“Misfit Community: Preachers, Meth, and Prostitutes”


At Gateway Church in Austin, we kicked off our new series “Misfit Community.”

God is taking our pasts and using them for His good purposes as a forgiven, “come as you are” community of people. God’s heart is for all people no matter how good or bad they’ve been. He brings us into a new family with a fresh start to grow into His image. This is why we say “No Perfect People Allowed.” No need to pretend to be someone you aren’t. Being honest helps us grow from where we are to where God intends us to be. 

Discussion Questions:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Preachers, Meth, and Prostitutes Next Steps

Gateway South Austin Inspire Service:

Message Notes from John Burke:

What do Preachers, Meth, and Prostitutes all have in common?
Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s actually the title of the message today. 
What is it about that title Preachers, Meth, and Prostitutes that draws our attention? 
And it does, we did a message with that title about a decade ago, and no other message has gotten more listens—why? 

  • Well, maybe it sounds like scandal—like Cage the Elephant just sang about–and we like scandal.
  • Or maybe it sounds like something that justifies our disdain of organized religion because we felt judged or cast out, so we judge the hypocrisy of others in the church?
  • Or maybe it draws us because we’ve always felt looked down on by the church people, and if a church would talk about meth and prostitutes, maybe there’s a place for me to find shelter and safety in a community that cares?

But preachers, meth, and prostitutes is actually a picture of the Misfit community that Jesus is building right here among us. Gateway is full of people from every imaginable “past” you can imagine. 

  • From my good friend who had a 38 years of Cocaine addiction who is now 9 years sober and a leader in recovery here
  • To Kenny Green, our Gateway Central Pastor who broke a 10 year meth addiction when he turned to God in jail one night
  • Multiple people here were sex-trafficked and prostituted
    There are those who spent time in jail for ethical failures, sex addicts and sexual pasts of many shades of gray…
  • And those are just the people who have been leaders in Gateway Church.
  • Seriously—I know them all.

And let me say, if that sounds scandalous and wrong to have a church full of “those” people—then you’re likely one of “these” people who can also be found at Gateway: 

  • Here you will find people with other “pasts” – the highly moralistic, judgmental who grew up in church thinking they were better than those people, preaching at others to get their act together, yet never really caring about “those” people.
  • You’ll also find people who just do well in life, the successful, the I-had-my-little-rebellious day (and got a Christian tatoo) but-I’m-a-pretty darn good person “if I do say so myself” types. 

Gateway church is a group of people misfit together, that would usually not be found hanging out, and yet here God is taking our pasts and redeeming them, changing us, growing us, and using our pasts for His good purposes as a forgiven, “come as you are” community of people.  That’s what we’re going to talk about today. How Jesus was building a morally misfit community 2000 years ago, and still today—so there’s a place for you.

And next week, we’re going to show you how we come from diverse religious backgrounds too—from muslim, buddhist, jewish, hindu, and atheist backgrounds. Don’t miss our panel to learn what brings us together.

In two weeks we will see we also have diverse gifts and socio-economic backgrounds. We have fortune 500 CEOs and we have folks who are homeless – all finding a place of equality at the family table.

In three weeks we will see how we are a community growing in ethnic diversity – with 65 nations and many races and cultures found among us. We are also politically diverse with campuses in the Austin area in 3 different counties. I’m so proud of how this community has risen above and stayed united in Christ this past year despite all the forces trying to get us to hate the “other.”  So many of us have sought to bring love rather than division in our lives and through our social media.

That’s what we’re talking about in this series Misfit Community.
Back when Jesus walked the earth, he was building that same community that we find here among us today.
That means there’s a place for you. 
You belong in community here. 

But for us to be the place where anybody can find their seat at the family table, we have to understand what Jesus was doing and how we can cooperate with Him to build it or we can destroy it if we don’t understand what Jesus is doing.

Jesus’ ministry was scandalous, for all those reasons. 

The Religious Establishment of His day came to despise him, and ultimately some had him killed on what we now call Good Friday because they didn’t agree with God’s Scandalous plan.

It’s critical that we understand, especially if you grew up in church because it’s easy to miss the messy, scandalous plan of God.

God’s heart is to form a new family out of all willing people, no matter how relatively good or bad they’ve been (and it’s not that easy to categorize, as we will see).

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son…Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.”  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. Matthew 22:1-2, 9-10 

“Come as you are”
God says: “Good or bad. I’ll make you ready for the party of your life for all eternity.
You know, the truth is Austin doesn’t need more churches for churched people. 

There are plenty of churches for the already convinced. Gateway was launched in 1998 for the 90% who do not attend a church because God cares about them just as much as those who are churched.

But the problem is, if churched Christians have an “us/them” mentatlity they’ve missed the heart of God as much as the Meth addict.

At one point, Jesus said to the religious leaders, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:31

He was referring to a moment early in His ministry when he calls Matthew to be one of his disciples, but you see, Matthew also known as Levi had a past. Matthew was a tax collector. They were the “sinners”, considered undesirable by the religious folks.

