June 18, 2024

Before his songs became setlist staples for churches worldwide, Chris Tomlin ’95 wrote a foundational life chapter staged right in the heart of Aggieland. At Texas A&M University, the record-breaking contemporary Christian music singer, songwriter and worship leader discovered a purpose that would go on to fill the nation with messages of joy, hope and redemption. Looking back, Tomlin expresses insurmountable gratitude for the trajectory of his career path, especially the turning point that took place in College Station, Texas.

Tuning Into a Calling

“My grandmother said we needed a doctor in the family, so that was the initial direction I took,” Tomlin said of his early college days. “I was trying to figure out what my path was, and Texas A&M just felt like the right place to go.”

Transferring from Tyler Junior College, Tomlin enrolled as a student in Texas A&M’s psychology department with hopes to later pursue graduate studies and a career in sports medicine or physical therapy. As a small-town kid from Grand Saline, Texas, the initially overwhelming size of campus encouraged him to seek comfort in the familiar camaraderie of Christian fellowship.

“I’d been involved in ministry since youth and really dedicated my life to the Lord, so I was looking for a group that had the same heart,” he recalled. “And everyone kept pointing me to this brand-new thing called Breakaway.”

Born out of a few college students in an elementary school library, Breakaway now reaches thousands of students every Tuesday in Reed Arena.

In a local elementary school just off George Bush Drive, he witnessed the infancy of a Bible study that is today one of the largest student-led college ministries in the state. And in that one fateful encounter, Tomlin’s journey—though he didn’t realize it yet—was about to change forever.

“I remember gathering in this little bitty library with a small group of students,” he reminisced. “Breakaway’s founder, Gregg Matte ’92, was speaking, and one of his friends was up there with a guitar, and it was so pure and real. Looking back on those days, it was just incredible.”

Around that same time, Tomlin was already beginning to lean into his passion for music. Fulfilling a desire that had been stirring since childhood, he started leading worship at various churches, traveling for small shows and writing songs in his spare time. Given his music’s momentum and a newfound interest in Breakaway, it was only a matter of time before the two callings collided.

“I told Gregg if he ever needed somebody to do some songs, I’d love to jump in. He totally blew me off at first, which is something we laugh about now,” Tomlin said with a smile. “I actually didn’t hear much from him again until I was asked to perform at a youth church event that he happened to be speaking at.”

Merging Passion with Purpose

In the same year of his college graduation, Tomlin went from walking the stage to taking center stage as a full-time musician. He released his first independent album in 1995 and saw his blooming career begin to grow, starting with a seed planted years before.

“While I was a student at Texas A&M, I drove over to Baylor University one night to play at a fellowship event, and there was a guy speaking named Louie Giglio,” he explained. “He had been speaking all over the country at this point, and after he heard me play, he asked who I was and where these songs were coming from because he was hearing them everywhere.”

Giglio was surprised to hear that the fame-gaining songs were being written by Tomlin in his apartment just a few miles down the road. Recognizing his potential, he remembered Tomlin’s name and connected with him shortly after his graduation. “He called me up and said, ‘I have a vision. Will you help me?’”

“Giving people a voice to worship God has been my mission from day one.”
-Chris Tomlin '95

The invitation was music to Tomlin’s ears. Giglio’s idea became the well-known Passion Conferences, a global movement to glorify God by uniting college students in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening. With the opportunity to contribute to the conferences’ founding years, Passion became Tomlin’s next career step.

“Giving people a voice to worship God has been my mission from day one,” he said. “I got to do that with Passion Conferences, and it was amazing to watch it grow and see my songs begin to reach people and churches across the world at that time. It wasn’t too long after that when record labels started to show interest, and before I knew it, I was signing deals and going on tour.”

In the years since, Tomlin has established one of the most successful careers among Christian artists today. The Grammy Award-winning musician has sold out some of the nation’s most prominent venues—New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, and Red Rocks in Denver, to name a few—and has been called the “most sung artist in the world” as his songs are shared by an estimated 20 to 30 million people in churches around the globe each week.