A Turkey And The Gospel

Remember that old Carol Arends chorus: “They will know we are Christians by our love”?

A great theme to be sure. But I think many of us in the church are a bit conflicted on how to show those around us that love.

To some, showing love means sharing the Good News of the Gospel—”how can I love my neighbor if I don’t tell them about Jesus and how He came to save us from our sin?”

To others, showing that love is more about serving others and social concerns—“how can I love my neighbor if I don’t give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless?”

Both are right.

Yet many churches strive to excel in one of those areas and often ignore or fail at the other.

This last weekend I was privileged to participate in a weekend outreach at a church that struck a balance between the two… and in my opinion did it very well.

The church was Crossroads Tabernacle in Ft. Worth, Texas. They decided to reach out to the community around them, targeting people in the more needy communities. They canvassed the communities, distributing flyers announcing the weekend services and promoting the special services featuring an actor performing a one-man show (yep, that would be me).

I have been featured at outreach events before… and it is humbling to admit it… but I am not much of a draw.  People who don’t normally attend church are not motivated to go see a show with some “Christian Actor Guy” that they have never heard of.

It takes something greater than that to get people to respond… and this church found it.  The answer?  A free turkey!

In order to get the turkey, you needed to call and reserve it and agree to come to the church to pick it up. The turkeys would be distributed after the services so you needed to attend the service and see the performance in order to get your turkey.

Call it a gimmick if you like, but it worked.  The church had between 300-400 reservations for turkeys for the weekend.  Both services were packed.

The church purposed to make sure the people visiting felt welcomed and I was impressed with the spirit of the congregation. This was not just one pastor’s vision—it was obvious to me the entire church shared the vision to reach out to the community. An hour before the service the members of the church gathered to pray for those who would be attending.

The church also purposed to make sure that nothing was required or expected of their visitors except to show up. An offering was received, but with explicit instructions that this was for members only… “please DON”T give” was the message to guests. Guests were encouraged to submit prayer requests, however, and many did.

The pastor had requested that I present something with a clear presentation of the Gospel and so I chose to present Encounters, a drama on the life of Christ.  The play was done as the “sermon.”  The audience was one of the most responsive I have had in a worship service setting. There was laughter, applause and profound “hmms” coming from the audience. I am sure that many were surprised that the “message” would be presented in a format that was entertaining as well as meaningful.

God moved.

After the play the pastor gave a simple invitation to receive Christ and at both of the services several came forward for prayer. Bibles were given away to anyone who wanted one and I don’t think they had any Bibles left to give away a the end of the second service.

It was a very impressive weekend.  This congregation found the balance. They served the needy and fed the poor. They shared the Good News of Jesus and love for all people. They let the community know that there is a church in the neighborhood that cares and showed that in a tangible way.

I believe there are people in that neighborhood who can say “we know they are Christians by their love.”

“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love”

Truth Be Told… from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up

I am very excited about our newest presentation, Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. Last Friday was the premier performance followed on Sunday by the first  booking at a local church. The response has been better than even I had hoped for as people are really connecting with these stories. The exciting thing is this is causing them to revisit their own stories. A very good thing indeed!

Here are a few of the comments I have received so far:

It was authentic and such an encouragement to so many who thought they didn’t have a story worth telling. I pray they now have the boldness to share their story with others, pointing the listener(s) to our LORD. Thanks for making me laugh, cry and think!!!”

“I was delighted with your new presentation. As a pastor I look at most things with an eye of how it would work in church. Your authentic and up personal presentation of your own story gives those in the audience a chance to look at their own stories from a new perspective. Congratulations on a job well done.”

“Thanks for a delightful evening! We enjoyed ‘your story.'”

“Thank you for allowing us to hear some of the most intimate events of your life…Your story reminded us that we all have stories to tell and is a great encouragement for us to share the grace and mercy of God with others.”

“This was my favorite piece I’ve seen you do, although I certainly love the way you make Scripture come alive in other works.  But, I liked this most because it was so real.  It was real stories, from real life, showing the wide range of ways we get to trust God. You, in a sense, acted out your stories; you didn’t just stand up there and speak casually to us…telling them with dramatic emphasis and an actor’s skills.”

“So authentic and real….it made me realize I too have a story to tell.”

“Story is a powerful tool for God to use, and He is telling His Story through your story! I was really moved by this presentation.”

