Message in the Music
August 1, 2002 - Tommy Coomes found Jesus through music in 1970. And for the past 30 years Tommy Coomes has used music to help others find Jesus. As part of the group Love Song in 1970, as creative director at Maranatha! music in the '70s, '80s and '90s, and as founding member of the Tommy Coomes Praise Band in 1989, Tommy has a long history of using different musical forms in his mission to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
by Simon Gonzalez
That mission continues today. Through appearances at Billy Graham’s Missions and Franklin Graham’s Festivals and through music albums—the band’s newest CD, "My Hope," has just been released—Tommy remains true to his calling to reach people through music.
"There’s something about the presence of God in worship and music that gives a loud testimony to nonbelievers who don’t know Jesus," he said. "That testimony is based on Psalm 40:3: ‘He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’"*
Music is the vehicle that Tommy uses to tell people about the Gospel because music played a key role in his own introduction to Jesus.
In 1970, when he visited Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, in Santa Ana, California, Tommy Coomes was not looking for the peace of God. He was just looking for peace in his home.
He shared a house in Laguna Beach with five other young men, all of them children of the counterculture of the 1960s. They were into rock ’n’ roll—they played in a band together—and they were into alternate religions.
"We were trying to be open-minded," Tommy said. "We were involved in a lot of mystical things, and Eastern philosophy, and different lifestyles; we thought they were going to lead us to the truth."
Two members of the household did find the real source of truth. One became a Christian after reading a Christian tract; the other, after going home to live with his parents for a time. The two new believers talked about their new faith with the others in the house, but they didn’t understand it.
One day the two guys became involved in a heated debate over something that they had read in the Bible.
"We got so frustrated with those two guys arguing," Tommy said. "We decided to go down to Calvary Chapel. We had heard that those guys were real Christians and they’d probably know the answer. All we wanted to do was to get the two guys to stop fighting."
Tommy Coomes got much more than domestic tranquility. He found Jesus Christ, not primarily because of the persuasive words of the pastor, Chuck Smith, but because of the music.
"One of the greatest evidences of God’s existence was when those people worshiped," he said. "When they sang the tunes, I felt the presence of God. I knew that God was there, and I knew that they knew who He was."
He was so moved by the songs that he dedicated his life to telling people about Jesus through music. Along with Chuck Girard, Fred Field and Jay Truax, Tommy formed the group Love Song.
"We came to Christ, and right away we wanted to tell people in our generation and compel them to take a look at Jesus," Tommy said. "That was the most important thing to us."
Love Song did it by speaking the cultural language of the day. It was one of the first contemporary Christian bands. The members wore blue jeans, and they had long hair and beards. The lyrics were about Jesus and His love, but the band conveyed His love through the medium of contemporary music.
"It really was a new song, a new expression," Tommy said. "It was more culturally relevant with what we had grown up with, The Beatles and the Beach Boys, and with post-World War II music styles with drums and guitars.
"Love Song spent four years traveling in vans all over the country and the world. We saw hundreds of thousands of young people find Christ."
After Love Song disbanded, Tommy Coomes found other ways to use music to reach people. As creative music director and as an album producer, he helped usher in new forms of praise music.
In 1989 he formed his own band, and two years later the group played at a Franklin Graham Festival. Since then, The Tommy Coomes Band, a collection of writers, singers and other musicians, has played in dozens of Festivals all over the United States and around the world.
From year to year, and from place to place, the band uses the medium of music to tell people about Jesus. But also, from year to year, and from place to place, the style of the music changes.
"Styles are like a language," Tommy said. "When we are in Latin America, we do something different than when we are in the United States. When we went to Brazil a year ago, we learned eight songs in Portuguese, and we revved up the music. When we went to El Salvador, we learned 11 songs in Spanish and had a percussionist with us. When we sing in the language of the people, it builds an immediate bridge to them.
"When Franklin Graham goes to Latin America, he works through a translator. In some ways we do the same thing with music. People say that music is an international language, but it definitely has some dialects."
"My Hope," the band’s new album, speaks in different musical dialects. The title track and "Come Just As You Are" are slow, moving songs, with the latter being played following the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as Savior.
"Some songs are very Gospel," Tommy said. "Other songs are quiet, reverent worship. Still other songs are more band-oriented with guitar solos and with the seven different singers being featured. The album reflects a diversity of styles."
No matter what the music style is, the purpose is the same. The music is designed to help people find Jesus Christ as Savior and to learn more about Him.
Tommy said, "What we care about is connecting with God and connecting with people. That’s our role. That’s pretty much all we do."