Songs of Another Kind
by Melinda Scruggs
CCM Magazine January 1986
You may not know his name, but you know this person's work. To his credit are "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," "Doubly Good to You," and "Love of Another Kind" (all recorded by Amy Grant), "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Benny Hester), and "O Come All Ye Faithful (Debby Boone). Now this songwriter is singing his own songs. Rich Mullins has moved from behind the scenes and into the spotlight of his own concerts.
What happens in one of his concerts? Mullins responds thoughtfully: "I know that I am more entertained when I am challenged, when I feel like something significant has happened. When I play for people, I want something significant to happen. I don't expect it to be a life-changing experience every time for everybody, but I want it to be challenging and spiritually provocative."
Mullins' message is, to say the least, "provocative." What he hopes to communicate in his concerts and on his soon-to-be released and self-titled album is, first, that life is very good despite the hard times. Echoing Paul's epistles, Rich adds that "you should be glad you're alive and look forward to being dead."
Mullins also speaks to people who are afraid to feel things. He sees people today who are afraid of being lonely, of being in love, of being hungry, and of being fat. His words to them? "I try to encourage them to deal with those fears. Life is not so big and scary that you can't live it."
Most important to Rich, though, is his attempt to paint a picture of who Christ is and what He requires of His followers. An insightful observer of today's culture, he comments, "I think many people confuse being comfortable in their churches and society and feeling good about themselves as being Christianity. Instead, I see Christianity as calling us out of our society - out of our conventions for the sake of changing them for Him."
Rich also notes that although his audiences of college and high school age people are mostly "churched," he generally receives a good response from people who don't attend church. He suggest that "most unchurched people are not unchurched because they don't have convictions. They're unchurched because, for them, the church is the pits and because they want religion with depth to it."
What is the background of this person who wants to offer his audience songs with substance and a religion with depth? He grew up in the church - actually in many churches. His family attended the Friends Church and later the Christian Church when he was young. In junior high, Rich sang in an interdenominational youth choir and was influenced by Baptist and Methodist friends. After high school, he attended Cincinnati Bible College and worked as a youth minister in a local Methodist church. He left college and his job to work with Zion Ministries where he performed with their band.
In the summer of 1981 the group appeared at the Koinonia Coffeehouse in Nashville, Tennessee. It was there that a copy of the group's custom album - and album composed of songs written by Rich - made its way into the hands of Mike Blanton. At the time, Blanton was looking for one more song for Amy Grant's Age to Age album. Rich's "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" was perfect, Amy recorded it, and Blanton/Harrell signed Mullins as a writer.
Rich spent the next few years developing his songwriting skills. During a sabbatical from the music scene in the winter of 1983, he served as interim music minister for a small church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was then that he decided it was time for him to focus on being an artist as well as a writer. He put together a demo of his songs as he would perform them and sent it to Blanton/Harrell. That demo tape sparked an interest and enthusiasm which led the production team to sign him to their Reunion Records label.
How does Rich describe the message of his first album? He points to "Save Me" as the key song. Rich explains, "To be honest, my prayer is more often 'serve me' than 'save me.' When you say, 'save me,' you imply that you are willing to do and be the things that come with a saved life. And I'm not always there."