Whether he’d claim it or not, Chris Tomlin is a prophet.
Whether he’d claim it or not, Chris Tomlin is a prophet. As quickly as he records an album, it becomes the lyrical theology of our generation. His songs are sung in churches around the world, sculpting our doctrine and shaping our ideas about God. He never sought out such a heavy responsibility, but there’s no denying it: Chris Tomlin is a voice in the wilderness of modern Christian worship.
Hailing from east Texas, Tomlin began writing worship songs in high school. While attending Texas A&M University in 1995, Tomlin crossed paths with then-unknown college ministry leader Louie Giglio . Seeing honesty in Tomlin’s heart toward God, Giglio immediately connected with Tomlin. Soon, that friendship blossomed into a family of recording artists now under Giglio’s label, sixstepsrecords, and planted musical roots for Giglio’s Passion movements.
Throughout the last decade, the fruit of their friendship has ripened. Giglio and Tomlin have formed an inseparable brotherhood, the Passion movement continues to teem with life, and sixstepsrecords is birthing revolutionary music from Christian luminaries like David Crowder , Matt Redman and Charlie Hall.
Despite the growth, Tomlin’s passion for his craft remains unchanged. With the upcoming release of his fourth studio album, See the Morning , Tomlin continues to shout about something much larger than himself.
How did you get involved in leading worship?
I’ve been doing worship since I was in high school, trying to write songs. They were really bad at first, but I started doing it in college a little bit more and leading at my youth group. I was raised in a little town in east Texas, and I got an opportunity through a guy at my church to play a couple songs at a youth rally. Out of that, it just started happening. I had some people who really believed in me. People saw something in me and wanted to help. I didn’t have a website or a CD; I didn’t have anything. God was opening up doors though. By the time I was a junior in college, it was overtaking everything. It was crazy. Everywhere I turned, people were asking me to play. I didn’t even know how they were getting my name or anything, but I knew God was doing it. I’ll say this to people: When God wants you to do something, He’ll move mountains for you to do it. I’m able to look back now and know that it wasn’t a great design or a marketing plan. This was not a human plan. I can look back and say it was definitely God. The horse had taken off, and I was just holding on to the saddle.
Your songs are sung in so many churches across the country and around the world. Do you ever feel pressure from that?
I don’t know if it’s pressure, but I do feel a huge responsibility. I don’t take writing songs lightly. I’m not just trying to write pop songs; I’m trying to write songs that infiltrate their way into people’s hearts. I hope they’re around long after I’m around. So, that’s a big responsibility. I throw the lyrics to several people that I really trust to make sure I’m saying the right things. I want to write songs that people not only want to sing, but need to sing—songs that are right in their view of God. I try to write songs that make God as big as I can in the language He’s given me. That’s what restores and heals people. A lot of what people know about God is from songs. Hymns shape people’s theology. It’s what people remember. I can get so nervous every time I play, because I want God to be honored with my music.
What have you learned about worship in the last year?
God’s continued to teach me the same thing: Worship is not just singing. I know people have said that a bunch, but I continue to see that worship is what we were created to do. It’s pure. I feel that we make it really, really complicated, when it’s just simply not that. It’s about giving every bit of who we are to God. It’s not singing songs on Sundays and Wednesdays; it’s taking care of people—the poor, the widows, the orphans. God put in the Scripture that worshipping God means presenting your body before Him. It doesn’t have to be the latest technology or the latest, greatest thing. It’s much more simple. It’s giving our lives to God. That’s worship. God is really excited when He knows He is the most valuable thing in our lives. All of us worship something—I continue to learn that. It’s the one thing that is most important in our life. We will give everything we’ve got for it. I pray that people see that God created us to worship Him—that we’d give everything we’ve got for Him.
What was it like going back to the studio to record a follow-up to Arriving ?
At first, I put a lot of pressure on myself. Arriving was very successful in terms of record sales, church and radio, so I felt pressure in trying to match that again. I remember talking to Lou Giglio, the head of my record label, and him reminding me that God has done this so far. It’s nothing we’ve put together. He’s the one that’s given me songs so far. For me it’s always been about the songs, not about marketing or anything like that. I’ve just been trying to write songs that will build up the Church and that people can sing. I hope to give a voice to people in their worship to God. So that’s what we’ve done with this record. We went in with that same pure heart, so there’s no pressure. I think we get lost in the competition and successes, but that’s not the way God works. I continue to be reminded of that.
When Chris Tomlin was approached by executives at Walden Media (The Chronicles of Narnia) to rearrange a hymn for the upcoming film Amazing Grace , starring Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four ) and Albert Finney (Big Fish , Erin Brockovich ), he was less than thrilled. To “mess with the most recognized hymn ever” was a challenge he was initially reluctant to approach. However, his research found that not only was the famous last verse actually penned 100 years after John Newton wrote the hymn, but there was an original verse to the song that isn’t included in the contemporary version. Tomlin took the original verse and, together with Passion founder/director Louie Giglio, co-wrote a new bridge:
My chains are gone / I’ve been set free / My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns / Unending love, amazing grace
“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” closes Tomlin’s new album, See the Morning .