I must have been 12 years old. Maybe 13. Either way, I was deeply entrenched in the most awkward phase of my life when my giant Greek youth pastor, Mike Sares, asked me and a friend to appear with him on television. Our task was to prerecord a series of introductions for Christian music videos that would play at 4:00 in the morning on the local NBC affiliate. I was extremely nervous. It was the ‘90s. We didn’t get multiple takes. It was bad. “That was great,” Mike lied.
Shortly after that, Mike left Toledo for Denver. I hope it wasn’t because he realized that nobody in the youth group had the potential to become an on-air personality. If I had told him then that I would go on to graduate from Ohio State with a degree in Theatre and become a preacher, he probably would have looked at me askance and said in his deep voice, “Hmmm.”
Mike’s new book, Pure Scum, is the story of Scum of the Earth Church, which he started with a small gathering of young adults (including the late ska band Five Iron Frenzy) in downtown Denver. On the back cover of the book, the bio says that Mike “was hoodwinked by the Holy Spirit into pastoring the folks who became Scum of the Earth Church in Denver”. Hoodwinked by the Holy Spirit. That sounds about right.
They call it “church for the left-out and the right brained”. They reach out to Goths, punks, skaters and the homeless in the heart of Denver. They share a meal in the middle of their church service every Sunday night. They sent out my friend Joshua and his new bride Liann in a converted veggie-oil bus/mobile home to share the love of Jesus all over the country. This is how they do church; and it’s beautiful, authentic, and life-changing.
In many places in American Evangelicalism, we see the Gospel of Power, Glory, and Magnificence. At Scum of the Earth Church, we see the magnificence, glory, and power of the gospel. Mike’s not trying to chart a new course for Evangelicalism. He’s not trying to change the world. He doesn’t consider himself a prophet, crying out from the desert, “Do it this way! This is the future of the kingdom!” He’s just pastoring those who can’t find a pastor anywhere else; he’s fathering those who desperately need a good dad.
This book is a story, a true story of a small group of people who gave their church a crazy name and dared to believe that all of their outsider friends could become insiders in the kingdom of God. It’s the story of 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 coming true at the edge of the Rockies.
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.Pure Scum is written by a pastor, and every pastor or lay minister should read it. You will be challenged, not because he preaches down at you for being caught in the rut of your suburban conservatism—no, you will be challenged simply by the beautiful and gut-wrenching stories of callous-footed grace walking around downtown Denver, moving in and out of dance clubs, carrying the addicts home, and feeding the homeless. You will be challenged by the way they welcome in the nonstrategic people of the world, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the weak, the hurting, and the skeptics.
More than that, you will be set free from the siren call of church growth strategies and pastoral celebrity. You will be captured again by the gospel as you see it work its way through a community of broken people, bringing healing, restoration, and joy. Pure Scum is a breath of fresh air in an arrogant, self-aggrandizing, book-selling culture of church. Take it and read. Be set free in the knowledge that you are, after all, the scum of the earth.