Strength and Weakness

When Jason Gray photobombs your selfie!

I had the pleasure of bumping into my friend, singer-songwriter Jason Gray, last week. It was quite a fun coincidence. I knew he was coming to my town of Salem, OR for a concert on Sunday and we were actually hosting him in our home on Sunday night. Lorie and I were flying back from Dallas, TX on Friday and guess who was seated behind us?

I got to know Jason, before he became “famous.” We were both partners in a child sponsorship ministry several years ago and traveled together to Africa on a mission trip.

If you are a fan of his music, you know that one of the themes that Jason writes and sings about so eloquently is “weakness.” He makes the case better than anyone I know that God’s strength is experienced in our weakness. He uses his own handicap as an example. Jason is a stutterer. You don’t have to be around him very long to discover this.  Yet, Jason is one of the best communicators that I know. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? He doesn’t try to hide it. He even makes jokes about it from the stage.

In addition to being an amazing musician, Jason is also a terrific storyteller. His stories reinforce his theme of weakness, as he shares openly and transparently about his own life. He makes the point that when we share our weaknesses and our failings with others, we are able to truly get to know each other better, like each other more and relate to each other honestly. He even quips from the stage about his stuttering, “now that you know that about me… I bet you like me just a little bit more.”

Oh how I need to be reminded of that. It is okay to have weakness, it is alright to share our weakness. In this age of social media, we spend way too much time trying to make ourselves “look good.” Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we put our lives under a microscope, yet work furiously to make sure people only see our best side.

I am inspired by people like Jason. I want to be more like him when it comes to being honest and transparent about my life. It is one of the reasons my newer presentations have been personal stories from my life. It has been freeing to tell my stories and to hear people afterwards thank me for being transparent and talking openly about my struggles and failures. Through that process they see that they we are not alone. (Check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story)

Take a listen to one of my favorites of Jason’s. I think it is one of his strongest pieces and it is called “Weak.”

Counting Blessings

As 2018 draws to a close, I find I am reminded of that old hymn “Count Your Blessings.” Sing with me if you know it:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

So here are just a few of the blessings I am counting from the past year. 

– 85 Performances were given in 9 states

– Over 180 kids in poverty were sponsored through our partnership with Food for the Hungry

– God’s provision through some challenging times for our team, both financial and on the health front

– Lives impacted through the ministry as reflected in this quote from a recent performance:

“Our church had actor and storyteller Chuck Neighbors come and share his “In His Steps” drama recently and it was fantastic. His acting is second to none and he made us feel like we were transported to a bygone era. The adults and the kids alike were all captivated by his presentation. I would highly recommend any church, large or small, to invite Chuck to come and present this powerful drama and challenge to walk in the steps of Jesus!”

This ministry is now 35 years old and it couldn’t have happened without the prayers and support of people like you. If you are reading this letter, you are one of those who have made this journey possible. That’s hundreds of performances and thousands of lives impacted with the Gospel! 

As you look forward to 2019, we would be so very honored if you would remember us 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. You can make a donation online or set up a month gift plan with a credit card here: www.mastersimage.com/donate. Gifts are tax-deductible.

We Wish you a Merry Christmas! 

And God’s blessings in the New Year!

What Does Jesus Want for His Birthday?

It was after a performance of In His Steps at a church in Southern California in August. With the challenge of the drama “what would Jesus do?” fresh on their minds, I shared with congregation about our work with the ministry of Food for the Hungry and left the platform to go wait at the display table, hoping that someone might stop and sponsor a child.

Gino approached with his fiancee, Mary. I began to explain the process: “Select the child you would like to sponsor and—“

Gino cut me off and said: “Just one? I was thinking maybe six.”

