What’s In A Name?

I was teaching a break-out session at a Worship Conference. My topic was about making a living as a Christian artist.

I asked the group: “Name for me some famous Christian bands, go ahead and just call them out”

The big question: Are you related to Jim?  The answer—no!

“Newsboys”

“Casting Crowns”

“Jars of Clay”

“Mercy Me”

“DC Talk”

“Third Day”

“Gaither Vocal Band”

“Switchfoot”

“U2”

All of these and many more were called out.

Then I asked: “How about some famous Christian singers?”

“Amy Grant”

“Michael W. Smith”

“Chris Tomlin”

“Toby Mac”

“Lacrae”

“Sandi Patty”

“Johnny Cash”

Again just a sampling of some of the many names that were mentioned. (Note: this discussion happened before Kanye West and Lauren Daigle would have made the list)

I try another category: “How about Christian Comedians?” It takes a few seconds but then I hear:

“Chondra Pierce”

“Tim Hawkins”

“That lady that sings that thing about what Mom’s say to the tune of the William Tell Overture.” (Anita Renfroe)

“I think Stephen Colbert is a Catholic.”

There were a few other names tossed out but the list was definitely shorter.

“Okay let’s try one more… how about famous Christian actors?”

The silence is deafening. Then someone says.

“Oh that actor who played Doogie Howser… what’s his name?”

“Neil Patrick Harris?”

“No, you’re thinking of the actor from Growing Pains…uh…Kirk Cameron.”

“Oh yeah… he’s in those Christian movies, Left Behind and stuff.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “One actor?”

“Oh wait there is that guy that tour’s around doing C.S Lewis and Screwtape Letters… uh… Don McLean.”

I correct him. “That would Max McLean. Don McLean is the singer who wrote Bye Bye Miss American Pie. Anyone else?

“Denzel Washington? I saw this YouTube video where he talked about praying…”

From the back of the room I hear, “Chuck Neighbors”

I smile… “I said famous actors… and you only said that because the name on the handout for this class says: Chuck Neighbors, Actor”

(It is interesting to note that some of the names—U2 (Bono), Johnny Cash, Stephen Colbert, and Denzel Washington—are celebrities that have identified themselves as Christian, but their art is not typically what most people think of when we think of Christian artists.)

So there you have it, in a nutshell. While there is plenty of name recognition for Christian musicians, there is not much when it comes to being a “Christian actor.” I have often referred to myself as “that Christian actor guy” because for most people, even those who have seen me perform, “that Christian actor guy” is a close as they will get to remembering my name. (Although I have lost count of the number of times I have been introduced as Jim Nabors…aka Gomer Pyle).

Pastor Appreciation, Indeed!

Pastor Kyle was lamenting his job

As his head was starting to throb.

He was squeezing a sponge,

Had a toilet to plunge.

“I was hired to preach, not to swab!”

from Get Me To The Church In Rhyme
by Chuck Neighbors

 

October is pastor appreciation month.

The punchline to numerous jokes I have heard over the years is “the pastor only works one hour a week.”

Having worked in the world of the church for over 45 years, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth. If the average pew-sitter could job-shadow a pastor they would quickly realize that the one hour a week is easily multiplied by 60 or 80 for most of the pastors I know.

As with my job as an actor, there is so much more that goes with the job beyond what the audience/congregation sees. A typical pastor, in addition to being a preacher, is also a: teacher, lesson planner, sermon writer, counselor, hospital chaplain, event planner, and board member with too many meetings.

Those are duties that one might anticipate as a part of the job and could account for the typical hours on the job for most vocations. But for so many pastors, their job also overlaps into other areas, forcing them to be an: administrator, secretary, bookkeeper, musician, deliveryman, cook, janitor, groundskeeper, handyman and plumber.

They probably didn’t sign up for those jobs.

Add to that the people skills need to deal with the various personalities in the church. Pastors are often caught in the middle of church politics, and shoulder the blame for anything that a church member might not like. Many pastors are lonely and feel isolated, often having no one to talk to about their problems. Having close friends within the congregation can be difficult causing more problems by sparking jealousy and envy among the members.

And don’t forget that pastors are often spouses with kids, and have a life beyond the four walls of the church building.  Like a doctor on call, congregation members call at all hours with real emergencies as well as a petty complaint. Way too many pastors are bi-vocational, unable to make a living on the salary paid to them by the church and forced to have a second job to pay the bills.

It’s a hard and often thankless job.

So take a moment to appreciate your pastor. Notice all the work they do beyond what you hear from the pulpit. Send a card, buy them a gift, take the broom out of their hands.

Pray for them.

Thank God for them.

A Night at the Opera

I almost walked out. This was not what I expected, not what I signed up for, and I was perturbed.

It was the annual conference of  Christians in Theater Arts, a networking conference for, as the name suggests, Christians involved in the theater arts. Most of the people in attendance were involved to some degree with theater in churches, schools, and universities or were performers in theater ranging from local church ministries all the way to Broadway. The one key distinctive we all took for granted was that we would see LIVE theater presented at our annual conferences.

So as I took my seat in the auditorium for the first evening of performances, I was taken aback to hear that we would be watching a film instead of a live performance. A film!?! We are inundated with film in our culture. I wanted live theater! This was a theater conference, for crying out loud! Then the subject… the film was about an opera singer. An OPERA SINGER—are you kidding me? Okay, I understand that opera is theater…but come on! This is not exactly an opera audience. I mean, really?

