Chris Llewellyn-list

Illustration: Flix Gillet

Far and away the most common question I receive in my inbox is: “How do I begin a career in Christian music?”

The problem is, I’m not even sure how my own career started! I stumbled into this almost entirely by accident, happenstance and providence.

I can’t really outline the steps from “leading worship on a scuffed church sports hall floor with a cheap guitar and 25 friends” to “invited by email to join Chris Tomlin on a sold-out arena tour of the USA”. (We genuinely thought it was one of our mates pranking us!)

It was pure grace. I didn’t really do anything to earn the opportunity or deserve it. I didn’t send copies of my demos to all the Christian record labels or try to build a platform on social media. (Not that doing this would have been wrong; it’s just not my story.) So it’s not really teachable or repeatable. There isn’t a method to follow because I wasn’t methodical. 

I don’t think God responds to formulas: I think he responds to faithfulness.

My best guess is that God brought me into the spotlight precisely because I wasn’t trying to climb a ladder or forge a career. I was simply being faithful to the task of leading worship for whoever showed up and enjoying it for what it was, rather than what it could become.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I was trying. I was pursuing excellence in songwriting and practising the guitar five hours a day sometimes. But I was doing that to serve my little community better – not to use them as a stepladder to something ‘better’. I just really wanted to bring my best to God and I wasn’t that concerned about who else was going to be there, since the King of kings had RSVP’d yes!

I also don’t want you to think God chose me for this kind of international ministry because I was a saint. Far from it. I was in need of serious work on my character, had ego struggles, girl problems and a patchy prayer life. Even now, some of these issues persist. But I was in a real and dynamic relationship with God and was in the passionate pursuit of authentic worship. My belief is that God knew that ‘realness’ was something he could work with. I wasn’t a spiritual giant, but I was honest with myself and God about my shortcomings.

I’m sure you can tell by now that I feel a little uncomfortable trying to reduce my story into actionable advice for eager young musicians. I don’t want to sound like I’m over-spiritualising my journey and refusing to give the real world, practical answer to a genuine question. 

I’m not saying that hustle, work ethic and business strategy are unspiritual or anything like that. Those things just didn’t really help me along my particular journey.

So based on my experience, my advice for those wanting to pursue a career in Christian music is…don’t.

Pursue Jesus and enjoy music. He may lead you down the path of a wild and colourful music career. But equally he may lead you somewhere else. And I guarantee you that whatever direction he takes you will be better than a life of striving to become something other than faithful to his call.