(RNS) Chris Tomlin has been deemed the most-sung artist anywhere and is easily one of the most prolific songwriters in the country. In October, SoundExchange presented Tomlin with its Digital Radio Award for surpassing 1 billion song streams online, an honor never before given to a musician in the Christian music genre.
Tomlin just wrote his first children’s book, based on his hit “Good Good Father,” part of a new album, “Never Lose Sight,” which went on sale last month.
RNS interviewed Tomlin to get his feedback on his accolades and his views on contemporary Christian music. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You just recently received the SoundExchange award for 1 billion streams. What does it mean for you to be listed next to Garth Brooks, Justin Timberlake and Pitbull, three hugely popular but not Christian-genre musicians?
To represent Christian music is powerful, because it says to me that this music as a whole is not some lesser music, but it’s obvious that there is a great desire for it, a great need for it, and that it’s being heard and that people want to hear and that’s what I love about this. I’m honored to represent the genre, really. I’ve been very floored by receiving this. I’m just grateful because I feel like this music is the music that gives hope to the world. It really gives a lot of hope and encouragement to people. What an amazing thing to represent.
You recently led a “Worship Night In America: An Evening Of Unity And Prayer For Our Country.” What role does worship music have during the general election?
Music is obviously way bigger than the election. This election, it will come and go, but the music is eternal. The worship of God is eternal. It is timeless; it is not style. St. Augustine was credited with saying this, that when you sing, you pray twice. There’s something powerful when the heart is connected with people, connected to God. I’ve always tried to write songs that give people a voice to worship God in a special way. That is a reason that we gather to worship God. It re-centers us on what this whole thing is about.
Time magazine called you the most-sung artist anywhere. What do you consider now that you didn’t consider years ago, now that anything you write can have a massive impact on millions of churchgoers worldwide?
I’ve always tried to keep in mind that I want to write songs that are very accessible and that are singable to people. I go through a little test in my mind: Can people sing it? It is something people need to sing? Is this something we need to sing to God together? Is it something people want to sing? Is it relevant to the times? Write songs to give voice to people to worship God. It’s always been the same thing for me.
In your writing, do you find it strange at all that your personal feelings of worship and communion with God are then given to millions of others, even though they’re from different backgrounds and might not commune with God the same way you do? How do you deal with that or incorporate that into your songwriting?
I think we’re all the same. I think everyone deep down has the same needs of God. We all come from different cultures, different backgrounds, in different strains of the church, but everyone has the same human heart and needs. That’s no matter what color you are, what age you are, no matter what socio-economic status you are. Everyone has the same needs of grace and mercy and truth and love in their life, so if there’s a need in my heart, I know it’s a need that’s in so many others’ as well.
Brant Hansen wrote in The Washington Post, “I’m a Christian radio host: Our music isn’t high art — but it’s just what people want.” Do you agree that this is how Christian radio should be, or do you want to break the mold?
For me, you try to write songs that cover whole lists of things. Give people a song to sing, something to say, in the midst of deep hurt and darkness and not knowing which way to turn. You want to give people a song that’s so powerful to sing. I have many friends who write songs like that. There are songs of celebration as well, songs of gratitude, thankfulness and celebration to God for who he is. They’re just timeless. Look at the Psalms, they’re full of that. As a songwriter, I try to approach all those from different ways.