And he did… he sponsored six kids! He took the challenge of “what would Jesus do?” and did what Jesus asks of us all to do.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

It’s Christmas time, and if you are like me you are probably getting swept up in all the activities of the season. One of those in our house is the making and checking of our Christmas lists. It is easy to get so caught up in the festivities that we can forget that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. While we “make our list and check it twice” we forget that Jesus has a list as well. Since it is His birthday we celebrate, it might be a good time to see what it is that He has on His list. It starts out: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink.” The list ends with:  “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Gino’s response was a powerful reminder of why I do this ministry. Amidst the list of all I have to do—the traveling, performing, scheduling, writing and rehearsing—I need to remember what is on Jesus’ list. When it comes down to it, it is the very reason I started this ministry in the first place. The very name of this ministry “Master’s Image” was created as a reminder to be conformed to His image in the work we do. While at first glance you might think, “it’s just that Christian actor guy that does those plays in churches,” for me it’s about so much more. It’s about lives changed, it’s about people like Gino and the six kids whose lives were helped because Gino saw a play and was moved to do something that Jesus would do.

While I work on my Christmas list this year, I am also adding things that I am thankful for. This ministry turns 34 years old in 2018 and it could’t happen without the prayers and support of people like you. If you are reading this letter, you are one of those who have made this journey possible. That’s hundreds of performances and thousands of lives impacted like Gino and the kids he sponsored. Thank you!

As you look forward to 2018, we would be so very honored if you would remember us by giving a gift to Master’s Image ProductionsWe 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 (Marcia Whitehead and Steve Wilent).

Merry Christmas!

One Time or Monthly Donations:

Your donations make this ministry possible! We welcome your participation. (You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution.) Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.  Donations are tax-deductible.

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Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97302

P.S: If you would like to sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry you can do that here: www.sponsornow.info. (sponsorships through that link also help Master’s Image!)

 

We’ve Got New Stuff!

As you may know, in addition to the stories I share in my travels, we also represent other artists through Master’s Image Productions. Two of our team have added to their lineup recently and I think they are productions you should consider for your church/organization.

Marcia Whitehead – Broken

If you have experienced Marcia’s presentation You Raise Me Up you know she has a powerful story to tell of her journey to discover life after loss. Her story does what a good story always does—leaves you wanting more.   People had so many questions they wanted to explore that she was compelled to create a sequel to address some of the issues left unresolved in You Raise Me Up.  Her newest presentation, Broken, does just that. It addresses her continued journey to healing and wholeness, a message of hope that will inspire those who listen. To learn more or schedule Marcia for a presentation: www.marciawhiteheadusa.com

Steve Wilent – Unlikely Prospect

Steve has had a varied career, from cleaning windows to working as an actor in Hollywood, and pastoring a rural church as a young seminary graduate. It is from this experience as a young pastor that he shares his story called Unlikely Prospect. I have had the pleasure of looking over Steve’s shoulder as he wrote out this story and I can tell you it is a story for anyone who has ever wondered about the purpose of the church—a fellowship of believers learning how to live life together as the body of Christ. You will laugh, squirm and be moved to tears in this inspiring true life story of faith. Check out Steve’s presentations at www.stevewilent.net.

While I don’t have a new production waiting in the wings at this point, I am still enjoying sharing my stories and especially those that, like Marcia’s and Steve’s, are based on my real life adventures. So be sure to check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story.

It it matters, there’s a story!

Merry Christmas 2016!

As I sit here writing this I am keeping one eye on the window, watching for the anticipated snowfall that is threatening to shutdown Salem later today. I am a little anxious because I am scheduled to perform tonight in Silverton, OR. There is a very good chance the performance will cancel.

As I reflect on that thought, I am realizing that there have not been many cancelations in my 42 years of ministry. A few caused by weather, a few caused by family/medical emergences. But all in all, it is a rare event. In fact I think I could probably count the cancelations on two hands. (I estimate that we have given about 5,000 performances during that time—that is about .2%!) I count that is one of God’s blessings on this ministry. And we’re still going strong and busy as ever!

  • Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year.
  • Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, my associates, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead have been keeping busy.  Just this month we are adding a new artist to our roster. Wes Whatley lives on the East Coast and will be great addition to our team.
  • Child 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 about 400 more sponsors were added and over the life of our ministry over 6,000 sponsors have been joined us in tacking poverty around the world.

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 2017, 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.

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2017!

Chuck Neighbors

Donate online (one-time or monthly):

(You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution. To make your donation an automatic monthly donation be sure to check the “Recurring” payment box.)

Donate by mail:

Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97302

Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Donations are tax-deductible.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Ah, the pursuit of happiness…what does that mean to you? I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately.  It’s one of those things I think all of us are prone to ponder, especially as we get older.

