The Masked Saint is a Christian film released fall 2015, based on a true story about a professional wrestler turned pastor and his struggles as he took over a dying church. (It’s kind of a modern-day wrestling version of Chariot’s of Fire, the Eric Liddell story.) There’s a lot to relate to as he works to earn the trust of the community, battles against egos in his own congregation, struggles to raise money to keep the church afloat, and tries to reconcile his past work and his talents as a wrestler with what he thinks a pastor should be and do.
Chris and his wife are optimistic and eager for their new post as pastor of a small church in a new town. They almost immediately have some unfortunate run-ins with reality, however, when they meet an egotistical, wealthy elder who has largely run the church through the power of his money, and town members who are hostile towards the pastor and his church. It raises some age-old questions.
- How do you love the unloveable in your midst?
- How do you encourage the wealthy to support without encouraging patronage, ego and control?
- How do fight your own temptation to please the wealthy (especially if they are wrong) when you are in such need of their financial contribution?
- How do you get the entire community to support the church so that you aren’t dependent on a wealthy few?
- How do you reach out to those who are hostile to the Gospel?
- How do you reach your community? (As an individual and as a church?)
Things at the church were declining, his family lost their home (when they dared to cross the church’s number one financial supporter), and his preaching was lousy. The one positive thing that kept encouraging them was Miss Edna, (a pitch-perfect Diahann Carroll). She never failed to speak to who Chris was supposed to be—the man God was making him. She never criticized where he was, or pointed out how bad his preaching was. She just continued to speak life and purpose into him. She never failed to remind Him of God’s ability to move, to work, to change reality, both in Chris and in the church. We all need people like that in our lives!
- Who are the Miss Edna’s in your life—the people who speak life and remind you of who God is and what He can do (even and especially in and through you)?
- Which kind of voice are you? Are you a Miss Edna for others? Or are you like the rest of the congregation—pointing out the flaws?
Chris kept thinking change would come in the church because of his awesome sermons, or his ministry outreach…his normal pastor kind of stuff that he planned on being great at. Change came differently, however. He happened to witness a prostitute getting harassed by her pimp and the fighter/wrestler in him came out and he defended her. She didn’t know who had helped her, but the masked man told her she could go a particular church and get help there. She did go to that church. The congregation was initially what you might expect—they cringed and stepped away. Chris immediately stepped in and gave the first “sermon” of any real passion or power, challenging the church to follow Christ’s example and welcome her. He drew a line in the proverbial sand and made his position clear. He was going to be like Jesus and reach the least, the lost, the broken, the downtrodden and outcast… When the young girl realized that church was a safe place, she brought her friends and the church began to grow.
It wasn’t his savvy as a pastor that started that domino. It was his past. It was his skills as a fighter and his passion to fight the bullies and to stand up for those who were hurting. God used who he was to grow that church, not his role as a pastor, but his nature, his character, his past…all those things that made Chris uniquely Chris.
- Do you ever feel that there are “dignified” things that God wants to use in you? What are those?
- Are there things that you think God can’t or won’t use because they aren’t “dignified” or “holy”? What are those things?
- Has God ever surprised you by using something in your life to His glory that you didn’t expect?
Chris was able to pick up some wrestling fights that paid him enough to support not only his family, but to help support the church as well. And, when he started seeing how God was using his talents and his actions (not only his position) to change things in the church and the community, he began to preach differently. Well, in truth, before his preaching changed, his attitude changed…for the worse. He began to sound a lot like the rich elder he’d had such issue with at the start. He started having a God-complex about how “I” was saving “my” church.
- Have you ever started working hard to do good for something you were passionate about, for something you felt God had called you to…but somewhere along the way lost perspective about who was supposed to get the glory? It’s a slippery slope.
After Chris was humbled and remembered that it was all for God’s glory and in HIS strength… After Chris remembered that it was God’s church, not his…then his preaching began to change. Then he stopped carrying the whole burden himself and started empowering the church members to give of their gifts and talents. Then things began to change for the better.
In some ways it’s an unusual and extraordinary story and in other ways it’s an extremely ordinary and common story. The particulars of him being a pro-wrestler, for example, are uncommon, but the themes and the story arc – those are as old as time itself.
I can’t help but make mention of one thing that I found didn’t really set right with me. It’s a phrase we hear all the time and I understand where it’s coming from, but I think it’s wrong. Several times someone said that “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” I think the heart of that is that God won’t give us more than we can handle through His strength and grace… But it doesn’t say that. The truth is God does, often, give us more than we can handle so that we will turn to Him. He wants to teach us to be dependent on Him, to rely on His strength and not our own. If everything we face is something we can handle in our own strength, we would never learn to look to Him for His. I think it’s a well-intentioned phrase, but it’s technically theologically wrong and it made me cringe to hear it as a fairly focal point in the movie, a couple of times. Especially in an evangelical movie about a pastor… I’d like to have more solid theology and less cliché, frankly.