I just finished re-reading a book that greatly influenced my ministry approach, The Gutter by Craig Gross. Gross is one of the founders of xxxchurch.com, a ministry that both helps Christian men overcome the addiction of pornography and shares the love of Jesus with people working in the porn industry. The books shares some hilarious, inspiring and saddening stories of how his ministry has helped Christians, touched the untouchables (by Church standards) of the porn industry all the while taking some serious attacks from Christians.
The point of the book is that in coming to save us from sin, Jesus got down into our gutter, not being worried about getting "dirty." And as his followers, we're to do the same. So often however, Christians are worried about getting "dirty" by getting into these gutters. At the same time, many of them are quick to throw stones at those following Jesus into the gutter, if that ministry isn't the way they'd do it.
This book is a GREAT read. While I can't even come close to sharing everything, let me share some great quotes. As I'm reading these, by the way, I'm both challenged to push our church further into the gutter and recognizing attacks upon our ministries similar to what Gross describes.
In describing Zacheus' need to climb a tree to see Jesus: "Think about it - here's a lost person trying to get a good angle on the Savior, but can't get into a prime position because of all the people following Jesus, many of whom had probably already decided Jesus was the Messiah. But he is denied acceptance because of his reputation and because of his physical appearance. The same thing has happened over and over and over again on Sunday mornings in pews across our fruited plain. A lost person comes to church, only to be shunned, whether outright or implied, because of the way he looks or because of the emotional or spiritual baggage he carries."
"That's what many religious people do. They stand on the sidelines, critical of situations that don't fit into their box of understanding. The Religious criticized everything Jesus did. Whether Jesus was on the road with Zaccheaus or in the temple with the Pharisees, they criticized and accused, seeking the worst. Instead, they found perfection. They couldn't believe a hay-filled manger in a smelly barn or a cruel timber on a garbage dump could produce a Messiah. They did not think these places could be the dwelling place of a Savior. The gutter simply did not fit into their box."
"Somewhere between the time Jesus ascended into heaven and now, we Christians, the walking billboards for Jesus' life-changing power, have done a lousy job of maintaining His momentum. Those who despised him shifted, too. The religious who once hated Him now advertise for Him. The lost who once hung out with Him now refuse to acknowledge Him. And it's all because Christians changed. God didn't change. Jesus didn't change. His people did. At one point, the God who embraced the gutter was well represented. Jesus walked the streets and took an authentic love with Him - all the way to the gutter. Wherever He went, the unchurched responded while the religious scorned."
In talking about the decision of bands such as POD and Pillar to tour and hang out back-stage with bands made up of hard-partying nonChristians:
"Sometimes I get really pissed off when I see so-called Christians attacking other Christians for getting into the gutter. Look, if God hasn't called them to a particular gutter, like secular musicians, for example, then by all means they shouldn't go into that gutter. But I think they get confused and determine that since they aren't called to that gutter, no one is called to that gutter. So instead of getting on board with a gutter-driven band, they tear that band down and generate division about that band's mission.
It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who are going into the gutter so publicly, like musicians. But if we aren't willing to go into the gutter, we must at least support our brothers and sisters in their efforts to go, instead of wasting our time picking apart their every action."
"When it comes to the gutter backstage, and really the gutter at large, you must be willing to go where most people have not gone or say they cannot go."
Speaking of a men's ministry that started at Hooters, "Many struggle with the incorrect perception that if an outreach method doesn't fit into our box of beliefs, then it is either sinful or corrupt."
"Many times, the religious ones of the Church are afraid that by offering grace, they're giving the "sinner" a free license to remain in sinful behavior. But we've all been recipients of grace, whether we admit it or not, and most of us have managed to use it responsibly because we are truly repentant."
"And why do we no only ignore those people, but also the gutters they're in? Are we afraid that they're so dirty it'll eventually rub off on us? Or worse, do we lack the compassion to have an effective impact on them? In my experience, it's the latter more than the former."
"If a Christian doesn't get in the gutter, he doesn't get challenged. And when he doesn't get challenged (and a little bit uncomfortable), he gets apathetic and bored."
"When we go to the gutter, we aren't just changing gutter-dwellers; they're changing us. We're all being changed for the better. Too often we sit through church and when it's over, we think we're done with our work for the week. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. You cannot live out your faith based solely on what other people tell you; you cannot be okay with merely consuming information - including the information in this book. You must be convinced to take action for God."
"I think it all comes down to one word, really: willingness. In each of these examples, people exhibit a willingess to go into the gutter and do what God has called them to do. A willingness to defy the enemy and step into his realm to rescue people from it."
"They go and they go some more because once you get into the gutter, you find that you want to go back. So what are some gutters around you that you can get involved in? You may not have a Red Light Distirct or crack house or biker garage near you, but I can almost gaurantee there's a Starbucks. Or a grocery story. Or a street corner. Or any number of things. Look hard enough and you'll find a gutter you can get in; just look with God's eyes. "
"If you don't go, who will?"
The Gutter: Part II