he began overseeing all the sound quality and production management for Matt Maher, a contemporary Christian music artist.
“He hired me and wanted me to be his guy,” he said. As a production manager, Keithon is touring for about 200 days out of the year, supervising all of the production details for 140 live shows around the world.
“I’m in charge of the entire show on the road, make sure it goes up right, looks right, goes down properly. I’m pretty much going non-stop every day of the year,” he said.
Keithon describes his time at Issachar as foundational in helping him think about the impact of a close-knit community and the sacredness of his calling to music. Specifically in a place like Nashville, a hub for the music community, Keithon is grateful for the formational experiences he had as an apprentice.
“Nashville is the city where musicians come to die. People flood here,” he said, “But I don’t ever feel like I’m lost. It (Issachar) taught me who I was and showed me who I could be,” he said.
A component of the Issachar program is living in community at an apartment complex and sharing duties such as cleaning, cooking, and hosting events. For Keithon, living in community meant embracing all the joys and tears that came with pursuing deep relationships with the other apprentices. He recalls joyful times such as creating an Issachar Prom — complete with dinner and dancing — as well as crying in the arms of one of his roommates after learning of the unexpected death of a family member.
The most impactful part of his experience with Issachar community, Keithon said, was learning how to be authentic in his relationships.
“That’s the only way a community can move forward,” he said. “That has shaped my career, that has shaped my marriage, that has shaped who I am. You have to be real in community.”