Monday, October 23, 2006

Where on Earth are All the Missionaries?

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.

To ponder:
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.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Holly ... I found your blog linked on a Clay Aiken fan site & I'm so glad I did. I missed your cover story on Clay in Today's Christian Magazine because I was hospitalized & by the time I was up & about again, they had sold out, even directly from the publisher. You wouldn't happen to know where I could find an extra copy, would you? It would mean so much to me.

Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your insight into finding our own ways to do God's work. I, too, get a bit judgemental with others who seem to have so much wealth & fame & seem to a) do so little for others, or b) if they claim faith, fail to spread the word of God... which basically is the same thing, isn't it? I have to remind myself to worry about my own walk with God & my own opportunities to be a missionary, so to speak, before I discount anyone else. There are so many little ways to do it... as Clay would say, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS to show love (quick little CD plug there).

You have, in fact, reiterated some things that Clay himself has said. That he thinks to go into Contemporary Christian music would kind of be preaching to the choir. That God has set him on this path in modern popular music for a very important reason. All you have to do is look around you in today's music industry to see that there are very few role models for young people in a culture obsessed with material possessions & physical gratification. Clay is one who quietly, without calling attention to his mission in a bombastic or self-righteous way, stands tall with his simple actions & words. He has, unfortunately, become a target for those who live to demean others. But he has also become a humanitarian, working tirelessly with his own foundation for children with disabilities, with UNICEF as an ambassador to 3rd world countries, & with many other charities, usually dealing with children. He includes Christian music in every concert, witnesses about his faith in his memoir & many interviews, & even on his pop albums, he always chooses songs that can be interpreted as much about the love of God as romantic love.

Clay has consistently said that he considers his pop music career to be a stepping stone to doing greater good in the world around him. That is the mission God has given him. We all must find our own missions within our own little worlds & opportunities big & small, even if it is as simple as just being kind to everyone you meet. God's love is spread best by our love to others.

Holly said...

Beautifully said! I'm thrilled you found my blog. Thanks so much for taking time to read, think deeply, and to share your thoughts. It truly blessed me to hear from you.

You can e-mail Today's Christian magazine and request the issue with Clay on the cover (tceditor@Todays-Christian.com). They'll know exactly which one you're looking for: When that issue was published, the magazine staff heard from lots of Clay's fans!

Blessings to you!

Holly said...

Dear Anonymous,

Oops! It just clicked in my head you already tried to contact the publisher for an issue. Still, you might try requesting one, as they could do a reprint in the future, or may at least offer color photocopies of the article. I'll send a request to the magazine on your behalf, too, and ask them to consider offering it in some form.

Anonymous said...

Hi!
I loved your latest article -- keep up the good work!
Tina

Holly said...

Hi Tina,

Thanks for always taking time to encourage me. Your good words really have kept me writing this year--I appreciate you so much.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I am a Psyceh RN, have been for 16 yrs. Been a nurse for 30 yrs. That's my mission field. God has used me so many ways. Did I earn a good living? Yes. Am I any less of a missionary than anyone who gives up all they have to depend on others to support them in the field? No. I am doing what God called me to do the best I can. I am surrounded by unbelievers and even people who are antagonistic towards my Christianity and mores. It's not been easy. I have adjusted. I have not compromised but I have learned to navigate and God has helped me. Some Christians, many even would have a hard time with the environment I am in and the way I have to operate.
P.S. am also a CLay Aiken fan. He is in it for the Lord I can tell you. He said he would keep on singing and trusting God for all until God told him to shut up. Many non Christian fans come to see him even in Christmas concerts as they say they admire his faith and integrety. I pay that all fans who see God's love in CLay will someday ask who is this God that such a man serves. I am in Christian fan groups that pray for Clay and others in the entertainment industry, for the CHristians that God will help them and that they will stay steadfast in their faith. Also that those who are not saved will come to Christ. We also pray for each other and have wonderful fellowship.

Marge
NJ

Holly said...

Hi Marge,

Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. Your positive attitude about your work reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV)

Brooke said...

Once again I really enjoyed your post. Like always, I wish I were sitting around with a group discussing the topics you throw out there. Since that isn't always possible, here are some of my thoughts.

