Tomlin contributes additional lyrics to Amazing Grace for movie
"I was completely floored when they asked of all people -- me -- to write a new verse for one of the most sacred and recognized hymns of all time," Tomlin told Baptist Press. "At first, I was like, 'No, you don't mess with that.' But then, God got me thinking about slavery, and these words just came out --
"'My chains are gone,
"I've been set free
"My God, my Savior has ransomed me
"And like a flood His mercy reigns
"Unending love, Amazing grace.'"
After doing some research, Tomlin discovered that the hymn has withstood previous additions.
"Even the famous last verse, 'when we've been there 10,000 years' was written after John Newton wrote the poem," he said.
Tomlin found the original last verse, "the earth shall soon dissolve like snow" and incorporated it into the new rendition of the classic hymn entitled, "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)."
"The hymn 'Amazing Grace' has inspired generations of believers, and I hope that it continues to live on long after I'm gone," he said.
In addition to his songwriting, Tomlin keeps a busy schedule traveling across the country leading thousands of people in worship. Still, Tomlin has remained true to his humble beginning and his Texas Baptist roots.
"I grew up in a Christian home and grew up going to a Baptist church in a small town in Texas, ever since the nursery," he explained.
While growing up at Main Street Baptist Church in Grand Saline, Texas (located about 60 miles east of Dallas), Tomlin had an intense desire to be used for God. "As a young kid, I had given my heart and said, 'God, whatever you want me to do....' I didn't pray to be a songwriter or worship leader, anything like that. I just wanted to be God's man and be available to go wherever God would lead me."
By the time he was a junior at Texas A&M University, Tomlin felt a calling to lead others in worship.
"All through college, God was really starting to open doors for leading worship," he said. "Around my junior year, I felt like it was a strong opening of the doors. I was kind of at a crossroads as to whether I was going to pursue a career in business or whatever, or whether I was going to walk by faith and follow these doors that God was opening."
With that inspiration, Tomlin began to pursue a full-time ministry as a songwriter and "lead worshipper" -- which he views as a better description of his calling, rather than "worship leader."
"As God started giving me some songs to write, people were starting to sing these songs. It was a really exciting time. It was also scary because I didn't know how to do ministry as far as a livelihood, but God was faithful."
Today, Tomlin is considered one of this era's top songwriters for the church as people sing his songs in churches each week.
"All kinds of things are involved in the songwriting process," Tomlin explained. "Scripture is a big part of it. Sometimes, a certain Scripture will jump out in a way that we've never seen before; that's always a big deal."
After forming an idea, Tomlin said, the melody and lyrics usually come together about the same time. From there, he usually collaborates with his co-writing friends, such as band mate Jesse Reeves and Passion Conferences founder Louie Giglio.
"It's a good process; that way it gives another perspective, another angle, another idea," Tomlin said. "Usually the idea comes, and I just usually sit with an acoustic guitar in my room and just see what happens. I have a lot of ideas all the time, just trying to put those ideas on paper. Worship is simply a response to God, and in songwriting, you're responding to who God is. All of life is worship; it's responding in that way, and it comes out in songs."
Tomlin's songwriting is synonymous with integrity and is impacting churches around the globe, as well as fellow musicians. His popularity among churches is largely credited to the humility and passion he displays while leading others in singing.
"You don't want people following you," he noted. "You want people following God. I think you see that in a great example from King David. He had a very humble heart before God and really sought after God."
Tomlin and his band maintain a busy schedule performing concerts and leading singing at churches, conferences, camps and festivals.
While preparing for an event, Tomlin carefully selects songs he feels will best suit the targeted audience with the goal of leading others to Christ.
"Because each event is different, I try to figure out what it's about, who the people are and where they're coming from," he said. "We always have a planned-out set list, but we always have options, and the guys in the band know that I could go anywhere at anytime. We have an idea of what we're going to do, but there's the option of seeing where the people are and through the spirit of God, knowing where the crowd is."
Tomlin currently is on a 32-city "How great is our God" tour that ends March 23. Joining Tomlin on the tour are Giglio and recording artist/worship leader Matt Redman (who will appear in select cities on the tour).
"Every night, people singing about the greatness of God -- that is the heartbeat of this tour," Tomlin said. "I am so honored this year to share those nights with my good friends, Louie Giglio and Matt Redman."
When Tomlin isn't on the road, he is serving at a church he helped start in 2002, Austin Stone Community Church -- a Southern Baptist congregation located in the heart of the state's capital. The church (which has changed locations to accommodate growth) is now meeting at Austin High School and has more than 1,500 in regular attendance.
"In Austin, the opportunity for the kingdom of God is so open and so ripe. We wanted to plant a church that was downtown and pull from the University of Texas, which has about 50,000 students. Austin, in general, has such an aversion to anything like Christian values and Scripture. It's a very free-spirit, hippie, liberal city. … But, you know, on the University of Texas tower, it says, 'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free [John 8:32].'"
He continues, "It's definitely not a God-forsaken place, but it is a party town. Austin also has so many down-and-outs, a huge homeless population, and lots of people who have been burned by religion. That's why we wanted to start a church there. We really want to be used by God to make an impact on this city."
Tomlin also says being involved in a local church keeps him grounded.
In February 2006, he was presented with his first Gold record for his 2004 release, "Arriving," which produced three No. 1 singles and sold more than 500,000 copies. In the spring, Tomlin won 5 Dove awards, including the top honors for artist of the year, male vocalist of the year and song of the year. In addition, he was lauded by TIME magazine as "perhaps the most sung artist anywhere."
2007 began with two GRAMMY nominations for best pop/contemporary Gospel album ("See the Morning") and best gospel performance ("Made to Worship").
With the recent success and popularity, Tomlin remains focused on using these opportunities to lead people to Christ.
"When the spotlight is on me, it's on God. I just want to be a reflection of God's light. It's like the moon -- it doesn't give off its own light; it's a reflection of the sun's light."
Leann Callaway is a freelance writer in Irving, Texas.