Chris Tomlin says he has a responsibility to write songs for people to sing and worship God. Tomlin played Friday, Feb. 6 at the Wells Fargo Theater. He also is nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. Photo courtesy of CMA Media Promotions
Barry Manilow may have belted out the lyrics, “I write the songs that make the whole world sing,” but in reality that songwriter my well be Chris Tomlin, a Christian rock musician.
Even if you are unaware of his name or presence, you know Tomlin, or more to the point his words have been on the tip of your tongue if you have visited a church or worship service in the last several years.
According to Christian Copyright Licensing International, a company that licenses songs to churches, “How Great is Our God,” by Tomlin has been the most requested song by churches in the United States for the past four years. And in its August 2008 report, CCLI lists four other songs by Tomlin in the top 13 – “Forever,” “Holy is the Lord,” “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone),” and “We Fall Down.”
Sound familiar now? You can sing-along with Tomlin on Friday, Feb. 6 at the Wells Fargo Theater in Denver. Tickets are $32 and $25 at Ticketmaster.
It’s pretty heady stuff being what Time magazine called “the most often sung contemporary artist in U.S. congregations every week,” but don’t think Tomlin is about holding airs. He’s down to earth and extremely humble. When asked to describe his music, he didn’t give the standard responses of guitar-laden riffs or melodic harmonies, but, “It’s thousands and thousands of voices singing, praising God,” he said.
Tomlin creates songs for you and me, for praise and worship, not for Grammy and Dove awards or other accolades – even though he has won close to 20 Dove Awards and is currently nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. The Texas native takes a different approach to songwriting.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to people to write for them,” Tomlin said. “I don’t write for myself. I want to give a voice to people to worship God. To encounter God. I give them music they want to sing. Songs they can sing and need to sing.
“You can write a song with amazing lyrics and music, but if it’s not singable, you don’t get into the hearts and minds of people. Or you can have the most singable song but if it doesn’t speak to people’s hearts what good is that? I make something that needs to be sung. I want to relate to people from 16 to 60.”
Tomlin’s current CD, “Hello Love,” contains several songs that have the potential to move into your church’s repertoire – “Jesus Messiah,” “Praise the Father, Praise the Son,” and “I Will Rise.”
But singing songs is not all that motivates Tomlin, who says his “Hello Love” CD is about “giving legs to love. Putting legs on what God says.”
“It’s not enough for me to sing and write songs about God and not do anything,” he continued. “Each of us can do a little bit to change a lot in this world. I’m fortunate to perform in front of masses and to communicate in front of masses.”
One Million Can, a foundation Tomlin helped start, is one example of his commitment to helping change the world. The foundation’s website – onemillioncan.com – allows people to donate to seven different causes around the world from building wells in Africa to helping put an end to sex trafficking in India is an outgrowth of a college conference.
“We were giving a college conference at Philips Arena (in Atlanta),” Tomlin explained. “There were 20,000 students, and I challenged them to give toward these causes. At the end of the three-day conference 20,000 students gave $1 million. It inspired us to make that same thing available to everyone, everywhere, any day and any time.
“This is a way to give people a chance to make a difference in the world. They can go to the website and find a cause that hits their heart. … People can give $2, $3, $5, $100. It all adds up, and once we get to a million we can fulfill those causes. This is what matters in life. The Grammys and the awards are all nice, but it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things going on in the world.”
And that is what makes Tomlin tick, not the accolades, but giving people a way to worship through songs.
“The beautiful thing is that I can reach more people with my music, and my name is not attached to it. It’s about the songs.” he said. “People singing the songs, singing the songs in church. They don’t know who I am, and they don’t care. The songs are a soundtrack to their lives. And that’s what makes it great.”