Christianity Without the Pretense. Faith Without the Façade


By Greg Surratt

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Ir-rev-rend (ir REV rund) noun

1. a pastor who is somewhat critical of what is generally accepted or respected

2. a pastor who is trying to make sense of life, love, the church and other confusing things from a slightly satirical point of view; an irreverent sense of humor.

3. a “normal” guy pursuing God

Whatever you may think about the “typical” pastor, throw it out. Do they make bad decisions? Yes. Commit sin and experience severed relationships? Yes and yes. Pastor Greg Surratt is not perfect, and he unashamedly tells the stories that have strengthened his faith. He writes that the choice to follow Christ is never clean, is often scary, is usually clothed in mystery, and is always an adventure.

For some people, God appears in dark, dirty, lonely, or just plain odd places. Greg found God while huddled under a grand piano, hiding from overzealous friends and family trying to accost him during an altar call at a Pentecostal revival. So began a life of sharing stories of God’s endlessly creative and often surprising work and seeing God’s transforming power in unexpected ways. Despite years of vocational ministry, Greg never underestimates the power of divine/human encounters in some of teh least “churchy’ places on earth.

Humorous, insightful, and challenging, IR-REV-REND is a revealing and joyous look at real-life Christian living. As Greg himself affirms, if God can use his missteps and blunders, God can use anybody’s.



(in-truh-duhk-shuhn) noun

  1. the act of introducing or the state of being introduced 
  2. a preliminary part, as of a book, musical composition, or the like, leading up to the main part 
  3. an explanation of why I wrote this book 





I approached our recent vacation in Colorado with three lofty goals:

  1. Get a picture of a moose 
  2. Buy some new cowboy boots 
  3. Break 80 on eighteen holes of golf 

I was successful on the first two. Golf, on the other hand, not so much. Some people say that the game got its name because all the other four-letter words were taken. On most days, I'd have to agree.

We arrived in Denver a little before noon on a Friday, and in a couple of hours I was on the links in hot pursuit of the third goal. Since I didn't know anyone at the course, the starter randomly grouped me with three complete strangers.

The first was a guy about my age, a fair golfer and a nice enough guy. His name was John. The second was a very athletic salesman type; Randy was his name. He was an African American and a very good golfer (he complained about shooting 2 over par). We rode the cart together. Our fourth playing partner that hot July afternoon was a guy named Luke. He was an obvious octogenarian, very thin, very wrinkled, and he was pulling a cart full of clubs, intending to walk the entire eighteen holes.

I could sense right away Luke was going to be a problem. I hate doing anything slow, especially playing golf. My motto: It's okay to be bad. It's not okay to be slow. A little obnoxious, I know, but it's true. You can play with anyone, as long as you keep up the pace. I'm thinking, How slow could an eighty-six-year-old guy, pulling a walking cart, in 93-degree weather be? This was going to be a long, frustrating day, I told myself, not a good way to start the vacation.

I was wrong. It was an incredible experience. Luke turned out to be a real piece of work.

He was a good golfer. He played three or four times per week, and he'd shot his age every year since he turned seventy-four. (For those of you who are not golfers, I will not take the time to explain how incredible that is, other than to say that it doesn't look like I will live long enough to ever accomplish said feat.)

"I don't hit it as far as I used to," he said. But the truth was, almost every shot was straight. As far as keeping up, by the time my cart crisscrossed the golf course, chasing my oftentimes errant shots, Luke was usually somewhere near the middle of the fairway, pulling his clubs, waiting on me to hit the next ball.

But it wasn't the fact that he was a good golfer that made it an incredible experience. It was his story.

Luke had lived a lot of life in those eighty-six years. He'd worked in the mines in Butte, Montana, until the war broke out in 1940. He served his country with the greatest generation defending our freedoms for the next few years. Luke had faithfully attended Mass every week as long as he could remember, and then started helping as an altar boy in the late 1920s. (That certainly didn't keep him from offering a colorful commentary on misplaced shots from time to time.)

The most amazing thing about his story was that he had been married to the same woman for sixty-one years. More precisely, they had walked the aisle exactly sixty-one years ago from the day that we played golf together. Get it? An eighty-six-year-old man was celebrating his sixty-first wedding anniversary by walking eighteen holes with three complete strangers, in the hot Denver sun.

At that point I became a student.

How do you stay married to the same person for sixty-one years? How do you stay healthy enough to shoot your age at eighty-six? More important, how do you get away with playing eighteen holes on your anniversary?

I was all ears!

"It's not a big secret, really," Luke told me as he dropped a long putt. "Super Skirt [his pet name for her] doesn't mind what I do as long as she knows she's number one on my list. This morning I had two roses waiting for her when she woke up, I made her breakfast in bed, and I left a couple of Benjamins for mad money in a card on the table. Today while we play, she will shop till she drops without any interference from me. See, she thinks I'm doing this for her."

