YORBA LINDA — Walk into Mark Hanson’s church and nobody will greet you. The guys hanging around the foyer might even make fun of what you’re wearing, or your haircut. A sign over the entrance reads, “Grab a seat in the back and shut up. Nobody cares what you think.”
Welcome to Jerk Church.
“You know these guys,” says Hanson, the pastor and founder. “They sit with their arms folded the whole time, leave during the altar call, criticize the pastor, snort when other people state their opinions and never create lasting bonds of friendship. Their wives are always really stressed. Bingo — that’s my mission field.”
Two years ago, Hanson noticed a “growing population of total jerks” in his community that nobody was reaching with the gospel.
“They’re like white noise, filler — they’re everywhere but nobody sees them,” Hanson says. “They are trapped in their own jerk-dom. My heart went out to them.”
Hanson left a position at a larger church to plant a church aimed at this population. He played around with names like “Church for Guys,” but ended up going straight to the heart of the matter.
“I want pure jerks — the guy who cuts in and out of traffic on the highway, the guy who knows everything at the party, the guy who’s upset about politics, the guy who doesn’t know when to stick a sock in it,” Hanson says. “That’s my tribe.”
Attendance spiked when Hanson informed local churches that he was looking for “grumpy husbands and skeptics.” Some churches started recommending certain guys switch congregations. Others gave their men a choice: marriage counseling or six months attending Jerk Church. Most men chose the latter.
Hanson has designed sermons and church literature to “shut guys up before they can start.”
A prominent, attractive display in the foyer showcases every major objection to Christianity ever conceived, and invites men to read the original works before “ranting.”
“It demonstrates that I’m not afraid of their little arguments,” Hanson says. “They come in thinking their opinions are original. When they realize they are thousands of years old, they get real quiet. Nothing shuts up a jerk like being exposed as a follower.”
Hanson also knew the men would complain about everything, so he prepared answers in advance. When guys grouse about the volume of the music, too loud or too soft, Hanson tells them, “Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re getting old and your brain can’t handle it anymore.”
When they say the seats are uncomfortable, he invites them to “lose the extra 35-pound hog carcass you’re carrying around your midsection.”
On a recent Sunday, Hanson greeted them from the pulpit with, “Look at this roomful of former hotshots who became grumpy old men. Why are you here? Did your recliners break? Is your wife sick of you, big man? Or did you just lose your fishing pole and you’re too poor to buy a new one?”
Foyer conversation is argumentative. When guys aren’t poking holes in each others’ theories they stand around waiting for someone to say something so they can critique it. Now and then someone storms off to the restroom while the others snort and mock him.
Water baptism services are far from normal. A man named Darrell was baptized recently. Hanson prodded him to give his testimony.
“I’m doing this to shut up my mother-in-law,” Darrell said.
“Anything else, you wuss?” Hanson said.
“Nah, just do it,” Darrell said.
Darrell came up from the water looking annoyed, snatched a towel from someone’s hands and exited the tank. Amid a smattering of applause one man yelled, “Loser!”
“You’re the loser!” Darrell yelled back.
A cautious sense of camaraderie has emerged among the men. If a guy acts up during the service, other guys muscle him into a “time out” room which Hanson has labeled “Nursing Mothers” to humiliate them.
“I don’t need ushers. The guys patrol themselves,” Hanson says. “They know when to make each other feel like a big baby.”
Hanson fills the church schedule with events that don’t actually exist.
“Men’s breakfast at 7 a.m. on Saturday? No guy in our church would attend that,” he says. “I announce it just so they feel good about skipping something.”
Services often don’t end in prayer. Rather, Hanson just says, “I’m done. I’m not even praying for you guys today. Get out of here. Go on.”
“I want them to know I love them, but not so much that I’m a sucker,” he says. “My life would actually be more pleasant without them. I don’t hide that.”
The church web site reaches out to wives of jerks and offers a script for them to read to their husbands: “Honey, you’re a jerk. Nobody can stand to be around you. But I have a place for you …”
Jerk Church strictly enforces a “No wives” policy.
