Singer-songwriter Rich Mullins died 25 years ago last month. His death is still mourned and his music is still celebrated.
Mullins’ music possessed texture, broad themes, bold cultural statements, beautiful melodies and pleasant instrumentation; but more than anything else, his music was a spiritual work surfacing from a voice and an artist that Christians and non-Christians alike longed to find among Christian musicians.
Mullins’ music was a call to a deeper, richer, spiritual life done in a way that inspired, challenged, and entertained through his unique twist of a phrase style and subversive personality.
Mullins’ concerts became legendary as spiritual, holy experiences. Mullins’ manager, Gay Quinsenberry, said of his concerts late in his career, “God spoke through Rich in ways I had never seen before or since.”
Mullins didn’t see his role as performer there to entertain and garner applause. For him, playing music and creating was a calling. He believed that his shows should have a message: “You know what? The world is full of musicians. What the world is starving for is Christ. If I wanna just go to a concert, I’ll go see the Chieftains, or a symphony, or a jazz concert, or a rock concert. But if I go to a Christian concert, I want to be reminded that He is a loving God, and that He has forgiven me, and there is hope.”
I saw Mullins perform once in Sweetwater, Texas, of all places. Even as a teenager at the time, I could recognize that Mullins was truly playing Christian music. It wasn’t pop music zapped with a Christian spin but music coming from a place of prayer, wrestling with God, and moved by the Holy Spirit. Mullins performed barefooted not as a sign of a hippie aesthetic but in an attempt to ground him with the ordinary and holy.
I remember the youth minister that got up to dismiss the audience after Mullins was finished. The audience had just experienced 90 minutes of God-breathed worship and poetry. God was present and moving. The air was dripping with powerful spiritual urgency. What we all needed was a prayer, a blessing, or a call to seek God in intentional ways. God had inspired Mullins’ music and now the audience was inspired to live differently. The moment was too big for this well intentioned youth minister. He had his script about spiritual warfare, Satan, and whatever was the youth minister catch phrase of the day and it all fell flat. Mullins had taken us to the feet of Jesus and all we got from this guy was the equivalent of a cheap bumper sticker.
In some ways, my desire to Grow Up is an attempt to find what Mullins had found and leave the superficial world often found in evangelical churches behind. I am still a work in progress. Thankfully, I still have Mullins’ music to inspire, convict, bless, savor, and bring me to the presence of God.