What a crafty old geezer. I want to be like him when I grow up.

What a character, what a story.

The truth is, we are all characters in our own way, and we all have a story. We can learn from just about anyone, if we'll just ask the right questions. Someone once told me, "Everybody's good for something, even if it's just to be a bad example."

In this book I am going to do what I think I do best: tell stories. Sometimes they'll be about people I know or have met in my three decades of pastoring churches. Sometimes the story will be mine.

At times I feel a little like Bum Phillips, former coach of the Houston Oilers football team (before they defected to Tennessee). When asked to speak at a gala event preceding Super Bowl XXXVIII, he looked around the star-studded group at the black-tie dinner and wondered why he'd been selected to give the speech. In his mind others were much more qualified. The endearingly homespun coach opened his speech by saying, "I feel a little like a cow chip someone threw in the punch bowl."

Sometimes I feel the same way. Most days, when I look in the mirror I see someone who is in way over his head. Sometimes I have more questions than answers.

I'm a great candidate for leading a megachurch, huh?

Over the years I've met a lot of people like me. At their core, they have a desire to know and follow God, but they have a lot of questions about how life works and wonder at times if God really cares. They have problems living up to their own expectations, much less to those of an unseen deity. And they have doubts: about God, the church, and themselves. Sometimes they tell me their story. Most of the time their story is my story. Honestly, it's really all of our stories; some of us just hide them really well.

This is not another how-to book, although I've included a few how-to's. This is a normal guy's journey in becoming a follower of Christ and learning to lead himself, his family, and ultimately, a very large church. It's real, sometimes funny, painfully simple, not too preachy, and at times irreverent. I guess it is kind of like me. There are life lessons in everything that happens to us; we've just got to be alert enough to see them. God never wastes an opportunity. I'd like to share a few of mine; maybe they'll be helpful to you.

These are things I learned while trying to follow God's call on my life, to nurture a family, to stay married, raise money, come up with something fresh to say every week, make life-altering decisions, keep from killing the people I'm supposed to be lovingly shepherding, resisting the temptation to quit, trying to keep it real, and figuring out how to be a spirit-filled, but not spooky, yet kind of mystical church, worshipping in multiple locations—and doing it all inexpensively.

Hopefully you can learn from me like I learned from Luke that day.

Toward the end of our match Luke implored us to pick up our pace. See, he and "Super Skirt" had a date that night. They were going to go celebrate with a nice meal, some dancing, and then who knows what. He didn't want to be late.

Oh yeah, I didn't break 80 that day, but I did beat Luke by two. He faded a little at the end. I guess the hot sun will do that to you when you're eighty-six and walking.


(ear-rev-rund) adj.

  1. Christianity without the pretense; faith without the façade 
  2. stories of life and love; hope and doubt; politics and money; with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure 
  3. my spiritual journey so far 


(fam-uh-lee) noun

  1. a social group consisting of parents and their offspring 
  2. one's wife or husband and one's children 
  3. one's children 
  4. a group descended from a common ancestor 
  5. all the people living together in one household 

Families are like fudge—mostly sweet with a few nuts.


You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.

—Desmond Tutu




"In the beginning…"

If I were God, I'm not sure I would have chosen me. Or my family, for that matter.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the choosing of Gideon found in Judges 6. God had something he needed to do and someone had to do it, so he chose Gideon. An angel of the Lord finds him scratching out a living, just trying to keep his head above water but below the radar of a powerful enemy called Midian that was making life miserable for Israel.

"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!" the angel calls out to Gideon.

"You got to be kidding me, right?" comes Gideon's response (my paraphrase). "If God is with me, why are things so hard? To be honest, I'm feeling a little abandoned here."

Good question. Have you ever felt like that? If this is how it feels when God is on my side, I'm not sure I want to be there when he's not. I feel as if he has forgotten me. Maybe he doesn't really care. Or maybe he doesn't really exist. Or maybe— I shouldn't be thinking these thoughts.

We all have those kinds of thoughts. Some of us just don't want to admit it.

So the angel says to Gideon, "God's got a plan. He's about to do something big. And guess whom he wants to use? That's right. You. So get after it, big guy. Go in the power that he has given you."

I love Gideon's response. I love it because it's the story of my life.

"Are you sure you've got the right guy?"

I asked that when I first sensed God's call on my life. I asked it before we planted Seacoast Church. I ask it every weekend before I get up to speak. I'm asking it right now as I sit down to write this book. God, you know my doubts, my failures, my insecurities, my great starts, and my challenges in following through. Are you really sure?

Gideon reminds the angel that there are much better candidates to be used by God. In fact, he makes a case that he may in fact be the worst possible choice.

