John Owen at the City Rescue Mission
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.