Grace in the City

The leader has just concluded his message about Jesus and Peter and the fact that we’re all bound to fall short of our best intentions. The crowd gathered to hear the talk doesn’t look like they would be particularly interested in listening to a Bible message about how we are prone to mess up and how God loves us anyway. But they have followed every word. After a final song and a couple of announcements about stuff going on in the coming week, the gathering is over. And yet few people head for the door. Instead, they hang out to talk to the speaker or other leaders, or make plans to do something later. They feel safe, accepted and loved in this place.

Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? So exactly what is the gathering described above?

Young Life club, perhaps?

An evening church service?

A gathering of 20-somethings who would describe themselves as The Scum of the Earth?

The answer, in fact, is ALL OF THE ABOVE. Welcome to the evening service of a church started by former Young Life staff guy, Michael Sares, whose incarnational ministry to what he calls “the left-out and the right-brained” looks a lot like Young Life. More importantly, what goes on at The Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, Colo., looks a lot like what you would imagine if Jesus walked into any urban setting to minister among those who would never darken the door of a more conventional Christian gathering.

The church’s name, incidentally, references the passage in which the apostle Paul refers to himself and his fellow apostles as “scum and refuse” (1 Corinthians 4:13, NIV). Sares says that folks in his congregation like the name because they see it as edgy or funny and because of the sense of humility it conveys.

In a new book about his ministry, Sares writes:

“Our church is not for the faint at heart. We have a meal every Sunday, smack dab in the middle of worship time. More often than not, the long line of people waiting to get food is made up of regular attendees and homeless people, newcomers plus other people who are coming just for the free food. We have officially designated the smokers as the greeters since they are already out front. ‘Don’t scare people,’ I plead.”

The book, titled Pure Scum: The Left-Out, the Right-Brained and the Grace of God (InterVarsity Press) tells the story of Sares’s calling, struggles and joys in leading a ministry that has touched many lives. Sares also writes about the impact Young Life has had on his life — from a life-changing moment during a summer Campaigner meeting to college leadership training to his years volunteering and (briefly) serving on staff in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Young Life taught me to spend my ministry hours earning the right to be heard,” said Sares. “As a Young Life leader, I was the older guy who spent time with high school students. At Scum of the Earth Church, I’m the really old guy who spends time with young adults. I’m the 1970s folksinger who spends time with punk rockers. I’m the guy who showers every day who hangs out with guys who hardly ever shower. I am used to being uncomfortable in places like a Goth club because I remember being uncomfortable in a high school cafeteria when I led a Young Life club.”

To learn more about Sares’s ministry and book, go to or contact
Mike Sares is an alumni and friend of the mission of Young Life. Visit the Alumni and Friends website at to join, update your information and reconnect with your Young Life friends.