A year ago, our church hosted a conference in honor of John Calvin’s 500th birthday. Collin Hansen came and spoke on the burgeoning young, restless, reformed movement. I admit I was surprised on the first night to meet a number of men at the conference from local rescue mission. They had come with a few of their counselors and were eager to learn about Calvin and Reformed theology.

Fast forward later in the year: a young man from the Mission starts attending our church. Initially, he comes with a mentor, but after one Sunday he comes enthusiastically Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening by himself, because he wants to. After taking our 10 week membership class and being assigned a mentor from the congregation, this young man was baptized and joined our church. Before graduating from the mission he invited another young man in the program who has also been attending our church regularly. This past week, new men from the mission visited for the first time.

What a thrill to see God at work!

But why are men from the City Rescue Mission of Lansing finding our church? And why when they come do they ask me about Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, and Jeremiah Burroughs? I had to find out more about this Mission and its director.

I’ve met Mark Criss, Executive Director of the Mission, several times now. I’m extremely grateful for the work they are doing. I thought it would be good for me and for all of you to get to know him a little better.

(The interview has been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.)

1. Thanks for taking the time to be with us Mark. Why don’t you start by giving me some of your personal background. Where are you from? How did you become a Christian? Do you have a family? Who are your ministry or theological influences?

I currently reside in East Lansing with my wife, Diana, and our four labradoodles. Before entering into the ministry, I spent fifteen years in the information technology industry. I had no intentions of entering into the ministry. My involvement began as a volunteer at the Mission in 1999 and later joined the Mission’s Board of Directors in 2001. In July 2003, I began serving as Associate Director and became Executive Director in August 2004.

Although I “grew up as a Christian” in the Assembly of God church, I quickly began to live for myself as a young adult and pursued my own goals in life. I decided that I was going to make a lot of money and earn a good living. My goal was to make “over six-digits” by the time I was thirty years old…then my goal was to double that goal. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecc. 2:11). Since I had this heavy conviction, my wife and I began attending church at the First Baptist Church of Okemos (around 1995). God began to work on my heart through Pastor Doug Phillips (now at South Church in Lansing) and the faithful presentation and application of the Word of God.

I started helping at the City Rescue Mission of Lansing (1999) and little did I know that God would use that ministry to change my heart. I thought I was “helping the poor” but, in reality, it changed my heart and enabled me to prioritize what is important in life. It’s not about “what we have”, it’s about our allegiance to a sovereign and holy God. My wife and I were awakened by God and we were water baptized in December 1999.

Much of my “theological influence” has to do with Pastor Doug Phillips’ preaching/teaching as well as a love for Jonathan Edwards, Charles H. Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, and John Owen.

2. What is the goal of the Lansing City Rescue Mission? Tell us about your ministry philosophy and what the program looks.

The purpose of the Mission is to “meet physical needs in order to bring those with spiritual needs to Jesus Christ.” We feed, shelter, and clothe, for the purpose of presenting the Gospel.

The Mission will be celebrating 100 years of ministry in 2011. Last year alone, we provided over 31,000 beds for the homeless and 90,000 meals to the homeless and working poor. We also have an addictions program that is Bible based. We are one of the only Bible based substance abuse programs licensed by the State of Michigan. We provide nouthetic (biblical) counseling to men and women that need to make a significant change in their life. We address addiction as it really is…as a sin issue.

Our “Transformation Program” is based on Romans 12:1-2. The program provides good sound doctrinal teaching as well as regular counseling and mentoring. By the time a man or women completes the twelve month program, they’ll have a wonderful grasp of biblical truths.

They are also required to become a member of church before they can graduate the program. Our goal is the share the Gospel and disciple the new believer until he/she is able and ready to be a part of a local body of believers.

3. How is the Mission supported?

God provides through his children. It’s really that simple. We do not receive any government funding and our budget is $1.2 million each year. We pray about our needs, communicate our needs, and God provides for His own glory and purpose. 5% of our income comes from churches, 5% from organizations, and 90% from individuals.

4. I’ve met some of the men in your program and they are into the Puritans and Reformed theology. That’s very impressive. What do you have them read? What role does theological training play in your ministry?

I will have to blame (give credit) to Mike Hayes [one of the Bible teachers]. Most of our required reading is focused on the Bible. We start in Genesis and work our way through the Old Testament as well as the Gospels and some of the epistles.

Mike also assigns (depending on ability to absorb) some extra reading assignments such as Pink’s “Attributes of God”, MacArthur’s “Sufficiency of Christ”. And for those really hungry men, they may get the opportunity to read Jeremiah Burroughs’ “Evil of Evils” or John Owen’s “The Mortification of Sin”. Also, we often utilize Jay Adams’ pamphlets.

5. What advice would you give to church leaders or pastors reading this blog who want to “do something for the poor” but don’t know what that looks like? How can churches best serve the poor in our cities?

I would encourage church leaders and pastors to partner with Christian agencies in their area that “puts the Gospel first.” It is very easy to get sidetracked by worldly problems or “social justice” issues that never rise to the importance or the significance of the Gospel. There are many people that are in need out there…but their most important need is reconciliation to a holy God.

I believe God continues to provide for the ministry of rescue because we are so committed to the Gospel. Our true mission is to cause the dignity, majesty and worth of Jesus Christ to be manifest and acknowledged by all those that we come in contact with. Our mission field happens to be the poor and homeless. It does no good to “show the love of Jesus Christ” if you don’t tell them of it as well.

Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of all those that believe. Live it and proclaim it!

Thank you, Mark, for the serving the Lord. Your commitment to the poor, the gospel, sound theology, and the local church is wonderful to see. May God be praised.

