Published June 4, 2009
ATLANTA — With more than 44 million people singing his songs each week, Time magazine lauded Chris Tomlin as the “most often sung artist anywhere.”
As the writer of praise songs such as “How Great is Our God” and “We Fall Down,” Tomlin’s work has become a staple of contemporary worship. But in spite of his success and popularity, Tomlin remains focused on shining the spotlight on God.
“I just want to be a reflection of God’s light,” he said. “It’s like the moon. It doesn’t give off it’s own light; it’s a reflection of the sun’s light.”
Tomlin’s songwriting is making an impact on churches around the globe, as well as on fellow musicians. Admirers credit his popularity to the humility and passion he displays while leading others in corporate worship.
“You don’t want people following you,” he noted. “You want people following God. ?I think you see that in a great example from King David. He had a very humble heart before God and really sought after God. Whether we ever sell another record or anything, I know we’d still be doing this because we love to travel and to do this. … If He never gave us another stage, I know that we would still play music, sing to Him and worship Him.”
Growing up in Grand Saline, Texas (about 60 miles east of Dallas), Tomlin had an intense desire to be used for God.
“As a young kid, I had given my heart and said, ‘God, whatever You want me to do.’ ... I didn’t pray to be a songwriter or worship leader, anything like that, I just want to be God’s man and be available to go wherever God would lead me,” he said.
By the time he was a junior at Texas A&M University, Tomlin felt a calling to lead others in worship.
“All through college, God was really starting to open doors for leading worship,” he said. “Around my junior year, I felt like it was a strong opening of the doors. I was kind of at a crossroads as to whether I was going to pursue a career in business, or whether I was going to walk by faith and follow these doors that God was opening.”
With that inspiration, Tomlin began to pursue a full-time ministry as a songwriter and “lead worshipper”—which he views as a better description of his calling, rather than “worship leader.” He serves in that role both on the concert circuit and at Passion City Church in Atlanta.
“As God started giving me some songs to write, people were starting to sing these songs. It was a really exciting time. It was also scary because I didn’t know how to do ministry as far as a livelihood, but God was faithful.”
Years later, Tomlin has received countless awards and accolades, including 14 Dove Awards and three Grammy nominations.
Last fall, Tomlin released his sixth album, “Hello Love,” and recently concluded a 35-city tour April 9.
“Worship is a big thing in our lives, but when you break it all down, it’s love: ‘To love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.’ To me, our greatest need in the world is not another song, but it’s the singers of the songs meeting the needs of the world. Hopefully, these songs cause people to love God even more, to get closer to God, and inspires people to love each other and make a difference in the world.”
During his concerts, Tomlin shares one way people can put their faith into action through a website called OneMillionCan.com. As part of the “Do Something Now” campaign, this missions outreach sheds light on seven global causes, including digging wells for Kenyan villages, providing life-changing surgeries for children in Afghanistan, and building homes for former child soldiers in Uganda.
“It’s people just saying, ‘Here’s five or 10 dollars.’ And that adds up when you talk about all these different people giving,” Tomlin said.
Worship, justice, action
“The heart of it is putting legs to our worship. Worship has to be married to justice and married to action in the world for it to be real and to make a difference and for God to be pleased. It’s a simple way for people who want to get involved and those wondering how they can make a difference.”
Tomlin says he feels a huge responsibility to bring people closer to God through songs.
“I feel a responsibility to use the talent and gift that God’s given me to connect people with Him and give them a voice to worship Him,” Tomlin said.
“So, I try to write songs with those people in mind. I try to open up worship to everything it can be, not just my personal preference, but what it can be for a person sitting in an office, or a mom driving her kids to school, or a teenager in high school. How can I bridge all those generations and try to grab something that can help them worship and communicate with God?
“When I think about songwriting, I think, ‘What can people sing? What do they want to sing? And what do they need to sing?’ I’m really keeping that in mind and thinking about how I can craft these songs in a way that can grab hold of people and draw them closer to God. All kinds of things are involved in the songwriting process.
“Scripture is a big part of it. Sometimes, a certain Scripture will jump out in a way that we’ve never seen before; that’s always a big deal.”
After forming an idea, Tomlin said, the melody and lyrics usually come together about the same time. From there, he usually collaborates with his co-writing friends, such as bandmate Jesse Reeves.
“Worship, in itself, is not a religious word. Everybody worships things, whether they realize it or not. It doesn’t mean they’re worshipping God; most people aren’t. It’s a natural thing to give value, to give worth to something or someone.
“That’s what we’re trying to do through this music, to help people give worth and to say there’s something in life that matters most. There’s one thing that’s more beautiful, more famous, and more amazing than anything else – Jesus Christ.
“I know it’s easy to get anyone into the mechanics of worship and the ‘lip service’ of worship. But it’s all about your heart, and your heart can be so far from God, and you just go through the motions. When it becomes about the reflex or routine, it’s dead.
“You have to engage your heart and be moved to the core of who you normally are. That’s when worship becomes real.”
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