Ethan Jenkins and Jake Sanders share a passion for ministry to God's people. And that's almost where their similarities end.
Ethan is the privileged, prodigal son of Pastor Jeremiah Jenkins, a world-renowned church planter. After a stint as a rock star (and time in rehab), he's come home—literally and spiritually—as the heir apparent of his father's well-to-do, lily-white suburban megachurch, The Rock. Jake Sanders, on the other hand, knows little of privilege as he pastors Second Chance Community Church in a beleaguered inner-city neighborhood. With his wife's help, Jake ministers to a poor, struggling congregation—most of whom are black or Hispanic—helping them get off drugs, get out of prostitution and get jobs.
Second Chance was founded by Jeremiah three decades before. And The Rock still supports its urban sister church—and pays Jake's salary. Though the larger church is financially generous, Jake resents the congregation's hesitancy to "cross the tracks" in order to invest relationally in his church as well. 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 two weeks at Second Chance as thinly disguised "discipline"—and two radically different worlds are set to collide. Ethan has to learn that ministry requires more than just throwing money at people's problems. And Jake must confront his own deep disdain for how the larger church fails to see that Second Chance needs more than just monthly checks.
The Second Chance offers a wide-angle snapshot of how the staff of an impoverished urban church ministers to its struggling congregants. Pastor Jake wrestles with seeds of bitterness much of the time, yet he remains wholeheartedly committed to his people. That includes helping men struggling with addiction, taking teens on a camping trip, standing up to predatory drug dealers and taking sandwiches to a park to feed the hungry. Jake's wife also ministers to women trying to break free from prostitution.
A well-meaning Ethan gives a member of the Second Chance congregation some money (though the film consistently insists that money is not what the poor need the most). Another time, he pays a drug dealer $500 not to kill Jake (who stubbornly refuses to give the dealer drug money he's intercepted). Ethan also exhibits a lot of patience with Jake's bad attitude toward him.
As Ethan witnesses how much the members of Second Chance struggle even to meet their most basic needs, it affects his attitude toward materialism. He trades in his BMW for a humble, domestic econobox. And he becomes uncomfortable with the amount of money his fiancée wants to spend on china. (She's confused by Ethan's changing values, but wants to understand what's happening with him and expresses willingness to follow his lead.) When Tony, a Second Chance church member, offers to wash the feet of a friend whom he's judged harshly, it prompts Ethan and Jake to do the same for one another.
The Second Chance is about racism, economic injustice and social class barriers within the church. One of its primary purposes seems to be exhorting those in well-off, suburban congregations to take a very close look at what they really believe about the poverty of their inner-city brethren. Over and over again, the movie insists that getting involved with real people in desperate situations is what matters most.
In the process, the film intentionally paints an exaggerated and caricatured portrait of wealthy megachurches. At times, Scripture-filled discussions among The Rock's board members about stewardship and responsibility border on satire. For example, the board wants to sell Second Chance's property to the city to make way for a new baseball stadium, 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 five miles away). Jake chastises the board 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.)
What the film never does is belittle or berate God. It points out the flaws of those serving Him, but it refuses to blame God or in any other way diminish Him.
A young prostitute who's thinking about turning to Second Chance for help is propositioned by men in a car who describe what they want with a crude euphemism ("We've got the money if you've got the honey"). Later, she gets in a car with a man (likely her pimp) who is taking her to get an abortion so that she can continue plying her trade.
Jake has a couple of scuffles with young toughs peddling drugs near the church. In the first such altercation, Jake exhibits "tough love" by putting a young drug dealer in a headlock and telling him to quit harassing the young men at Second Chance. (Ethan questions whether that much force was really necessary.) In their second skirmish, the drug dealer puts a gun to Jake's head, then hits him twice in the stomach. Another young man who stands up to the gang is beaten badly (offscreen) and left for dead. He shows up later limping and wearing a gauze head bandage. Ethan discovers that thieves have broken into his car and stolen a coat and his golf clubs.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The smoking, drug and alcohol content in Second Chance never feels gratuitous, but it's clear that the filmmakers want us to know that such hard realities are a part of inner-city life for many of its residents. Several of the struggling and/or homeless characters smoke or hold empty liquor bottles. Jake leads a recovery group for men trying to break the power of substance abuse. It's implied that a drug addict spends money Ethan has given him to go on a drug binge—but he cleans up his act again by the end of the movie. A teenage drug dealer in the area preys upon anyone who'll help his "cause," including a 7-year-old who actually collects money from his customers.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, musician Steve Taylor shook up the CCM world with prophetic, satirical songs that challenged Christians to examine their values. (Remember the tune, "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good"?) Since then, Taylor has broadened his horizons by becoming a music producer and music video director. The Second Chance marks his first foray into the arena of moviemaking. And he's still stirring the pot.
Some Christian movies present a very sanitized perspective on church life. The Second Chance is not one of those. Instead, it offers a realistic, provocative and unvarnished look at the issues of social, economic and racial disparities within the body of Christ. Raw, unapologetic honesty and grittiness (and occasional profanity) characterize the film which pulls no punches as it addresses hard subjects those of us in the church are sometimes tempted to brush under the rug.
As such, the film will likely make some viewers uncomfortable. But its overall message is right on the money, as it were: Financial aid is not enough. It is essential for those who love Christ to roll up their sleeves and get involved. You don't have to agree with every facet of Taylor's point of view (or his use of PG-13 elements in conveying it) to realize that his movie has the potential to become a catalyst for positive personal and corporate change for those who have ears to hear.