Living the Message of Service
By E. R. Harris
October 14, 2007
I don’t think I’d be overstepping my bounds to say that Craig Gross and J.R. Mahon are a wee-bit frustrated with the inactivity of mainstream Christianity today. From their criticism of believers who won’t act as though God has changed their hearts to their frustration with a lack of action, Gross and Mahon challenge their readers to move in areas of compassion ministries and social justice. Their book Starving Jesus is a rally cry to Christians across all denominations and all ages to get “off the pew, [and] into the world.”
Martin Luther once said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Gross and Mahon suggest that Christians need to quit talking or pondering ministry and instead jump in where there is need. Often young adult believers buy into the lies that we need to become “better” or less sinful people before God can use us. We use excuses like, “I’m waiting on God before I venture out.” This thinking is essentially selfish—making ministry all about us and what we’re capable of. Gross and Mahon remind their readers that ministry is never about what we can do but what the Father is doing.
The writing isn’t the most polished but conveys the imploring nature of Gross and Mahon’s quest to get Christians up and moving. The raw and emotive language strengthens their argument. The brutal honesty of the text is its greatest asset. Rather than tongue-lashing Christians, both Gross and Mahon share their own struggles to live out and act like true believers. J.R. Mahon’s testimonies about leaving a six-figure production job and moving to Grand Rapids for full-time ministry are both humorous and powerful. He also includes a heartbreaking account of choosing safety and comfort over meeting the immediate needs of a family left homeless from Hurricane Katrina. He discusses submitting to the “what ifs” of ministry in his poignant testimony. It had me re-evaluating my approach to ministry and how often I use excuses to indulge my laziness: “Oh, I’d love to do inner-city outreach, but what if I’m put in danger?”
Toward the end of the book, Gross and Mahon reminisce about their “Starving Jesus” tour and correlating 40-day fast. The detailing of a grueling tour without the comforts of home, family or food while living in a truck was both heart-wrenching and encouraging. It challenges readers to engage in a nearly lost form of worship—the fast. Whether from food, television or gossip magazines, Starving Jesus challenges us to starve a little bit of ourselves to see how God meets our spiritual and tangible needs. It serves as a stark reminder that Jesus said, “when you fast” not “if you fast.” The authors argue that God wants to draw near, and we often allow work, relationships, food and even ministry to get in His way. Taking effort to temporarily cut back on our empty wells is a great way to invite God’s presence to work radically in our lives.
I can only assume this book will have a lot of critics due to its blatant criticism of modern-day Christians, including its critique on laziness, complacency and living outside the Gospel. It’s clear that Gross and Mahon aren’t out to make friends but to enrage people enough to get up and serve. The book is reminiscent of a story about Martin Luther who continually taught about the Gospel. When his congregation was tired of that topic and complained that they already knew the Gospel, Luther responded by saying that he would keep on preaching the Gospel until they acted on the Gospel. That is why this book is important. It challenges this often lazy and complacent generation to live out the grace that Jesus so generously bestowed upon us. Whether volunteering in compassion ministries, starting outreaches, or meeting the immediate needs of the poor around us, Gross and Mahon entreat their readers to act upon the Gospel and do the things that Jesus commanded (not asked) us to do: care for the poor and widows. I only hope that, in the flurry of controversy, believers will walk away feeling convicted, encouraged and on fire to serve those who Jesus loves.