Songs4Worship.com: You seem to deflect the spotlight well – even when you are right in it. How do you approach that when you go out on stage? Is it something that you have to work at?
Chris Tomlin: Maybe that’s just something God has given me because I don’t practice it. I don’t know how to do it. I think it comes from a humble heart because I know in my heart that I’m not God, and I’m not leading anybody to me. I do want to have a presence when I walk on stage because any leader has a presence. But when I finally pull people together with that presence, I want it to draw them to God and not to myself. That’s the heart behind it. I just really and honestly want to draw people to God. Before I knew what a worship leader was, I remember playing in my church and thinking, “Wow, I like this. I’m up here on stage, but people are singing to God.” So I started trying to write songs in that way.
S4W.com: You’re touring with Steven Curtis Chapman this fall. Do you think you will approach a tour like this differently than a worship tour like Passion?
Tomlin: Passion is a movement, so it’s a different thing. When people are coming, they know what to expect. They are coming for one reason, and it’s not for a band. Passion has never been about bands or about a speaker – it’s just been about God. On a Steven Curtis Chapman tour, people are still coming for God, but at the same time it’s a different audience. It’s a radio-listening audience. I’m excited because it will be a lot of new listeners exposed to our music. Maybe we’ll play a song like “We Fall Down” or “Forever,” and people will say, “I had no idea these guys wrote this song,” which will be fun. But no matter who they are, people want to respond to God, to worship God. So we are not going to do anything different. We are going to have them off their seats and hopefully just rocking and rolling. That’s our heart behind it.
S4W.com: Going into it, does this tour feel any differently than previous touring experiences?
Tomlin: Just being with Steven, it’s going to be exactly what it’s supposed to be about. I just love his heart. That’s why I’m more excited to be on tour with him than anybody because he just has a heart for God to do great things in peoples lives. He is gifted differently than I am, and yet when we talk about touring together, we both know it’s going to be amazing to see how God is going to use us together. I remember going to see his concerts when I was in high school (Wow, that really makes him seem old!), and it really made me want to draw closer to God and know God more. That’s Steven’s integrity, and this tour’s going to be no different. We’re not setting out there just to sell records; we’re setting out to make a real statement for God and hopefully impact peoples lives.
S4W.com: Switching gears a bit, which worship songs have you heard in the past ten years that you are convinced will be around for decades?
Tomlin: “Shout to the Lord,” “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and Tim Hughes’ “Here I Am to Worship.” Those songs will be around for a long time.
S4W.com: The song “How Great Is Our God” from your new CD,Arriving, is a song that has the potential to impact people the way that Rich Mullins’ “Awesome God” has.
Tomlin: I’ve had a lot of people parallel those two songs. I remember walking off the stage the first time I played it, and [Passion founder] Louie Giglio was there, and he said, “That’s the biggest song that we may ever be a part of.” It’s the way people respond to it, like they’ve heard it all their lives.
S4W.com: Part of that may be your invitation in the lyric to sing with you. Did that just happen?
Tomlin: Yeah, it’s one of those where you can sit down and try to contrive a song, and you just can’t get the right formula. So you write a lot [of songs] that people will never hear. Those go right to trash. Then every once in awhile you sit down with your acoustic guitar, and you just start singing, “How great is our God, Sing with me.” I was just in my room singing that chorus. It’s all I had, and the rest was easy to wrap around it. I thought, “Wow, there’s something to this.” It made me want to sing. If a song makes me want to sing then I go with it.
S4W.com: I’m not sure any songwriter can overestimate the importance of singability. We need that if a song is to become personal to us…
Tomlin: That’s the biggest thing for me in writing. I just resign myself to knowing that they’re God’s songs, not my songs. The beautiful thing is that the songs I’ve written are way bigger than me as an artist. Every time we play “We Fall Down” or “Forever,” people say, “I had no idea you wrote this song. We sing this song all the time!” I think that’s beautiful because it’s not like “Oh, this is a Chris Tomlin song.” People don’t relate to it that way, and I think God likes that.
S4W.com: Is there a particular ‘big picture’ concept or lesson that God has been revealing in your life/ministry over the past couple of years, prior to recording Arriving?
Tomlin: One is the theme of “preparing the way for God,” for God to arrive in people’s hearts. When we walk on stage that’s really what we are doing: we’re preparing the way. We’re trying to build a highway for God, and we’re trying to do our best to just prepare for God to come and take over and do things in people’s lives through our music. Another [lesson] is that these are God’s songs; they’re not my songs. I’m really not the songwriter here, but God has given me these songs, and he can do with them what he pleases. I’ve also been learning a lot about how we treat people and how we love the less fortunate. I think God has always given me a compassionate heart for hurting for people who have not been given the same advantages I’ve been given, who’ve not been at the same place in life, and life has not given them all the breaks. Caring about those people has been a special thing over the last couple of years. God continues to say, “Hey buddy, you’re doing well and I’m blessing you, but this isn’t for you. You’re here to help people, and the way you love people is the way you love me.”