Pursuing God: An Interview with Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker's first memory of music is falling asleep under his mom's baby grand piano as she played the great hymns of faith. The youngest of six children, Tommy gathered with his large family and learned at an early age the power of Christ-centered praise.
"All these years later I realize that the truth of God's Word was being rooted so deep in my heart," Tommy said. "The power of the Word being sung is unspeakable and mysterious. There is an amazing power in how the truth of God's Word is sung through the gift of melody. It's no wonder that here I am putting God's Word into melody all these years later."
Tommy, who grew up in El Paso, Texas, is a world renown singer/songwriter who is best known for his powerful anthems like "He Knows My Name," "Only a God Like You," "That's why We Praise Him," "Lord I Believe in You," "Mourning Into Dancing," "Break Through," "We Will Remember," and "I Have a Hope."
Tommy first heard God's call into the ministry during a worship service when he was 11 years old. "I heard Him say that He loved me and had a plan for my life," Tommy recalled. "I received Him into my life and received my calling both in that same moment." The same year Tommy picked up a guitar and has never put it down.
The Training Begins
Tommy explained that as a child he was painfully shy. Yet God gave him the strength and wisdom to grow in the area of music.
"I was so desperately shy," he said. "Yet God used that shyness. I just stayed in my room and practiced alone."
Tommy began writing songs when he was 12 years old. All the hours spent alone in his room writing music and sharpening his skills helped Tommy land admission into the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, Calif.
Tommy was 26 years old when he moved from Texas to California, and he knew it was time to pursue his dream and calling. While in California Tommy grew as a musician.
"I had a lot of great guitar instructors at the Musicians Institute," Tommy said. He studied diligently and decided to become a Christian artist. "I wanted to be excellent."
Mom Knows Best
While living in Los Angeles he attended many churches, but his shyness kept him from getting involved. Finally Tommy's mom offered a bit of advice that led him to the perfect ministry position. His mom advised: "Don't wait for that perfect moment to serve God. Offer the gifts that you have today so that you can be a blessing today."
Tommy took his mother's words to heart and soon approached a pastor at a small church in Eagle Rock, Calif., and offered to play and sing as needed. Tommy soon began to lead songs for a small group that met in his friend's home.
"I remember thinking, ‘I risked all. I left El Paso. I finished school. I did all that just to be in this little small group,'" he said. "But then God spoke to me and reminded me to be faithful in the little things and he would give me much."
Tommy kept working, and his pastor Mark Pickerill eventually invited him to lead worship for the church. The church was Christian Assembly, and Tommy has been there since 1990.
Always Listen to Your Mom
Pastor Pickerill also asked Tommy to begin writing songs for the church. "I made this entire switch and began to write songs that everyone could sing," Tommy explained. "I started writing and my church started singing all the songs. The minute I made the switch to become a blessing to my church instead of a blessing to me, it opened up the floodgates and God has blessed me. When I did this, the overflow of what God had for me slowly turned into a waterfall. All my ministry and musical dreams came true when I let go of my plan and was faithful in what seemed like the little things that were all a part of God's plan. Everything I have dreamed of doing God gave to me through serving a small church."
Tommy said being involved in the local Body of Christ influences his writing. "Writing for a community keeps me from becoming overly self absorbed," he said. "I get to tackle the challenge of putting expression to what God is saying to us as a community. I get to, and this is such a privilege, give people words and melodies that they may not have the gifting to come up with."
One song that came as a direct result of writing for his community is "He Knows My Name." "This song is the perfect example of what I do at Christian Assembly," he said. "My pastor asked me to write a song to go with a sermon of the same name. I was writing out of being a part of a community, and God has taken that precious thought to the world."
Soon after Tommy wrote the song, he went on a mission trip to the Philippines. While there he ministered in an orphanage where he met a 7-year-old orphan named Jerry.
