Chris Tomlin is the most-sung music artist in history, and recently wrapped up the last leg of the most successful tour of his 13-year career. The Burning Lights tour, launched early in 2013 following the album's number 1 debut on the Billboard 200 chart. At the start of the new year, he will return to Atlanta to lead worship at Passion City Church and the 2014 Passion Conferences in Atlanta (January 17-18) and Houston (February 14-15).
Some things have changed for the Grammy-award winning artist since CT last talked with him, including the addition of a daughter, Ashlyn, to his family with Lauren, his wife of three years, but others haven't—like his commitment to leading the church in worship across the globe. Here's what Tomlin had to say about leading people to experience God in worship around the world.
You're wrapping up the most successful tour of your career, and have been playing in a lot of arena spaces. How do you discern the difference between performance and worship?
You're on a stage and I take it as that. Anyone can be on a stage, but God's put me here for whatever reason. He has given us favor with people, and we always try to take that and give it to God. We try to point people to Jesus in every way. It's continually saying, God, I want to humble myself before you, I want to humble myself before these people, and I want to lead them to you. I think it's wrong to walk up there, hide behind the drums, and act like you're not on stage. That's not leading anybody. You don't want to go into a war with some general who says, I'm not sure if I want to be here, I want to hide behind all the troops. That's not leading. You want somebody to walk out there and say, This is what we're doing, this is how I'm going to lead, and this is where we're going. That's my job—to lead people. But it's not to lead people to me, it's to lead people to God. That's what a pastor does every Sunday. It's just the nature of being in front of people. You see it all through Scripture—God uses people to lead people, so that's what we try to do. I know God has put us here, and he continues to use us because our heart and motive is to help people experience God. You could easily just take all that for yourself, but again that's pride coming up. I think the minute I start leading them to myself, all this will start being taken away, because that's not what it's about.
What's the difference between leading worship in a church sanctuary and in a concert hall or arena?
In an arena the goal is the same as it is in a church—to lead people to worship God, and to connect with people. It's a weird thing when the spotlights are on you, but we want to have something that people enjoy, and we want to do it excellently. We try to do it in the best way we can—with cool lights and video, stuff that speaks the language of the day. It's different in an arena because you can shape the night the way you want it with your music, while for the church you're constantly putting forth new songs and new music. Our church [Passion City Church] sometimes has to be the guinea pig for all this new music. Out here on tour I wouldn't do that, because I want to play the songs and the music people have come to love. That's why they bought tickets to come to the show, because they want to hear those familiar songs, but if you just did all the old songs at church, they'd say, Okay Chris, let's hear something new. So it's a bit different in song selection, but the idea is the same, and the heart is the same. Also, concerts are the one time I have with these people in a year, but at church it's the same people every Sunday, so you're really walking in saying, God, how do I lead these people to you this week? It's a different mindset in that way.