My friend Kevin recently offered some interesting thoughts about a comment I made in my WBCL radio interview. I'd said, "[Christians] who work in Hollywood are missionaries. We would never say to a missionary in Africa, 'Why on earth are you working in that godforsaken place?' So we shouldn't do it to our Hollywood missionaries, either."
Kevin, who worked in the entertainment industry for some 20 years, thought my statement might be going a bit too far:
"I think the church makes a mistake to be overly impressed by Hollywood or its practitioners, and sometimes we act too desperate to recognize any little Christian involvement in secular entertainment. ... I always felt that Christians in Hollywood were lionized too much by certain evangelicals. The problem is, few have motives as pure as missionaries, and those who do generally lack the sensibility to be successful in a business that rewards compromise, sensuality and a worship of materialism."
As soon as I read Kevin's words, I knew I'd spoken too broadly, implying all Christians who work in Hollywood are missionaries. That's like saying every person in the world who identifies themselves as a Christian is doing God's good work. We know that's not true--otherwise, the work would be done by now, right? Even when we strive to do that work, we all fail to show Jesus' love at times.
For me, my comment was really more about my own judgmental attitude toward Hollywood folk. To be painfully honest (painful to me, because it makes me see how judgmental I can be), my thoughts were along these lines: Why are those Christians using their God-given talents to work in Hollywood? They should leave Hollywood and start theater and film ministries in their churches. They should be acting in and directing church productions. They should be making videos for their Sunday services and youth groups. They should be writing Christian screenplays about Christian life so we'd get more than just a cheesy Left Behind movie once every few years. (No offense to you lovers of the Left Behind flicks, but you gotta admit, wouldn't it be cooler if Left Behind looked more like, say, Spiderman, or had an M. Night Shyamalan-esque script?)
Honestly, those judgmental thoughts resulted from me transferring my own career calling--to full-time Christian ministry--on to every person in Hollywood. My thoughts were a reflection of my own experience. I'd worked for mainstream newspapers and secular publications for many years before I became a Christian. Then when God gave me the opportunity to work for a Christian magazine, I jumped at it--and absolutely loved it. I was a relatively new Christian and I (secretly) began believing everyone should quit their jobs and work for the church. It wasn't because I thought you had to be a church employee to be a "good" Christian. Rather, I was so excited about spreading the Good News in this way, I wanted every Christian to have that joyous experience. Thing was, I thought the only way for people to experience this feeling was to be in full-time ministry, and to be immersed in Christian stuff all the time.
A friend, I'll call her Cami, set me straight. Cami pointed out it's easy for Christians to get caught up in Christian subculture: our little world of Christian books and magazines, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian friendships and communities. It's a comfortable and safe place to be. When I was a new Christian, it was heaven on earth, and I wanted to stay in that space forever.
Unfortunately, we don't encounter many folks who aren't Christians when we're living the Christian-subculture life. Here's my weird little analogy: Imagine you're living in a house that's under construction. You're building it and living in it at the same time. You decide to take a break from building to furnish one room so it will be a comfortable haven where you can rest. You choose, say, the living room, and you furnish it with silk curtains and velvet armchairs. Once it's done, you kick back in your chair, prop your feet up, and enjoy the peaceful rest the room provides. Nothing wrong with that! Problem is, this room is so comfy, you don't want to get up from your chair. From your chair, you can see the work that remains to be done: missing windows, holes in the roof, whole rooms that need to be built. We're tempted to become couch potatoes in our Christian subculture living-room. It's a lot easier than picking up a hammer and expending the energy and sweat it takes to begin building again.