The recent historic events of this November have brought this question again to the forefront of my thinking. I mean, the Cubs win the World Series and then this election…what an emotional rollercoaster! Some people are happy on rollercoasters…me, not so much.

I tend to be one of those people who works with a mindset of, “when this job/event/goal is accomplished then I’ll truly be happy.” And to some degree that is certainly true. But often the feeling I am pursuing seems to elude me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an unhappy person, but I have been trying to honestly answer the question of what makes me happy.

I spend a lot of time isolated… something common for a lot of artists. I perform alone, work out of an office in my home alone, and travel most of the time alone. Ah, travel, something many people hold claim to as something that makes them happy, and I do like travel, but traveling alone is not as much fun as traveling with a companion.

I know the “spiritually correct” answer to this question is to “delight ourselves in the Lord.” And I do; like I said, I am not an unhappy person. But while I “delight” in the Lord and all He as done for me, there is still this desire, that need to pursue happiness. Happiness is not, at least for me, a 24/7 thing.

In September my wife, Lorie celebrated one of her “milestone” birthdays (one of those that ends in a “0”). I wanted it to be extra special and I went out of my way to plan a surprise birthday weekend that she would never forget. It came off extremely well. The whole family, including our new granddaughter was with us. Lorie’s sister and brother-in-law traveled from Canada, which added to her happiness. We all shared a great weekend at the Oregon coast. She was very surprised and that made me happy.

And that made me happy.

There is the key, at least for me. I’m at my happiest when I am with other people, people I love. I am at my happiest when I can bring joy to the people that I love. I am happiest in my work—and make no mistake, setting up this surprise weekend was a lot of work—when I know that work will make others happy. I’m rediscovering, what I should have known all along—my personal happiness is found in getting the focus off myself and onto others.

Something to remember as we approach Thanksgiving.

I have included a little video that I made to reveal this birthday surprise weekend. Watching Lorie watch the video, and seeing her surprised reaction, made me very happy. I share it in hopes that it will bring a smile to your face and maybe make you happy for a moment or two.

(Disclaimer: the tune is one I borrowed from a little boy who has made a lot of people happy with his video that has gone viral. So a tip of the hat to Obadiah Gamble. Check out his original video here: Hey Teddy

Honesty in Church?

young man wearing a mask of himself

“You know, I find that one of the hardest places to be honest, as an artist, is in the church.”

Whoa! Say what? The statement took me aback a bit.

Then another voice chimed in, “Oh, I totally agree. There are a lot of audiences much more accepting of honesty in our culture. The church is one of the hardest places to speak the truth.”

Wham again! I mean of all places for honesty and truth, shouldn’t the church be at the top of the list?

The conversation was at an intimate gathering of Christian artists in a retreat setting—oddly enough, in a church. Most of the people in attendance were professional performers with a focus on ministry. For most, their audience was the church.

Among the attributes of an artist, speaking the truth is at the top of the list. And yet…

“Oh, you can be honest about some things—the ‘approved topics’ that the tribe accepts. Of course, you can talk about ‘Gospel’ truth. You can even talk about certain failings, certain areas of brokenness; the ‘acceptable sins.’ But there are lots of areas that you can’t touch.”

As the conversation continued I began to understand. There was much brokenness and hurt gathered in this room; divorce, betrayal, addictions, and other issues that are not easily dismissed. Stuff that real people deal with on a daily basis.

And they were saying that both personally and as artists they found it difficult and even impossible to speak about these things in the one place where issues of brokenness should be welcome.

I recalled a conversation with a friend who is a well-known Christian recording artist. He had echoed some of the same sentiment. His passion was to write songs about brokenness but was hitting a wall of resistance. He was told the songs he wanted to write would not be “marketable” to the church audience he was playing to. Only positive and uplifting music was desired and would be commercially acceptable.

In recent years I have been sharing personal stories from my life in my performances. One of the things I have found encouraging is that people are overwhelmingly affirming about the “honesty” and “transparency” I share in my stories… but to be even more honest and transparent, I filtered those stories to stay away from the taboo topics, that I knew deep down inside I couldn’t share. I knew my audiences wouldn’t accept those stories in the context of a church setting. I have to admit it would be very easy to be “more honest” about some of the issues if I were not playing to the church.

