Spreading the Word3/18/2015
When you’re looking at the width and breadth of contemporary Christian music and checking the musical topography for the highest points, it is hard to get much higher than Chris Tomlin.
The 42-year-old Texan has been making music since 1993 and has been responsible for some of the biggest, most recognizable hits in the genre, most notably 2004’s “How Great is Our God,” a song so popular it has made it into the regular hymn rotation at some churches.
Commercial, widespread success is a curious beast for Christian musicians. The more recognition they receive, the more it can open them up to decidedly un-Christian foibles such as greed and pride (two of the seven deadlies, if you are keeping score at home).
But Tomlin handles it well. Through the name recognition and radio play and continued accolades, the three-time Male Vocalist of the Year Dove Award winner has kept a level head and has never lost sight of what he is here for.
“I’m hoping to help people experience the presence of God,” he said in a phone interview. “At the end of the day, it’s just about being together.
“I never want people to walk away from a concert thinking, ‘Oh, he’s a good performer.’ I want to lead people to God, not myself.”
To that end, Tomlin views the work of spreading the Word to be best tackled as a group. Tomlin has always looked for songwriting collaborations for his albums, and as he has become more successful, those opportunities have become more plentiful. That is why you will find some great names in songwriting — Christian music or otherwise — on the credits of his albums.
“I’ve found a great strength in collaborating,” he explained. “I love that and lean on it a lot. I’m collaborating with men and women who sing from the heart and are writing songs of worship for the church. It’s been amazing. I feel like, just on my own, there’s obviously inspiration that comes that’s unique to me, but then when we come together, we strengthen each other.”
There is no arguing with the results. Tomlin’s last five albums have all found the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Christian Albums list, with 2013’s “Burning Lights” topping the Billboard 200 as well. He has four albums certified Gold, one Platinum, and critics adore his albums as well.
After 29 studio, live and compilation albums and 21 singles, Tomlin feels he might have released his best work yet with 2014’s “Love Ran Red,” an album that has felt immediately accessible to his audience and, in Tomin’s mind, hits every point he strives for in his songwriting.
“When I put together a new record, I’m in the same mindset each time,” he explained. “I try to put together songs that are accessible to church and how people worship God. This album is no different. I’m not thinking, ‘I’m going to branch out and do new things,’ because I want to produce it in ways that people can say, ‘I want to play this song in my church.’ If the songs get played on the radio, that’s amazing, but the two things I look at when making a record are the greatness of God and the grace of God. If I can get those two things across in the music, I’m doing my job.”
“I feel like, with that record, we’ve done that,” he concluded, remaining humble as ever. “With songs like ‘Almighty,’ I’ve done that. It’s as big as I can get with the limited English language I know.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.