Ethan is the privileged, crowd drawing son of Pastor Jeremiah Jenkins, a world-renowned church planter. He is the heir and right hand man expected to succeed his aging father at The Rock- white washed megachurch.
Jake, however, hasn’t been privileged with anything in his life, having lived in The Hood before being saved from his old life and becoming a brash street-wise pastor of Second Chance Community Church, right smack in the heart of a beleaguered inner-city neighborhood.
Ethan works with the rich and the influential. Jake ministers to the poor, helping them get off the streets, off the drugs, and out of prostitution, teaching them the value of employment. Real employment.
Second Chance is the sister church to the urban and hip Rock church, and the congregation is generous in their financial support, but Jake is sick of their money and resents their unwillingness to “cross the tracks”, ministering through relational investment. He believes the main reason The Rock writes big checks is so that its members won’t have to get their hands dirty, essentially cleansing their consciences with cash.
Thus, when Ethan begins to challenge the status quo at The Rock, the church board decides he “needs his wings clipped” and sends him to spend a couple weeks with Jake as a form of discipline. And that’s exactly how Ethan sees it. Discipline. Which only fuels Jake’s views of The Rock. Thus two radically, and racially- different worlds collide, and sparks fly. Not the good kind, either.
This is hard core ministry, guys. And these are real struggles within the American church. We have so many missionaries going across the waters and ministering in other countries, but few wants to deal with this type of ministry. Which is understandable. It’s dirty, it’s heartbreaking, and often there are as few conversions here as there are in other countries, but it is worth it. I know from personal experience.
Second Chance hits strongly on the issues of racism, economic injustice, and social class barriers within the church. Over and over again, the movie insists that getting involved with real people in desperate situations is what matters most, and, to be honest, I think it’s a message the church needs to hear.
Jake wrestles with seeds of bitterness much of the time, yet he remains wholeheartedly committed to his people. He helps men get out of the hood, gamblers, alcoholics, drug users, stands up against predatory drug dealers, takes sandwiches to the hungry and bonds with fatherless teen boys on weekend camping trips. Jake ministers in ways that are time consuming and all encompassing, but he does it because he believes that God has called him to it, and God can save them. In addition, Jake’s lovely wife ministers alongside him, taking in female prostitutes and helping them get on their feet, turn away from their pimps, and get out of their destructive lifestyles. When asked why she holds out hope for these women, and how she does this every day, she responds that she too was one of those young women, before God rescued her. Together, this husband and wife team minister because they believe God loves these people.
I love the fact that this movie deals with the subject of money. Jake reiterates multiple times that money is not what these people need. We see the theme come up over and over again, but we see that the movie doesn’t slant things too far one way. Sometimes the money is needed, but it’s not the answer, and it’s not always a good thing. We also see Jake chastise The Rock’s board of deacons for being more interested in money and power than the welfare of his congregation. He rails against one member, saying, “You know what makes me crazy about the Bible? It says I’ve got to love you. And right now, all I want to do is beat the h— out of you.” (He doesn’t follow through with his frustrated impulse.)
As Ethan witnesses how most of the Second Chance members struggle to meet their most basic needs, it affects his attitude toward materialism. He begins to become uncomfortable with the amount of money his fiancée wants to spend on china- which confuses her because Ethan’s value’s are changing- he trades in his BMW for a simpler car. Throughout the film, we see Ethan changing as he witnesses a side of ministry he’s never seen before. A grittier, dirtier side. Eventually, Ethan makes a tremendous gesture when he washes the feet of the still sullen Jake, bringing a tear to the hard black man’s eye.
Something I love about this movie, though, is the fact that the movie never belittles or blames God. It makes it very clear that His followers are flawed individuals, but it never makes God out to be cheap or be the bad guy.
My biggest issue, and it’s not really an issue for me, mind you, is that the movie is a bit harsh towards megachurches. At The Rock’s board meeting you hear things like “sell Second Chance’s property to the city to make way for a new baseball stadium”, the board members arguing that the money they’ll receive for the property will help the church’s overseas missions and enable them to build a bigger, better sanctuary for Second Chance (albeit no longer in the heart of the inner city). While I can’t say this doesn’t happen in mega churches (never been to one), I felt like only portraying that was unfair. However, the movie was trying to make a point, and it is not outside the realm of possibility for these types of conversations to occur.
