Unlikely friendships: The pastor and the porn star

Craig Gross

Christian pastor Craig Gross counts among his closest friends a man listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Most Appearances in Adult Films".

With credits in more than 2,000 movies, Ron Jeremy is one of the world's most notorious porn stars, so his friendship with a Californian church leader might seem unlikely.

For Gross, however, it's completely natural. He is the founder of XXXChurch.com, a resource for people fighting porn addiction, and he's spent years cultivating friendships with people in the industry.

He aims to treat them as normal human beings – something he says is frighteningly unusual.

In an interview with Christian Today, Gross spoke about their friendship, as well as the importance of not being seduced by the idea of "completing" someone's journey to faith, or indeed glamorising their conversion if one does take place.

He has a neat illustration for this from when he and Ron Jeremy were doing the Great Porn Debate Tour – in which the two to share their opposing thoughts on the cultural impact of pornography. At one church Gross was about to interview Jeremy about his thoughts on faith, when the host pastor suggested going on stage and giving the porn star a public opportunity to follow Jesus.

"I thought, number one: that's a bad idea to do it in public in front of thousands of people, and number two: the whole reason I wanted to speak was to talk about evangelism as a lifestyle. It was so embarrassing to think that the pastor just wanted to...'close the game'. These are people, not transactions," Gross says.

The lure of huge congregations and impressive conversion figures is something Gross addresses in his latest book, Go Small. He's passionate about helping Christians to see that authentic faith is not about engineering the dramatic, but about seeing God in the ordinary moments of everyday life.

The book is partly a response to what Gross refers to as a "scandal" involving Elevation Church in North Carolina several years ago.

The megachurch famously released a 'Spontaneous baptism resource kit' in which they suggested planting 15 people planted in the congregation who would 'respond' to the pastor's altar call.

These 15 people, the instructions say, should "move intentionally through the highest visibility areas [of the church] and the longest walk," in order to encourage others to do the same.

It caused outrage among much of the Christian community, though Elevation rejected the criticism. Lead pastor Steven Furtick said: "We are confident that those who attend Elevation Church know and understand our mission and vision for reaching people for Jesus Christ."

Gross, however, believes it's time we shifted our focus from the sensational and the hyped up. "It is in the seemingly ordinary moments of life when God does his greatest work," he writes.

"We originally kicked around the concept of 'ordinary God' – really looking at Jesus. He lived pretty ordinarily for 30 years, he spent only three years in ministry, and even his ministry was not what we see today of 'rock star pastors' or anything like that," Gross says.

"Jesus hung out with poor people, and eventually those people changed the world. So what does it look like if God's in the ordinary, not just the extraordinary?

"So many people go looking for big things, and live their lives waiting for something bigger or more meaningful to happen – the world says 'Go big or go home' – but we should be concerned with what God puts in front of us. I don't mean don't try anything big, but it's this idea of looking at everyday opportunities and not really caring about success or status."

Gross believes that an obsession with social media and the need to receive confirmation of our worth through likes and retweets has led to a misunderstanding of what success really is. In his book, he refers to it as a "false world".

He explains that it's incredibly difficult not to be caught up in a mindset that assigns value according to online profile, especially when our churches can lose sight of what's really important.

"If we're only looking for a conversion, a baptism or a hand to raise, I think we've forgotten that these are people to begin with," Gross says.

The raw struggle of an individual's walk towards God is far more important than how many people sign up to become Christians at the end of a service, he says. The focus on small, not big, also translates to our lives as Christians.

"We've all got challenges, work to do, and it's whatever God is putting in front of you," he says.

"I'm not saying you can't expect huge things, but we've got to open our eyes to what is big. Size, status and success aren't the only ways of measuring... Don't say God hasn't given you anything big – don't buy into that. It's about relationships and having influence on those around you.

"The big things on paper – conversions, baptisms and closes – those aren't the only thing. I struggle with people saying they see nothing; you're missing out on the joys of daily life."

Go Small encourages Christians to slow down and take stock of what's around them. To be present in daily life rather than always looking to the next big thing.

This is something Gross had to learn when he was taken ill last year, and was forced to take a step back from work for the first time in 13 years.

"Slowing down is the first thing. We don't recognise the small things when we're running so fast," he says.

"For some people, you've got to move out of the way – we think we're awesome and needed, but that's an ego thing. You can convince yourself that your ministry, or your job, is all on you, but when I took a break, we had some of the best months at our church when I was working the least."

Taking time out to go to his kids' football matches and spend time with his family has taught Gross about seeing God move in the seemingly insignificant.

"God's in those little and big things, I think, the idea is that the little things matter. It's not just about wanting big things, but celebrating everything."