Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two articles I read after finishing my sermon preparation

It feels great to have completed my sermon preparation, I think my "re-centering" yesterday contributed to a good flow today (despite my having a bad sore throat which seems to be trying to develop into a cough!)

No home group meeting tonight too so this evening I am off to visit 2 new people by the invitation of a church member who has been helping them. Am stoked as he called me last night to make the arrangement for me to visit and pray for them! A privilege to be called and so wonderful to see this man so excited about sharing his faith ... telling these 2 his testimony and how good Jesus is! I think it is significant that two Hindus are willing to allow a Christian pastor who is a stranger to them to come to pray for them!

Anyway with the sermon done and a short free slot in between stuff, catching up on some reading and here's two articles I found challenging (posted a third on the MBS alumni blog) ... Are you a good Christ?

The following article is located at:

Messy, Costly, Dirty Ministry
The risk of welcoming those nobody else wants.
Mark Buchanan

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tabernacle felt like skydiving into a tornado, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I'd read about the meeting in Pastor Jim Cymbala's book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, but nothing prepared me for the event itself: 3,500 God-hungry people storming heaven for two hours.

Afterward, my friend and I went out to dinner with the Cymbalas. In the course of the meal, Jim turned to me and said, "Mark, do you know what the number one sin of the church in America is?" I wasn't sure, and the question was rhetorical anyhow. "It's not the plague of internet pornography that is consuming our men. It's not that the divorce rate in the church is roughly the same as society at large."

Jim named two or three other candidates for the worst sin, all of which he dismissed. "The number one sin of the church in America," he said, "is that its pastors and leaders are not on their knees crying out to God, 'Bring us the drug-addicted, bring us the prostitutes, bring us the destitute, bring us the gang leaders, bring us those with AIDS, bring us the people nobody else wants, whom only you can heal, and let us love them in your name until they are whole.'"

I had no response. I was undone. He had laid me bare, found me out, and exposed my fraudulence. I was the chief of sinners. I had never prayed, not once, for God to bring such people to my church. So I went home and repented. I stopped sinning. I began to cry out for "those nobody wanted."

And darned if God didn't bring them. But then I found out why nobody wants them: they're messy and costly and dirty. They swear at you, lie to you, steal from you. Worse, they make you love them, and then often break your heart.

It reminds me of a scene from Entertaining Angels, the story of Dorothy Day and her ministry during the Depression. Dorothy is praying before a life-size crucifix. "Why," she asks Jesus, "did you have to wear such a revolting disguise, covered in vomit, smelling of urine, dressed in rags, cussing?"

But when God brings messy people, it does two things: first, it makes you real, and then it makes you desperate. It makes you real, because you're dealing with a magnitude of sin that bromides and platitudes are powerless against. You have to name sin in all its ugliness and minister the cure undiluted. A crack cocaine addict recently agreed to go through a year of intense rehab because I knew he was bluffing me and I called him on it. I leaned into his face and told him that unless he stopped BS-ing me, and right now, I was walking. He was in rehab in three days, and has now been there for three months with nine still to go. Anything less than hard reality at that moment would have fallen short.

Messy people also make you desperate. Until I began to cry out, most of the people I counseled were struggling with sins that, for the most part, had minimal social consequences. They became angry too quickly, or gossiped too often, or ran up their credit card too high. Problems, yes. Sins, indeed. But any of it, all of it, they could more or less manage on their own.

Ministry under those circumstances is like being in a boat when the wind kicks up. You strain against the wind and it's comforting to know Jesus is somewhere nearby, but you can tough it out alone. You can fall back on your basic nautical skills to get through it.

But that doesn't work with sex-trade workers and crack addicts. With them, ministry is like being called out of the boat to walk on the water: you've never been here before, there's no three-step technique, and unless Jesus is with you, ready to catch you when you fall, you are going to sink all the way down.

Some days I wish things were tidy again. But if ministry and mess are inseparable, I'll take them both.

Mark Buchanan is pastor of New Life Community church in Duncan, British Columbia, and a contributing editor of Leadership.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.


The following article is located at:

Salvation on the Strip
The Porn Pastor's strategy for reaching Sin City is unconventional, and what he's doing in Vegas can't stay in Vegas.
Leadership interviews Craig Gross

Friday, May 15, 2009

Las Vegas by day is a marvel of architectural achievement. The four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as "the Strip" is lined with theme-based hotels, casinos, and restaurants that re-create the world in the Nevada desert. Rome, Paris (complete with faux Eiffel Tower), New York City, and ancient Egypt are all within walking distance.

Las Vegas at night is a different story. The impressive buildings are obscured by a barrage of neon light and stories-tall television screens that preview nearly nude showgirls—and boys. Men on the sidewalks wear sandwich boards advertising "Girls Direct to Your Room" while others pass out trading cards for call girls. From the innocuous to the sinister, you can find any form of entertainment or vice on this short stretch of desert highway.