“Having a wife around gives them an audience for their stupid, critical observations,” says Hanson. “I want plain, unadulterated jerks with no place to hide and no one to listen to them.”
In their heart of hearts he says jerks just want someone to push back.
“They know they’re not right all the time. They want someone to let them know why,” Hanson says.
Guys admit they attend because Hanson “gets” them.
“He knows I’m a cantankerous, moody old b****** but he loves me anyway,” says one man shrugging. “Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll go from jerk to recovering jerk. Don’t tell my wife.”
This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. This guy was suing a town for having a nativity display. This kind of thing riles many conservative Christians I know. But then the man started to go blind so he dropped the lawsuit. And the Baptist church in town raised thousands of dollars to help him with his medical bills.
Then the guy became a Christian. To be sure, he became a liberal Christian who disagrees with God’s word about homosexuality. But now he’s buying the star to put on top of the nativity display he once tried to make illegal.
What changed his mind about Christianity? Arguments? Apologetics? Sermons? No. The Holy Spirit moved some Christians to show compassion.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The martyria/witness of Christians made him willing to hear the word of God he had been resisting. I pray that that kind of compassion would characterize me and my congregation.
Oh, how great is Your compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
In our depth of degradation
You had mercy so that we
Might be saved eternally. Johann Olearius
Wednesday after Judica
St. Peter Lutheran Church
“Martyria: The Martyr’s Life”
March 28, 2012
Beloved in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Witness. Why has this been the theme put before you during Lenten services? Because as we’ve all heard since Sunday School, we should “tell people the good news about Jesus.” A witness tells people what he saw.
Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses. They would bear witness that Jesus died and rose from the dead. As they told people about what He had done and taught people His teaching, Jesus would be with them and would work through them to call more disciples.
We, Christ’s Church, are the keepers of the witness of the apostles. We tell people what the apostles handed down in the Scripture. But as we bear witness to Christ, we become witnesses ourselves. Christ works in us and among us, and we see and know His work among us through faith in His promises. Faith makes us see Christ among us; makes us witnesses.
All Christians—every single one—has been called by Christ to work together with the rest of the members of His body to bear witness to Him and what He has done for us. Every part of our lives, every moment of our lives, are meant to bear witness to Jesus. We are called to bear witness to Christ as we live by faith in Him in our families, at work, at play, in Church. We bear witness by showing mercy and bearing with one another. We bear witness when we give our offerings so that God’s word is preached here and far away; we participate in Christ’s work as we continually pray for the Church here and throughout the world, as we pray for our families and our neighbors who do not know Christ. We also bear witness when we personally tell people about Jesus or invite them to church. And it ought to be our highest joy to see another lost sinner receive the Church’s witness to Jesus, believe in Him, and be saved.
But being a witness to Jesus comes at a cost. To bear witness to Christ we must die. The old man will not and cannot bear witness to Jesus. The old man insists on his own righteousness and does not wish to suffer anything from people whom we show love to; the old man wants punishment for those who do us wrong. So our old nature must die if we are to bear witness to Jesus.
In the reading from Philippians St. Paul describes his life as a martyr or witness of Jesus Christ. He explains why he still willingly goes to tell people about Jesus when they reward him with whippings and imprisonment and being stoned. He explains why he does not lose heart even though he is not a perfect witness to Christ. We are called by Jesus Christ Himself to be His witnesses—to live among sinners, to seek their good in this life and in eternity ahead of our own, and to be rewarded with rejection, suffering, and death for this service. The reasons Paul was willing to live as Christ’s martyr and what enabled him not to despair at the impossibility of the task apply to all of us at St. Peter who want to be Christ’s witnesses not only in name but in truth. They apply to all of us who want to be acknowledged by Christ on the day He returns to judge the living and the dead and have Him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of Your Lord!” (Matthew 25)
Let all of us then who desire this and who fear being cast out by Christ on the last day listen carefully to the word of God which tells us
- What makes a martyr willing to bear witness to Christ crucified not only in words, but in willingly bearing the cross, and
- What makes a martyr not lose heart.
