I want to raise a discussion topic here, and to do so, I’m going to appear to come out hittin’ fairly hard. However, at no point in this am I trying to be presumptuous or judgmental. I’m just bringing a topic to the forefront so that we can kick it around and see where it takes us. I’m not suggesting for a minute that the story described here is necessarily a bad idea; in fact, time may prove otherwise…
…Over two years ago, when the movie Fireproof was releasing, I was really impressed not so much with the film’s quality, but with the idea that the movie — and others — were birthed out of a local church. (The credits were a high point for just that reason.)
On 1/30/09 I wrote:
The movie Fireproof, for the most part, never played in theaters in Canada, so this week’s video release was our first look at the film. Once again, the people at Sherwood Church delivered an amazing production. This is the work of one local church. Where were these people when I was forced to view tacky Christian flicks as a kid?
…and a few weeks later on 2/15/09, I wrote
Watching the movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof have convinced me that even little churches can do big things. Can you imagine the first time someone there said, “Why don’t we make a movie?” Not everyone can make movies like Sherwood Church, but it costs nothing to dream big dreams, to brainstorm, to introduce possibilities; to empower individual church members with input into the local church’s ‘big picture;’ or input into choosing its destination. Then comes the harder, next step: To designate one as its radical agenda for the balance of the year.
A few months later, USAToday did this profile of Sherwood Baptist Church, which noted:
Sherwood Baptist Church… is so successful in its movie making ministry that it now coaches others.
“Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga.
The idea is simple. Sherwood is saying to other churches, ‘If we can do this as a local church, you can do this.’ Or words to that effect.
There’s nothing wrong with catching someone else’s vision. Hundreds of pastors noted what Bill Hybels was doing at Willow Creek and saw the wisdom of incorporating many of his ideas into their local church situation. The result is the Willow Creek Association, a sort of non-denomination networking pastors with similar vision, hosting conferences and connecting churches with resources.
Larry Norman once said, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.” I think he was speaking from the idea of wanting to create music that was different from anything the world had to offer. But many singers picked up guitars and imitated Larry Norman resulting in the contemporary Christian music or CCM movement, which later birthed today’s modern worship movement. While we all long for fresh vision, “the sincerest form of flattery” is one way of recognizing that God is using someone else’s vision in ways we can learn from and adapt.
So why did the story that follows grate on me a little bit?
Elgin mega-church hires Hollywood director
ELGIN — In 2002, members of a megachurch in Albany, Ga., felt that God was calling them to make a movie.
With a budget of just $20,000 — less than what big-name Hollywood flicks spend for lunches — Sherwood Baptist Church made a film about a crooked used-car salesman undergoing a moral crisis.
Named “Flywheel,” it was directed, starred in and co-written by Alex Kendrick, one of the church’s pastors. Unpaid members of the church did most of the other acting and crew work. The film was released in 2003, played in only a few theaters, and made just $37,000 at the box office, though it later would go on to sell 300,000 DVDs.
In 2006, Sherwood Baptist again released a movie, this time about a high school football coach facing a midlife crisis. Riding on the popularity a year before of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it was distributed by a major studio, played in 441 theaters and took in $10 million, or about 1,000 times what the church spent making it.
In 2008, the Georgia church made a film about a firefighter with a failing marriage. Named “Fireproof,” it became the top-grossing independent movie of any type that year, grossing $33 million. Church officials claim that the movie’s message about strengthening one’s relationships “has saved a million marriages.” Sherwood will release its fourth film, a police/family drama named “Courageous,” in theaters all over the country on Sept. 30.
Feeling God’s call to move in the same direction, the Elgin-based megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel has hired a Hollywood director, Dallas Jenkins, as its media director, bought a TV studio/sound stage in Aurora and given Jenkins the assignment of making a series of “faith-based movies” for theatrical and DVD release over the coming years.
Jenkins said he expects Harvest’s leaders to decide on a topic and a budget for the first film within the next two months and start filming by late 2011 or early 2012…
…When Harvest’s pastor, Rev. James McDonald, got the idea of following Sherwood Baptist into the movie ministry, McDonald thought of Dallas Jenkins.
“James and my dad are friends,” Jenkins explains. “He came out to Los Angeles to have dinner with me and explained what he had in mind. I thought maybe I would come back to Illinois a couple times a year to work on these projects. But he asked me to go to work for Harvest full time. I had never expected to come back to the Midwest.”…
I don’t know why I have conflicting and contradictory thoughts about this. But here are some possibilities.
- The Sherwood Baptist story seems so organic. The films sprang up from within, so to speak. To hire a director and purchase a suburban Chicago sound stage seems contrary to the spirit of the Sherwood story.
- God is already doing great things through Harvest Bible Chapel, Harvest Bible Fellowship and Walk in the Word. I know that in the heart of every man — and every great Christian leader — there is desire to “enlarge their territory,” but I hope HBC doesn’t spread themselves out too thin.
- I keep wondering if the Sherwood story — despite their willingness to pass on their expertise — is something special that God did through a particular congregation which, unlike the Willow Creek example used earlier, isn’t particularly meant to be copied or perhaps isn’t really particularly copyable.
So don’t try to answer the question as to whether Harvest Bible Chapel should do this, because apparently — and hopefully through prayer and Godly advice — they’re already off and running. I guess the discussion question is: When is a ministry vision transferable to other churches and locations, and when do we simply come alongside to support those to whom God gave the original vision without feeling the need to directly imitate the success that God gave to someone else?
Today’s bonus item: A preview of the forthcoming Sherwood movie Courageous…