Now, what might bother viewers? Sexual content involves prostitutes, one specifically, who turns for a time to Second Chance after she has been propositioned by men in a car (who make a really crude, euphemistic comment). This girl does not stick around for long, though, and eventually we see her drive off with her pimp to get an abortion and continue in her trade, a crying Mrs. Sanders begging her not to do this.
There is also gang and drug violence in the movie. Jake has a couple of scuffles with drug dealers peddling around the church, and in his first run in deals some “tough love” by putting one of the thugs in a head lock and telling him to quite harassing the young men at Second Chance (something which Ethan questions, feeling like Jake should be more gentle- a concept they don’t agree on). In the second altercation, Jake ends up with a gun to his head and gets hit in the stomach a couple of times. The most violent scene, however, is when a young man stands up for another young man trying to get out of a gang and is beaten and left for dead. An ambulance is called, and the young man survives, but the movie is clear about the gang lifestyle. You leave, and they either kill you, or leave you near dead to suffer before you die. This young man shows up later limping and wearing a gauze head bandage.
The language in this movie will also be offensive to some viewers. To be honest, I hate language in movies. I think it is unnecessary. But I like it in this film. While I understand that comment seems odd, I want to explain my reasoning’s. Most of the language (and there isn’t a ton of it) comes from the mouth of Jake Sanders himself. That’s right; our brash preacher man is the one who uses the foul language the most. But here is why: Jake comes from the hood. Profanity is not only accepted, it’s expected. So obviously removing those words from his vocabulary has been difficult for Jake. So, under pressure or irritation, Jake lets one slip. Somewhere along the lines he makes a reference about having a problem with profanity. And his wife knows it. In fact, we see her cut him off one time, and jab her elbow into him a second time to keep him from saying what he was going to say. Good woman he’s got there. Eventually the line is made “when are you going to stop using that type writer and get a computer?” and Jake’s wife replies back to him, unblinking “when you get control of your mouth”. The struggle of profanity was so powerful, and the movie never condoned it. That is why it is the exception to my language rule. Another interesting line is spoken on the subject of profanity when Tony (good old boy you gotta love!) confronts a young man about uttering an expletive, telling him, “God doesn’t like it when you swear.” Later, Tony asks his friend’s forgiveness for judging him too harshly: “I was more worried about you saying ‘h—‘ than how you felt.” For the record, he says this to the young man who took the beating for his friend.
As for drug and alcohol, it’s there, but it’s never condoned and it’s never gratuitous. The film makers are making it clear it’s a part of this environment, and it’s an inner city reality, but that’s about it. Jake leads a recovery group for men trying to break the power of substance abuse, and it’s implied that a drug addict spends money Ethan has given him to go on a drug binge, but all of this is shown as negative.
The only other thing worth mentioning is the fact that, despite watching Jake chastise a Second Chancer for buying a lottery ticket, Ethan later buys another ticket for the man in an attempt to connect with him, an offer which this man, after a brief hesitation, rejects.
Second Chance doesn’t sugar coat anything, and that’s why I like it. I am personally frustrated with the churches’ stance on ministry to “people like this”, so it was a refreshing change to see someone grab the proverbial bull by the horns and deal with this issue. The movie stirs the pot, and honestly, it’s about time that pot was stirred.
A lot of times we brush hard topics like these under the rug, or we ignore them because they make us uncomfortable, but Second Chance is unapologetic as it shows us the realities of social, economic and racial disparities within the body of Christ, in all their grittiness – totally unvarnished.
For the reasons stated above, many Christians won’t want to watch this film- or at least will not want their kids to- but its message is right on the money. It deals with one of my favorite topics. Meeting people where they are at (going to the inner city and working among them, not expecting them to come to you) without “meeting people where they are at” (you do not need to go looking like a homie, people, all you’ll do is make them go “another wanna be gangster”).
It is essential for those who love Christ to roll up their sleeves and get involved. This looks different for everyone, and the movie doesn’t say money is worthless and your financial aid is meaningless, but it does challenge the thought of “that’s all I need to do”. We all have different roles to play in the church body. Not everyone is called to minister to a cutter, someone with suicidal tendencies, or go to the inner city, but we aren’t all called to sit at home, either.