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

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!”

Why, God?

Lucy_prayerI just finished talking with my son. He is grappling with some really tough questions. The sort of questions that even the best, most scholarly of theologians are unable able to satisfy. Why does God heal some people but not others? Why does an innocent child suffer? Why us? Why me? The sort of questions that can shake your faith.

My heart aches for him and his family.

It’s a mixed bag of the good news and bad news all at the same time. On July 25th I became a grandfather to Lucy Paige Neighbors. She was born 6 weeks early, weighed in at 4 lbs. and is the cutest baby in the world (no bias here!). Wonderful news!

The doctors knew before the birth of a potential heart defect and their suspicions proved correct. Lucy would require open heart surgery. It would be a very risky surgery, especially considering her size as a premature baby.

Say what you want about the evils of social media, but within a matter of hours literally hundreds of people were made aware of Lucy’s condition and prayers and words of encouragement poured in from around the world. Church prayer chains were activated, prayer chains that were from people we barely knew. People were praying for a miracle, that Lucy’s heart would be healed.

Surely with so many people praying, God would work a miracle, right?

Well, the miracle we were seeking didn’t happen before the surgery. Lucy had surgery and it went as well as could be expected. As I write this, she is stable. Her Mom and Dad are by her side, and really have not left her side since her birth.

Where is God in all this? That is the heart of the questions my son is asking. There are no easy answers. But I believe He is there and has been there all along. While this story is heart breaking, we choose to believe God has been with them through it all… even when we can’t answer the “why?”

Lucy is in one of the best hospitals with some of the best doctors in the world. She has responded better than expected in the recovery and we have reason to hope! And while this is a crisis of faith for her parents, it seems that their faith has been strengthened.  Maybe, just maybe God is at work here in ways we will never understand.

That may be a lame answer for some… but we do live in a fallen world and even the most exalted heroes of the faith have stories of trials and suffering.

Is that an answer that satisfies? Probably not in the midst of the suffering. But it may be the best we can do this side of heaven.

One of the other blessings has been that good friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help the family during this time. If you would like to join #teamlucy we would be delighted. Here is the link: Support #teamlucy

Meeting Cristal!

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

I am just back from visiting the Dominican Republic with my ministry partner, Food for the Hungry. As a partner with this ministry I take a few moments of my stage time at my performances to invite people to consider sponsoring a child. Food for the Hungry does an excellent of job of reaching some of the most vulnerable communities of the poor, and through child sponsorship, works to transform those communities to become self-supporting within a window of about 10 years. They help with such things as clean water, food, health care and education. They work with the church to  address the spiritual needs of the communities as well. It is a excellent program and I was privileged to see it first hand on my visit.

My wife and I sponsor a little 7 year old girl named Cristal in one of these poor communities and it was a thrill to actually meet her on this trip. I think the visit was a bit overwhelming for her, and who can blame her. I’m sure I would be intimidated too, if a group of people I had never met showed up at my door all excited to see me, and me barely having a clue who they were or why they were there! I brought some gifts for her and was able to see her home and meet some of her family. I will be looking forward to being a part of her life for many years and look forward to the day when her situation is improved enough to no longer need our sponsorship.

Here is a little video of me presenting gifts to Cristal:

If you would like to sponsor a child and begin a life changing relationship with one of the “least of these” you can do that be clicking this link! Sponsor a Child Today!

2014 The Year in Review

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

Dear Friends,

It’s almost time to turn the page on another year. With each page I turn, I find myself marveling in the story we are making, both in our personal lives, and in this ministry that God has called us to! 2014 was a milestone for us, as June marked the 30th anniversary for Master’s Image (and 40 years for me as an actor in ministry)! Here are just a few of the highlights:

Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists this year. In the 30 years we have been in existence there have been an estimated 3,000 performances and an estimated total audience of over half a million people! Those performances, have been all over US and in 17 countries around the world!  That’s an amazing statistic for this “Christian Actor Guy” to even begin to comprehend.

Ministry growth— In addition to my performances we have two other artists that are a part of our team–Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead. In 30 years, we have been able to help 6 other artists establish a ministry. We have also consulted and mentored numerous artists from across the country on various projects. God has blessed us and allowed us to be a blessing to others who are called to ministry through the arts.

Child Sponsorship— Clearly one of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor. This year we were able to get 350 children sponsored, who live in poverty in third-world countries. Over the years, we have acquired close to 6,000 child sponsors. Not only are we able to impact and touch lives through our ministry on a local level, but through sponsorship lives are being changed around the globe! Blessed indeed!

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 2015, 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 or just click the button to donate online:


May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2015!

Chuck & Lorie Neighbors

New Promo Video!

I just finished this new promo video that gives an overview of all my productions. Please view, like, comment and share!

© Copyright - Theme by Pexeto