Enter Craig Gross. Craig began ministry as a youth pastor. When he realized that many of his kids were struggling with Internet pornography addictions, he founded an online resource for recovery and accountability called Since then, Craig has become something of a chaplain to the porn industry. He has traveled with porn star Ron Jeremy to debate the dangers of pornography on college campuses, in public forums, and on news programs like ABC's Nightline. More recently, he's been taking teams of volunteers to adult entertainment tradeshows around the world.

Wearing t-shirts that say "Jesus Loves Porn Stars," Craig and his crew hand out Bibles, share the gospel, and help men and women escape the sex industry.

In 2008, Craig, his wife, and the small team that runs XXXchurch moved their families from Michigan to Las Vegas to launch a ministry they call The Strip Church. Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien met with Craig in Las Vegas to learn more about The Strip Church and how ministry needs to change as the temptations of Las Vegas become available to every church member on their desktop.

What brought you to Sin City?

I was leaving Las Vegas last year after the porn show, and I thought: What if we stayed here? Vegas isn't where a lot of the porn is made, but it's where a lot of it's on display. So why not start something on the Strip.

Are people in Las Vegas interested in the gospel?

Just because a person goes to a porn show or out with a hooker doesn't mean he has no interest in Jesus. Zacchaeus was a crook, but he still wanted to see Jesus. Just because someone isn't looking into your church doesn't mean he's not looking for the gospel.

So if they don't find the gospel in church, where do they find it?

We take it to them. Vegas is the convention capital of the world. Every week thousands of business travelers leave their families and come here. And the same temptations exist whether they are at a porn convention or the electronics convention. But none of the churches in Las Vegas are doing ministry on the Strip. They are focused on reaching the residents on the outskirts of town, not the business travelers who are here for a few days and then leave.

Our plan is to reach people on the Strip at trade shows with the gospel, give them the support they need to avoid making bad decisions while they're in Vegas, and then hopefully connect them with a church back in their home town.

What people don't understand is that trade shows are almost like flea markets. At the porn show last week, I bought Egyptian cotton sheets and some insoles for my shoes. I even got my teeth whitened. We just buy a booth at the conferences, hand out Bibles, and talk to people about spiritual things. So we are able to reach out to people without thinking, Will they come back? Are they going to tithe? Someone called it intervention evangelism.

How are other churches in Las Vegas responding?

One pastor said, "I like the plan, but what about the other fifty-one weeks out of the year?" I told him, a few days in this town can screw up your life and your marriage forever. Vegas wants us to believe that what happens here stays here, but it never does. We may only have contact with people one week a year, but it is a really important week.

As our culture becomes more addicted, how does the posture of the church need to adapt?

I'll never forget the red light district of Amsterdam. The area is covered with brothels, sex, drugs—every vice you can think of. At the center of the district is an abandoned church building with boarded up doors. There is a church literally in the center of the red light district, but it's completely lost its influence.

I've met a lot of younger people that don't want to be a traditional youth pastor or worship pastor or senior pastor. They want to take the gospel into the darkness, into the red light districts, but traditional churches aren't structured for that.

The Strip Church is obviously structured differently.

A lot of people are bothered by the fact that we call ourselves a church when we don't have a storefront. But long gone are the days when we could expect people to come to our church just because we had a building and a cool band.

How are you taking the church into the darkness?

We just spent a weekend at a gay porn show. They invited us, gave us a booth, and asked us to bring Bibles. We have a team of gals that does outreaches to the strip clubs. Two week ago, I went to the world famous Chicken Ranch [a brothel] with my pastor. We knocked on the door and told the lady we were pastors and that we were there to care for them. She said, "Craig, I've worked here for twenty-two years, and I don't know if it's what I want for my life. There are some girls you need to talk to." We're not going to hold a worship service at the Chicken Ranch, but we're going to bring the church there.

What is keeping more churches from going into those hard places?

You've got to be willing to throw out the rulebook. We've limited what we think the church can be. A lot of people think the church is three songs and a sermon. But if you want to have an impact on people, you've got to do it differently.

Jesus wasn't afraid to dine with sinners. I'm not afraid to go to porn shows. We have an attractive message of hope to share. People respond well to that. Why are we so afraid?

If you're not leading a traditional church, are you involved in one?

I have two kids and our staff has kids. We're not going to take them to church at the Chicken Ranch. So we needed a place our families could engage and where we could be involved. We've plugged in at South Hills Church (see page 24). They were the first church to offer us help. Because of our ministry, we've never needed the support of a church more than we do here.

Do Strip Church volunteers come from other local churches?

Some do, but we are also bringing in teams from other churches around the country. We want them to see ministry at a Vegas convention as a missions trip that doesn't require a passport. We just had a team from a church in Seattle help us at the porn show last week. One volunteer said she shared Christ with more people in four days than she had her entire life as a Christian. I hope her experience gives her more courage to talk with people back home about Christ.

Is going to a porn expo dangerous? Are you sending Christians into the lion's den?

