by Mark DemingOne of the leading artists and activist within contemporary Christian music, Chris Tomlin is a successful singer and songwriter whose 2005 album Arriving has sold over 500,000 copies, and whose compositions "Holy Is the Lord" and "How Great Is Our God" are among the most popular contemporary songs in the world's churches, being sung by millions of Christians at worship services every week. Born in Grand Saline, TX, in 1972, Tomlin grew up listening to country music and learned to play guitar from his father (Tomlin has cited Willie Nelson's Stardust as a key influence). At the age of nine, Tomlin accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, and at 14 wrote his first song of praise. Tomlin enrolled at Texas A&M in the early '90s to study medicine, but he became active in a campus worship and Bible study group called Breakaway, led by an ambitious young pastor named Louie Giglio. As Breakaway grew, Tomlin became increasingly active with the group, and he eventually became a worship leader as well as performing his own songs at meetings. As Giglio's Breakaway group evolved into Passion, a nationwide organization for young Christians on college campuses, Giglio started a record company, Sixsteps Records, to record youth-oriented Christian artists. Tomlin, who songs had become mainstays at Breakaway and Passion services, became one of Sixsteps' first signings, and The Noise We Make, released in 2001, was Tomlin's first album. The band Tomlin assembled while serving as a pastor at Woodland, Texas's Harvest Ministry -- Daniel Carson on guitar, Jesse Reeves on bass, and Ryan Sandlin on drums -- began touring, often appearing at Passion events around the country as well as headlining their own concerts. (In 2004, Ryan Sandlin left the group, and Travis Nunn took over behind the drums.) In 2002, Tomlin moved to Austin, TX, and became a pastor at Austin's Stone Community Church, where he helps guide a congregation of 1,500. As Tomlin's songs and recordings found a wider audience, he was nominated for two Grammy Awards for his 2006 album See the Morning (which rose to number one on Billboard's Christian albums chart and number 15 on the overall Top 200), but the songwriter continued to emphasize that his mission was more important than his own music. "When I write songs, I try to write in a way to reach as many people as I can, to be a lighthouse versus a flashlight," Tomlin told a reporter in 2006. "A sweeping light that sweeps over a lot of people, versus a flashlight that's very focused. I pray that. Only God can do that."