Did you know movies are “more effective” in evangelism than the church? I sure didn’t – at least not until I read ahead in my church’s Sunday School Literature that is. This wonderful revelation came courtesy of curriculum purchased from our dear Lifeway Christian Resources. (If you are wondering, this is the specific Lifeway product I’m talking about: Bible Studies for Life: LifeWORDS KJV Learner Guide – Summer 07).
Read it for yourself:
Lesson: Sharing Christ with All People
Week of July 15
Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia is a Southern Baptist church that is challenging conventional wisdom with regard to ministry. On Friday, September 29, 2006, Facing the Giants was released to theaters nationwide. This film tells the story of Grant Taylor, a coach at Shiloh High, a Christian high school. Coach Taylor and his teams have endured the humiliation of six straight losing seasons. The coach not only faces challenges of “giants” at work but at home as well. As the story unfolds, viewers see Grant turn to God with his struggles. The result is a powerful movie that grapples with the realities of life in authentic and profound ways. Produced for $100,000 “ a fraction of the cost of most movies today” Facing the Giants was a ministry project for Sherwood Baptist. Brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, associate pastors at Sherwood, wrote the screenplay. Alex produced and directed the movie and stars in it. Many donated time, effort, and money. Yet, despite all the “volunteer” hours that went into making this film, it is not an amateur, second-rate production. Sherwood’s senior pastor Machael [sic] Catt and executive pastor Jim McBride strongly believed in and supported the project from the beginning. They had read a report from George Barna stating movies were more influential than churches. If that’s true, Sherwood’s leaders said, churches need to start making movies themselves (see Plugged In Online’s Review;Breakpoint.Org’s Review). What a contrast to the negative Hollywood portrayals of Christians and media misrepresentations of Christ like those presented in The DaVinci Code.
I’m not suprised to hear something like that coming from George Barna. He’s no friend of the church, that is well established (if you aren’t familiar, his book Revolution informed the Christian world that the local church was an obsolete concept). I am however very surprised to see that family of drivel advanced through the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly when my church paid money to Lifeway for the material under the (increasingly revealed to be naive) assumption that we would be receiving Biblically solid material.
I don’t know for sure that the staff of Sherwood Baptist Church really concluded that a movie is more effective than the local church at sharing the gospel. I hope not. If they have, I pray God grants them grace to repent. I also don’t know if James Burke, Director of Missions for the Lafayette and Marshall Baptist Associations in north Mississippi, (who the inside cover of the learner guide indicates wrote this section of the book) really believes the church has lost effectiveness in relation to movies. If so, my hopes and prayers for him are the same as what I wrote about Sherwood BC’s staff.
The egregious trouble with this publication, however, doesn’t rest with Sherwood BC, James Burke, or Facing the Giants. The problem is with the doctrinal accountability evidenced (or lack thereof) in Lifeway material. This is now the third strike for Lifway’s literature at my church (Strike One and Strike Two) and quite frankly I’m done as soon as I can find a better alternative. As a bi-vocational pastor I don’t have time to write every item of teaching material that is used in our church. My hope is to review and correct what we purchase. The continual failure of Lifeway to provide a useful resource to my church leads me to conclude that I’m going to have to find another source of curriculum or clear out more time for writing. Is it any wonder our churches are full of spiritually anemic Christians or, conversely, hemorrhaging believers, when this is the kind of material we put in their hands? God help the church who doesn’t have someone to examine what they buy from Lifeway.
So why am I writing? First, to let other concerned Pastors and laity know that what is coming out of Nashville must be examined with a fine toothed comb. Secondly, it’s to encourage those who might be able to influence Lifeway to let whoever you can know that there are people out there like myself who are tired of finding poor doctrine and the denigration of the church in the material they are purchasing. Lastly, I’m appealing to anyone who might read this (small chance, I know) to let me know if they are aware of a solid source of curriculum for use in Sunday School and Discipleship Training contexts and where I might find it.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.