he Christian Church — the group of people in the world claiming there is a living God, that He created us, loves us, and has made a way for us to know Him personally through His son Jesus; the group with the greatest, most epic story ever told — has a story problem.
Many in the church today claim to be creative people and echo rumblings of past eras of church history when the church sent out artists not just pastors. When musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, embroiderers, weavers, goldsmiths, and carpenters built alters, palaces, and cathedrals decorated with every beautiful artistic flourish and filled them with the music of heaven.
It makes sense. Christians worship the Creator of all things. Why should they not be the leaders of creating artistic, intelligently crafted art and beauty? Why should they not tell stories that echo the mysterious, unfathomable depths of an infinite spiritual God whose very existence cannot even be universally agreed upon? What other thing captures the heart and mind like story? Like music? Like art? Things that many attribute already to the spiritual realm, with words like the muse, the vibe, the resistance, the energy, or the aura.
One might ask what happened in the church to end this creative streak, or what the church has been doing in the hundreds of years since it championed art. I’ll leave that alone right now.
My focus here is to shed light on and spark an idea that I hope catches fire in the church. An idea that is so blatantly obvious, many have started the journey already. I’m simply going to voice it, make a case for it, and do whatever I can to facilitate it.
When I was a little kid, my first memories expressing any story I wanted to tell took the form of drawing pictures with crayons or pencils. Then when the words came, poetry. Then when the technology came, music and design. Then when the technology price came down, film.
And that last step is where I want to call our attention. Over the past six years through today, the film and video world has undergone a revolutionary change. No longer is the technology so expensive that only Hollywood can make movies. Today, anyone can. And the most advanced, complex, and immersive way to tell stories at this point in the history of man is film. Amazon knows this. Google knows this. Netflix knows this.
Right now the movie is king. You like writing? Every movie needs a script. You like drawing or art? Every movie needs a storyboard, concepts, and wardrobe. You like design? Which kind? Movies bring graphic design, 3D design, light design, set design, and more. You like music and sound? That’s about 50% of any film experience. You like photography? How about 24 to 48 frames a second? You like people? How about make-up, hair, styling, direction, acting, or even catering? Technology? How about running the camera, managing the gear, data, lenses, production, or set? Business? How about promoting and selling a film? I could go on and on.
Film brings all the artistic types together into one cohesive experience. It’s a community of art. A community of people depending on each other to bring something beautiful into the world. Or maybe something chilling. Whatever story on film you want to tell, it takes a community to tell it. And it communicates very powerfully. So powerfully, that I would argue that video and film have defined the story of the last century. It is our way to tell story.
So we come back to the church. A community of people. Worshiping the Creator. Trying to tell the greatest story ever told. And sadly, we only just recently reached the level of quality in music that draws the world’s attention.
Case in point, Passion 2013. This event in Atlanta, GA, brought together musicians and artists from the church to tell the story through song. And tell it they did. Watching that, I realized that it had taken the church 40 years of music to reach this point.
Now granted, this event was for the church, but some of these artists like Lecrae play to mainstream fans without the church at large rejecting him. They actually embrace and send him out.
Back in the 1970’s and ’80’s, Keith Green, Amy Grant, Stryper, Petra, and King’s X among others started singing about God in a way that those outside of the church took notice. But churches fought it hard.
If it wasn’t from a hymnal, if it didn’t mention Jesus, if it wasn’t safe for the whole family, there was no room for the church stamp of approval. When Amy Grant “crossed-over” to the mainstream music market in the mid-80s, the church largely rejected her as too worldly.
In the 1990’s, we saw Jars of Clay follow suit and suffer the same backlash. They were ostracized once again by the church for not singing explicitly about Jesus and for playing outside of the church. They were also marginalized by the mainstream for coming from the church — that stiff, non-creative place that judges people. U2 had success also but had never claimed they were sent from the church.
In the 2000s, we saw POD, Switchfoot, and Lecrae. Today there are too many examples to count. Good music is good music, regardless of where it came from. As it should be.
However, for Christians, shouldn’t it be encouraging to know that the church is responsible for sending out some of the best artists period? That they launched the careers of not just pastors, but of musicians, bands and artists that have the love of God in their hearts? Who share their talent with the world and love people through it in a non-judgmental way? Who break the stereotypes of the church and plant the thought that maybe, just maybe the church is a place for everyone, no matter what they have done, no matter where they have walked, and no matter who they are?
Church, it is time we start the same journey in film.
We have music ministries. We have Worship pastors. We have the latest technology in stage lighting, stage production, and stage projection. We have arenas we fill to sing to the Savior. But we do not yet speak through film.
What if we had a screenwriting ministry? An acting ministry? A filmmaking ministry? A ministry where directors could learn how to lead a community of artists to create stories on screen that can stand up next to or exceed anything Hollywood can create?
What if we produced movies? Television? Web series? What if we thought further than Sunday morning’s production? We if we created something that had cultural lasting value beyond the Sunday sermon? What if the pulpit has changed? What if we left the walls of the church and started speaking the language of video and film to the world? The language of the 21st century.
In 1993, Bob Briner wrote the book, Roaring Lambs, which encouraged Christians to leave their Christian ghetto and pursue culture changing jobs in the arts. Standing
on his shoulders, I ask, ‘How can they go if they are not sent?’
The church has always championed books, including the best selling book of all time. The church occasionally in history championed art. The church today, after 40 years, now sees value in producing quality music and sending out musicians into the world. Shouldn’t the church now step into the revolution in film technology and start telling its story in the most comprehensive and advanced art form we know today?
I think it should. I hope you agree and share this idea with others.
There are a handful of churches already starting. I commend them, support them, and encourage them to keep getting better. But just as the bands of the past tried too hard, these pioneering filmmakers are highly likely to follow the same path, making clumsy and cheesy films that are not mainstream. Some have broken through like the Passion of The Christ, but again, like U2, they did not originate from the church. It took a Hollywood star with his own money to make that film.
We must understand that the growing pains of this journey will be difficult. We will make bad art. Lots of it. We will shoot films that should not be shown to anyone. We will shoot films that are so bad they will elicit screams louder than the horror films on the mainstream market. I should know. I grew up playing in bands that had people holding their ears running to the exits. It will be no different in film.
Yes, our own congregations will not invite their friends to come see these movies, no matter how much we urge them or obligate them. It will seem like a pointless waste of time and money, but we will learn from it and sharpen our skills. Over time, like music did, the quality will get there, the storytelling will get there, and the church will finally be speaking the language of today.
We are a loving and supportive community. Let’s act like it. We are commissioned to share the only cure for spiritual death with a world that is increasingly distracted. By rising up as a community, we each will shine light on one small part of our epic story. And together we will speak into culture as one. Clearly. Beautifully. Powerfully.
Don’t get overwhelmed or write off your part in this journey. We have decades ahead of us. But the change has already started. Don’t wait to tell your stories one day. The time is right now.