Who are the “sinners” for you?  
The partiers, the gangsters, the Republicans, the Democrats, the wealthy, the homeless?  

Jesus says “Matthew, come follow me.”  Matthew does, and he’s so excited about Jesus, he wants all his crazy partying friends to meet Jesus too—so he throws a party at his house.
When the Pharisees (who were the Religious Leaders of the day) found out—it discredited Jesus immediately.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Matthew 9:10-13

Now maybe you’re not catching Jesus’ biting sarcasm, but he’s throwing shade on these religious leaders in a big way.  See, they claimed to love God and follow the Old Testament Law, yet as Jesus would later quote from the Old Testament “they did all the right religious acts, but their hearts were far from God.”  Here He quotes Hosea 6:6 where God says through their prophet “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

So many people think God wants sacrifice – to do the right religious things, sacrifice to obey the ritual law. And God does want us to do right morally, but for different reasons and motivations.  See these Religious people followed the religious laws, don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, honor the Sabbath, do this, don’t do that, but they missed God’s heart behind all of it. 

Don’t steal or lie—why? It’s not a loving way to treat another. 
God desires mercy—it’s God’s love and mercy that leads a heart change. God wants heart-level change that doesn’t want to lie or steal or judge because we love others.  The Pharisees just put on a good religious show.

So Jesus says with biting sarcasm “The healthy don’t need a doctor, only the sick. I’ve not come to call “the righteous” but sinners. 
Who were these “healthy, righteous” people he was talking to? 
The Pharisees who would crucify him one day. They weren’t healthy, they were hiding behind Religious do-gooding.  And they weren’t righteous, they were self-righteous. 

What Jesus was saying is this “I’ve come for all who realize they need help. The preacher who needs help loving and showing mercy over judgment, the Meth addict that needs help overcoming, the Prostitute that needs help seeing herself as a valuable spiritual creature as God does. I’ve come for all who realize they need heart-healing.”

That’s why we say No Perfect People Allowed–we all have sinned, and need a Savior—a forgiver and leader.  We all are works of art in process—not finished. For all who realize they need God’s help, Jesus says, they get God’s Mercy and Grace and are welcomed into a new Family—the Family of God.  That’s where God changes all of us, in a Come as you are Community of Grace.

That’s what Jesus is doing among us—Melissa’s story has happened for 1000s among us. So How do we cooperate with God to build this community? And how do any of us really change and grow?

It starts with living and giving Grace:

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2

When we receive God’s Grace, God moves us from that state of fear of judgment and condemnation to a state of Full Acceptance as His Adopted Children.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, [daddy] Father.”… If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?… And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:15, 31-38

That’s how people grow and change—as we learn to live in loving connection to God’s Spirit. God changes us from the inside out.  And then we become people who…

Offer Grace-Giving Acceptance.

This is the Center Line of faith in Christ—Grace—Come as you are.  

When we are willing to surrender our lives to Him, God will take anyone, any time, from anywhere “as is” regardless of what they’ve done or how bad they’ve been.

And He will move us from fear of judgment – to this state of Full Acceptance as Adopted Children. Why? 

Because it’s the only way any of us can become who God intended us to be.

Paul explains our role:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…we are co-workers in God’s service. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

Your job is not to change or fix or grow people. That’s God’s job.

God causes growth when people trust Him, but we are co-workers, and our job is the soil, creating the environment where people so feel the love and value God has for them, they want to trust God more.

So we must cooperate with God, by learning to accept and value people as God’s Masterpiece—to show them how God feels about them, even before they come to know God. And you and I can do that! So many of you live this way! That’s why I know this community is a safe place for me to invite my neighbors, my friends and to bring my kids and extended family.

Pharisee/Preacher-types tend to struggle with this Messy Misfit community in church.

They can tend to think they’re good on their own. They put a lot of stock in their own Moral Virtue or doing good, but can miss God’s plan for them.

And if that’s you, it’s okay, there’s hope for you too.

 Jesus died to redeem you and change and grow you as well.

So it’s Come as you are…but don’t stay stuck, instead grow…for all of us.  

Many Pharisee-types had heart changes in Jesus’ day–like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea, and other religious people, but you must be humble and willing to change—just like you expect of others.

One time Jesus addressed the Pharisees.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!So Jesus told them this story…Luke 15:1-3

Jesus actually tells them 3 stories to help them see the heart of God.  The first is of a shepherd with 100 sheep, but 1 wanders and gets lost, and the shepherd leaves the 99 to rescue the 1. 

And Jesus says: In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:7

Then he tells a second, about a woman who had 10 coins, but lost 1 and searches the whole house to find it.

Jesus says: In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Luke 15:10

Then Jesus tells a 3rd story—of a Prodigal Son, who has an Older brother and a wealthy Father.  The prodigal son demands his inheritance, which is like saying “I wish you were dead, dad.” But the father agrees—and divides his estate between the Older and Younger brother.  The younger brother moves to Vegas and parties away all his money on drugs, sex, escorts and gambling and ends up homeless (my version, but accurate). When he’s starving he realizes his father’s hired hands are better off than he is. So he decides to beg his dad to forgive him and just take him on as a servant.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. [That’s God the Father—he runs to you when you turn your heart back to him]. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him…kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.  Luke 15:20-24

Do you have the Father’s heart for people who are far from God, broken, struggling, wounded by life or even their own pride and stupid mistakes? 

