Behind The Album: Interview About Ragamuffin Soul
Featuring Carlos Whittaker Posted on July 26, 2010
NRT contributor Marcus Hathcock speaks with Integrity Music's Carlos Whittaker about his debut album and his calling to disturb and disrupt both Christians and non-Christians.
Carlos Whittaker: "I’m not going to apologize for being a Christian. But I feel like people need to take a step back for a second and say, you know, what’s my language look like? What do my actions look like? And slowly, but surely, I think the church is going to really figure out how to reach people."
Chances are, even if Carlos Whittaker’s debut album, Ragamuffin Soul, is new to you, you’ve heard of him before. Whether you saw him get Saul’s conversion tattooed on his arm on an episode of LA Ink or heard him say he was a terrible parent after telling his son, Losiah, that he didn’t qualify to sing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” song in the car with his sisters, or read his many musings on faith and the Church on his blog, Carlos Whittaker is all over the place.
Before leading worship at Creation Festival NW, Carlos took some time to talk about his crazy schedule, his “disruptive” mission, and how he wants to show Jesus to the world.
How’s the family? How’s Atlanta?
They’re good! We’re actually in California for the summer, so we’re just hanging out with family. Literally, we’re like the mobile homeless. We have everything in our car--we put everything in storage in Atlanta and we drove cross-country. So we’re like in LA for a couple weeks--Pasadena, Fresno, Hawaii. We’re following our families who have vacations and we’re staying with them for the summer. We were at Lake Shasta last week for seven days, and then went to Hawaii a couple days ago. They’re still there, and I’m here. I was there for three days--two really--and didn’t really take it in until I was leaving.
Wow, just two days?
I know, right? Yeah, two days in Hawaii.
Are you enjoying the move to Atlanta?
Yeah, I love Atlanta. We’ll be there a couple more years. The culture-–the kind of Christian bubble culture-–is right there in Atlanta, and I feel like I’m trying to pop that thing all the time and weird people out, y’know.
What about your responsibilities at North Point Church in the summer? How do you juggle that?
Well, I’ve stepped back all my roles to just leading worship. I was over all service programming, creative and everything, but when I kind of jumped on with Integrity to do this record I went to Jeff [Henderson] and Andy [Stanley] to talk about stepping back. Andy Stanley told me about two years ago now, that I'm great at managing people. That’s what my job was--managing creatives. “But when you’re on stage," he said, "in front of people, that’s your sweet spot.” And so I was like, “Maybe I’ll just do THAT more.” So yes, I kinda stepped out on faith. I’m there (at the Buckhead campus) once a month. But I get to help the global church now, all over the place.
When people hear of you, they’ve heard of you from LA Ink or your blog or YouTube. Now you've started your music/worship career on a national level. You wear a lot of hats. How do you juggle all that and still make time for the family? Wow do you do everything?
A lot of marriage counseling! No, I’m just kidding [laughs]. People ask me this all the time. One question I get when on an airplane–-and it seems like I’m on an airplane twice a week now-–is what do you do? I used to be able to say, “Well, I’m a pastor,” snd I still can say that, but it really doesn’t summarize everything I’m doing, especially now. So I look at them and I always tell them, “Well, I’m an experience architect.” Sometimes people will hear that as “an experienced architect” so they think, oh, you’re an architect, and I tell them, no, I architect experiences. That really summarizes what I do, whether I’m architecting an experience vocally through leading worship, or producing an event like Catalyst or a service at Buckhead, or through speaking or communicating with keynote slides or whatever. I feel like I’m just constantly trying to architect experiences to try to close the gap between people and whoever God has put in front of them--to communicate the Gospel to them.
I feel like there’s this big triangle that I’m constantly trying to shrink--through producing, singing, speaking or whatever it might be. I really do this renaissance thing where I don’t want to be defined as "worship artist Carlos Whittaker" or "speaker Carlos Whittaker." I feel like the ministry that God’s slowly building with me is definitely going to be this multifaceted experience where I’m helping people figure out how to creatively find their niche with God.
You’re somebody who is approachable by both believers and non-believers. From your experience in the church and popping the bubble, what is it that people outside the church are looking for? What is it that’s going to make Jesus worth giving a shot?
I do have a lot of non-Christian friends; I even have a lot of blatantly atheist friends. And I can call them friends now. I feel like, with me at least, from what they’ve told me, is that they feel zero judgment from me. And I feel like that’s so cliché and so easy to say but, even if we’re not judging people, sometimes the language that we use automatically just pushes them away.
The prime story is Hannah, the girl who did my sleeve [on the episode of LA Ink]. She’s not a Christian--farthest thing from a Christian--but during the 13 hours I was with her, at the end of the show, she ended up giving me my tattoo for free. It was a tattoo worth at least a couple thousand dollars, and she goes, “You know what? I’ve never met a Christian that I liked, and I believe in what you’re doing. I just want to bless you.” She used the word “bless.” I just remembered thinking, you know, she might not get Jesus, but she gets Jesus, you know? We’ve kept in contact and she will do my next tattoo piece.
I just feel like it’s giving people the opportunity to be who they are without slamming Jesus down their face the way the rest of what they see as Christendom slams it down their face. The way I slam it down their face is living my life out. I’m not going to apologize for being a Christian. But I feel like people need to take a step back for a second and say, you know, what’s my language look like? What do my actions look like? And slowly, but surely, I think the church is going to really figure out how to reach people.
There’s people out there who will never step foot into your church. I feel like churches don’t understand that. They’re going to do the events, bring in bands, do all these things to bring people to their church. I go to churches all the time and I go, no, 99 percent of the [unbelievers] are never even going to come. I don’t care if you bring U2 into your arena, they’re not going to come. We have to go outside to them. That doesn’t mean we’re going to have an event for them, it just means be with them, you know? Without an agenda. Anyway, I could talk forever about that.
But then when you come to events like this, which are predominantly believer-oriented, how does your mission change?
I think it stays the same in both contexts. I have this thing called “to disturb and disrupt.” That’s kind of my schtick. And whether that be a non-Christian, or whether that be a Christian, I’m disturbing and disrupting for the sake of growing people closer in this space to God. I disturb and disrupt the non-Christian by bringing them into a relationship with a Christ follower--and that in and of itself is disturbing. You know, just to be a friend with a Christian for them is weird. For Christians at events like this, you know, I really want to disturb and disrupt them and get them out of their comfort zone. Christians get comfortable and then they get stale, and then people just stop sharing Christ. They stop.
One of my songs is called “We Will Worship You,” where the lyrics are: Save us from these comforts / break us of our need for the familiar / spare us any joy that’s not of You / and we will worship You.
If you really think about it, you don’t want to sing that. Churches are like, "Lord, make us comfortable. Lord, have everything be familiar, and then we will worship you." Well flip that thing upside down, put a catchy melody behind it, get some people singing it and hopefully, subconsciously, people will start getting disturbed.
What is next for you?
I want to do a documentary. I want to do a bridge-building documentary between all these denominations that are always at each other’s throats-–not even denominations, but styles. For example, you’ve got your hipsters that can’t stand the megachurches. I want to find a way to go in and find the common thread of Jesus in every aspect and thread those things through. I’ve talked about doing that, as well as another record coming out.
Yeah, man! Gotta keep running, keep going.
What is your next tattoo going to be?
As of right now, is this vintage, old 1970s headphone that’s going to go on my right side [rib-level], and a quarter-inch cable is going to come down and spell out “soul.” So we’ll see if it turns out that way. But that’s what it is right now.
Thank you so much.
No, dude! Thanks for hanging. Appreciate it!