Edgy Preachers

edgy_preachers_2Mark Driscoll and Craig Gross do not pussyfoot around tough topics, and their hard-nosed approach is proving very attractive to male audiences

by Frank Stirk

Seeker Insensitive

Why men like Mark Driscoll’s hard-edged sermons

driscollMark Driscoll doesn’t look like your typical pastor—because he isn’t. He wears jeans torn at the knees and looks like he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days. His sermons are long, usually an hour or more, and he’s prone to yell and accuse and make some people squirm with his tough-guy vibe and macho lingo.

But Driscoll, who pastors Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is also fiercely uncompromising in his challenge to Christian men to act like the leaders Scripture commands them to be. For him, developing mature male leaders is so essential to church health and Kingdom growth that it is nothing less than “a hill to die on.” So it’s no surprise that he has little patience for pastors who he suspects are too afraid of the backlash they’d cause if they turned their churches into “man-factories.”

“Some of you guys, right now, you’re chickens. I see it in your eyes. You’re cowards,” Driscoll told pastors at a conference in Burnaby, B.C., a couple of years ago. “You’re like, ‘Somebody’s going to get their feelings hurt.’ Canadian nicety is the problem. You work for a guy who got killed. I mean, put your cup on and get in the game and be willing to take a nasty email.”

Ouch, eh? And Driscoll isn’t done. “If you preach a weak, effeminate, cowardly, timid, humble, Galilean peasant in a dress who doesn’t like conflict,” he warns, “you cannot and will not and should not attract men.”

But is a pumped-up masculinity the way to turn weak-willed men into mighty warriors for Jesus? Ross Hastings, a former pastor who now teaches mission studies at Vancouver’s Regent College, has his doubts. “Nothing ticks me off more,” he says, “than the fact that in most churches I have served, the women outshine the men in biblical study, literacy and godliness by a country mile.

“Yes, it’s true that [Jesus] was unafraid of controversy, and we need to be humbly courageous in our day. But He got killed for the simple reason that He submitted Himself to the Father’s will and refused to fight back. So who’s the manly Man?”

Yet far from turning people off, Driscoll’s message and style—which The New York Times last January dubbed “seeker insensitive”—seems to be exactly what young men especially are craving. They’re noticing because what started out as a home Bible study is now one of the fastest-growing mega-churches in one of the least churched cities in the U.S.

“Deep down in the heart of men is the dignity for responsibility,” says Driscoll. “Men want to be told, ‘We expect more from you than to be a porn addict and an unemployed loser and a guy whose whole goal is to find a woman with a good job.’ … But they never had a dad, or they had a dad who divorced their mom, or who looked at porn, or who beat them up, or who molested their sister. These guys have no framework for masculinity.”

Let’s Be Real and Honest

Why men need to hear Craig Gross and his anti-porn message

grossCraig Gross has never met a challenge he didn’t take on. As a young pastor in southern California, he noticed that many in his church were struggling with pornography. In 2002, he responded with XXXchurch.com, a website that offers a way of escape to everyone caught up in the multi-million dollar porn industry—from its creators to its consumers. As one of its slogans says, “Jesus loves porn stars.”

But Gross didn’t stop there. To promote the website, he and co-founder Mike Foster set up a booth at an “adult entertainment expo” in Las Vegas, offering an alternative to porn directly to those most involved.

That spawned a ministry that has taken Gross to churches and college campuses around the world. He continues to set up shop inside porn conventions, and he’s done about 50 public debates with porn star Ron Jeremy. One of his latest projects is the Strip Church, an outreach to hotel and casino workers and gamblers along the Las Vegas Strip.

Since it began, more than 70 million people have visited XXXchurch.com. And that includes Christians. As a 22-year-old university student confessed online, “I am addicted to porn and masturbation….I am a true believing Christian and feel the devil is pulling me 24/7. Help me.”

“When people come to us,” says Gross, “we say, ‘There’s a God who knows you by name, who understands this and offers you something better— and He’s madly in love with you. There’s nothing you can do that would make Him love you any less, no matter what you’ve done with your career or browsed on a computer.’”

In November 2009, Gross spoke at a Promise Keepers Canada conference in Mississauga, Ontario. “I know guys that have gone to his XXX Church workshops in years past and they’ve come back changed. He gets under their skin,” says Rick Verkerk, national manager of events and field ministry with Promise Keepers Canada.

Verkerk says no PK man has ever admitted to him that he has a problem with porn, but he’s sure many are struggling. They just can’t or won’t talk about it. “We do other conferences where we do workshops and at all of them I have a sexual purity workshop,” he says. “And every year for the past four years, in every city we go to, it’s the best attended workshop. So they don’t say it, but their actions tell me clearly that this is a major, major issue that they need to deal with.”

Gross adds, “We want to pretend we got the answers and the fixes to everything. But, hey, let’s be honest and real that this is wrecking you and it’s destroying your home. It’s not your wife’s responsibility to be that leader because you’re not.”

XXXchurch.com quotes U.S. stats that suggest that 53 per cent of PK men said they had viewed pornography in the week prior to being surveyed, and that 47 per cent of Christians said pornography was a major problem in the home.

Frank Stirk is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and the B.C. regional correspondent for ChristianWeek.

The article above was featured in the September 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.