Craig Gross is the author of a handful of books such as The Gutter, Starving Jesus, and The Dirty Little Secret. Most recently, he just published Jesus Loves You This I Know. He started an incredibly innovative ministry called XXXchurch.com that helps people get free from porn and he is now undertaking a new project called the Strip Church. Craig is incredibly brilliant, and is a spiritual entrepreneur in the very best sense. He dreams big dreams about what God could do and then allows God to do it. I had the opportunity to catch up with Craig on the phone for an Off the Record interview.
Jeremy: Tell us something odd/unique about you.
Craig: This one might get mixed reviews but I’ve never voted. Some people don’t like that but yeah, I’ve never voted. I might have registered to vote when I got my driver’s license. Older generations have used their platforms to influence political movements and agendas but I’ve never been that interested. In these college debates with Ron Jeremy it always seems to be about Democrats vs Republicans and people assume “well you must be over here.” I’ve never taken much interest in that.
Jeremy: You have obviously focused the majority of your time and energy into the porn issue. Was this a struggle for you growing up? How much do you struggle with it now since you are around it so much?
Craig: I remember growing up, I rarely saw porn but was attracted to it. Even graduating at Hope International University – the last year at college I remember five guys huddled around one computer waiting for porn to show up. I could probably count the number of times of being exposed to it. That’s unreal to think about now. This ministry didn’t come out of this huge struggle for porn it was with the youth seeing the need out there. After working with it more in depth, it gets less and less attractive, they aren’t just images they are actual people. I still have filters because it could creep in so easily.
We had a group down in January and one of our guys named Jake started talking to a porn star across from us from us and she remembered us when we used to do Craig and Jake. She had seen us at a Central Christian event [yes, he's referring to our church], because she was in the Junior High group. There is nothing sexy about that at all – and everyone has these stories. When you know those things it really ruins your porn experience. We know that there are people attached to everyone of those images and their stories. It’s a different set of eyes but it’s hard to explain.
Jeremy: Do you think people are born leaders or develop into leaders?
Craig: You can develop or maybe even be forced into leading. I don’t know in every case but from what I’ve seen you can be born with a lot of things but I feel like that’s a quality you not only have to develop but to work and choose to lead. When we started in the early days with XXXchurch, we outsourced everyone, and you don’t really need to lead an outsourced company. Moving from outsourced to staff, we had to be very intentional and be able to really work at leading. With the exception of myself and one other person, all of our staff is under thirty years old. For me, leading doesn’t come natural. I can get a lot of stuff done and be productive but to bring people with you and not run people over is much more challenging.
Jeremy: How can people put themselves into a position to influence culture?
Craig: Sadly, I don’t know how to say it nicely, the Church has lost a lot of its influence on culture. When I was in the redlight district in Amsterdam, the cab driver kept dropping us off at a church building in the center. The driver explained that some stuff moved into the city and ran the church out and now we have the red light district with a boarded up church at the hub of it. On the 11 hour plane ride home, all I could think about was how did that church lose its influence to where it pulled out over time? As the Church, we are just responding and we aren’t influencing. I have been able to do things easier because we don’t have the politics and denominations that a church often does and we don’t have as many rules. In order to influence you have to have to be on the cuff of things often times. So many churches debate getting drums in service or about women baptizing- those decisions take so much time that we aren’t thinking about these major issues that need us because we focused on logistics of church. Instead, let’s take the message anywhere we are able to get in and ask questions, or ask for permission later. The church needs to be more way more aggressive in our approach to reaching people if we want to influence the culture instead of sitting back and waiting for them to come to us. We have kept to our self the whole time, and not that every church is there, but often there is a backwards mentality of “build it and they will come.” You can often find a church on every corner, so it’s not a lack of church but a lack of influence that a lot of churches don’t have these days.
Jeremy: Why are you a follower of Jesus Christ?
