Chris Tomlin talks about his new album and giving people a voice to worship God
An award-winning songwriter is not something Chris Tomlin set out to become. But here he is with a Grammy, Billboard Music and Dove Awards, number one singles, and a permanent place on CCLI’s Top 100. But in his own words, “The greatest privilege for me, the greatest privilege of my life, is when I hear people say, “we sing your songs at our church.”
Christian music artist Tomlin just released his seventeenth album, a collection of songs he hopes will truly connect with people, simply titled “Always.” We had the chance to sit down and chat with him about his new album and why he believes his songs and music stand the test of time.
CCLI: Chris, you are no stranger to the CCLI Top 100. You’ve written or co-written eight songs that live on our Top 100 list, which is pretty rare. And in a recent Worship Musician article, fellow Christian artist Brandon Lake referred to you as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and his ultimate hero. What is it about your music that spans over three decades and continues to bless and inspire people today?
CT: Man, that’s quite an honor. You know, I think what it is, is that I just had one focus. I feel so blessed, beyond blessed, at this point, to still be writing songs that I’m passionate about and am just so grateful.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had one desire: to give people a voice to worship God. Even when I was young, I didn’t know why; I didn’t even really know what that statement meant, but I knew I loved it when people would sing. Anytime I got a chance to play music, I loved when people would sing with me. I didn’t really like performing; that’s not something I was wired to do. And I think maybe even before I knew the term ‘worship leader’ or ‘worship music,’ that’s what it was for me.
I’ve always tried to keep a sensitive heart to God and an available heart, you know, saying, “God, what direction do You want me to go? Where are we headed? What do You want me to do?” And that’s led to so many places in my life I would never have dreamed. But at the end of the day, I love writing songs. The greatest privilege for me, the greatest privilege of my life, is when I hear people say, “we sing your songs at our church.” That’s beyond awards; that’s beyond tours. I always pray that God’s presence would touch a song and it would go way beyond me and that some music pastor in his church, who I have no idea who they are in the middle of somewhere I could never reach, would think, “wow, I want to lead my congregation with this song.” That means a lot.
And you know, it takes a lot of teamwork. I’ve had a lot of great people around me for years. No one does this alone, no one. It takes an amazing team. I’ve had an incredible band I’ve been with forever, and it’s just been awesome to have this kind of longevity. So, God really blessed me with the people around me, and I am so grateful for that. I just try to keep doing the same thing and staying focused on the same thing. And that is helping the church, that God’s presence would touch these songs and that people would experience the presence of God when they sing these songs.
I think about how long this has been. I’ve been doing this for a long time and am so grateful. Who knows where it all leads? But you know, I can only do what’s right in front of me and stay focused on being me, and I think that’s a big thing. One thing I learned is that I have to just be the way God wired me. I can’t be other people. And it’s interesting in our world today, you see so many different things. Even in worship music, you see so many different ways it’s done, and people are doing it like, maybe I should do that. And it’s just coming back to “you know what? These are the gifts God gave me, so I’m going to just stay in that lane.”
CCLI: Wow, you touched on so many great things, but a couple really stand out. You know, just being faithful to what God has given you, with what God puts right in front of you, being faithful to the small things. And obviously, you did that. He’s entrusted you with much, much more. I feel like that’s such an amazing testimony.
CT: I was thinking about when you said that just now; it’s been a lot of small steps. There were many small steps along the way, and just whatever opportunity came my way, I would take it and do it. I mean, I played so many nights of worship when there were more people in the band on stage than in the crowd. But it wasn’t about that. It was just this opportunity to go play our music and see what happens.
CCLI: Well, I just want to thank you and honor you for being obedient to that calling, and it’s reflective in the CCLI song list. And the ripple effect of that obedience at that moment when you chose to play in front of those five people now impacts generations upon generations.
CCLI: You’ve described the songs on your latest album as being written to help people connect with God. You were quoted as saying, “And already, throughout just the beginning of this process with the songwriters, our families and friends, and the incredible team that helps bring these songs to the world, I have started to see God take these songs and impact hearts and lives. My prayer is that God continues to take this music and use it in ways I could never imagine. Matching in ways only he could and in ways that point the glory back to him.” I love everything you said there. But were there any other overarching themes or thoughts that guided the creation of your new album?