A few years ago, I became acquainted with Hollywood Prayer Network and Act One, two organizations that support Christians who work in Hollywood. Admittedly, those old judgmental thoughts were the first to enter my head when I met people from these organizations. Then I talked with them and listened to how God was using them. There are Christians who have fought to keep some seriously horrible things off TV. As bad as TV can be, I know it would be worse if those Christians weren't working in Hollywood. Another judgmental thought that entered my head: Why aren't they getting all the junk off TV? Why aren't they getting cleaner programs on? I thought back to what my friend Cami had told me, and I realized Christians in Hollywood can't turn ABC into the Trinity Broadcasting Network--the unbelieving world, for the most part, just aint gonna watch TBN. And I realized: Smart folks don't fight every single battle tooth and nail. We fight the ones we know we can win, and we'll also fight to the death during those battles that are the most important to us.
I was working on a story about Clay Aiken sometime ago, and was struck by something he did. He asked to put a worship song into his concert set, and he was amazed when his sponsor agreed. He said he'd deliberately chosen to become a mainstream artist rather than a Christian artist because he knew he'd get big opportunities to share his faith in small ways. Now, if Clay had performed solely Christian contemporary songs, surely some people who weren't believers would have gone to his concerts. But I'm guessing his choice gives him better access to the unbelieving world. Cynical me might think, Well, Clay's just in it for the money. In my spirit, I know this: He doesn't have to sing any songs about God or Jesus. The fact he's made that choice and takes that risk suggests he's one of those missionaries in Hollywood. There may not be a zillion of them, but I do believe there are Christian missionaries in the entertainment industry.
I don't think I've experienced Hollywood folk being lionized by the church. That's probably because I grew up in the 'burbs, and I'd never even met an industry person until we moved out to the L.A. area a couple years ago. (Or it may be that I'm just totally clueless. Back at my Christian magazine in Chicago, Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot was being interviewed one day. A co-worker asked me who was being interviewed, and I replied, "Oh, some guy from Switchblade or Switch-Off or something like that.")
But I can totally see Kevin's point. It seems those who are perceived as having money or power can get special treatment from the church. And that's probably an extension of our human tendency to latch on to things perceived as measures of success (wealth, fame, power).
That's also probably why missionaries in third-world countries tend to have pure motives--no money or fame there. I think we'd all agree missionaries are some radically awesome people. How many of us has secretly thought, Maybe I should be a missionary or a pastor. Maybe that's what Christians are supposed to do. Maybe God loves them a little bit more?
I believe every Christian has a ministry, regardless of their career path. I believe every Christian can be a missionary, taking God's Word to the most unfriendly and unreceptive territories. Whether that's the jungles of Africa, the rough-and-tumble Hollywood scene, or the watercooler where our atheist co-worker hangs out, we are all called to a mission field. We're all called to continue the work of Jesus, the Master Carpenter, to keep building the kingdom of God.
1) We often tend to judge people--individuals and groups--because we've made assumptions about them. Who have you misjudged? What misconceptions did you have about them? How were those misconceptions changed?
2) Consider this definition of the word "missionary": Someone who wants to share with others how Jesus can transform lives. Do you see yourself as a missionary?
3) If you answered "yes" to #2: Think about your mission field. Where is it? What are some of its unique challenges? How has God helped you with these challenges?
4) If you answered "no" to #2: What obstacles might be preventing you from being a missionary in the sense of the definition above? (Some examples: fear, not knowing any people who aren't Christians, not knowing how to share your faith.)
5) What is your ministry? Try to think beyond the talents we typically associate with ministry (speaking, singing, acting). If you think you might not have a ministry, consider what you're particularly good at. Do you like to hug people? Do you tend to notice homeless people when you're walking down the street? Do you enjoy painting walls or hanging pictures? Are you a really good listener? Consider Matthew 10:42: "This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice" (The Message).
6) Do you have friends who aren't Christians? If it seems you spend all your time with other Christians, consider building relationships with people who aren't Christians. Talk to people you wouldn't normally socialize with at work, at your college or your child's school, even in the grocery store. Get to know your neighbors. If you often go to the same Starbucks, say hello to the cashier. Your smile or kind word may be the cool cup of water that person is thirsting for.