“Your piece really touched me. I know others who have dealt with grief or guilt will also be touched.”

“It was great Chuck. I dreamt about your story all night long. So clearly, it had an impact.”

“I LOVED your presentation last night, Chuck! You did a great job not only compiling your story but the way you presented it. I could hear it over and over again… I believe everyone needs to hear your story. And thank you for impressing on all of us that were there that we have a story to tell!”

I am looking forward to sharing this new presentation and would love to bring it to a venue near you. Truth Be Told is perfect for a worship service, dinner/dessert theater, outreach event, or conference. I have also developed a retreat package to make this a great weekend event for a congregation or group who want to become better at telling their own stories! Contact me for more information or to request a booking!

A Stage That is Hard to Fathom!

In a recent conversation with a pastor about performing at his church, he was concerned about having too small a stage for the presentation. If you were staging a Broadway show, that would be a legitimate concern… but for a one-man show…. not so much. Especially a one-man show that was designed as a touring performance TO churches.

 

My acting career is full of performances in spaces that are less than ideal.  While I do occasionally get to perform on a real stage in a real theater with real theater lights, etc….that is the exception not the rule.  In addition to church sanctuaries of all shapes and sizes, I have performed in gymnasiums, college lunch rooms, street corners, a baseball field, airplane hangars, and even on board a submarine.

You learn that theater can happen anywhere there is an audience, and a little imagination can go a long way. On one tour sponsored by the military we would go wherever the soldiers were in their everyday routines taking the show to them, sometimes doing up to 16 mini-shows a day.  Imagine performing in a field with with 50 soldiers in full camouflage and rifles in their laps with a Jeep as your “backstage.”  I did that! (Something about performing before a gun-toting audience makes you want to do a really good job!)

Often the leadership at a church will want to know what can be done to make the platform ready for my performances.  Usually this is asked with a hopeful tone of “please don’t make us move too much stuff.”  While I am very flexible and accommodating to any and every situation, here are some things to consider to make for a better experience on a church stage, for any guest, be it a speaker, musician, or even an actor!

  • Look at your stage as if it were a piece of art–a painting perhaps. Anything that would take away from presenting a pleasing picture to the audience is a candidate for removal.  When I  perform In His Steps, a period piece set in the early 1900s, the set is a pastor’s office.  Having an electronic drum kit in the office detracts from the setting and mood of the piece.
  • While logistics and space may limit what can be moved, consider ways to at least tidy up the space.  Microphone and music stands can be removed. Some portable screens could be used to hide drums, keyboards, etc.
  • If you have theatrical lighting, consider moving things out of the pool of light so that they are less visible and creating, with light, the space for the performance.
  • Take a moment to consider time and priorities for the service.  If your guest is going to be on the platform for 45 minutes and your musicians for only 10 minutes, consider “downsizing” the music for that service. Go acoustic with fewer musicians, so that less is required on the platform, making it an easier, cleaner transition to the “main thing” of the service.
  • Also under priorities, give ample pre-service time and attention to the guest’s stage, sound, and lighting needs.  I typically arrive at a church an hour before a service to set up and do tech rehearsal–for me that is plenty of time.  However, no one has told the worship team this and they expect to use the stage for their warm-up and rehearsal at the exact same time.  They often eat up so much of the pre-service time for their 10 minutes on stage and leave me feeling rushed and unprepared for my 45 minute presentation.
  • Assign a person to the guest to see to all their needs. Have them assist in set up, packing and unpacking, making sure there is good communication amongst the personnel of the service (tech, musicians, pastor, etc). Provide bottled water and a private room or space for the guest to prepare and pray before the service… it’s the little things that can mean so much.

I am sure there are other things I could add to the list. But I do know attention to these details does make a difference to both guest and audience and will create a better experience for all… whether on a real stage or in a submarine!

Do you have any tips for churches to consider when hosting a guest speaker/artist?

What unique and memorable performance venues have you experienced?

Some thoughts on being a “Christian” actor…

I bill myself as an actor. I have been acting, and acting up, all my life. Just ask my mom… on second thought don’t… some of my stories I don’t want you to hear.

But I admit… I love to tell people I am an actor… up to a point.

Guy: So what do you do for a living?
Me: I am an actor.
Guy: Really?

This is where he stares at me. Looking for that “A-ha” moment of recognition. It never comes.

