Three-fold calling and one-fold obedience. With a beer on the side.
That is how Christian Cryder sees the faith walk that has carried him through three career arcs: 14 years as a software programmer in Seattle, 7 years as co-pastor/church planter in Montana, and now Texas pastor/church planter (since 2013) and rookie brewery owner (since 2016).
Between arcs one and two, he earned a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia—and discovered the ministry focus of the rest of his life when he “fell in love with pagans.”
He spent “a ton” of time in coffee shops, where he met all sorts of people he did not encounter growing up in Montana. Artists, activists, gays, Jews, liberals, atheists.
“And they weren’t bad people,” Crowder said. “Many of them cared more about the poor and justice than I did—more than most Christians I knew.”
People often ask Cryder if “as a pastor” he has a problem with beer. His stock answer: “I do if it’s bad beer.” Then, if you have the interest and he has the time, he is more than willing to explain the history of when brewing was firmly tied to the church—and explain that Martin Luther’s wife’s brewing skills helped fund the Reformation. Luther would take no money for his overhaul of the European religious world.
Luther hosted seminary students in his home for beer and discussion, Cryder notes, adding that the Reformer generally is credited with declaring, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”
A gift from God
“Our spiritual ancestors saw beer as a gift from God, to be received with gratitude,” Cryder said. “For over 1,000 years, some of the best brewers in the world were clergy. They felt faith and beer could work together to create a better community. Maybe beer lends insight into people. Maybe it helps keep us grounded.”
While still ministering in Montana, Cryder and his wife, Marilyn, “felt God calling us to pursue two things: start a brewery, and plant another church—both from scratch, both at the same time, in a world class, culture-shaping city.”
The EPC church plant God placed on their hearts would be “a safe place for the unchurched, dechurched, burned by the church, and given up on the church to ask questions.” There would be no paid staff and no buildings—thus the need for an entrepreneurial venture.
Cryder had no vision for returning to the tech world, but the brewery route was not clear at first either. Earlier, on a whim, he bought two hops vines to provide shade for his home pergola. When they “roared to life, growing 6 to 12 inches a day, and literally swallowed our patio in a blaze of green,” he faced a dilemma.
“We couldn’t just toss all that grain,” he said. “If you grow too many tomatoes you don’t throw them away. You make pizza sauce. Obviously a good steward wouldn’t let hops go to waste.”
Marilyn had been roasting their own coffee for years. Why not try brewing beer? It’s just a hobby, right?
Fast forward, and that hobby led to a partnership with Montana’s Big Sky Brewing. The company produced it, and the church sold All Souls Ale to benefit a Imagine Missoula, non-profit organization Cryder started. Imagine Missoula connects volunteers with people “whose community is thin” who have simple needs like home maintainence, yard work, or rides to the doctor.
The partnership led to a lasting friendship/mentorship with Bjorn Nabozney, president of the largest brewery in Montana. That relationship eventually made Cryder’s bivocational choice clear, and Nabozney played a significant role in helping Cryder discern and submit to the call to the third arc.
“Every time we’d get together we’d talk about God,” Cryder said, “but he always wound up saying, ‘Dude, you need to start a brewery. You can do this.’”
As their friendship grew, “we started taking deep dives into that pool of religious brewing,” Nabozney recalled. “We talked through the conflicts from the religious viewpoint. We also talked about funding and operating a brick-and-mortar facility and managing a business. Somewhere along the way I simply said, ‘I think you could do both—I think you should do both.’ I’m glad he took the dive, glad he trusted his faith and trusted himself.”
Nabozney also gave Cryder his deep personal mission statement: “I don’t want to change the world; I just want to change this one part of it. That will help the world improve itself.”
Leaning into Timothy Keller’s argument that the church’s job is to change culture and culture primarily is shaped by cities, the Cryders looked for a city of at least one million that had a significant cultural impact, a thriving craft beer scene, and a large population of pagans. Welcome to Austin.
To be clear, Lazarus Brewing (Coffee. Beer. Tacos. Joy!—just like the sign says) and All Souls Church are not two parts of the same job. They lead parallel but independent lives.
Cryder never intended to meld the church and the brewery. He wanted to foster two communal spaces, on secular and one spiritual, where people could gather and find the joy in life.
Using the tavern as bait to get people within reach of a sermon is not only ineffective evangelism (“People would see through that pretty quickly,” he said.) but also unethical and thus unChristlike, Cryder holds. “Jesus is not a brand,” he said. “Neither is the Bible.”
He understands that people in post-Christian culture tend to be very skeptical of Christians.