I am in a lot of churches… virtually a different one or two every weekend. A lot of churches advertise “come as you are” and try really hard to project an image of being a place where the broken are welcome. But are they being honest?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that, for the most part, the group of artists gathered in this room are exceptionally qualified to speak honesty and truth, but are not feeling the freedom to do that for the audience they feel called to serve.

Thoughts?

Then vs. Now

ihscropped-COLLAGEFor many years I was used to hearing comments like, “You look younger in person than in your publicity photos.”

Then there was a time when I heard, “You look just like your publicity photos.”

Recently someone said, “You look older in person than in your publicity photos.”

Okay… I guess it is time for some new photos.

I believe in truth in advertising! I enlisted a good photographer, who happens to be my son, Jon, and spent a bit of time this month updating the website with new photos that I hope will give a more accurate depiction of what this actor guy really looks like. (If you like the photos and need a photographer, please consider Jon. Check out his work here:  Jon Neighbors Photography.)

chuck08-COLLAGEBut this whole issue of my not looking like I used to look got me to thinking about all the things we once took for granted that are no more. When it comes to my profession as a performer working in churches, I came up with these observations:

I used to hear, “We might book you for a potluck dinner.”
Then I heard, “We would like to book you for our worship service.”
Now I hear, “We don’t book outside artists or speakers.”

I used to hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”
Then I heard, “We have our own drama ministry that performs in our worship services.”
Now I hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”

I used to hear, “We can’t move the pulpit; it is bolted to the floor.”
Then I heard, “We bring out the pulpit after the band finishes their set.”
Now I hear, “What’s a pulpit?”

I used to hear, “No food or beverage allowed in the auditorium!”chuck11-COLLAGE
Then I heard, “Only water is allowed in the auditorium.”
Now I hear, “Grab your latte and find a seat.”

I used to hear, “Turn in your Bibles to Acts Chapter….”
Then I heard, “The scripture from Acts is on the overhead screen.”
Now I hear, “Click on your Bible app and scroll over to Acts…”

I used to hear, “We meet twice on Sunday and once in the middle of the week.”
Then I heard, “We only meet on Sunday mornings.”
Now I hear, “We watch our church service in our pajamas at home via livestream.”

I know, this all smacks a bit of the ol’ “Why, when I was a kid…” stories we heard from our grandparents. But maybe that’s not so bad. Times do change…some for better and some for worse.

For now I hope to hear once again, “You look younger than in your publicity photos…” Hey, a guy can dream!

What a Pastor would Like Artists to Know

Guest Blog from a Pastor (name withheld)

(In my previous blog I shared 3 Things that Artists Want Pastors to Know. I offered for a pastor to write a counterpoint to the article and got a taker. These are great insights for artists to heed as we work together in ministry!)

Pastor praying for congregation

Please allow me to offer some balance to the discussion.

Performers might not realize that in some cases the congregation is not really interested in having anyone come to sing or act during the time that is normally used for congregational worship and preaching.
From my experience it seems that more and more the preacher has to sell the church on the idea of a live performance . . . (I have personally had great experiences with performance ministry. I have taken part in it and have supported it through the years, so I know how good it can be) . . . so when things don’t go well, it turns out to be a bad reflection on me, the preacher, who made the decision to have the performer come.

Just for information sake areas of criticism include:

1. The performer was late and has kept people waiting and even caused the service to be delayed.

2. The quality of the performance or ability to connect well with the audience/people during the performance and/or after the service is lacking.

3. The information given at the end that’s used to raise money for the sponsoring ministry appears to be more important to the performer than the spiritual message of the performance itself.

4. The performer exercises too much poetic license and even distorts scripture during the performance.

Even if/when these sort of things happen, the performer leaves with money both contractually promised and graciously given while the preacher is the one who receives the criticism and must endure comments like, “I hope we never do that again.”

Those of us who make the decision to have performers come to our churches are putting a lot on the line and are placing a very important part of our own ministry/reputation in the hands of someone who may or may not do the job as well as advertised or anticipated.

