It isn’t very often that a church planter/ pastor of a church of 600 gets a phone call from the New York Times. I’m a pretty ordinary guy. I’m arguably 5′9, 170lbs (at least that’s what my license says), been married to my college sweetheart for 17 years, have 3 kids, 2 dogs (one I claim the other I don’t) and live in the suburbs. Like most men in my community, my greatest challenge is juggling work, kids sports, and chauffeuring kids to their various extra-curricular activities. I guess I am the definition of a middle class suburbanite. Probably the biggest difference between me and my neighbor is that I am a minister.
I gave my life to Christ when I was in high school but my “testimony” isn’t particularly compelling. I’m not an ex-drug addict or gangster. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, and I got married a virgin. My life’s mission can be summed up in I want to make Jesus look good. I am pretty ordinary. I realize I am a bit peculiar for a minister. I love scary movies (Scream should have won an academy award), firmly believe that music peaked with 1980’s heavy metal (Def Leppard Rocks!), have a bunch of tattoos (I recommend Starlight Tattoo), applied to be on Survivor 7 times (I am still waiting for my call back) and I drive a cool car (It’s a Dodge Challenger not a Charger). But overall, I am ordinary.
Like most people in society I have my hobby. Some guys fish, some guys hunt, some guys shop, some guys play video games, some guys watch football….I love MMA (mixed martial arts). I got hooked on the UFC when I saw an ad for the first UFC. I bought the pay-per-view broadcast and have been hooked ever since. About two years ago I started blogging on MMA. About a year and a half ago we started occasionally broadcasting UFC fights Saturday nights at our church since my house was no longer large enough for the group that was coming. About a year ago I went to my first live UFC event. About 6 months ago I began dreaming of a ministry to the MMA community. 6 days ago Fight Pastor was quoted on the front page of The New York Times. A shocking turn of events for a pretty ordinary guy.
The reporter interviewed me on 8 different occasions. I estimate we talked for a total of 3 hours. The first time we talked was mid-October. He seemed very interested in the fact that some pastors felt the church had become too feminized. He asked me often if I felt this way and if our MMA ministry was a response to counter that trend. My response was always, “No, I don’t feel that way” and “we have an MMA ministry because I like MMA.” I understood that those weren’t really compelling answers but were the truth none-the-less. The night before the article hit the presses he called me to ask several final questions. Our conversation went something like this (I remember because he called me as I was driving home from hot yoga).
Ross: Is it accurate to say that many churches in America feel that the church has become too feminized?
Fight Pastor: Ross, again I don’t know. I have never studied that or considered that question. I think it would be more accurate to say that some churches in America feel that the church has become too feminized but I can not say for sure.
Ross: How many churches do you think have some sort of MMA ministry?
Fight Pastor: I don’t know of any other than us. I am sure there are some. I guess I would say maybe 100.
Ross: You would be surprised I have found numerous churches around America that have MMA ministries.
Fight Pastor: Really, I didn’t know that.
Ross: Do you know of any African American churches that have MMA ministries? My editor wants me to do some research on that too.
Fight Pastor: Not off the top of my head.
Ross: Why do you think African American churches seem to not have MMA ministries?
Fight Pastor: I don’t know. African American churches tend to be pretty conservative.
Needless to say, after hours of interviews over several months I was a bit surprised that those conversations were reduced to:
“Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
Roughly 100 young men, many sporting shaved heads and tattoos, attend fight parties at Canyon Creek near Seattle, watching bouts on the church’s four big-screen televisions. Vendors hustle hot dogs and “Predestined to Fight” T-shirts. About half are not church members but heard about the parties through friends, said Mr. Beals, who is known as the Fight Pastor.
I have to be honest and say I was a bit disappointed when I first read the article. Out of everything we talked about that is what he uses in his article? I was bummed because I had told all my friends I was going to be on the front page of The New York Times! All I got was a quote I don’t remember saying (I do agree with it), referred to as Mr. Beals (My dad is Mr. Beals!), and my age is messed up (Since the New York Times says I’m 37 can I say that?).
Since those 4 sentences were written about me, I have had unlimited media requests and multiple production companies call me. In every situation, they would ask me questions about our ministry and discover we DON’T have actual live fighting at our church nor do we ever plan on it. We ONLY show broadcasts of UFC fights. They quickly discover I am pretty ordinary! A reporter for Fox News called everyone I know trying to get a hold of me for two days. He finally tracks me down in Las Vegas and asks if I would be willing to go to the Las Vegas Fox affiliate for an interview. He asked if I could bring one of the fighters I train. I told him he had the wrong guy and shared what it is we do. He said he’d get back to me. I never heard from him again. Why, because he discovered I am pretty ordinary.
For the record let me clear up the misinformation that seems to be circulating:
- We do not have live, actual fights at our church! We show pay-per-view UFC events once a month. That is it. We have no plans to buy an octagon and start our own fight promotion. That would be pretty cool but it IS NOT my mission.
- Our MMA ministry is not a gimmick to get 20 somethings into our church. Our MMA ministry is focused on going out into the MMA community and being a positive ambassador for Christ. Our church is already full of 20 somethings. Canyon Creek doesn’t need a gimmick to encourage them to come.
- On the gimmick note. Something is a gimmick when it isn’t who you are. When you are trying to be something you are not. I am an MMA fan. It is natural that that would be a part of my overall ministry. Some pastors have motorcycle clubs because they ride Harleys. We show MMA fights because I love MMA.
- The hot dog “hustler” is a member of my church that owns a hot dog stand and sells them as part of his own business. He provides his stand as a service to the church.
Lastly, the quote that is attributed to me, “What led me to Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.” I was not saying that Jesus liked to beat people up. Get real. I meant that he never quit. He never gave up. He kept fighting until the end. He experienced temptation unlike anything we have ever faced but didn’t compromise. He was ridiculed, whipped, beaten, and betrayed but never veered from His purpose. He endured the shame and torture of the cross knowing at any moment He could stop the pain but suffered for our sake. Jesus fought death, hell, and the grave and didn’t just win a decision, He knocked them out. He fought the devil and submitted him. In doing that He also won the heart of an ordinary guy like me.
You see, what these reporters, producers, news anchors, DJs discovered about me is that I am pretty ordinary. The only thing extraordinary about me is that when I was 15 I discovered:
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This extraordinary Jesus IS a fighter. He is The Ultimate Fighter. He lives in me. I have the nature of a fighter inside of me! Jesus is able to take ordinary me and do something extraordinary through me. Unfortunately, that has now proven to not be news worthy.
So for the record, Fight Pastor exists to be “salt and light” in the mixed martial arts culture. Consider me a missionary.