We pray: O Father in heaven, without Your Spirit we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, nor come to Him, and of ourselves the darkness of our hearts can only shut out the light of Your Word. May your Spirit guide my tongue to rightly teach Your Word, and may He enlighten our hearts, so that we live in true faith which strains toward the prize of knowing Christ and sharing in His suffering, death, and resurrection; through Whose Name we bring our prayer. Amen.
- What makes a martyr willing
- The surpassing excellence of knowing Jesus Christ
- Christ’s excellence
- Why unbelievers do not see it
- That the martyr considers everything else excrement in comparison to knowing Jesus
- Human righteousness/talent/glory is considered worthless because It actually keeps us away from Christ.
Pride, self-love, love of riches, praise of men, power—these keep us from praising Christ, glorifying Him, and bearing witness—which means that other people are given offenses that interfere with them coming to know Christ.
- The world considers Christ to be worthless because
- The surpassing excellence of knowing Jesus Christ
- He calls us to come and die with Him, seeking God’s glory and neighbor’s blessing instead of self.
- He calls us to lose everything else so that we may have Him.
- How can you tell me to repent of what I am? How can God punish me for being what I was born? It’s not really a fight about changing morals–it’s rejection of the cross which declares that everything we are by nature must die, must be repented of, and the righteousness we are capable of performing on our own is sin in the sight of God.
2. What gives a martyr joy and keeps him from losing heart and forsaking Christ.
A. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in the martyr
- The Holy Spirit works in the martyr through the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). 1. This is why Christians are not ashamed of the Gospel2. The human voice that proclaims that God became a man
3. And instead of taking vengeance and showing power allowed the wicked to kill Him, while He continued to love them and seek their good.
4. The sinful mind considers it shameful to love those who abuse us, but the mind controlled by the Holy Spirit finds joy and glory in loving enemies; because this is what it means to know Jesus Christ. We know Him by faith in the Gospel. We participate in the power of His resurrection by the Holy Spirit, and we have communion in His suffering as by faith we live in Him.
B. The risen Lord lives in the Christian witness, and enables him/us to bear witness to the One who was crucified for sinners by participating in His suffering and becoming like Him in His death.
1. Christ suffered because He came to live among sinners, loved them and dwelled with them.
2. But He was not content to live among them and let them stay in their sins. He loved them and sought their salvation, calling to repentance, and promising forgiveness.
3. People say, “Preaching to sinners that Jesus died for them–being witnesses to Christ among the ungodly–is more likely to get you killed than to get them salvation.”
a. That is true.
b. Jesus doesn’t suggest that following Him may be hazardous. He says that everyone who follows Him is going to crucifixion.
c. Whether a death like his means literal death or physical suffering or the metaphorical death of no longer living as though we are free to live life for ourselves, in every case a true Christian bears witness to Jesus by sharing in His death. Without that there is no Christianity.
C. The martyr has joy under the cross because he believes that suffering and death with Jesus is the way to the prize of resurrection with Jesus.
1. We know Christ and participate in His life.
2. We live life together with Jesus under the cross, looking to inherit glory together with Jesus.
3. We have intimacy/communion with Jesus, so we don’t lose heart. We have this intimacy because we share in the power of His resurrection by faith, and as we continue in faith we begin to embrace not only Jesus suffering on the cross that takes away our sins but also the crosses that kill the false hopes of the old Adam. As we participate in the sufferings of Jesus we rejoice that we know Him and that we will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6)
D. The martyr is not afraid because what he is striving to gain—death, resurrection, exaltation with Christ—he already has.
- Our flesh says, “What do you mean? I haven’t died. My sinful nature hasn’t died.”
- God says that it died with Christ; “he was pierced for our transgressions…”
- God says you died and rose with Christ in Baptism.
- Baptism works forgiveness of sins….
- You don’t have to understand it, but take Christ at His Word.
E. He keeps Christ before his eyes.
- It is finished
- Forgetting what is behind, eagerly running for the prize ahead.
- Even if I fall a thousand times, He has done it. He has promised.
Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge for the lost…
Christ the rock of our salvation is the name in which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt,
None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built.