“If they felt we were using the business as a ‘front’ for the church, that would be the death of the business,” he said. “No one would want anything to do with it. But if they ever felt like I was hiding my identity as a Christian, they might conclude I was trying to bait-and-switch. That is death, too. The challenge is how to be open and honest about who we are, but in a way that people can appreciate—even if they do not share any of our convictions.”
Yet Cryder does not believe his job is to convert people.
“In fact, I don’t think I can,” he said. “God has to change people’s hearts. My job is just to try and make the best coffee, beer, and tacos that I possibly can as if I were working for Jesus, which I kind of think I am, and to try to treat every single person that walks through our door with dignity and respect.”
He noted that Lazarus Brewing’s “brand” isn’t simply Bible names for beer, the four Ls in the logo that form a cross, or the large stained glass skylight of Jesus and the woman who anointed his feet reaching for each other’s hands (ala Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, in which God and Adam stretch to touch fingers).
A family brand
“Our brand is our family,” Cryder emphasized. “Our brand is those crazy folks called Cryders who migrated to Texas from Montana and who hunt and fish and plant churches.”
The brewery décor reflects the family brand. The reading room features a table made from a walnut tree Cryder’s grandfather cut down in 1969. The tap handles on the beer kegs are from the same wood. A massive elk head—Cryder’s father hunted it in Montana—hovers over one of the couches.
“I love beer. My wife roasts coffee. Our daughter is the head brewer. We are passionate about Jesus and the church and going on adventures with friends. Everything I do flows out of my theology—I just don’t preach it all the time,” he said. “I get to know people before sharing my faith. If you ask pagans questions about their lives, they will ask you questions about yours. And people come to Jesus.”
He noted that some of his beers are named Prodigal Pils, Double Predestination (“we are Presbyterians, remember”), 40 Days and 40 Nights, Road to Damascus, and Walks on Water. But Lazarus also serves beers called Shackleton (a British explorer), Achilles (“a reference to the Greek epics, as well as to the massive armored elk that hangs on our wall, which my dad shot back in Montana”), 20 Pound Brown (“a monstrous brown trout that my son caught”), and PMD (“short for Pale Morning Dun, which is a kind of fly that fish love”).
Other—usually subtle—Christian signposts are a natural part of Lazarus. The name, for one.
“Lazarus is a nod both to the Christian roots of brewing and to my own faith journey,” Cryder explained. “Most people vaguely know Lazarus has something to do with coming back from the dead in the Bible but that’s about it. I love that it symbolizes moving from death to life. I’ve never met anyone who says, ‘you know, we really need more death.’ Everyone instinctively understands we actually need more life. Lazarus is a symbol of that.”
When the Cryders arrived in Austin from Montana in 2013, they promptly launched All Souls Church in their living room. It remains, while spreading (so far) to three other houses scattered across Austin. The current 30 members connect for worship by Zoom. Future growth will be house by house.
Lazarus took about three years longer to show up on the Austin map, but has steadily grown in space and popularity. A second location is in the works, with partial funding provided by “patron saints” who in exchange for support get free beer for life.
True to its official motto (“Share Life”), Lazarus contributes to the community it lives in.
- When Austin was under a boil-water alert after a January 2021 freeze knocked out the water system, Cryder suspended brewing beer to produce pure, safe water. Anyone with a container was welcome.They gave away thousands of free tacos. Over just two weeks, the small congregation donated $30,000 to pay people’s bills, buy their medicine, and fund home repairs.
- When an employee’s cousin was murdered a few blocks from the pub, Lazarus launched and managed the family’s GoFundMe page.
- The “no sports on the television” rule is suspended for soccer because families benefit. “We had one entire family from Uruguay come in and grab the front row,” Cryder recalled. “The kids chanted and sang along with the live crowd and waved their flags. They wouldn’t get to see the games otherwise.”
- Once a year, Cryder intentionally and structurally overlaps All Souls Church and Lazarus Brewing. “We opened at 11:00 p.m. on December 24, 2016,” he said, smiling at the memory. “There were 200 people there to read the Christmas story, sing hymns, share wine and beer, and celebrate community. We do that every year now.”
As Cryder looks both back and forward on the journey to and in Austin, he is thankful for the calling on his life—and the God-given courage to answer.
“God has called me to pursue the two things at once, not because it is a means to an end but because God cares about both—and because it is good for me and the people I serve to learn how to both things well,” he said. “If I have learned one thing over the last seven years, it’s that God still speaks. And when He does, you’d better listen—and respond—even if everyone thinks you are crazy. Even if you might fail.”
If you don’t fail, you might end up as a question on the television game show “Jeopardy,” as Lazarus Brewing did in an episode aired on December 28, 2021.
For more on the continually unfolding story of Lazarus Brewing, see www.lazarusbrewing.com.
by Craig Bird