"My clan is the weakest in our tribe, and I'm not exactly the shining star of the family."

I can imagine God saying, "Really? I had no idea. I must not have done all the background checks."

Sometimes life can feel like that.

But remember, it's not just about you. God really does know what he's doing.

It doesn't matter how many chariots the other guy has when God is on your side.

Gideon responded to God, and the world became a better place for it. God is still looking for unusual candidates to change their world. Who knows? It might just be you.

Stranger things have happened, you know.

The meanest man in town

My story (and also my family's) began on the day my grandmother talked my grandfather into taking her to an outdoor "brush arbor" revival meeting in a small western Oklahoma town in the mid-1930s. Two women from Louisiana had set up meetings in the dusty little community in hopes of bringing some of what they had experienced at a revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. They had been asking God for a breakthrough, focusing their prayers on the "meanest man in town," a title that happened to fit my grandfather.

Grandpa was a small but powerful man, handy with a gun, and a bit of an entrepreneur. His occupation was providing bootleg liquor to thirsty souls on both sides of the law. No Man's Land—as that part of Oklahoma had come to be known—had seen its share of outlaws, thieves, and robbers. Five countries had laid claim to the area. Spain was the first, but after a couple of expeditions decided that it would best be left to the "humped-back cows" and their pursuers, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians.

Spain gave it to Napoleon, who flipped it in twenty days to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. After a resurvey, it ended up as Mexican territory until the Republic of Texas claimed everything north to Colorado seventeen years later. When Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845, it was on the condition that no new slave territory would rise above 36.5 degrees in latitude. That left an orphaned rectangle of land that was not attached to any state or territory, thus the name No Man's Land. They couldn't even give it away in the great land rushes that produced instant towns like Norman and Oklahoma City. It was the last land to be settled, when there was no other left to be taken. Only the hardy survived. And Grandpa was among the hardiest.

His business was driven by the perfect storm of the Great Depression, a severe drought called the Dust Bowl in mid-America, and a national attempt to limit alcohol consumption called Prohibition. He was doing what he could to provide for his family, and business was good.

He had no time for God, but he loved his wife and she wasn't well. Sickness had diminished her once healthy frame to less than a hundred pounds. It was all she could do to get up in the morning, much less tend to the three young children who scurried about their small wooden home in the windblown dusty western Oklahoma town. Grandma heard that they sometimes prayed for the sick at the meetings down at the "brush arbor," so she asked Grandpa if he would take her there. Finally, reluctantly, he consented.

He pulled the old Model T Ford onto the dirt field that surrounded the crudely constructed temporary structure. It was just some tree limbs and a few small branches woven together to provide shelter for the outdoor church services. The twenty or so worshippers sat on rickety plankboard pews suspended across carefully spaced old wooden barrels. Actually, there wasn't much sitting being done. Mostly singing and clapping and testifying about the "goodness of the Lord," interspersed with joyous shouts and calls of "amen" and "preach it, sister."

Grandma never got out of the car that night. Parked in the shadows, she watched and she listened. Grandpa propped her up with a pillow, trying to make her as comfortable as he could. Toward the end of the evening the woman leading the service asked everyone to close their eyes and reflect on their own sinfulness. She issued an invitation to turn from that sin and follow Jesus. She then asked for brave souls to raise their hand if they wanted to receive the salvation that Jesus offered.

In the quiet of that dusty car, on a hot, humid summer night, Grandma lifted a frail hand that no one saw. No one but God, that is. And with that one small act of faith, she found healing not only for her body but also for her soul. For Grandpa it took longer. He was a natural skeptic and delighted in making fun of the new "holy rollers" in town.

One night he came home drunk and abusive, and the woman he loved locked him out of the house, telling him not to return until something changed. That night he had an encounter with God not unlike the one Paul had with Jesus on the Damascus road. Instantly sober, he committed to follow Christ, and his life changed, as did the destiny of his family.

The Surratts became a part of the new little Pentecostal church in town, and not long after that, "the meanest man in town" and his wife became ordained ministers. He dedicated his life to preaching the good news and planting churches all across rural Oklahoma and parts of Southern California.

My father, Hubert, became a traveling evangelist when he was still in high school. He negotiated with the administration for the maximum number of school days one could miss and still graduate, and then spent as much time as he could on the road with his brother, Norman, traveling from church to church holding weekly revival meetings. He actually turned down law school scholarships to continue his pursuit of ministry. (I would love to talk about how much fun it is to be the son of a national debate champion, but that's the stuff of another story. Let's just say I didn't win many arguments growing up.) Dad and Mom ultimately pastored several Assembly of God churches and did some missionary work with the denomination in India.

