Fighting in the Name of the Lord

Fighting in the Name of the Lord

On a late Friday night recently at the Pure Country Bar in Paducah, Ky., a brawl is about to break out. It's not a drunk fist fight -- it's a team of "warriors for Christ" gearing up for a fight in the name of the Lord.

"Father, we just thank you for the opportunity to go out tonight and to train and compete," coach John Renken says. "Lord, we just pray that you protect our fighters, as well as the other guys. We pray that we will be a representation of you."

Renken, the leader of the group of unorthodox fighters, is also an evangelical pastor who brings a new meaning to the term "bible beater."

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Prayer With A Punch
Prayer With a Punch

"I was fighting as a brand new Christian. I was fighting all the way through bible college...This is just a part of who I am," he says. "Look at what Jesus endured for our sake. He goes down the walk that is roughly about a mile long with the Roman soldiers beating him bloody. He faced his own cage in life."

The sport is mixed martial arts -- a combination of wrestling, kickboxing and other martial arts where competitors can do almost anything to knock out their opponents. Popularized by cable TV's "Ultimate Fighting Championship," the sport is so brutal it's been banned in seven states.

Pummeling opponents, Renken's team doesn't quite believe in turning the other cheek. He says fighting has its roots in the Bible. "Jacob wrestles with God in Genesis...Exodus 15.3 [it] says that the Lord your God is a warrior. So, there is a part of God that I believe is a warrior, that is a master of battle," he says.

"When I go into the ring... I'm going in there to fight, but I'm also going in there for the reasons that we've been talking about, which is that I want to reach people with the gospel," Renken says.

Renken's ministry is one of a growing number of evangelical churches that have looked to mixed martial arts as way to appeal to men, who have largely been absent from traditional congregations.

"We believe that Jesus loves lost people and whatever avenue that we can find to reach those lost people ... we're going to do," Renken says.

Xtreme Ministries: Not Your Typical Sunday Morning

Renken founded Xtreme Ministries, a church and gym located in a strip mall in Clarksville, Tenn., squeezed between a Goodwill store and the local beauty school. While you don't have to be a Christian to train, come Sunday morning, it becomes a full-on place of worship.

For these Xtreme congregants, wearing their Sunday best is a far cry from the traditional flowery dresses and starched collars -- you'll see fatigues, tattoos and battle wounds from the previous night's fight in the crowd.

The small talk is also not exactly holy. "I landed a head kick on him," a congregant says about fight night. "And when I hit him, I saw his eyes flutter."

The sermons are tough. On a recent Sunday, it included a narrative of David and Goliath -- the battle between the future king of Israel and the biblical warrior.

"David was a simple guy who was a shepherd who had faith in Jesus that he would protect him," pastor Jordan Fulton says. "And he stepped out there in faith, God totally backed him up, he killed him, bam, but then it gave permission for him and all his followers and all of these other guys to kill their own giants in their own way."

Fulton, a soldier and mixed martial arts enthusiast, recently took over the pulpit from Renken, and admits the church has its own unique style.

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