Thinking Out Loud

January 17, 2012

Make Us Courageous

Today Courageous, the fourth movie from Sherwood Pictures — the media ministry of the little church that could — makes it appearance in retail stores.  Because you get to eat cake when you work in a cake store, we got to watch a copy on Saturday night. Here are some observations.

First, the boys (17 and 20) sat through the entire thing. That’s major at our house. For two hours computers beckoned, but were left unanswered. I’d give the movie a 10 out of 10 on that basis alone.

Second, this is a Christian movie that played in mainstream theaters, but everyone knew upfront it was a Christian movie. I mean, the Sherwood logo has a cross in it; so that’s a dead giveaway. (No pun intended; but there’s an interesting song lyric idea there.) So, I don’t think anyone was fooled or tricked or deceived into hearing a bit of a Christian message. The film’s message was about the role of men in families, but the gospel was tastefully embedded. And the phrase, ‘Christian film’  no longer means ‘cheesy.’

Third, those Sherwood people are getting better and better at this. Sometimes the lighting was a little harsh, or the pacing is a little slow; but the overall audio was less sterile (some of the early pictures were crying out for Foley background sound), the camera angles were realistic and the casting and characters were more believable. 

Fourth, even though this is the fourth time around (following Flywheel, Facing the Giants and Fireproof) the closing credits are still moving when you think that this is the product of one local church. Everyone gets a credit at the end. Even the people who babysat the kids of cast and crew.

Fifth, even though this film didn’t start with the letter F — see list above — it could have been called ‘Fatherhood’ because it’s about the family (which also starts with F) unit which was God’s best plan from the beginning. In one scene it’s pointed out that if guys had strong role modelling, actively involved fathers in their lives, many of the policemen in our cities and towns wouldn’t need to be on the streets. And when you combine that with the effect of alcohol, which also accounts for so many police calls, and is referenced tangentially in the plot, it means that so much crime and misdemeanor is so preventable.

So…if you missed the run at the local movieplex, buy a copy; or better yet, buy two and give one away.

May 5, 2011

Living on Borrowed Vision

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.”…

continue reading here

I don’t know why I have conflicting and contradictory thoughts about this.  But here are some possibilities.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…

July 21, 2010

Wednesday Link List

The Christian Internet:  Charismatic, Reformed, Fundamentalist, Catholic, Mainline Protestant and Evangelical sites all sharing cyberspace and competing for your attention.   Here’s a few we visited this week…

  • Our own link list cartoon this week is Joe McKeever at Baptist Press.

January 30, 2009

Fireproof: Never Leave Your Partner Behind

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family, marriage, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:28 pm

fireproofThe movie Fireproof, for the most part, never played in theatres 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?

While the result might not impressed more regular cinema attendees — hey, we don’t get out much, but we know no film is perfect —  I found myself constantly thinking, “Okay, I like how they did that;” or “It was wise letting the audience just infer that development without spelling it out;” or “It was realistic to insert that moment of comic relief in the middle of that scene.”  Christian films have matured.

The acting was credible, even on the part of Kirk Cameron, oft-criticized for his performances in the Left Behind series.   The use of music was good, too; although more would have been better; some scenes seemed “too quiet” lacking in background  sound textures and what are termed Foley effects.

But you know, even if the acting had been terrible and the thing was recorded in 16mm film; there is no denying that this is an absolutely powerful story, which delivers twists and turns right to the very end.   There is a great script at work here; which is part of a larger script:  the power of God to change lives, even lives in the middle of crisis.

Unlike its predecessor, Facing the Giants, the movie Fireproof arrives in DVD accompanied by a host of ancillary products.   There is the Fireproof Couples Kit, the Fireproof marriage curriculum (both Outreach, Inc.), the novelization of the movie (Thos. Nelson), the marriage book (Christian Literature Crusade), and the book Love Dare (Broadman).   Each one of these products is designed to allow those who have seen the movie and want to take further steps to have a means by which to do so.   (Not necessarily so noble are the t-shirts and obligatory soundtrack CD.)

This is a movie that is evocative without being emotionally exploitative.   It is evangelistic without being overbearing about it.   All couples, especially couples in crisis should watch this together.

I can’t wait to see what production the people at Sherwood bring us next.


December 11, 2008

Top Christian Newsmakers of 2008: Charisma Magazine’s List

Once again, editor J. Lee Grady and Charisma magazine have chosen their top 12 newsmakers for the year.   Not surprisingly, there are a few names here that may not be recognized outside the charismatic world, but it makes an interesting springboard for discussion.   You can read the list in its original context here.  Here’s the short version with a few comments of my own on the top ten (but be sure to read the original, also):

1.  The Martyrs of India – Religious violence in this country shows no signs of slowing down.

2.  African American Pastors – Chosen for their pivotal role in the outcome of the U.S. election (again, the significance on a world scale is lost here, as with other instances where the American Christian media can’t see past its own border.)

3.  Sarah Palin – Possibly America’s first  political Pentecostal at the executive branch level raised some key issues, but also provided late night talk shows with lots of laughs.

4.  Alex and Stephen Kendrick – The filmakers from Sherwood Baptist Church responsible for this year’s Fireproof movie as well as Facing The Giants.   (A great film, but the credits tell the film’s own story which is just as interesting.)

5.  William P. Young – The author of The Shack caused many heated discussions right here on the internet, and a million other places, too.  Probably got more people thinking theologically who had never done so much before.   But remember folks, it’s fiction.   Fiction.   Fiction.

6.  Bob Fu – Outspoken critic of China’s human rights abuses who Lee Grady says was a “voice in the wilderness” during all the Olympic glitz; Fu met with U.S. president Bush before the games began.

7.  Jim Garlow – California minister behind that state’s Proposition 8; injecting a traditional definition of marriage into the state consitution.   Google the phrase “Prop 8” to see how huge this issue was and is.

8.  Irene Gleeson – Didn’t know this story, though presumably Charisma readers did.   An Australian grandmother who started a school for orphans in northern Uganda which became the basis for a movie, Cinderella’s Children.

9.  Doug Stringer – His organization, Somebody Cares, played a key role after Hurricane Katrina and again this year after Hurricane Ike.

10.  Joe Stockstill – Youth evangelist sees about 100 kids come to Christ each week through a cell-based ministry.

So now then, what do you think of the list; the placement on the list; and who do you think ought to have been added??

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