Rich Mullins: The Ragamuffin


Twenty years ago I was speaking to a friend of mine who was well placed in the Nashville Christian music industry.  She was not impressed with some of the big name “stars” of the time and shared with me a few stories of hypocrisy and egos gone awry involving some of my favorite music artists.

It was depressing!

I was almost afraid to ask about the one Christian musician whose message and music had meant so much to Tammy and I.

So what about Rich Mullins?  What’s he like in real life?” I asked nervously.

“Rich Mullins?” she replied, Oh no, he isn’t like the others.  He’s the real deal!”


Mullins, who tragically died in an auto accident in 1997, has his story told in a recent motion picture Ragamuffin: The Rich Mullins Story.  In the film writer and director David Schultz peels back the “Christian gloss” to reveal a man who desperately wanted to know God but struggled with his own inner demons.  It was this internal struggle that led Mullins to understand the Grace of God long before the rest of us were getting it.

In the movie there is a beautiful scene where Mullins (played brilliantly by Michael Koch) hears about Christ’s unconditional love through a teaching by Brennen Manning, one of the “fathers” of the modern Grace movement.  Mullins, who is already a Christian celebrity at this point, pulls over, hops out of his jeep, and breaks down weeping on the side of the rode.

When God’s love for you “clicks” it can be overwhelming!

The movie goes on to chronicle how Rich Mullins:

* chose to eschew fortune and live on what the average working person in America lived on every year

* chose to eschew fame by living in a trailer on an Indian reservation to teach music to children in need there

* was a constant irritant to the Christian establishment because he chose to take what Jesus taught seriously

If I have a critique of the movie it was that the pacing was a little slow at times and used the ongoing conflict with his father a little too repetitively. It would have been nice to see more interaction with the music establishment or scenes of his work on the reservation.  Mullins had always talked fondly of his trips to Ireland and a reflective scene of him being refreshed along the shores of the Emerald Island would have “opened up” the film more.  Budget limitations, I’m sure, were the reason the film seemed geographically claustrophobic and confined to the Cincinnati – Witchita – Nashville triangle.

Overall though the film is solid and does credit to a man who has impacted so many people and showed them how much God loves them just as they are.


Rich’s Music

When I started talking about the movie this week I was surprised (and slightly irritated) that most Christians I talked to had never heard of Rich’s music.  Mullins is arguably one of the best song writers of his generation.  He was a singer-songwriter whose lyrics could penetrate the human condition and lay it bare before God in a way few are capable.  One of the reasons I struggle with modern worship music  is because it often seems trite when compared to music like Mullins.  (When you’ve flown Business Class its hard to get excited about flying Economy)
Most people know some of Mullins classic worship songs like Awesome God and Sing Your Praise to the Lord but below are three of my personal favorites.  Think of them as a “primer” if you are new to Rich’s music.



  • I also had a friend working in Nashville with Mullins and he described him as a passionate, coherent, iconoclast in the Christian music industry. Many disagreed with him, but virtually all respected him.
    Along with you, Mullins’ music was very formative in my approach to worship and obedience to Jesus. Most of last year, we shared our house with a homeless musician who attended Cincinatti Bible College with Mullins and remained friends with him until his death.
    I haven’t read about Mullins’ experiences in Ireland, but I’m going to dig those out now, of course. Thanks for this post.

  • Bob

    Did not even know about the movie so I was glad to read this. Rich Mullins died shortly after I moved to Nashville in 1997. Pretty much everything you say here reflects what I have always heard about him from people who knew him. We are fortunate to have his legacy of music still with us.

    • Steve

      Bob, I’d bet there are some large screen showings of “Ragamuffin” in Nashville. I didn’t mention that I saw Mullins in concert once in 1992 about a week before my wedding. I had never heard of him at that point and some friends in Louisiana suggested we go. Incredible concert that started my admiration for the man

  • I fully expect to be greeted in heaven by the sound of Rich Mullins playing the dulcimer. He did a performance at a juvenile prison outside of Chicago that I volunteered at and was so real and honest that most of the boys were mesmerized. He started off by saying, “I’m not here for your boys. I don’t really care about you. Probably because I don’t know you. But I know some of the volunteers who come here to spend time with you and they love you and I love them. So that’s why I came.”

    • Steve

      Rebecca, I really enjoyed that comment. That level of honesty is non-existent in the Christian world! Certainly would value waht Rich would bring to today’s conversation

Comments are closed.