Does your heart look for them, and love and welcome them, like the Father? 

If not, this is where your moral failure can be found, but God can heal your heart too.

But you have to be humble and willing, just like the Prodigal.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother…was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15:25-32

Notice the Father’s Heart:  “All I have is yours.  I do love you, and I appreciate all you’ve done for me, but I love you not for what you do, but because you’re my son, that’s why I love your younger brother too.  What I want most is for you to love your brother as much as I do—let’s be the loving family I always desired.” 

But the Older Brother struggled—His pride wouldn’t let him go in. 

Why?  Because his identity was not as a loved son, his identity was wrapped up in proving how “good” he was. He cared more about showing how “good” he was than learning to live in the Grace and Love of the Father. If that’s you…listen to Justin’s Story.

Justin, Melissa, so many others are life-giving people, creating this culture of Grace that changes Preachers, Meth addicts, Prostitutes all of us—into life giving people.

But if you struggle to show Grace, let me give you a way to see it. Many of you have heard the story of the Mud and the Masterpiece. If not, our senior pastor John Burke and his wife Kathy lived in St. Petersburg, Russia and their favorite painting is housed in the Hermitage Museum. It’s Rembrandt’s famous painting, Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s Rembrandt’s depiction of Jesus’ parable when the Father embraces the son who’s come home.

The painting is now worth millions. Now just imagine if one day you visit St. Petersburg, and there in a back alley dumpster you discover Rembrandt’s masterpiece, but it’s hardly recognizable. It’s covered in dirt, it’s muddied and stained and the canvas has been torn. Would you treat it like Trash? Like it’s worthless? Would you only see the Mud? Or would you see it as a one-of-a-kind, million-dollar masterpiece that needs to be restored? We would all treat it like a Valuable Masterpiece–Take it to a Master who could gently restore it to its original value.

Do you realize that when you meet eyes with another person, no matter how irritating their stains are, no matter how annoying their muddy behavior, no matter how debase or dirty their lifestyle—there’s a Masterpiece created by God under all that mud. That’s what Jesus sees in you, it’s what He wants you to see in others.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God…For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:8-10 

The Pharisees had no Spiritual Vision past the stain and mud. They de-valued people mentally based on what they saw, but didn’t like. 

Jesus did the opposite. Yes, there was sinful junk Jesus didn’t like. Yes, he wanted to remove the mud, but that only happens by helping people Identify with the Masterpiece God intended. That’s true of Preachers just as much as Prostitutes, so we will trust Him to remove the mud and restore the masterpiece. What do you see as you have conversations and hear in graphic detail about immoral or unethical behavior, with a few choice expletives thrown in—do you see only the mud, or do you see the Masterpiece? What you focus on first opens or closes doors.

So how do we create this Environment of Grace where God causes the growth in all of us?

See the Masterpiece in Yourself

The problem Preachers (or Big Brothers) have is the same problem Prostitutes have (all of us really)—how we see ourselves. 

The Preachers don’t see the immense value and worth their life already has to God, so they try to earn love.

Maybe that’s you. You defend, judge, prove you’re good. But you don’t need to.

You are loved. 

You need to learn to live and be loved without working for it. 

Get in a Group to help you push against that.

Let others show you how to just receive love (without earning it). 

Same with Prostitutes. Those who were in that industry here at Gateway have told me, 90% of prostitutes were trafficked or sexually abused as young girls or boys. 

Evil abused them, treating them as worthless objects, until they believed they had no worth, so they treat their bodies as objects to be used. 

But seeing the Masterpiece God sees, trusting His restoration process—that changes all of us.

Call Out the Masterpiece in Others. 

Maybe you have a hard time looking past the immoral behaviors or political pontifications or racist attitudes or judgmental mud.

Not sure if that is you: what do you say about others when they cannot hear you? What do you post on your social media about those with whom you disagree?

Here’s what I’d advise. Pray for the person you dislike.

If it’s a group of people – the homeless, the wealthy, the conservatives, the liberals – make it personal. Get to know someone from the group you find yourself judging.

Ask “God show me what you created this person to be that You said was worth dying for?  Show me, and help me speak it into their lives.” 

You do that and watch how God will show you the good Masterpiece under the cracks in the mud.  And as you speak it out to them, that will encourage them to trust God to restore it.

Encourage Each Other to Trust the Master Artist. 

Our Creator is an Artist who created us for love, and love can’t be forced, so God doesn’t force us. He works with our willingness to trust Him to restore us. 

As we create communities of Grace-giving Acceptance, Call out the Masterpiece in each other, and encourage each other to trust God more and more—we all grow into this Life-giving community Loving Everyone Life by Life. 

So, are you going to cooperate with God, letting him show You who He says you are—then not staying alone or isolated, but being part of his life-giving family in community with others?

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