Saturday, February 13, 2010

Influences: Rich Mullins

Sometime in early 1990, Doyle Craven (then the Youth and Christian Education Director of North Carolina Yearly Meeting) unleashed "the plan."  The plan was that for our August Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions we would invite the youth of Indiana Yearly Meeting to join us.  And as a by-product of this union, we could get Rich Mullins as our speaker.  Rich was a former Indiana Quaker who was making it big in the Christian music scene.  Doyle and a few others were ecstatic.  I was not.

First of all, I had never heard of Rich Mullins. My youth had never heard of him either.  I didn't see how this unknown singer was going to help us build excitement.  Secondly, he was a singer.  One of my pet peeves as a youth pastor has always been going to a concert and hearing the singer preach more than they sing.  I pay to hear them sing!  We were not even pretending in this case- we were going to pay a singer to speak for four days.  He would also do a concert, I was told, but this didn't do much to lift my spirits, since I knew none of his music.  I was far from sold on this idea.

Doyle and others kept telling my how great he was, how he had written Awesome God (a song I had not heard yet) and how his latest album was a smash hit.  When I saw the album cover (at right) I thought "Oh great- another preppy star who will never relate to my students."  I listened to the tape and had to admit I liked some of the music.  But still, he was coming to speak.  To heighten my apprehension even more, I would be leading music in the presence of this professional musician.  I did not look forward to the week.

Rich and his sidekick Beaker arrived, and I was immediately struck by how little he resembled the guy on the album cover above.  He wore dirty t-shirts, jeans with holes, had long hair and a constant stubble on his face.  He never seemed to wear shoes.  As the first session began I led a rousing session of singing and worship and turned it over to Rich.  He began by asking us all how many of us had memorized the 10 Commandments.  A few in the crowd raised their hands.  He then asked "In order?" and all the hands went down.  He proceeded to tell us how those were God's basic guidelines for living, and that we could not be committed Christians without knowing them.  Now I was getting mad.  He had known us for about 10 minutes and was already telling us we weren't good Christians.  It got worse.  He wanted to know if any of us knew the Beatitudes by heart, and no one did.  He told us that they were the condensed version of everything Jesus taught, and not knowing them was like trying to play basketball without knowing the rules.  He wondered out loud if the adult leaders of these youth had any idea what they were doing.  We were furious.  He was judgemental, he was condemning, he was defiant- and he was right.  I was humbled and broken before God in a whole new way- and not for the last time that week.  I went back to my room that night and began to memorize both of the suggested texts; I have never forgotten them since.

I didn't know it just yet, but from that point on no one's music or ministry would have more influence on my life than that of Rich Mullins.  Come back tomorrow to hear more, including how a trip to a water park ended with me having a new understanding of what it means to follow "God's Own Fool."

Because of Jesus,


  1. Carl, I've really been enjoying reading your blog because it's reminded me of some of the great adventures/misadventures I had at various NCYM gatherings. The Yearly Meeting that Rich came to was definitely one of the most intense and interesting that I can remember.

    His opening session where he challenged us about the 10 Commandments brought out such strong emotions in so many of us. I remember feeling passionately like he didn't "get" my flavor of Quakerism at all if he was hung up on the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes. That wasn't what my spiritual journey was all about, and I resented what I felt was his insinuation that my journey was flawed because I didn't know that stuff.

    By the end of the week, I was definitely moved by Rich's personal flavor of Christianity (like you, I still know the 10 commandments in order as result of those sessions). The night we (Serenity) sang "Awesome God" with him in the audience was amazing! We had gone from wanting to resist EVERYTHING he had to say to wanting to impress him and embrace his vision in just a few short days. Thanks for refreshing those memories (and many others!) -- Susan

  2. Susan, you describe the week perfectly- and it a lot fewer words than I used! It is so wonderful to know old friends like you are reading!

  3. "God's Own Fool" as in the Michael Card song? Love that song and album. Love Rich too!

    1. Absolutely as in the Michael Card song- one of my very favorites!!! Thanks for stopping by!


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