(Photo: Bozeman Media)
The desire of a Tennessee pastor's wife to feed the needy, including strippers throughout Nashville nightclubs, has grown into a full blown ministry that's also about spreading the Gospel as well.
Erin Stevens, whose husband Todd leads Friendship Community Church, still believes in showing God's love through practical ways just like she has done since she began her ministry nearly two years ago. Stevens provides meals and gifts with no strings attached as part of her Strip Church Ministry.
In their new book, "How to Pick Up A Stripper and Other Acts of Kindness," the Stevens' urge readers to step out of their comfort zone in order to reach people for Christ, while remaining culturally relevant, without compromising their goal of demonstrating God's love through actions.
The duo also encourages readers to serve sacrificially, meet people right where they are and give generously. When both Todd and Erin put their advice into practice, they began to witness how God was able to transform the people they were reaching out to including former dancers who left their lifestyles behind to serve God.
Below is an edited transcript of the Stevens' interview with The Christian Post:
CP: You both say in the book that the most effective way to reach people for Christ is through servant evangelism. How is this more effective when spreading the Gospel's message than any other traditional outreach method?
Todd: There's no more relevant way of connecting with somebody than meeting a need or simply doing an act of kindness that is unexpected, that's how we can show love. Jesus said we're supposed to be known for how we love each other, that's supposed to be our reputation. I can't copy Jesus and multiply food to feed 5,000 people but I can pay for the person in front of me at Subway and do it that way…that's just a simple of way of connecting with someone and inviting them to take the next step towards God.
CP: Your acts of kindness have changed people's lives like that of Katie, a former stripper mentioned in the book, who left the adult entertainment industry to serve God. But how has it affected your personal lives?
Erin: It's made me aware that no matter what you've done, who you've done it with or how many times you've done it, God sees you as 100 percent forgivable. I really learned that lesson when I gave an extravagant gift to Katie because I had really wrestled with God that day and had said things like, 'the girls are not worth this or may not appreciate this.' But when I went to the strip club and noticed the life change, I realized that Jesus Christ died for everybody, these people don't have to get their act cleaned up to get to Him and all of this has been a huge paradigm shift for me. Other than Todd, my kids and my parents, I have never loved unconditionally like that and that bold statement has been huge and life changing for me.
CP: Friendship Community Church, which you've dubbed as "the island of misfit toys," attracts people from all kinds of careers, sexual orientation, and faiths, is this because you have embraced the notion of "meeting people where they are?"
Todd: We really do want to connect with everybody and instead of seeing those people as our enemy, which we're supposed to love if they are our enemy, we see them as the mission field because they are exactly who we are called to reach out to. Hanging out with those types of people was exactly what got Jesus into a lot of trouble with the Pharisees and it was within that context of controversy where He told the story of the shepherd with 100 sheep who lost one and left to find it because for him that one sheep was not an acceptable loss. So, we're saying let's reach everybody with God's love and leave nobody behind.
CP: At church, you try to keep a balance in your outreach projects between those efforts that meet people's needs and those that are acts of kindness, what is the difference between the two?
Todd: Meeting a need is addressing a deficit in someone's life whether it's a crisis or problem. We do what we can to help even though we can't solve it completely. An act of kindness is when we don't see a deficit on the surface but we ask, 'how can I do something to make their day better by demonstrating God's love?'
CP: Todd, you write about the importance of being known as a loving person or being a loving church and you say that if "people aren't describing you as loving then it's because you aren't." Would you say then that being kind and loving is solely based on reputation?
Todd: Jesus was known for how He loved, that's the identifying marker of a follower of His. We don't get to decide our own reputation … I could sit here and convince myself that I'm a loving person because I don't kick puppies or take candies from babies but ultimately my reputation is what others think of me, that means that I've got to demonstrate love outwardly to others.
Erin: Something that we say in the church is, "if we closed our doors, would the community miss us?" and the answer is yes. We sow so many seeds of kindness and love any chance we get.
CP: Erin, you don't take a Bible or Gospel tracts with you to the strip clubs but you take food and gifts to the girls. How do you provide so much while aiming to reach them for Christ?
Erin: I'm totally dependent on donations to help with the food, gifts and even for when the girls want to get out of the industry. When they want to come out, they have to find a place to live, a new job, childcare, gasoline and groceries. I need money when they get out because they're getting out with nothing. Every day that I wake up, I tell God, 'You're going to bring it.' I know He's going to provide somehow.
CP: Todd, you write about being relevant in order to reach people and you specifically write that being culturally relevant doesn't make a church less biblical, in fact, it makes it more biblical. Explain that.
Todd: Paul said, "I've become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some … I'll be whoever they want me to be." But if we hear that today in another context we would say, "that person doesn't know what they stand for, they're compromising their identity," and that's exactly what Paul is doing because it's about who he was trying to reach. We want to connect with people right where they are rather than demand that they be right where we want them to be.