An Honest To God Original

An Honest To God Original

by Bill Bilsley

Calendar Magazine Summer 1987

He's nothing if not honest. And he wouldn't have it any other way. Deep thinking and intelligent, yet sensitive and self-effacing, Rich Mullins is an original who says what he thinks and sings what he feels, and his credo in life proves his primary allegiance: "It's not what people think of me that's important, it's what God thinks of me."

Evidently Mullins doesn't need to worry too much about negative feedback from his friends or his fans. His music is becoming more popular all the time, and unlike many other performers, it is filled with his own thoughts and feelings. Like his first album, Pictures in the Sky, his second album released by Reunion in February, contains only cuts written and co-written by Mullins.

Not that his songwriting ability has ever been in question. His second album only reinforces what everyone in the Christian Music industry knew when his first composition, "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," was sung by Amy Grant on Age to Age and nominated for "Song of the Year" by the Gospel Music Association. "What a lyricist!" Cash Box extolled with the release of His debut album, Rich Mullins, in 1986.

The Unexpected -- and there seems to be a lot of that in Mullins' life -- is his vocal ability. A behind-the-scenes songwriter for years, he's now singing his own stuff, and he's singing it well. He proved it last year when he accompanied Amy Grant on her phenomenally successful "Unguarded" tour.

It's the message behind the music, however, that.remains Mullins' primary motivation. "I like to sing," he says. "but I need to write. What I say is more important than how I say it, and I'll keep saying it whether or not I get recognized for it."

This desire to communicate to others about God and His love began when Rich was in high school in Indiana. "I felt sad," he recalls, "because I was getting ready to go to a Bible school (Cincinnati Bible College), and yet most of my friends didn't even know about my faith. So I decided to have a concert of my beliefs. I sang for them not because I wanted them to hear me sing, but because I wanted them to hear the message about God."

To further spread the message, Mullins became a youth minister in a local church while studying at Cincinnati Bible College. He began working with Zion Ministries in Cincinnati and performing with their bands at retreats and .local churches around the country. It was while they were performing in Nashville in 1981 that Mike Blanton heard some of the songs Rich had written. Blanton chose ""Sing Your Praise to the Lord" for Amy Grant's album and signed Mullins on as a Writer for Blanton/Harrell.

Between 1981 and 1985, Rich spent Most of his time writing songs, a vocation He has been perfecting since he began composing at the age of four. Twenty-eight years of songwriting experience is certainly paying off when you have artists like Amy Grant, Debby Boone, and Benny Hester singing your material.

Undoubtedly what these artists sense in Mullins' music is the same thing that appeals to his listeners - honesty of feelings and a lack of fear toward expressing doubts. "The main thing I have to do in my music is be honest," says Mullins, and that includes discussing the struggles that have been a part of his faith. "I'm not ashamed to admit that I've had struggles in my faith. As a matter of fact, I believe they're necessary and even fruitful because it is in the midst of struggles that you come to know God better."

Mullins sang about the pain involved in being a Christian in his first album, Rich Mullins. Contained in that album are "personal, vivid songs that depict a man struggling with his anger toward a non-committed world," writes the music editor of the Nashville Banner. Rich's anger is also directed at the world's unfairness: the fact that wealth and recognition are often lavished upon successful Christian entertainers while the material reward of many ministers and Christian teachers is, next to nothing, even though their message is the same. "I don't think it's fair to put a price tag on ministry," he says. "1 do not want so much to be a star as I would like to be a servant."

Mullins' second album Pictures in the Sky, is the hopeful one. In these songs he 'has chosen to celebrate life and God's goodness. "Overall, I'm a happy person," he says, "1 love people, I love life, and I love God for giving me life. As you get older, You appreciate things more, You start re-seeing things that were only important to you as a child, things like the clouds and the birds.. I don't think we're ever without an opportunity to be grateful for the world around us."

Finding joy in the "little" things -- the birds, the clouds, his dog Curry, and even his truck, which he's nicknamed Nellie --- is probably what keeps Rich Mullins close to God. He's perfectly happy living one day at a time and doing what he does best: Putting honesty into his songs -- honesty with himself, with others and with God.