Craig: For me, nothing else that I have seen or found can match what I have found in Christ. Yesterday someone asked me about my drive and chasing after things and i explained that everything I do comes out of my relationship for Christ. It all comes back to being able to share what God has done in our lives and sharing that message. I don’t know if I could be as driven and passionate if it was any other business. I talk a lot about porn, but often that conversation leads to a better conversation about Christ. For me, this is what makes sense and this is what I know radically changed my life and haven’t found that in anything else that I have searched after.
Jeremy: What do you do personally to fuel your spiritual life?
Craig: I think its easy to get caught up in the game. We are in the Christian subculture: buildings, numbers, all this other crap, and you can easily lose focus. The other night I was debating Ron Jeremy and we went out to dinner afterward and it was a great chance to connect. One of our interns left on red-eye to catalyst and someone asked why I wasn’t going? And the thinking is that it would be a great place to promote your ministry, and you could sell your books to thousands of people. But I am reminded as I walk back to the restaurant and Ron Jeremy is sleeping at the table since he is exhausted and I thought that this is what is more important than being a main-stage speaker and selling books. Focusing on the opportunity we have right now. It keeps you in check. Relationships that we have been able to develop with people drives not only me but my staff. On Friday we had a meeting with a guy at a strip club (before it opened) who went to seminary and walked away from the Lord and now he is the general manager of this strip club and he jokingly said to me “help get me out of here.” Those people and those relationships fuel me more and centers me as to why we have to keep at it. Seeing God at work in people’s lives that many others have written off. The moment I start checking Amazon book rank sales or checking the PO Box for another check, there is a lot of discouraging stuff. Find those winning moments and camp out there.
Jeremy: What is your hope for the future of the Church in America?
Craig: There is a change with our generation that isn’t going to do things how our parents did. It’s still the bride of Christ. I can have a lot of hope even though I say the church isn’t currently influencing culture, there’s still hope. Especially with times like this with the economy and all of the frustration, church attendance overall is through the roof. People are looking for something else. I’m pretty excited as I see this next generation come after us that is looking at what we’ve done, or what our parents have done and now they are coming up with crazier ideas and concepts that would have freaked us out. If the church can open itself up to change, new direction, new people, new thoughts…its very hopeful. Not just waiting till its too late.
Jeremy: Should we abandon the use of the word “Christian” for a better term? If so, what?
Craig: I think if its the word church for instance, we use church in everything we do (XXXchurch, Strip Church) but we aren’t really a church. Why do we use that term? We have to almost work harder when we are under that umbrella. Same thing with that word Christian, people have to work harder. But I still feel like it’s a conversation worth having.
Jeremy: What blogs/websites do you regularly check?
Jeremy: Which books have shaped your thinking?
Craig: The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner (provoked a conversation to even start xxxchurch), The Final Roar by Bob Briner, All of Seth Godin’s books, Getting Things Done by David Allen (was awful as far as reading it but great stuff on management), Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels
Jeremy: What music moves you?
Craig: All across the board. The last concerts I’ve been to are Daughtry, Blink 182, Def Leppard, and Jonas Brothers. I got made fun of for wanting to see Kid Rock and Creed. I also wanted to see Mariah Carey. I thought those shows would be fun to see the people there and the crowd. I love Paramore’s new album, John Mayer, and a variety of stuff.
Jeremy: Any other thoughts or advice?
Craig: The Bible says God can do more than anything you could ever imagine and He uses the strangest people. I have seen that over and over again. Often times we psyche ourselves out before we get on the playing field and yet God chooses and wants to use people who are willing not just the most gifted and talented.
I recently met 3 women at a brothel and had lunch with them. They had been having lunch at this brothel for six months and were praying for the women there and even had Easter lunch with all the girls in the brothel. These ladies were older and one was wearing a puff paint shirt and I referred to them as the golden girls (see picture below). There is nothing about how they approached ministry that you would ever think would work. On the other hand, we have all the stuff (bus, shirts) but it’s not about any of that. The fact that these 3 women were challenged in a bible study and went and decided to go pray there. People sit and talk. Talk is cheap. Turn nothing into something. Actually going and doing something is what matters. When God is in it it can make the unthinkable come to life.
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