Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely heard Chris Tomlin’s music before.
Songs like “Good Good Father,” “How Great Is Our God,” and “Our God” are constantly played in Chrisitan worship services every Sunday. And, given the countless churches scattered across the United States and the greater global community, many have wondered if this popularity makes Tomlin the “most often sung artist anywhere.”
Yet, despite Tomlin’s influence in the faith communities, he didn’t set out to become one of the most well-known (if not the most well-known) names in Chrisitan music. In fact, some of Tomlin’s earliest memories are of country music’s cherished “outlaws.”
“Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash—all of those guys. That’s how [my dad] started to teach me to play guitar,” Tomlin tells American Songwriter.
Tomlin recalls learning songs like Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” as well as Haggard’s “Silver Wings” as a child. His father was in a country band himself and saw that Tomlin grew up on a healthy diet of the outlaw’s verse. While the words of these straight-shooters fed Tomlin’s musical appetite and stirred a curiosity in his chest, it wasn’t until he heard the strummings of the band Alabama that he bought into the world of music.
“I heard the band Alabama, the country band, and I was like, ‘This is my music.’ And that’s why I fell in love with [music],” Tomlin says in the most matter-of-fact way.
While being educated by southern rockers, Tomlin was also absorbing the music played in his childhood church. It was as if music was raining down on Tomlin from all sides, already baptizing him into its community via chord progressions and melodies. He began to play music in church in his teen years, and in a candid revelation, Tomlin recalls telling his mom, “I love it when people sing with me.”
So, by the time Tomlin was a junior in college, he was traveling almost every weekend to help lead worship services for retreats and youth groups. It was just him and his guitar. Nothing felt more right for Tomlin. He had also begun to write his own songs during this period of his life, and when graduation rolled around, Tomlin was at a crossroads: Go to graduate school or pursue a music career?
You can likely guess which path won out in the end.
Today, Tomlin is not only an award-winning artist but he’s set to host the 53rd Annual GMA Dove Awards alongside singer/songwriter Erica Campbell. He’s also just released his latest album titled Always. Like each body of work that Tomlin releases, it’s steeped in an unflinching reverence. It’s also evidence of Tomlin’s ability to connect with the ever-evolving world around him.
Always was first imagined when the singer rediscovered one of his favorite songs from his formative high school years—”Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” written by Keith Green and released in 1980. Green tragically died in a plane crash when he was 28 years old, a detail that sticks out to Tomlin, but he had his own ministry in East Texas before his passing. Tomlin remembers growing up close to Green’s ministry, and Green’s words consequently rang out with sounds of home.
“When the pandemic hit a couple of years ago and churches shut down and you couldn’t go to gather anywhere, we started having home church with my girls,” Tomlin says. “I just kept coming back to this song [‘Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful’], and I taught my girls this song. We would sing it every Sunday.” And the more Tomlin played this song, he realized that he wanted to record it.
“I want to bring this song to the forefront of music because it’s such a pure play, such a pure song,” he says. And that one song, one that Tomlin did not write, brought part of Tomlin’s faith journey full circle. He had tapped into the early stages of his musical journey all those years ago.
Other songs on the album include the confident title track. When Tomlin talks about “Always,” he muses how few things in life are constant, especially in today’s culture that rewards newness and constant reinvention. “What an incredible word,” Tomlin says, “I love having that simple of a word but powerful word, just one word for a title record. It really is what worship is about. It’s about something that is eternal.”
Still through the punchy “Great Forgiver” and the heartfelt closer, “Precious Love,” Tomlin continues to draw people in with his words. He hopes to provide some solace or inspiration for all that hear his music, and perhaps, provide some guiding light to those outlaws out there just trying to find their way.
Photo Credit: Robby Kline/Schmidt Relations