By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.
If a good title is the key to successful book sales, Todd and Erin Stevens have a best seller.
Their new book, “How To Pick Up A Stripper and Other Acts Of Kindness” spotlights the ministry at Todd’s church in Mount Juliet, TN (a Nashville suburb), Friendship Community Church, where he serves as the lead pastor.
However, that’s not immediately obvious by just a quick look at the cover. Just recently I had the book lying on my desk at work and after a colleague saw it and raised his eyebrows, I gave him the book to look at in order to clear up any possible misunderstandings!
Todd’s congregation is known for bringing creative ways to show God’s love to the community, which can be as simple as buying lunch for the person in line behind you or even starting Nashville Strip Church. Yes, really!
During a 21-day fast, Todd’s wife, Erin prayed for God’s guidance and He told her, “Feed the strippers.”
In a recent telephone interview with Todd and Erin she told me that during the fast, “God broke my heart for those far from God.”
After hearing God’s directive, Erin said she called up the manager of a Nashville strip club and told him she wanted to feed his dancers a meal, “with no strings attached.” Erin said she wanted to meet the girls right where they were at.
“Everyone is happy to have needs met,” she said.
Todd said the ministry mirrors what Jesus did during his days one earth. “He hung out with people the religious elite didn’t understand,” Todd said. “He didn’t consider anyone an acceptable loss.”
Erin soon began serving food to strippers and other employees at the strip club. She didn’t take a Bible, she didn’t preach, she just showered the love of Jesus on everyone.
Erin said once the girls saw that the manager trusted her, they did also. As Erin loved on the girls, they began to see her commitment, telling her, “You never judge us.”
Erin’s philosophy was just an extension of what was being preached in her church. As Todd said, “We are the church that takes all the people others don’t want. We welcome them and love them.”
Before long, questions were being asked about Erin’s faith that led to one of the strippers turning her life over to Christ, going to college and pursuing a degree in law enforcement. This woman now helps Erin with the Nashville Strip Church ministry.
“I still bring food to the clubs every two weeks, and just tell the girls they are valuable to me and valuable to God, but I don’t preach to them,” Erin said.
She continued, “The girls are drawn to the unconditional love of Jesus they see through me. Sometimes they call me the ‘church lady,’ and I’m okay with that, because they know that beyond anything I love them and more importantly God loves them.”
She added, “They had heard about God’s love, but hadn’t seen it demonstrated.”
Todd emphasized that point in the book, writing that if Erin had gone into the strip club and told the girls, “‘You need to stop having sex outside of marriage and burn all of your clothes, how many people would she have reached? Not only would her relationship with Katie (a girl to whom they were ministering) have ended right there, but Erin would have been told she wasn’t welcome at the club anymore.”
Todd said while those words would have been totally true, it would have been a completely inopportune time to say them.
He continued, “It would have been wrong for Erin to start there because those weren’t Katie’s next steps. Erin needed to meet her right where she was, and then lovingly invite her to take the next step from there.”
To that sentiment I say a big “Amen!”
Erin said that she and Todd want their church to be known as one that is so loving that if the church was to close its doors, they would be missed by the community. The church even has orange shirts reading, “The church has left the building.”
Erin said, “Our world is ready for someone to demonstrate Jesus’ love. Let’s get beyond what Jesus said and start doing it.”
She added, “People are not looking for a friendly church. They’re looking for a friend.”
It wasn’t long before Erin’s new calling began to attract some media coverage, and a book deal with Thomas Nelson also materialized.
In addition to being an easy but inspiring read, questions at the end of each chapter make it a good for book clubs and discussion groups.
With its fresh approach to evangelism, Erin said so far everyone loves it the book.
I wondered where Erin and Todd go from here.
Todd said the church is excited about seeing what they’re doing multiplied to other places.
“People are usually ready to respond to the message,” he said. “When people see the real deal it’s almost irresistible.”
Todd and Erin get it, and the whole book – engagingly well written and easy to read- demonstrates that.
While the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to be a gospel of freedom and liberation, sadly that’s not the image which many times is presented to those outside the church. The gospel is often presented with a sour face followed by a litany of what you “can’t” do when you become a believer.
Who wants to follow a “gospel” (and did you know that the world gospel means good news?) like that?
But when the “real deal” is presented, such as taking Jesus to strip clubs, and buying lunches for those behind you at Subway, that becomes something entirely different. You want to know the motivation behind that.
We try and do something similar at Joy Junction, the emergency homeless shelter I started almost 30 years ago and continue to lead.
Let me give you a couple of examples that further illustrate the concepts Todd and Erin present in their book.
Joy Junction is a Christian family shelter. We accommodate husbands, wives and their children, or men, their significant others and their kids and we don’t require them to be married to stay together. I can already hear a few muffled gasps and mutters, “You don’t?” How Christian is that?”
Well, to us very Christian because these folk aren’t yet at that stage. We don’t need to “force” them to get married. What we’re hoping is that sometime during their journey at Joy Junction they will be so drawn in by the love of Jesus that they’ll want to give their lives to Him, and as a result of that commitment will want to get married because they’re Christians, not just because they need a place to stay.
Then on our mobile feeding unit, The Lifeline of Hope, which goes citywide seven days a week and provides over 6,000 meals a month, there are no requirements for getting a meal other than being polite. Out staff pray with recipients if asked to, but never force it upon people.
Some of the folk we serve from The Lifeline are also in active addiction and for safety and legality would not be allowed to stay at the shelter, but out on the streets we want to be a tangible demonstration to them of the love of Jesus so when they are ready to get help, they’ll think of us. You see the difference in the approach?
So to return to Todd and Erin’s book. How do you reach a stripper? (Or a bitter, grizzled, disillusioned and depressed homeless person?) The same way you reach anyone else.
Look at what Todd writes, “You love them the way Jesus loved you. You demonstrate your love for them through meeting needs and generously doing acts of kindness, regardless of how they may have treated you in the past. You pray for them and invite them to take the next step toward Jesus from where they are. And you watch God grow the seeds that you plant.”
“How to Pick Up a Stripper” is a blueprint for an idea whose time has come. Why wouldn’t you buy it?
For more information visit www.beknownforlove.com