Hoosier Musician Sings to Heaven But Keeps His Feet on the Ground
by Edith Lee
Lafayette Indiana Journal and Courier November 3, 1989
It wasn't always easy growing up a boy in basketball-crazy Indiana without being able to play to impress girls with your jumpshot.
But now that Rich Mullins is a successful singersongwriter in the world of contemporary Christian music he can laugh about how inadequate he felt growing up in Richmond.
"When I was a kid, I thought, I'm never going to get a date because I don't play basketball. Then I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I thought, maybe there's hope," Mullins said.
At 34, Mullins has three No. 1 contemporary Christian hits and two Dove nominations to his name. One of those Doves, the gospel equivalent to the Grammys, was for penning Amy Grant's 1983 song of the year, "Sing Your Praise to the Lord."
Mullins earned a good reputation writing songs for artists including Grant and Debby Boone, until he was signed by Reunion Records in 1983. Sometimes sounding like Christian music's version of pop rock's Billy Joel.
The songwriter, who's been playing piano since he was 4 years old, is able to take solemn scriptures and sing about them in a simple, straightforward way. In "Awesome God," Mullins' latest No. 1 song, you get a feel for the songwriter's ability to belt out words that are more than just lyrics.
When He rolls up His sleeves
He ain't just putting on the Ritz...
The Lord wasn't Joking
when be kicked 'em out of Eden
Mullins said Christian music benefited from the change in attitude in the '70s when "young people realized Christianity was theirs, too, and that God was not a middle-aged, middle class Republican." That's when people decided that "the message is more important than the style of music."
Mullins believes the music can bring a gospel message people that might not otherwise hear it, but there is a limit to the use of music as a ministry. The "real ministry," he said, is how people treat each other.
"Music is a wonderful thing and I'm glad I have the opportunity to do it but the real dynamic in Christianity is people hugging each other. The test is whether you can love.
"The reason I'm a Christian is people really reached out to me and listened to me and taught me when I was hard to teach, not because of any song I heard," he said.
Mullins' missionary work in Thailand, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong is one way he keeps the music, and everything else, in perspective. He's seen big differences in cultures, such as how they don't date in Thailand. But he believes that there's good and bad everywhere and "people are bigger than any culture is.'