Making the Grades
Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith) and Jake Sanders (jeff obafemi carr) may be pastors for sister churches, but the work they do is as different as night and day.
Ethan is Caucasian, with a comfortable income. He actively pursues a musical ministry in front of the TV cameras operated from a well-heeled suburban edifice called The Rock. Busy with recording, marketing and book writing, the popular singer/preacher still makes time to sign autographs for friendly fans.
Meanwhile, African-American Jake tries to keep body and soul together for the poor and homeless who surround his dilapidated sanctuary aptly named The Second Chance. His unheralded efforts to feed the hungry, and teach job skills to the unemployed are continually interrupted by addicts, hookers and gangsters.
The two men are also at odds about the best way to contribute to the inner-city outreach program. When a simmering argument over the value of giving money or volunteering time publicly boils over (with a few uttered profanities), the ecclesiastical governing board mediates by assigning both head-strong leaders to labor together in the ghetto.
At first, neither is sure who has been punished more. For Ethan, just going into the 'hood puts him (and his expensive car) in danger. Jake on the other hand, is frustrated by being saddled with the fancy-clothed man who doesn't know how to roll up his sleeves and get dirty. While Ethan broaches the task with some distaste, Jake seems to be savoring a certain devilish delight.
As the pair hit the streets, the clergymen try to make a dent in the community's problems, including prostitution, alcoholism, gang violence and drug trafficking. Well intentioned, but with opposing opinions about possible solutions, they each apply their own methods to such issues as begging, petty theft, abortion counseling, beatings, and acts of extortion. Whereas Ethan's naive compassion makes him a soft touch, Jake's tough love winds up putting them at the wrong end of a loaded pistol. (These depictions, although never gratuitous, may present some concerns for younger viewers.)
While these experiences may not change the world, they do prove to be life altering for both ministers as they struggle to accept each other, let go of their personal prejudices, and serve their needy parishioners.
Featuring the Grammy Award winning Michael W. Smith, the movie is surprisingly light on musical numbers, and instead relies more heavily upon the singer's acting talents. Taking a serious look at the challenges of underprivileged neighborhood as well as the dilemmas of finding funding and one-on-one help, the script focuses on the importance of unity and the strength of humility. The strong Christian message will likely appeal most to the already converted, yet The Second Chance does offer a reminder to all that the answers to life's hardest questions are seldom black and white.