Monday, May 09, 2005


Anyone familiar with Relevant Magazine, in print or on the web, will know that these guys do things a bit differently from the rest of the Body of Christ. Saying something powerful in a way that's just tweaked enough to make it stick, I think they're definitely onto something. And that's something that makes The Gutter, by Craig Gross (copyright 2005, Relevant Books), stand out.

My brother nearly devoured his copy, finding it to be one of those books he just couldn't put down (and that's saying something). I'll borrow a perspective from a conversation we had when he finished the book: the opening chapters read much like every other youth ministry book on the market, but then there's a change - because this is not a book on youth ministry. Rather, as a youth minister, Gross found his calling, a charge from the Lord to live life in the Gutter, and it is that change from "normal acceptable ministry" to "ohmygoodness what is this?!?" that changes the tone of this book. One of the founders of, Gross found out that when God calls you to the Gutter that is ministry in the porn industry, it's not always seen as a positive. The overwhelming coverage from "the world" of two pastors reaching out to people who just need Jesus was countered by the overwhelming silence of, or judgmentalism of, the traditional church. They were welcome on CNN, but not on TBN.

What is "the Gutter"?
"The gutter is the place where we discover that we need God most. Some would believe the gutter is attached to a lack of money. Wrong. I have seen peopl with millions lying facedown in the gutter. Some believe the gutter is the place with a lack of success. I have seen many gutter-dwellers who would be considered 'successful' by the world's definition. Ask them and they would tell you that their success only masked the misery of the gutter. The gutter is the place believers aren't willing to go because they remember what life was like when they escaped from it." (p. 4)
Gross goes on to write of the exploits of XXXChurch, living honestly with people who respect thier integrity and learn of their faith in loving relationship together. But this doesn't sit well with most Christians, who want more "return" for their evangelistic capital:
"If we got some people saved at the porn shows we attend, we'd have more fans. If Jimmy D. became a Christian, more people would like us. But I look at the gutter differently. Gutter residents aren't notches on a Bible or marks on a Christian scorecard - they are real, hurting people, people who are so lost they'll break your heart. Most of the time it takes more than a Gospel browbeating to help them realize their plight.

"A friend of mine, Jeff, once summed it up perfectly for me: 'Don't clame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining on the dark.' "
(pp. 33-34)
This project isn't a promo packet for their online ministry, though. Gross is keen enough to consider the practicality of his "findings" in the callings of other Christians, other "roaring lambs" in the music industry, film industy, in the workplace, the home, the streets and the boardrooms. He draws from the lineage of Christ (Rahab in Joshua 2, rising from the redlight district of Jericho to the ancestral line of David!), conveying the idea that God raises people from the gutters of life (1 Cor 1:28) as part of His purposes and plans. That Christians don't go back to the gutters to minister and reach those in need is a huge weakness in our understanding of the Gospel.

This book has challenged me to be real, to be open, to hear God's call and to rely on Him to provide the grace to move forward on it. Whether it is writing or ministry to the streets or conversations with co-workers living life with all its pain and joy - we are all called to be ministers of reconciliation, meeting needs and being Jesus. "The Gutter" is wherever people find themselves, find ourselves, in need of the Savior.


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