CT: This album is a real full circle. It’s called “Always,” and it’s the heart of what I try to make my music about. I feel like these songs can really reach people. This album is the core of me; I guess I would say, of just songs of worship and trying to capture the heart of worship in the best way I can at the moment.
I never feel like a song; a record is finished, by the way. I just release it; it never gets finished because the work always continues and the writing always keeps going. I could keep writing and keep writing, and I always do, but it’s like, OK, this is the collection of songs for this moment.
CCLI: That’s really interesting. So what would you say was the inspiration for this record?
CT: It’s interesting; the inspiration came from one of the first songs I recorded, “O Lord, You’re Beautiful.” This is Keith Green, and over 40 years old. During the pandemic, this was a song that, when churches were closed, I would sing with my girls. I have three young daughters, and on Sunday mornings, we would get around the piano or get around my guitar, and we would have these family times of worship that were so precious. It’s one of my favorite things that came out of the last two years. And every Sunday, when we gathered for family worship time, we taught them, “O Lord, You’re Beautiful.” It just took me to such a pure place. This song.
There is a part of the song that I think is the core, and if I could say anything to worship leaders, it’s probably the bridge of this song because it’s meant so much to me. It says this, “I want to take your word and shine it all around. First, help me just to live it, Lord, and when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown. For my reward is giving glory to you.” Something about that affected me over the past year or two, and I’m thinking, man, I see so many people who, for whatever reason, falling away from their faith or churches crumbling. And it’s one thing to say I just want the whole world to sing my songs. But the next, it’s another thing to say I want to live it. I want to live these songs.
I love that line when praises are coming, and things are going great, “help me never to seek a crown, my reward is giving glory to You.” And so I pray that this record does that in a special way. It, in turn, brings just the glory. It takes our eyes off ourselves and puts them upon the Lord in a special way. So that song was really, really, powerful. That’s why I recorded it and even released it early. And I did that with Steffany Gretzinger. She sang, and I thought, I want the record to start with this song and see where it goes from there, and I’m really excited about a lot of the songs that have come out of it.
I could talk about this album for the next two hours, with songs like “Holy Forever” and “Always,” but I really just feel like they will help people, especially in churches, across all kinds of denominations, all sorts of flavors, and styles, you know? I feel like these songs can really reach people.
CCLI: Yeah, that’s amazing. Speaking of tracks, “Always” is the title track. Is there a reason or something about that song that made you go with that for the title track?
CT: I love the word “always.” To have just one word as a title is pretty hard to do. It has to be a pretty special word if it’s just one word. When we think about worship, and we think, especially about the idea of worship and the word “always” how powerful that word is. Because “always” obviously means everlasting, eternal, infinite. It is never failing. Think about that; it’s pointing people to an always God, an always faithful God.
When you think about it, most things in this world end. Most things fail at some point. Hopefully, it will remind people of an “always” God. This is who we’re coming to. One of my favorite scriptures says, “He is faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny Himself. In other words, that is His character. That’s all He can be is faithful.”
And so you’re pointing people to that God, pointing myself to that, pointing my family to that, pointing your congregation to that idea. A reminder that we come before an eternal, everlasting, always faithful God. Hebrews 13-8: “Jesus Christ is the same. Yesterday, today, and forever.” And that’s why I was like, I want that to be the name of the record.
CCLI: Wow, what an important message. You know, certainly, everyone’s got their journey. Everyone has valleys and mountains in their life, especially over the last two to three years coming out of a global pandemic; I’m sure that reminder of the word always and that God is an “always” resonates with so many.
CT: And we live in a world, a culture that I feel like asks, “what is true?” Looking for truth – well, this is my truth, this is your truth. Is there any kind of standard? Is there any kind of truth that we can all stand on? And that’s the song’s reminder that our faith is not 30 minutes old. You know, it is generation after generation after generation.
CCLI: Well, Chris, love it. Amazing stuff.
CT: Thanks for highlighting the record. And thank you to CCLI for the way you support the church. It’s been an incredible partnership through many, many years. I’m so grateful for what you guys do and how you promote the songs to the church and help connect and resource churches.