A Conversation with Chris Tomlin

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Chris Tomlin’s new album, Arriving is due in stores September 21st; his first solo release in two years. Combining his unmistakable passion for leading people in worship with hook-laden, singable, fresh pop/rock melodies, this new album will certainly have churches, youth groups and ministries singing along. In October he launches a seven-month tour with Steven Curtis Chapman.

We recently talked with Chris about the new record, how he views his place in the world of Christian music and even his current relationship status.

In the chorus, you say, “sing with me”. At first I thought, “Oh, that’s like he’s the worship leader encouraging us to sing with him”. But then you hear everybody else singing that line, too, and it’s like, “No, that’s what we say to each other. ?How great is our God — sing with me’ let’s all sing it together.

Absolutely, absolutely. That’s totally it. I just feel like that simple line, “sing with me” does so much in that chorus to cause people to really say, “Oh wow, we’re all in this together”. That’s what I like about it.

Let’s talk about worship a little bit, because obviously, it’s a huge part of who you are and your life. What role would you say worship has played in your life, personally?

It’s definitely the thing that is closest to me and closest to all of us, because it’s why we were created by God. We were made to worship Him in our whole life — not just our songs, but our whole life. Louie Giglio, one of my best friends and mentor, tells me, and he’s a great definition of it, “Worship can be simply, in one sentence, ?All of me for all of God” and I really like that because it’s easy for me to get a hold of that.

And you wrote a song about that [“Enough”].

I did. I wrote it with Louie. It’s just that simple statement of, “Wow, every bit of who I am for all of God”, it’s my worship. I hope that not only comes out in my songs, but comes out in my life as well.

Well, it definitely does. Chris, I understand you helped start a church in Austin, Texas. Tell us about that experience.

It’s called the “Austin Stone Community Church”. It’s a great place. We are definitely young and green at leading and starting a church. But it’s just been a priority and a value for us as a band to not just be in a church but use our gifts to help the church and to be a part of it and to build it up. And so that’s what we’ve been doing for a couple of years now.

You know that “GrowthTrac” is a website that has a focus on marriage and people who are pre-married who are thinking about getting married. And we also have some single folks who are part of our viewers. So most people probably want to know, “Are you married? Are you single? Are you on the market?”

I am single. (laugh) Not married; never been married. Hoping to be married some day. Definitely not opposed to it.

Do you ever have girls come up to you at concerts and say, “God told me that I should be with you.”

Oh, yeah. We’ve had that, I’ve had that a few times.

And what’s your response to that?

It’s like, “Well, I’m not hearing the same thing from God”. (laugh)

(laugh) That is so funny. I don’t want this to sound like a Barbara Walters question, but as we all know, seasons of life come and go. And when you are old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair in a retirement village somewhere, how do you hope people will remember Chris Tomlin?

I feel like you leave a legacy behind you through people more than anything, and they’re the people you’ve encountered and the people that you have made a difference upon. Your songs, they don’t make as big of a legacy. People may remember your songs and sing your songs after you’re gone — which would be great and nice — but it’s more in the people that you’ve encountered and the people that have been closest to you.

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For me it’s important that the guys that I’m surrounded with, my band and some immediate friends that I’d have some kind of influence in their lives, and they can pass it down. If I’m married some day with my wife and children, that it will be passed down with a bigger impact than any song I could ever write.

Chris, in the last several years we’ve seen a shift in the Christian music industry, with the lines between “praise and worship” and “performance-oriented” music becoming more and more blurred. How do you view yourself in that world?

I think it’s all Christian music, it’s all music, Gospel music. I think it’s all music for the kingdom and for God. We just try to be faithful to that and we definitely write in a way and have a heart for the church to hear the songs and to sing the songs. And that’s definitely where we are.

You obviously have a heart for ministry, is it challenging to have to go out and “promote” an album that is geared toward worship and ministry?

Not at all, not at all. I don’t have a challenge at all. It’s weird. If it was about myself it would be hard, but I don’t feel like I’m promoting myself when I promote this music, I really don’t. I feel like I’m promoting God and talking about God. And that’s a good thing. I feel like when people put this in, they’re not going to be like, “Oh, it’s more of Chris Tomlin”. I hope they put it in and say, “It’s more of God, it’s more of the singing of worship, of songs about God and to God”. So it makes it a lot easier. It takes any kind of self-promotion away.

That’s a great answer. Tell us, how did you become a worship leader?

I guess from a kid I’ve loved music and my dad taught me to play when I was a kid and I grew up on country music, of all things —

— I was hoping you wouldn’t say that, but go ahead.

(laughter) You can edit (laughter). But, my dad taught me to play and I just loved music and I loved to sing at church and I’d sing and when I got older, to write songs. I began to get opportunities to play from different little youth groups. I didn’t even know how that was really happening as much, but by the time I was in college, I was asked for these little weekend retreats and stuff for youth groups and I just quickly, quickly learned that God had given me a gift to lead people to sing to Him; not so much as let people just listen to me — I didn’t feel like I was very good at that — but I felt like, for some reason, that God had given me this way with people and the gift to lead people to Him and not so much to myself. And as I began to learn that I began to try to write songs that way.

You know, Chris, different artists describe the different ways they go about writing songs — and everybody’s a little bit different — where would you say you find the inspiration for the songs that you write?

Definitely scripture for me. Different sections of scripture that jump out and kind of, they are themes for writing. Like “Forever” was Psalm 136. “We Fall Down” — Revelation 4. I love those. Those passages just jump out at me and become a song.

Also, when I’m writing songs, I keep in mind people in the congregation. First it’s to God, and then to people — and how can I write this in a way that someone who’s tone deaf and who can’t clap on two and four knows how to express themselves to God.

There are so many great songs on the new record and they’re all so singable — as you were just talking about — and easy to engage with. Do you have a favorite song on this album?

Oh man, it goes back and forth. Maybe “How Great is Our God”. It’s a simple song that just came; and most of the songs that kind of “take off” in the church, from anything from my camp over here, have been really just simply sitting down with my guitar on my couch and just singing to God. And I think “How Great is Our God” is one of those simple songs like that.

You know, it’s really an awesome tune. I had it on the stereo yesterday. I have a six-year-old and a four-year-old daughter, and I played it and they liked it and I said, “Can I play that one again?” and they said, “Yeah” and they started singing along with it, which is really cool.

Wow.

It is an awesome tune, that, like you said, you can just engage with pretty much right from the start.

Yeah, it’s been amazing to play live. It’s my favorite one to play live now because it’s like brand new to everybody, but the second time through the chorus, people are just completely “there” and just giving their heart to God. And that just doesn’t happen a lot with new songs. And so I’m really, really excited about it.

Copyright © 2004 Growthtrac.

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Aug
2004
9:44pm, CDT

Have the Courage to Say What You Feel

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Aug
2004
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Twila Paris, House of Worship