I understand why people think that, but the porn show is not sexy. It's not glamorous. Porn is about fantasy, but when you see these people and the emptiness behind their eyes, the fantasy is broken. When they tell you, "I don't want to be doing this," or when you see girls running to the bathroom in tears to escape all the guys touching them, you realize how ugly this world is.

Everyone that's gone to a show tells me the same thing—it's so much easier than you think, because you suddenly see these people as human beings, not as images. When your heart breaks for them, it's pretty difficult to lust. For example, at one show I met a porn star signing autographs who used to be a girl in my friend's youth group. After you hear her story, you can't look at her image on a poster the same way again.

How is pornography addiction different than other vices?

If you're an alcoholic, you're eventually going to get behind a steering wheel. You're going to stumble in drunk. People are going to smell it on your breath. The Internet has made porn more available, but it's also made it more secretive. It's easy to cover up, and it's everywhere. You don't have to pursue porn. Now it finds you.

A significant part of your ministry is helping churches talk more openly about pornography. Is it working?

Yes, but there are still a lot of pastors who are uncomfortable with the subject. Every time I speak at a church, like clockwork, a woman comes up to me crying and says, "Pornography is why I lost my marriage." If I'm a pastor and I know this is happening in my church, why wouldn't I address it? People want to hear about the things they are dealing with. Not to knock sermons about the end times, but porn is killing people in our churches. We've got to talk about it.

What about pastors struggling with porn?

One study found that 48 percent of pastors said they were struggling with porn. On the XXXchurch website, there's a page with over a hundred confessions from pastors. If this is an issue that a lot of pastors are dealing with, then I can understand why they don't want to preach about it.

I know numerous people that have left ministry because of porn, and none of them would have to be out of ministry if they had just come clean. Craig Groeschel says, "If someone comes into my office and says they're struggling with porn, they keep their job. If they wait until I catch them, they're out of a job." That's pretty biblical. The Bible says confess your sin, you'll prosper; you conceal it, you won't.

What keeps pastors from coming clean?

Most pastors don't have true accountability because they're afraid. They think, If I'm really honest with someone, they could fire me. So they don't want people to know what they're really struggling with. We offer accountability software that monitors where you go online. It sends a report of any questionable sites to a few people of your choice. We gave the software away for free to everyone at a large ministry conference one year. Only 89 pastors out of nine thousand actually installed it on their computer. They just don't feel safe.

I have four guys on my board that care more about me than about the ministry. More pastors need that kind of trust and safety in order to be honest. Maybe you can find that with another pastor, or it could be someone outside your city and outside your church.

Do you think churches are doing a better job addressing other addictions?

I'm afraid not. We've started another ministry called Heart Support to help churches talk more openly about other difficult issues like depression, suicide, eating disorders, and self injury. We've actually found more churches are willing to host a Porn Sunday than talk about eating disorders.

That's surprising. How do you explain that?

Pornography is an uncomfortable subject, but it gets people's attention. A church can advertise that they're hosting a Porn Sunday or a Porn and Pancakes men's breakfast, and suddenly they're seen as relevant and edgy. But nobody get excited about a sermon series on depression or eating disorders.

Those vices aren't sexy.

Right. There are parts of the Bible that warn us about gluttony and lust in the same passage, but we usually skip right over the food part and go straight to the sex. We are facing all kinds of health issues in this country because we are eating too much, but I've never heard that issue talked about in the church.

Whether the issue is porn, anorexia and bulimia, cutting, or overeating, there's something going on in the person's soul. Our struggles are going to look different, but people in our churches have a lot of baggage. We need to be talking about it; getting at the root. That is the key.

What is the first step for churches that want to address these things?

Pastors need to begin dealing with reality—hearing what the people and families in their community are actually dealing with. Families today are dealing with the same issues whether they are in the church or not.

Last summer we spoke to 25,000 kids at a series of conferences. We asked them to write down their secrets on a card: What are you struggling with? What have you not told anybody? We mixed up the cards in the audience to protect their privacy, and then asked kids to stand up and read what was on the cards. I was blown away every week by what I heard—thoughts of suicide, struggles with drugs, porn, anorexia, kids who were molested. And these were all church kids. We need to hear the truth about what's happening in our churches.

How can pastors begin to hear these stories?

Just ask. I think people are more willing than ever to share. And then put those people in positions to lead. Get the woman that pulled out her hair to run the small group for the other girls that have hurt themselves. Just because you've not struggled with something doesn't mean your church can't address it. It didn't stop me. I was never addicted to porn. I hardly saw it before starting XXXchurch. You need to find people that have those stories and then plug them into your church.

Do you ever think you've crossed a line or you've gone too far?

I don't have any regrets. We've certainly gotten criticized for some of the things we've done, and there are things I wouldn't do again. But there's no roadmap for what we're doing. I'd rather try and make a mistake than not try at all. A friend likes to say, "We'll do anything short of sin to reach people." That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

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