Tom Smith is a name to watch. Worship pastor at HTB in London, UK, he’s an up-and-coming songwriter who’s already notched some notable co-writes.
After leading worship at UK events such as Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest, it might seem surprising that he took to a crowd-funding website to finance his first recording. CCLI was intrigued to know how it’s going, some of the challenges he’s faced and what its like to write with Tim, Ben, Luke and Martin…
Tom, tell us a little about you.
Sure! Well… I’m Tom Smith and I’m the Worship Pastor at HTB Church in the heart of London and absolutely love it! I’m married to the incredible Susi Smith and we currently live in Putney. I grew up on the south coast in a tiny town called Littlehampton where I started leading worship at the age of 13 in our youth group. We had the privilege of growing up with Delirious in the church, so naturally the whole youth group grew a passion for worship. It was there where I felt God call me to lead worship and to point people towards Him. It was then I remember emailing Tim Hughes and asking if I could come and intern with him at HTB for a year. During that time together I learnt so much from Tim, following him around, draining him dry!
So being worship pastor at HTB means you’re surrounded by some top songwriters. What’s it like to work with people like Tim, Luke Hellebronth and Ben Cantelon? What are some of the key things you’ve learned?
I’ve been so spoilt to be able to work with some of the most incredible leaders like Tim, Ben and Luke. It’s been an incredible journey all together and we’re always learning new things from each other. I think one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt about being a worship leader from these guys is to be an authentic leader, be an example to people and live what you preach. Finding time in the craziness of life to soak in God’s presence is so important. We can only lead people to where we’ve been led, so, as a worship leader, it’s our job to always be one step ahead of the game.
And you’ve co-written several songs that are already impacting the church? That must be amazing to see.
I love seeing the church worshipping and it’s quite special when you see the words God has been speaking to you come alive and give people the opportunity to worship him. I remember when Tim, Nick and I got together to write “Let It Be Known,” we had a mutual feeling that it was time for the church to ‘party’ again. I remember when I was a kid in the worship, we used to go bonkers singing and raving to some of the songs and we wanted to bring that back in a way that’s relevant to not just young people but the church as a whole. It’s always a risk writing something new for the church, but well worth it!
Writing songs with experienced and well-known songwriters must be quite daunting. How have you approached that process? Do you enjoy it more than writing on your own?
I remember at first it was always daunting writing with so many experienced writers. My first thought was “What on earth do I have to bring to the table..?” But each person you write with is so encouraging and always wanting to draw out of you the things God is doing in your life. With the EP I’ve just recorded, before we began, Martin Smith sat me down and really wanted to push me in my songwriting and to dig down deep to the things God has placed on my heart and be bold about it. This was a game changer for me. When writing these new songs, I was wanting them to bring a fresh message but also reflect the heartbeat of God and be listening to what He was wanting to say.
As we speak you’ve just raised enough money to record your own debut EP. Tell us more about the project.
Yes! Amazing, eh!? So I’d been playing with the idea of recording my first ever EP and over the Christmas holidays I felt God say to me that this year is to be a year of being fearless. So I decided it was time to announce I’d be recording my EP. I found this website online called Kickstarter. It’s a new way to fund creative projects online using social media. I think it’s the way forward for young worship leaders wanting to get started in making records. It gives the people around you, your friends and your family an pportunity to be part of something before it’s even made. I was absolutely blown away by the response of people’s donations, I’d be sitting there writing the songs and then an email would pop up to say someone had donated, and it would be a massive encouragement to me writing the songs. The great thing about Kickstarter is they set you up to be as transparent as possible to your backers by having to tell them exactly what the money is needed for, writing a budget, including any risks that may occur. It also really challenged me to think about the people I can get behind and bless financially, too. It’s such a great platform for young worship leaders to get going! I’d definitely recommend it to anyone thinking about recording an EP.
As a young, up-and-coming songwriter and worship leader, how relevant is the work of CCLI to you?
I think the work of CCLI is so important to worship leaders and songwriters as it keeps us as a church accountable to protect the songs. It distributes all the correct fees and payments to songwriters which encourages them to continue writing songs and keep the worship life of the church alive.
What does the next few years hold for you?
I’m really excited about what the next few years hold. God has always gone before me and led the way, opening up doors I never thought could be opened. I have a huge passion to write songs that point people to Jesus. Whether it is within the walls of church or beyond, I just love the sight of seeing someone open their eyes for the first time, realizing there is a God who created them and loves them like crazy! In that moment, everything in their life changes, everything they’ve ever thought and based their every day existence on can never be the same. It’s incredible. I had the privilege of leading worship at Soul Survivor last year and witnessed over 1500 young people give their lives to God the first time. It hits you right in the heart. This is why we live the way we do, to see people come to Christ and to glorify God in the highest. I think the next few years are going to involve travelling a lot more around the world, making new friends, empowering the incredible worship team at HTB Church to go further, and helping lead people to Christ. That’s the dream!