Guy: Have I seen you in anything?

This is where the fun ends.

Me: Probably not.
Guy: Movies? On stage?

If I weren’t a Christian this is where I would love to make stuff up. Talk about the films I did with Robert DeNiro and being on stage with Meryl Streep. But my brushes with stage and screen stars I suspect are about the same as the rest of you guys. So I tell the truth.

Me: You go to church?
Guy: Huh?
Me: I do one-man stage shows that deal with the Christian faith and belief. I do most of my performing in churches and Christian colleges and conferences.
Guy: Oh….

And that usually ends the conversation. Yep, I am one of “those.” I am a “Christian” actor. Translation: “you must not be very good…or good enough to make it.”

Truth is I am a working actor, have made my living as an actor for over 36 years. In a profession that has something like a 95% unemployment rate, that puts me in the top 5% of my profession. But I don’t say this to the guy. I am a Christian. I must be humble. I have learned a long time ago that when you put the word Christian in front of anything to do with the arts (Christian actor, Christian singer, Christian author) you better be ready to be treated like a second-class citizen by the rest of the world.

On the other hand Christian in front of other occupations carries a whole other connotation: Christian mechanic, Christian plumber, Christian lawyer… Add Christian to those professions and as a Christian you think fair, honest, ethical… as a Christian… ever wonder what the rest of the world thinks? I want my mechanic to be good at fixing my car, my plumber to be good at stopping leaks and my lawyer to give good legal advice. It is nice if they are also fair, honest and ethical, but you don’t have to be a Christian to be those things. I go to these people for their skills not their faith. All three of my sons have worked in the food service industry and they will tell you the worst customers are often the after-church crowd. It turns out that the Christian customers are often the rudest and the worst tippers. Perhaps the word Christian works better as a noun than an adjective. I would prefer to be known as an actor who is a Christian rather than a Christian actor.

26 Years of In His Steps

What comes to mind when you hear or see “WWJD?,”  the now famous acronym that stands for “What would Jesus do?”  The question was the focus of Charles Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps, written back in 1896. It has been popularized in recent years, showing up on bracelets, bumper stickers, tattoos, and a whole host of magazine articles, songs, and books.  The question, once meaningful to many, has become a fad and been trivialized and even mocked.  That’s what happens when something becomes a part of popular culture. Many who use the acronym have no idea of its origin.

Since 1984, long before WWJD? became a fad, I began performing my adaptation of In His Steps.  The story is a powerful one, and proves its status as a classic over and over again.  I have been amazed at the number of people who have shared with me how the book and/or my presentation of it, has impacted and even changed their lives.

The book has always had its critics.  When it was first published, it was unpopular with more conservative evangelicals who labeled it “social gospel.”  In more recent years, it is  commonly embraced by evangelicals and often criticized by the mainstream as being too simplistic or dogmatic.

After performing this play for 26 years and well over 1,000 performances, I have considered retiring the show.  I sometimes think maybe the story has lost its place, its relevance to today’s audiences and the church.  But just when I begin to think those thoughts, I get a wake up call.  It seems the story still has a place, still needs to be told. For the last couple of years, I have been performing my newest drama, Not The Way I Heard It, almost exclusively.  Being new, it has been easy to promote that presentation over my others.  In His Steps sort of got pushed to the proverbial “back burner.”

Over the last two weekends I have performed In His Steps again.  After one performance a man shared how he has been considering becoming a pastor.  He said the play had been a confirmation to him that he was to “accept the call.”  Then last weekend I received a standing ovation from a congregation of about 300 in a Sunday morning worship service.  That doesn’t happen very often.  In addition 19 children were sponsored after the service with World Vision. It seems that God was doing something through this story yet again.

Over the years I have been privileged to see how stories can impact and move people.  This story, in particular has been an instrument to challenge and change thousands of lives.  I am privileged to continue to share it and see how God uses art, story, and performance to draw people to Himself.

What would Jesus do?  This actor, for now at least, will keep performing this play and encouraging audiences and individuals to ask that question for real in their lives.

That’s a Wrap! The end of my tour Down Under

Highlights of a Weekend in Sydney, Australia

Sharing the stage with opera singers!

Swapping Stories

While on tour in New Zealand, Chuck Neighbors and The Reverend David Winfield share about their beginnings in theater.

One Weekend in Christchurch

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