Beware the Offering Plate

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I‘ve have been fortunate to make my living with my art as a ministry for over 40 years. Much of that “living” comes through the generosity of others via the offering plate that is passed after a performance at a church. The offering plate has been my friend, and has greatly blessed me and my ministry over the years.

But not everything I receive in an offering plate is money. I have also received Starbucks gift cards, lottery tickets, drawings from children, candy and gum, and of course pocket lint. Sometimes all poured into in a brown paper bag and handed to me as I walk out the door.

Something else that occasionally shows up in the offering plate is notes of encouragement. People will often write a “thank-you” and other words of appreciation on a scrap of paper and these are treasures to be sure!

And then there are the critiques…not as often as the notes of appreciation, but they show up from time to time. I have one of these tacked to a bulletin board in my office. It serves to remind me that just because they call it a “love offering” doesn’t guarantee that everything in the plate comes with “love.”

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Would love to laugh—you are not that funny—But God loves you.”

This note was after a performance of a piece that is billed as a comedy. If there is one thing I have learned by performing comedy, it’s that it is subjective. What one audience might find hysterical can be totally lost on another audience. There is nothing worse than doing comedy when nobody’s laughing. If I didn’t have a history of this performance being well received by hundreds of other audiences, I might have been offended at the note. Actually, it just made me laugh. But I do look at it from time to time and allow it to serve as a reminder that you can’t please everybody all the time and to not take myself too seriously.

It also makes me wonder just how much of this the average pastor must have to put up with on a regular basis. I can just imagine the pastor coming into the office on a Monday morning to a stack of “reviews” on his desk, all from the offering plate. Maybe it’s time to reassess the purpose of the plate.

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On a side note, as our society becomes more cashless, when people pay with their credit cards and smartphones, we may soon see the offering plate become obsolete. In one church I was in recently there was a kiosk at the back of the church for collecting offerings with credit cards.

So if I was at your church recently and you didn’t have your wallet and you would like to leave me a love offering, you can do so here: cash.me/donatemip. (I bet there a few less “surprises” in the offering plate when done this way!)

And if you want to leave me a note or even a critique, I will accept them in the comments below! (I reserve the right to delete the critiques!)

 

A Trustworthy Tricky Travel Tip

Beating the System on a Rental Car

 

Since I travel a bit more than the average person, I am often asked for my advice or secrets when it comes to booking travel. I have posted a few other blogs on this topic here and here. So here is another trustworthy tricky travel tip.

One area that is a bit hit-and-miss is booking rental cars at airports. Taxes and fees at airport locations can be significantly higher than at other locations near an airport. I have often scored what I thought was a great deal on a car for $9 a day on Priceline or Hotwire, only to discover that taxes and fees more than doubled or even exceeded the rental rates.

I encountered this recently on a trip I booked to Tampa, Florida. Normally I am able to book decent rates on this itinerary but this time I found I was traveling during the peak “Spring Break” season. Rates were much higher than I was used to. Where I am normally able to book a car for about $50-$75 for a weekend, I was now looking at $150-$200 for a compact car. I checked nearby locations with Enterprise and found that, just a couple miles from the airport, I could score a rental for $75. And Enterprise boasts, “we will pick you up.” So I booked a hotel near the airport with shuttle service. I’d have the hotel shuttle provide transportation from the airport to the hotel, and then have Enterprise pick me up and take me to get the car. On the return I would drop off the car and have them return me to the hotel and then use the hotel shuttle back to the airport. I just saved $100.

Only one snag in my plan: my flight home was an early one. The Enterprise location was not open early enough to get me back to the hotel in time to catch my flight. I would need to go directly from the Enterprise location to the airport. Enterprise wouldn’t likely give me that ride because of policies with their on-airport location (which would cost a lot more to use).  Enter Uber! I would have Uber provide the ride from the Enterprise location to the airport for around $10. Problem solved.

This is not the first time I have used this trick. You just have to make sure your travel plans allow for business hours at the off-airport locations—as they are not open 24 hours a day. (Some off-airport locations will allow you drop off the vehicle after hours and settle up your bill via email.)

So there you have it—my trustworthy tricky travel tip!

If you have a tricky travel tip, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Don’t Drop, Fly, or Burn Jesus!

Jesus_FlamesChurch drama.

Sometimes even I have to cringe when I talk about what I do for a living.  I try to find different words to use. “I am a professional actor/storyteller in ministry” has a bit more credibility and helps to distance the gap from saying something like “I do skits in church.”  Let’s face it, church drama has suffered a (often a well deserved) bad reputation. I understand when people roll their eyes when the topic of church drama comes up. It’s no wonder that in many churches it is relegated to the children’s department and gets no respect when adults engage in this craft.

