The first time I met Pastor Christian Farris, I admit he wasn’t my cup of latte…sort of speak. Where I come from, pastors are a whole different blend altogether. My husband, Jay and I met Christian through dear friends. Since then, our relationship has grown alongside the vegetables, cows, and goats on our friend’s farm in Georgia, where we often come together to rest in creation, lend a hand, share a meal, or attend one of the Bible retreats hosted there. Today, I admit Christian is like drinking coffee without sugar, the more I’m around him the more I savor his pastoral flavor.
Christian Farris is a pastor at Next Level Church in Tampa, Florida. It is a church with multiple ministries, but is known for helping people with addictions and rescuing women from sex trafficking. In the Tampa Bay area, it’s often labeled the “recovery church.”
The church hosts weekly meetings, sponsorships, and mentor programs for those addicted. I set out to interview Christian regarding the things that enslave us verses living in the freedom of the gospel.
TCA: “When did you know you were called to be a pastor?”
CF: “I felt the call on my life as a boy. My father was a pastor of a Baptist church at the time, and I was raised in such a rigid, strict religion that I couldn’t see how I fit into that arena. I left home once I graduated from high school and turned away from God for a short time. I felt I didn’t fit into the mold of what a Christian was supposed to be. At nineteen, I went to Bible college and experienced a paradigm shift. Later, my father, brother, and I along with several others began to examine the first century church and how they operated within the scope of freedom and grace. In Mark 7, Jesus points out man’s tendency to cling to tradition in religion and their love for tradition and rules was stronger than their love for Christ. It wasn’t until we broke out of the rules and regulations of religion did I see my place in the arena God called me to.”
TCA: “How would you describe your congregation?”
CF: “The great thing about my congregation is it’s very diverse socially, economically, and racially. We have wealthy business owners who worship alongside those that ride a bike to church. I see our church as a great example of the first church, members of all sorts of brokenness coming together to worship the one true God.”
TCA: “You don’t look like the typical pastor or what most people would imagine a pastor to look like. Do you think this helps people with addictions trust you to help them?”
CF: “I don’t think trust is what I gain right off from my appearance, but I do think people are more intrigued when they find out I’m a pastor. At first they don’t believe it, and then it strikes their curiosity and they want to see what type of pastor I am.”
TCA: “I notice you have what looks like some sort of flag tattooed on your arm. What does it symbolize?”
CF: “The tattoo is of black stripes representing sin fading into the red stripes of Christ’s blood. It was inspired from Isaiah 53:5 ‘…by His stripes we are healed.’ It is by His stripes we have freedom. Hence, why it resembles a flag.”
TCA: “Have you ever personally struggled with addictions?”
CF: “There’s not one person who hasn’t struggled with some sort of addiction. Addictions are not just chemically dependent there are also biological addictions. The biological addictions I’ve struggled with such as the approval of others or lust.”
TCA: “What is different about your addiction program when compared to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous?”
CF: “The first difference is our program is of course Biblically based. It introduces others to Christ. Another pitfall for AA or NA is people aren’t addicted to substances as they’re addicted to self-medicating what they can’t heal. Substances just happens to be the tool by which they choose to self-medicate. This is where AA and NA go wrong, they put all the focus on the whatand very little on thewhy.”
TCA: “You’ve stated in order to overcome any addiction one must change their mindset from I can’tto I chose not to. Can you explain that?”
CF: “There’s a difference between shall notand cannot. God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden “Thou shall not eat.” He didn’t tell them they cannot eat. He warned them of the consequences of eating the fruit and left it open to their free will. When you live in the conflict of can’t, you put yourself into a prison which is in complete violation of free will. What is the purpose of free will? I am free to do what I want to do, but not everything I am free to do is good. If you try to imprison me, my nature is I’m going to try to find a way to escape. You immediately place someone in bondage when you tell them they can’t do something. When you do that you are placing your belief system on them. You want to create an environment to help someone choose what’s best and give them the freedom to choose that best.”
“In Colossians 22, Paul states you cannot add more religion or rules to your life and expect that to help the sin problem. Rules don’t work. Jesus used sheep as an illustration for us and that was no accident, I’ve worked with sheep. My father had a farm with sheep. If you run a barbed wire fence through a sheep’s pasture. The sheep will tear themselves up to get to the other side that has the same grass as the side they are on. Same with us, if we try to imprison ourselves within can’t, we will find a way out and justify sinning to ourselves.”
“When I changed my perspective from I can’t to I choose not to it was life transforming for me and has been for others.
TCA: How can this change of attitude and perspective magnify Christ in us?
CF: “I’m actually living out the call of God on my life as a human. Bondservant is a choice. I’m choosing to place myself under God’s authority, and I’m magnifying the very purpose of the gospel of Christ. The gospel was not to enslave me but to set me free. I’m living out the gospel which is freedom. We magnify Christ through walking in freedom.”
TCA: “Is there a verse you like to refer to on the topic of freedom?”
CF: “Yes, it’s Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (English Standard Version)
If you would like to see more of Christian’s teaching, you can find him on his church’s Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nextlevel.church.7/videos/?ref=page_internal
Note: Thank you for your patience with me in my infrequent posting this summer. I’ve been enjoying all my kids back in the nest for a bit and recovering from my double mastectomy. Throughout the remainder of the summer, I will be posting articles that I have written for publication a year or more ago. See you with some fresh articles starting this fall.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.