My family's faith was very naturally passed down to me. To say we were raised in church would be an understatement. Often we literally lived in the church building, for lack of a proper "parsonage." Mom was quick to remind us that we didn't "have to" go to church, we had the "privilege" of attending. Schoolwork was never an excuse to miss, and if one of us kids would try to pull the sick card, Mom would remind us that church was the best place for sick people to be because you never knew when God might heal someone. We used to joke that a signed death certificate was the only surefire way to get out of going to services, and even then you'd end up in church eventually, so why bother trying to avoid it?

Being of good Wesleyan/Arminian spiritual stock, we believed that you could "lose" your salvation for any number of worthy sins. I can remember as a boy waking up in the middle of the night to a too-quiet house, wondering if the Rapture had taken place and I'd been left behind. Belief in the Rapture means believing that in the last days, all true Christians will be gathered together in the air to meet Christ at his return. The word "rapture" isn't actually used in Scripture, but the concept is alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17:

And the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.

We believed that the Rapture could occur at any time, to be followed immediately by an intense seven-year period of extreme tribulation for anyone left behind. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus would return with all the Christians and kind of mop up what was left of the mess that Satan and his minions had made of the world.

One thing I knew for certain: You did not want to miss the Rapture.

A whole series of "Rapture" movies were made in the 1970s (A Thief in the Night, A Distant Thunder, Image of the Beast, The Prodigal Planet). They were shown regularly at youth groups and rallies, and were designed to literally "scare the hell" out of wayward teenagers. Even Christian rocker Larry Norman had a hit called "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" about the perils of being left behind.

So I'd wake up in the quietest part of the night, tiptoe into my parents' bedroom, and check to see if the Rapture had taken place. If Mom was still sleeping, I was pretty certain I was okay. In my mind, Dad was a less reliable indicator of Rapture readiness.

With that as a background, I committed my life to Christ early and often, and probably for good cause. It would usually happen at a revival meeting during the altar service.

Revivals were a big deal in our church. Dad was always more of an evangelist than he was a pastor. His style of preaching was common among the revivalists of the 1950s and '60s. He would walk back and forth as he preached, starting slowly and then building steam until he was almost shouting his words to make a point. He would shake his full head of hair, use a big white hanky to dab at the sweat accumulating on his forehead, and exert enough energy in one sermon to account for at least a three-hour workout. And he could do that for several nights in a row.

As I said earlier, before he settled down to pastor a church, he was a traveling evangelist. We would go as a family from town to town, with Dad preaching for several nights, and then we'd move our little traveling caravan on to the next city to start a new revival meeting. Our home for the week was usually a small hotel or sometimes an extra room or two in the host pastor's home.

Mom was amazing. She would come to church every night and sit on the second or third row and attentively take notes in the margins of her Bible as Dad preached sermons that she had no doubt heard dozens of times before. Her love for God and admiration for her husband were obvious. Her purse was always full of goodies to keep my siblings and me entertained. There were no nurseries or kids' ministries back then to keep the kids quiet; just creative moms and the threat of facing Dad's wrath when the service was over if you acted up.

Sometimes my dad didn't wait until the service was over.

I remember one time, for some reason Mom had stepped out of the small little sanctuary where Dad was preaching, probably to take my sister to the restroom, and I was left alone on the third row. I must have been four or five years old at the time. By the time she left, Dad had reached a full head of steam, hair shaking, sweat flying, walking up and down the aisles, mesmerizing the crowd that had gathered in the church building that night.

Whatever I was doing at the time became a distraction, so Dad looked around, saw that Mom was gone, and in midsentence snatched me up for some immediate corporal punishment. Somewhere between Acts chapter 2 and Acts chapter 3, he wore my behind out. And he never missed a beat in the message.

Dads were different then. They could use words like "shut up," "stupid," "idiot," and "useless" without fear of injuring their offspring's inner child or being accused of verbal abuse. Dads were expected to be strong when I was growing up. Their fathers were a war-toughened bunch called America's greatest generation. They didn't wear their emotions on their sleeves and certainly weren't in touch with their feminine sides. That didn't happen until the Beatles made long hair acceptable and John Lennon told us that "All You Need Is Love." (Lennon wrote that just before the Beatles went their separate ways and started suing each other.) Dad thought I needed a little something stronger than love. "Tender" was not a word I associated with my father. "Tender" was more apt to describe my backside following a session with Dad during his version of a "time out." He was no different in that regard than most dads of the time. Fathers of the 1950s and '60s inadvertently created a whole new industry that began to spring up in the 1970s and '80s. It's called "family therapy."


On Sale
Sep 28, 2011
Page Count
224 pages

Greg Surratt

About the Author

Greg Surratt is the founding pastor of Seacoast Church (, a trendsetting, multisite church. An Oklahoma native who grew up in Colorado, he now lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, with his wife, Debbie. They have four children and nine grandchildren. You can find out more about Greg on his blog at or on Facebook at

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