But there was no tactful way for me to get up and leave. People in the audience knew who I was, and my departure would be noticed. So I sat, arms crossed, and prepared to endure what I was certain would be the most boring and irrelevant evening of theater I had ever experienced.

I. Was. Wrong.

The film was fascinating. It was about a woman who had poured her life into becoming one of the best opera singers in her field—world class. It portrayed her struggle to make it in the very challenging and competitive world of opera. And it showed her rejection and disappointment at the end of a long, hard journey. I dare say that every person in the audience, myself included, could relate to that. Her story was common to all theater artists and, really, all people who have wanted something with all their soul only to see their dream evaporate in disappointment.

The film ended—very unsatisfactorily. There was no happy ending.

Then the most remarkable thing occurred. The filmmaker took the stage, shared about the making of the film and then introduced the subject of the film—Marcia Whitehead. What followed was profound and amazing. Marcia sang. The kind of singing that gives you goose bumps and makes your hair stand on end. The audience could not contain themselves, and a standing ovation followed every song she sang. And the story? The story in the film needed an ending, and Marcia gave it to us. It was a story that showed how God can take our disappointment and rejection and redeem it for His purpose. It was a great story and was truly an evening of wonderful LIVE theater!

On the night that I attended this performance, I didn’t know Marcia Whitehead. After returning home to Salem, I was sharing about the performance with my pastor. He was intrigued to know more about her, and asked me to locate her in hopes of perhaps inviting her to Salem.  So I did. I found out she lived in—are you ready for this—Salem, Oregon. Not only that, she had been attending our church! (hey it’s a big church!)

And that, friends, is the backstory on how Marcia Whitehead became a part of Master’s Image Productions.

It is a real joy to be able to follow Marcia’s ministry and hear the incredible stories that come out of her sharing her story. But I will also admit that booking Marcia has not been as easy as I had hoped. You see, many of the pastors and leaders of the churches we contact are too much like me. They have the same attitude I had when I walked into the auditorium that  night. They hear the world “opera” and they cover their ears and slam the door. If they would only take a moment to listen, they would see that Marcia’s story just might be their story. And I am willing to wager they, like myself, would not be able to stop the goose bumps.

Get Me To The Church In Rhyme

I have recently developed an obsession for writing limericks. In addition to being a fun bit of wordplay, I discovered that they are a great model for telling a short story. (I have shared on this blog in the past several tips about writing stories and one post specifically about writing really short stories.) Consider this one:

Mark tried the new church down the street,

Sat in back, wanting to be discreet,

But they liked to hug.

He came down with a bug

And vowed never again “Meet and Greet.”

Notice how the first line establishes a person and a place. The second line adds a plot point and rising action. The third and fourth lines establish a conflict and climax to the story. The fifth line contains the resolution. Voila’—a short story in five lines.

I started writing limericks on the subjects of God, faith, and the church and began posting a “Limerick a Day” on social media. People found them not only clever and humorous, but some of them actually started great conversations about the subject matter…something a good story is wont to do!

Then I began to get this comment over and over again — “Chuck, you should publish these!”

Hmmm?

So I wrote a few more, until I had over 50 and decided to explore options of publishing through Amazon…

And suddenly this is happening:

Get Me To The Church in Rhyme

Limericks about God, Faith,
and the Church
by Chuck Neighbors

“…so engaging and warm-hearted and downright funny. They’re close to being addictive—like those potato chips, there’s no way to read just one!” 
Chris Fabry—Author and host of Chris Fabry Live

They say “write what you know” and I guess I know a thing or two about churches. I have been in literally thousands of them in my 45-year career as a touring actor and storyteller. These are humorous, clean, and thought-provoking limericks on the Christian life. They are fun to read, quote, and share with others. This is a perfect gift for pastors and church leaders, and really anyone who as ever sat in a pew.

Get Me to the Church in Rhyme.
Limericks to read and pass time.
On God, faith, and church,
With a smidge of research,
And if you should laugh, that’d be fine!

Available as an ebook or paperback at amazon.com

On Age and Relevance in the Church

“Our church is shrinking,” they’d whine
Average age, seventy-one, a bad sign
To avert a disaster
A millennial pastor!
The average is now sixty-nine

The email from the pastor made me chuckle.

“We have a mostly older congregation, no children, but we do have one millennial couple!”

“One millennial couple” and it was almost as if it was a badge of honor.

But I understood. The church has changed drastically in the years that I have been involved in ministry. My friend, Pastor Jon, likes to remind me that “no one has been in more churches than Chuck Neighbors.”  I don’t know if that is exactly true, but I have been in a different church almost every weekend for the last 45 years. I have seen a lot of change over the years.

My generation of Baby Boomers, who once strived so hard to be “relevant” and “contemporary” in church now find themselves on the outside of church culture. To the younger church culture we are now, it seems, irrelevant and too traditional by their standards.

Indeed it is rare to find a church that appeals to all ages. Churches that promote a “contemporary” worship style seem locked into a new tradition they have created that is no longer contemporary. In striving to be relevant, contemporary has become tradition.

I recently did a series of performances for a church in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is well known as a retirement community. There was a good turnout every night. People enjoyed the performances. I have a statement that is read when I am introduced, that “if babies get too noisy to please take them out of the room so as not to distract from the performance.”

The pastor read this and received a big laugh.

Babies? There was not even one millennial couple in the audience.

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