First, you wrote, "I realized Christians in Hollywood can't turn ABC into the Trinity Broadcasting Network." My reaction: THANK GOD!!! You continued, "The unbelieving world, for the most part, just aint gonna watch TBN." My reaction: "I'm a believer, and I aint gonna watch it either!!!"

Why does everything boil down to such a stark difference between Desperate Housewives and phony TV evangelists who are desperate to lift cash out of our wallets? That is a big problem with the Christian subculture. There is a market there. We have created that market and the market we have created tends to have an echo-chamber effect which magnifies and enlarges our subculture. Unfortunately, often what sells is not necessarily biblical Christianity.

As Pastor Ruben was just saying to me this morning, the Church is often viewed as a big club within which we in the so-called Christian world are very comfortable. We view the whole world, including Hollywood, through the stained-glass window filter of our own reality. Anyone who ventures out of that nice little environment to take on the big, bad world is often heroized by those of us who are back enjoying the comfort of our own "Christian" party. I think the real issue is that none of us have any business being in that Christian clubhouse in the first place. Those who go out to take on the big, bad world are perhaps not missionaries in the traditional sense. They just merely understand what it means to be a Christian and to follow Jesus' command to ALL of his disciples to "go."

More importantly, we are not called to go and spread our Christian subculture with all of its trappings. We are called to go make disciples. How do we do that? First by being disciples ourselves, by allowing Christ to change us into HIS likeness and then carrying that likeness into whatever part of the world he has placed us. That is being incarnational. It is bringing the reality of Christ into the everyday world in which we exist. It is more than just including a popular worship song in a secular concert set, or giving a testimony after a touchdown. It is about being compelled to love and serve people JUST BECAUSE God so loved that He gave ... . That is different than people in Hollywood saying, "First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus, blah blah blah ..." after they've won an award. Not that doing something like that is always wrong, but is that really what it's about? The real question is: Do we really love? That question is answered by the next one, which is: Do we serve? Jesus demonstrated love by serving. What good is "a shout out to Jesus," if we aren't embodying the same type of sacrificial love that He gave?

Another thought is that I have often felt a great sadness when I think about Hollywood. Much of the evangelical church has been at war with Hollywood. We have written Hollywood off because "they promote values that are against ours." I don't completely agree with that sentiment. Yes, Hollywood spews out a lot of trash, but it also raises important questions. I saw two movies this week. Both of them, RV and The Prestige, were filled with truth. Both of them raised important questions. I did not feel that my faith was under attack as I watched those movies.

Ironically, I often feel our faith is under greater attack by subtle biblically unbalanced or outright false messages being spewed out by the Christian subcultural media (our own alternative Hollywood). I'm afraid many of the faithful are being led astray by "safe Christian" wolves in sheep's clothing within our own camp. So who is lost in this cultural divide? If there is a Kingdom void in Hollywood, it is a tragedy. It is obvious that many in Hollywood are seeking. Just look at the many spiritual/philosophical issues they raise in the product which they produce? Also look at how many in Hollywood have written off a Christianity that wars against them in favor of all kinds of other spiritual alternatives (Kabalah, Scientology, Zen, The Dali Lama, New Age, ect...). We have rendered ourselves useless in a place where we could be most useful. It is really sad. I'm sure it breaks God's heart and it ought to break ours.

Last thought. I work for a church. Yes, I WORK for a church. I see it as a job just like when I worked in a secular public school. I have a job to do. I try to do it to the best of my ability, and I collect a paycheck for what I do. It is NOT my ministry, even though the outcome of my work more directly relates to the building of the Kingdom. However, I do have a ministry within the context of my job. My ministry happens within the relational circle of influence that exists because of my job. It happens when I see a need that needs to be met and I allow Christ to meet that need through me. It was the same when I worked in a "secular" setting. Interestingly, I'm finding that we on "the inside" are in just as much need of God's love and grace than are those outside. We can be just as lost. Often we, much like the Pharisees of Jesus' times, are just as spiritually blind. Perhaps I need missionaries in my life to reveal God's love and truth to me. Perhaps, at times, I am a missionary myself.