As I see it, Performance Ministry is heavily dependent (now and certainly even more so in the future) on the relationship the performers have with church ministers. I think it good advice for the performers to consider the minister’s position in all of this and to understand that we have a lot riding on what you do when you visit our congregations both in regards to members and those who might happen to visit that day.

Make sure that what you bring is equal or better than what we are risking by having you bring it.

3 Things Artists want Pastors to Know

brownmandmsI recently returned from a few days of retreat with some fellow artists who are ministry minded. Many, myself included, make their living serving in churches where they perform almost every weekend.  With a gathering like this, you are almost guaranteed to hear a statement resembling this:

You are not gonna believe this one church I performed at….”

If you are a pastor or church leader, you most likely will not want to be the leader of the “church” the artist is about to reveal. Oh sure, it might be a wonderful testimony about God’s grace and power, but more likely it will be a horror story about how the artist was treated by said church. We all have our stories, both good and bad. We have our stories about wonderful life-changing events where things went perfectly, and we have our stories about being bumped off, turned off, and ripped off at our performances. (And to be fair, I’m sure a gathering of church leaders could offer some equally amazing stories about artists that you have invited to your church—I have heard a few myself…oh my!)

As I reflected on the stories that were shared, I thought it might be good to come up with a list of a few things artists would like churches to consider in order to make a great event.

  • Be Prepared. Yes, the Boy Scouts’ Motto is good for all of life. I’m not talking about a greenroom and a candy dish with all the brown M&Ms removed (Just Goggle the most ridiculous artist riders). But if the artist has provided a list of “needs” for their time with you, take the time to go over the list and do what you can to accomodate. Sound needs, props and rehearsal time all need to be considered. I actually covered a lot on this topic in a previous blog here: A Stage That Is Hard to Fathom. The artist is a guest and needs to be hosted. By this, I mean there needs to be someone to greet and orient the artist to the appropriate people/places for set up, rehearsal, etc. If not the pastor, then another person to act as sort of a personal assistant. This person can also be a great help at the end of the event. The artist needs to be free to interact with people after the event. They will often have a resource table to staff in addition to visiting with the people that want some of their time afterwards. There is often that person who monopolizes the artist’s time with their own stories, and making it impossible for the artist to greet and speak to other people. This is where an assistant from the church can be a huge service, serving to rescue the artist from the monopolizing fan.
  • Honor the Agreement. It’s no surprise to me that many of the stories artists talk about fall under the catagory of the church not doing what was agreed upon. Most of the time we are talking about things that were agreed to in a written and signed document. At the top of the list is not honoring the financial arrangement and not giving the artist the time alotted. I had one pastor want to change the agreement moments before I took the stage and when I tried to challenge this he accusingly said, “I brought you here to serve!” — implying that satisfying our agreement meant I was not serving.  Another church had agreed to a freewill offering for my ministry and informed me they were just going to give me a gift; “but don’t worry it will be generous” (it was far less than what I have received in offerings from churches half their size). The offering, for many of us is our livelihood. A single worship service on a weekend will often translate into a week’s wages. With that in mind, please be careful how you explain the offering to your congregation. To say simply “defray the cost of having an artist come” is not accurate or fair. The audience will be thinking they are covering a tank of gas and a pizza rather than providing for the actual livelihood of the artist.
  • Trust the Art. If there is one thing that makes an artist bristle, it’s for someone to get up and try to tell the audience what the artist just said throught their art, be it music, acting, dance, painting, or spoken word. I understand that this can be a tough one for a pastor who is concerned, and rightly so, that the message be recieved. The artist’s gift is to communicate the message differently. If they are good at what they do, let the audience be free to absorb and receive the art…even though they may not all get the same message. It’s okay to add a few words of commentary and/or personal impact about the art. We just want you to resist the urge to preach a sermon on what they have just seen and heard.

I’m sure there are other things artists would like the church to know, and perhaps some of them will chime in through the comments. And we who are artists are not without sin. There are examples of us not being prepared, not honoring the agreement and not trusting the church as well! I am also certain a posting from the pastor’s perspective might be in order. Perhaps one of you would like to submit a guest blog to me on “3 Things a Pastor wants Artists to Know!”  Any takers?

UPDATE:

We have a response! Check out the next blog: What a Pastor would Like Artists to Know

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