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6 thoughts on “John Owen at the City Rescue Mission”

  1. Tyler says:

    Thank you so much for posting this interview! As a young person working professionally with homeless men, I was very encouraged by reading Mark’s words. Sometimes it is very easy to get caught up the administrative stuff that I often forget that my main purpose in this job is to minister to the homeless by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve even thought about doing a book study in the past and may now just follow through with it!

  2. John Owen is one of the greats; Carl Trueman’s latest book on Owen is a great introduction to his thought: http://www.amazon.com/John-Owen-Reformed-Renaissance-Theologians/dp/0754614700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266951875&sr=8-1
    So, that’s why I was struck by the comment in Why We Love the Church, 32, about some (ultra)conservative church preachers who at times “sound like they are channeling John Owen.” While I understand and agree with the critique of that sectarian and exclusivist attitude (I live with it in my own community, which is a small Alberta hamlet with THREE congregations of Dutch Reformed extraction, two the result of bitter schism). But I could think of much worse things than channeling John Owen. John Gill, maybe.

    And then there’s the question about transformation and redemption that I have about that same first chapter, which begins great, but then left me quite disappointed. Kevin, you say that Jesus and Paul don’t talk about community transformation. Not a lot of Reformed theologians would be quick to agree with that, particularly those influenced by Abraham Kuyper, whom you never mention in the chapter. You put the theonomists on the one side and the social gospellers on the other, but you never recognize that there are those who believe that an implication of God’s sovereignty is that Christians witness in both word and deed (and not just using words when necessary), and that God claims every sphere of life, and that Christians should be salt and light not just on Sunday, but at work, home, etc. Also, the idea that “we are not partners in God’s work of redemption” would be rejected by the majority of Reformed theologians of our shared continental Reformed tradition. God has accomplished redemption on the cross, but he works it out in history (just as his decrees are eternal, but the execution of the decrees temporal, and accomplished through means). Calvin’s comm. on Col. 1:24 talks about how Paul is a “partner with Christ in this thing,” i.e. in the sufferings of Christ, and that we are “partakers of the cross of
    Christ.” So there is a once-for-all suffering of Christ, but also a continuing suffering of Christ in his body the church: “As, therefore, Christ has suffered once in his own person, so he suffers daily in his members, and in this way there are filled
    up those sufferings which the Father hath appointed for his body by his decree.” Calvin denies that Paul’s ministry is the redemption of the church (in contrast to Roman Catholic teaching about the saints, purgatory, etc.) But should we with just a blanket statement deny that there is a sense in which we as the Church partner with Christ in the application of his redemption to the world, and that he uses us as instruments in the application of his redemption? What about salt and light? What about the good yeast? What about the cup of water to the least of these?
    Your interpretation of Matt. 16:8 also seems reductionistic to me, and I say this as one who is very sympathetic to what you and Ted have been writing (I’ve told my congregation from the pulpit to read your books). It sounds a bit gnostic and too otherworldly to my ears. Gates of Hades/Death is not just Jesus saying we go to heaven when we die, “I’ll fly away, etc.” but certainly he means the forces of death that have been unleashed on the creation since the fall of humanity. And the hope of eternal life is a hope not for clouds and harps, but a new Creation. Certainly Christ is the Redeemer; certainly all that happens through us is his doing and to his praise; but he does use his people in the application and working out of his redemption.
    I say this also as one who is very critical of the transformationalist wing of the CRC; my colleague Calvin van Reken (Calvin Sem.) has written eloquently about how the left wing of the CRC has turned Kuyper’s ideas into a social gospel that identifies the gospel with left-wing politics nad neglects the main thing, i.e. calling people to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ; so I am very sympathetic to the main point of that first chapter, but I think there is another place among the extreme positions of theonomy (which is not historically Reformed [think Karlstadt] and should not be lumped in with the Kuyperian tradition), leftist social gospel, or a kind of Gnostic soul-saving which just tries to save people from the sinking ship that is the world. That chapter left me with a strong sense of the latter option, and I think there is a better, more balanced, more biblically faithful option that still puts robust evangelism first, yet still recognizes that Christ’s bride is a partner in the work that he is doing, and through whom and sometimes despite whom he accomplishes the application of his redemption.
    While we are denominational cousins, I am not familiar with what impact or influence Kuyper’s thought had or has on the RCA; so I wonder if that is a factor. I’m not happy with what some of my CRC colleagues have done with Kuyper (The Institute for Christian Studies being a prime example–but also even Dordt College as another example of some of the less beneficial influences of both Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, evidenced by their emaciated religion program, all in the name of redeeming everything through “Reformational” philosophy…thank goodness that’s fading away). But even as a doctrinalist-confessionalist, I wouldn’t reject Kuyper out of hand, but rather work to reign in the aberrant application of his ideas.
    Which is all a long way of saying: what do you think of Kuyper?
    Blessings, and keep up the good work. It’s encouraging for those of us who sometimes think we’re alone in questioning the latest ecclesiastical fads, and who bear the scorn of colleagues who think we just don’t get it and only want to channel John Owen.
    Dr. Raymond A. (Randy) Blacketer
    Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church

  3. David Axberg says:

    A-Men and amen to all the above!

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Randy, I’m sorry I can’t interact with your long comment. I agree that Christians are to be salt and light. I want Christians to make a difference in their culture. I am thankful for Abraham Kuyper in many ways. His distinction between the church gathered and the church scattered is a helpful reminder that the responsibilities of individual Christians are not identical with the mission of the church.

  5. Thanks for your response, Kevin. My comment was too long, sorry. I had just been thinking about that first chapter of Why We Love the Church, which maybe I have to reread.
    Kuyper’s idea about presumptive regeneration wasn’t such a good one…glad we ditched that one a long time ago.
    Blessings.

  6. Ken Wood says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! It brought much joy to my heart.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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