And yet, it can be done well, and is by many—both professionals and amateurs. It was seeing it done well that inspired me to pursue acting as a career. I can’t begin to tell you how many people credit a church production as being the thing that drew them to  church and, for many to faith as well.  If you read the bio’s of famous performers you would be amazed at how many credit the church with giving them their start. (Although considering the paths some of them have taken, that may not be a compliment!)

We have just finished Christmas, a time when many churches engage in this creative endeavor, and we are quickly approaching the Easter season, the other time of the year when even churches who don’t allow “church drama” will often make an exception and give that much maligned group of artists in the church a chance to ply their craft.

The Easter Pageant Season is upon us.

As a warning…maybe some things are better left to our imagination. A sensitive scene gone wrong will only inflict more damage on our reputation. It might be better to leave some special effects to Hollywood. I offer these examples of what not to do:

Don’t “drop” Jesus.

Don’t “fly” Jesus.

Don’t “burn” Jesus.


Our message matters! Make a memorable show, but to quote an old TV show “be careful out there!”

If you want some good quality drama, consider inviting me or one of our artists to your church. We promise not to drop, fly or burn Jesus!

Looking back at 2015

It’s hard for me to believe that another year has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was saying that about 2014! It has been a wonderful and eventful year for us. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year. Lots of travel and performances in churches of all sizes and denominations. Each performance becomes special as we are able to witness lives touched. Sometimes it is evident in silence, sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears and every once in a while in spectacular ways as evidenced through stories and comments we receive after the event.

Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, we have two other artists that are a part of our team–Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead. Both Marcia and Steve have been creative in working to develop new material to add to their repertory. My booking schedule has been robust and I have managed to schedule bookings about 6 months in advance.

DSC07760Child Sponsorship— One of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor through our partnership with Food for the Hungry. This year Marcia and I were able to travel to the Dominican Republic to witness their work and to each meet children that we personally sponsor! As a ministry we were able to help over 400 children find sponsors this year! This is one of the most important aspects of our ministry and a rich blessing indeed!

IMG_4028On a personal note, the biggest highlight of our year was that Lorie and I became grandparents to Lucy Paige Neighbors. This precious child was born with a heart defect and spent the first 2.5 months of her life in the hospital, but as of this writing is home and doing well!

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2016, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist if you like.

You can mail tax deductible gifts to:

Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97308

or just click the button to donate online:


May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2016!

Chuck Neighbors

10 Random Observations about the Church

A row of Church pewsI travel and perform/speak in a different church almost every weekend and have for the past 40 years—that’s a lot of churches. You do the math. And these are churches of all denominations and sizes and colors. Lunch with the pastor after a morning service is typical. I can almost always count on being asked a question like this:  “Chuck, you are in a lot of churches… what are some observations you’ve made about the church today?”

I know they want an answer with some profundity, but I don’t know if my answers will satisfy. So here are 10 random observations about the church, for what they are worth, and in no specific order.  This is not a scientifically researched treatise… just my observations.

1) The medium-size church is disappearing. I am often in church buildings designed to hold 500-1000 people with less than 100 in the worship service. There seem to be churches of under 100, and the mega church with thousands of people, but not much in between—churches of 200-500 are few. Pastors routinely over-estimate their attendance. They will tell me they have 150 people in worship but when I arrive there are less than 100… this happens a lot!

2) Based on my experience it would seem that the average age in most churches today is over 50. There is plenty of gray hair and there are not very many millennials in the pews.

3) The “Meet and Greet” moment in the worship service needs go. Most churches do it and in most churches it feels forced and awkward. I see plenty of meeting and greeting before the service that seems genuine. If your main goal is to make a visitor feel welcome, I think there is a better way to do it.

4) I have rarely visited a church that matches the negative stereotype portrayed in the media or by Hollywood. (That being the extremes of super fanatical or super boring). I’m not saying they don’t exist… but they are certainly not what I have found under the majority of steeples in the country.

5) People really do “play hooky” from church when the pastor is gone. I often fill in for a pastor who is away at a conference or on vacation. I almost always hear the head deacon say, “I don’t know where everybody is today.”

6) Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the church is filled with people who care about the poor and are involved in ministries that are truly striving to make a difference.

7) At the risk of sounding like my parents… your music is too loud!

8) People still sit in the back (maybe because the music is too loud) or are very spread out in the sanctuary, making those 100 people in a space that hold 500 feel even more empty.

9) There is not much being done to encourage and elevate the arts in most churches. Other than the worship team/band, the opportunities for an artist to be involved in the life of the church are very limited. (I’ve blogged about this one before, but I have to throw it in here.)

10) It can be a challenge today to figure out a church’s denominational affiliation. Oh it still exists, but you won’t find it on church signs and in printed material like you used to. This can be good thing. It can also be embarrassing if, say, you are charismatic and think you are in a Pentecostal church, only to find yourself being stared down after raising your arms and shouting hallelujah in a Baptist church.

Like I said, no science here… just some observations from that “Christian Actor Guy!”

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