With ten No. 1 radio singles, three GRAMMY ® nominations, 18 Dove Awards, one platinum and three gold albums to his credit, it might be easy for some to look at Chris Tomlin’s music in the context of earthly ac- complishments. However, when Tomlin himself reflects on such acclaimed worship anthems as “Forever,” “Inde- scribable” and “How Great is Our God,” it’s not in terms of music industry statistics, but lives impacted.
Each song on How Great Is Our God: The Essential Collection serves as a reminder of how powerfully mu- sic can connect us with our heavenly Father. “As you look over the past 10 years and think about the journey of these songs, it’s just incredible to see how God has used them in the church,” muses Tomlin. “To get to be a part of a couple of them would be enough, but to sing all of them year after year is pretty special.”
Creating a project like How Great Is Our God: The Essential Collection would, in typical music industry parlance, be considered a greatest hits package, but for Tomlin it was a labor of love that represents something much more important. “It goes beyond just a radio hit. We’re looking at the impact of these songs around the world,” he says. “You are looking at songs that for the most part aren’t really attached to me as a person. They’ve just become songs people have sung in their church in whatever country or language and that’s so powerful. It’s been awesome to be able to have success at radio as well, but it goes way deeper than that. There’s another level of measuring when you are thinking of the kind of impact these songs have had in the church. I really just stand in awe of it and I know that it’s just God’s favor, blessing and His hand upon these songs. It’s His touch. I always say that He is the greatest publisher, the greatest agent, the greatest manager of the Holy Spirit because He puts the songs in the church. He is the wind in the sails. It’s really, really humbling.”
For Tomlin, it’s an unexpected gift he never dreamed of as a child in Grand Saline, Texas. “I was nine- years-old when I started playing,” Tomlin says of his early love affair with the guitar. “My dad taught me to play when I got sick over the summer. I got mono and had to stay in, which isn’t good for a nine-year-old kid. My dad said, ‘You’re going to tear the house down unless you learn how to do something to take up your time,’ so I picked up the guitar. I started playing little country songs by Willie Nelson, Alabama or Merle Haggard. Along the way, my dad would teach me and it just grew and grew and grew.”
Combining his faith and his budding appreciation for playing music, Tomlin began writing songs. “I started to write my own little songs for church and they were just awful,” Tomlin recalls with a laugh. “I’d get to play them at my church and people were so great, so gracious because they let me play all the time in the service for the youth group. I knew I wasn’t any good, but people were very patient along the way.”
Fueled by the encouragement of his church family, Tomlin’s skills improved. By the time he was attend- ing college at Texas A&M University and planning to become a physical therapist, it soon became apparent God has something else in mind. “I started leading worship at a thing called Breakaway. It’s just massive, probably the largest Bible study in America,” he says. “It’s been so cool to look back at that and see how God was preparing me, taking me step by step by step and placing me the right places at the right times.”
During his senior year, Tomlin began leading worship at Dawson McAllister youth conferences that were drawing 10,000 students or more. “It was a whole new world and I was trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing,” he smiles. “I just had a real heart to continue to lead worship and lead people to worship God. I’ve never felt it was about people coming to see me perform or anything like that, it’s always been about helping people connect with God.” The next step in Tomlin’s journey was meeting Louie Giglio at Waco’s Baylor University where he and hiswife Shelley launched a Bible study called Choice. “I would just drive from college over to hear Louie speak,” he recalls. “Kids were coming from everywhere to be a part of this thing that was happening. It was really an out- pouring of God’s spirit and I just wanted to be a part of it. I would go and just soak it in and then drive back to school. Little did I know that a few years later we’d be connected and we’d start doing ministry together, doing a lot of traveling and I’d basically spend the rest of my life doing ministry with Louie.”
Since connecting with Giglio, Tomlin has become one of the key leaders in the Passion movement and the flagship artist on sixstepsrecords. He leads worship at Atlanta’s Passion City Church as well as touring and leading worship all over the world.
According to TIME magazine, over 40 million people sing the songs of Chris Tomlin each week. It’s a statistic that baffles the humble artist. “I definitely don’t have the greatest talent in any part of the music world,” he says, “but I somehow really sense this special anointing on these songs and the giftings I get for this moment for the church. I’m taking great responsibility. I’m not just writing these songs to write a hit song. I really want to write a song to help people worship God and to give people a voice to express their hearts to God. That’s what these songs are about and at the very core of where I am in my heart.”
Even at a young age, Chris Tomlin felt a stirring as God called him to serve through music. “I just kept sensing that God had given me a gift for this,” he says. “I remember I got on my knees under a tree at a summer camp as an 8th grader and I said ‘God whatever you want for the rest of my life, I want to serve you and follow you and I want to live for you.’ I didn’t know if I’d be a songwriter. I didn’t know if I’d be a musician, but when I started playing the music and seeing people respond the way they did I just really felt that this was really what God wanted me to do. It was just so encouraging to see people respond to the music. It was as if they forgot that there was even someone on stage. People were really connecting. That was my heart. I kept seeing that over and over and that continues even to this day. This is really happening. We’re really connecting people to God with music and that’s what is so exciting to me. That’s so beautiful to me. It’s so encouraging every time.”
The winners of last month’s Artist of the Month giveaway for Sara Groves’ latest CD are:
Nora St. Laurent
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