I have always had an interest in snakes and other reptiles. I have a python in my office, my son has a corn snake in his bedroom, and my eight-year-old daughter loves to play with her little ball python who dwells in her room. My wife has no reptiles, but she does possess a great amount of patience! I am most proud of my newest addition, a five-foot-long, black-throated monitor lizard named Goliath. We like to take him for walks on a leash — he does draw a crowd! I often quip that as an evangelism prof who likes herps (that is, reptiles), I actually teach soul winning and snake handling. Don't worry, we do not handle serpents in church!
With this in mind, you might guess my favorite television show — you got it — The Crocodile Hunter. It has been a long time since I was as excited about a television show as I am about The Crocodile Hunter, or the shorter Croc Files for kids.
Whenever I speak to young people, I ask how many of them know who the Crocodile Hunter is. The response is telling. Nearly every one of them knows who he is, although his primary show, The Crocodile Hunter, appears on the cable network Animal Planet. The show's star, Steve Irwin, has jumped from "just another host" of a little known program on this smaller market cable network, to the host of primetime specials on network television and an occasional appearance on movies and commercials.
Steve Irwin's incredible rise in popularity can teach us some things. The enthusiasm of young people from age 5 to 25 for the show is obvious. They know his sayings: "She's a beauty!" (I have to admit even a snake lover like me has a hard time calling a salt water crocodile beautiful!) If a particular python attempts to bite him, you will hear him say, "Oh, you're being grumpy, mate!" "Danger! Danger! Danger!" is another of his popular sayings.
Believe it or not, I think Steve Irwin's rise — from a man running a zoo in Australia to internationally known figure — can teach us some things about how to make an impact on this culture.
First, he is passionate. Have you ever seen anyone so incredibly zealous for a bunch of lizards and snakes? On several occasions he has said, "I would give my life to save this crocodile!" Now that is passion! Oh, that we as believers would have such a passion for Jesus, who is of infinitely greater value than a reptile! Our lost culture desperately needs people who will live for Jesus with a passion. Great movements of God in history, from the First Great Awakening to the Jesus Movement, have been led by people ablaze with a passion for God.
Second, he is real. His videography is inferior to what you see in National Geographic specials, but no one cares! We live in a society today where reality is in, and synthetic is out. Look at the popularity of shows like Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and The Weakest Link, all of which feature everyday people rather than phony Hollywood actors. The primary way The Crocodile Hunter has grown to reach the masses is not through marketing. Rather, it has touched a chord in the lives of many in the culture, especially the coming generation of young people, who are sick and tired of slick approaches to push a product.1 That is why the fastest growing soft drink among the youth population is Sprite, with its "Obey Your Thirst" reality message. This culture wants real, not slick.
The best way to witness in this postmodern, increasingly radically unchurched culture is to be just like the early believers. They did not make an impression by their background, or their position, but by their genuine, obvious, and deep love for Jesus. Acts 4:13 gives one of many examples of this: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant, they marveled; and they realized that they had been with Jesus. The most remarkable aspect of the early believers was that they were unremarkable. That, and they were real.
Third, Steve Irwin takes risks. No, that is inaccurate. He loves risks. He is crazy! His first show that put him on the map concerned his adventure to capture the ten most venomous serpents in the world with his bare hands. It seems he spends his life trying to get as close to being a crocodile dinner as possible. He would not be happy unless he were chasing down a wild pig by foot, or grabbing a cobra with his bare hands, or jumping in a river on the back of an alligator. He will make sacrifices to save an animal. Oh that we would make sacrifices for the salvation of the lost! Could God even use a Crocodile Hunter to spur us to take risks to reach the unchurched at any cost?
I teach at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school known for its doctrinal convictions and evangelistic passion. We are uncompromising theologically, but we have some unusual people — besides me, I mean. Our president is a big game hunter, his office filled with trophies. One of the members of our prestigious Board of Visitors, Richard Headrick, sports a long ponytail and loves to wear shirts with logos like "Hellfighter" on them. I like to tell people that our theology is black and white, but our approach to ministry is in living color. In other words, while we must consistently contend for the faith once delivered, we must live in a way that demonstrates the radical, passionate, total abandonment of our lives to Jesus.
Examine yourself: what are you doing for the sake of the Kingdom of God that could compare to the zeal shown by Steve Irwin for the sake of a pile of snakes?
1 See Alvin L. Reid, Light the Fire: Raising Up a Generation of Students to Live Radically for Jesus (Emunclaw, WA: Winepress Publishing, 2001), for more information on this generation of youth.