Jerry introduced himself to Tommy and asked, "We're friends, right?" Tommy replied, "Yes, we're friends." An hour later, Jerry ran back to Tommy and asked, "What's my name?" Tommy replied, "You're name is Jerry." Two hours later, Jerry ran back to Tommy and asked, "What's my name?" Tommy replied, "You're Jerry." The next day Jerry continued to confirm that Tommy knew his name.
"I believe this situation represented the heart of the song - how a poor, orphaned little boy simply wanted someone to know his name," Tommy said. "I was able to tell him that the One who made you knows your name. You are not an accident. The One who made you purposefully knows your name."
Tommy's ministry extends far beyond the musical score he composes in California. He also travels internationally holding concerts and mercy ministries in countries like the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Guatemala, Zambia, and Brazil.
Last year Tommy released a Japanese version of the Overflow CD and led worship there with a Japanese speaking worship leader.
"It was truly a blessing," he said. "Also in light of the recent disaster, my church- who has a relationship with other churches there- sent a large financial gift. I will be returning to encourage church leaders who are ministering to so many devastated people. On this trip I also will visit Manila where I have had the privilege to help start a Christian school among the poor. Since we started the school six years ago, we have several who are now in college. For many, they are the first in their families to finish school. The school is named after one of my songs - Break Through Academy."
"The Pursuit of God"
Tommy's latest project is "The Pursuit of God," inspired by A.W. Tozer's book by the same name. "Many years ago I read the devotional classic ‘The Pursuit of God' and it had a deep, profound impact on my life," Tommy said.
Tommy wrote 10 songs that complement the 10 chapters of the book. Tommy also incorporated narration and prayers in between the songs. "I have such a passion for people to have a relationship with Jesus Christ," he said. "We need to listen to that still, small voice and not just know about God, but know God. I'm praying that this project encourages a longing in people's hearts to know Him and pursue Him in a fresh way."
Partnering with LifeWay
Tommy also has a new partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources. He is now a writer and said that he sensed the Spirit nudge him toward the partnership as he led worship for the LifeWay Worship team.
"I truly feel honored to be a part of a ministry with such a long and far reaching history," he said. "More then anything, I'm hoping I can bring some fresh songs and expressions of worship to the LifeWay family. I have been blessed to be deeply involved in a number of different denominations in my lifetime, and I'm hoping that I can humbly bring something that will spark a worship revival in the hearts of many churches that LifeWay touches."
Having his hand on the pulse of worship music for the past two decades, Tommy said he has noticed several positive trends in the area of worship.
"I see a new generation rising up, and in many ways leading the church once again to passionately worship our God," he said. "They challenge me to keep my worship life fresh, passionate and energetic."
Advice for Worship Leaders
When asked if he had advice for worship leaders, Tommy mentioned three things. "The power of your ministry will always come from the amount of time you spend on your knees," he said. "Be courageously creative taking risks that will continue to bring freshness and beauty to your local church. Pace yourself by working hard, yet keeping your Sabbath (day of rest) holy. The kingdom will be better served if you don't burn out."
Lastly, he said, "I would just like to remind all the worship leaders and pastors out there that God is at work. He loves His church and in the midst of all of its imperfections He is doing incredible things. Keep believing that He is working through your life and be faithful to the end. It will truly have been worth it all someday."
With that in mind, Tommy said he will find success if the mention of his name makes people long to worship Jesus. "After that, and I'm not sure which one should be first. I think it will be what my kids and my wife think of me when I'm gone. They're the ones who really know me, and if I have inspired them to be worshipers in every area of their lives, I think I will have been found faithful."
Tommy and his wife Robin have been married for more than 21 years. They have four children: Jake, Levi, Emmie and Eileen. "I could weep at the blessing of God of my family. They love the Lord and are passionate worshipers," said Tommy, mentioning that his family is one of his greatest accomplishments.
Tommy has also traveled with Promise Keepers, Greg Laurie Harvest Crusades and Franklin Graham, and served with such church leaders as Jack Hayford, Bill Hybels, and Rick. In addition to his new writing role with LifeWay, he has recorded worship projects for Maranatha! Music, Integrity Music and Get Down Ministries.