Fame without Fortune Part 6: The Real Cost.
I found over the years that I had been duped into believing that following Christ is supposed to make me like Solomon – wise and wealthy beyond measure. But that’s not what scripture says at all. The Lord promises wisdom, but never worldly wealth. That messaging started a long time ago in America, when the church as a whole stopped preaching the actual gospel and instead started trying to become “relevant”, aka “seeker sensitive”, and fit in with the culture instead of stand out from it. How many times lately in church have you heard someone really talk about the reality of hell, for example? Anyone recall the last time you were inspired by the stories of how each of the disciples met their ends? Maybe a pile of good sized rocks on-stage as an object lesson as you study the stoning of Stephen? How about really relishing the stories of just what it cost someone in the first century church when they became a Christ follower? It cost them everything. It cost them their homes, their families, their livelihoods, and usually their lives. To be a Christian meant that you were pretty much marked for death. Read the New Testament. Start with 2 Corinthians 11: 22-33. It’s not in secret code or anything. It’s pretty clear.
In modern western culture, and in American culture in particular, we’ve grown more comfortable with the triumphant stories of faith in Christ than the ones like the apostle Paul. No, we like the gospel of “Name it and Claim it” and “Health, Wealth and Happiness”. You know, the stories of faith that lead to a book deal, a press tour, a movie or a TV series, and at least 2 million followers on Facebook and Instagram. Oh sure, you’ll have to swat away a few flies along the way, get “slammed” on Twitter or CNN a dozen or so times by some social media troll because of something you said in one of those national television interviews while plugging your new book (those are rough), but really, that will all just fuel your popularity and net you even more followers, which you’ll be able to convert into loyal customers as soon as you get your next endorsement deal. And why wouldn’t we think that? Look at where the message comes from – from the pulpit of a mega church that puts on a million-dollar light, sound and powerpoint show every week, espoused by a hipster pastor who lives in a CEO-sized house and drives around in his brand new Chevy Tahoe that the church leases for him (We can’t have the Pastor-CEO driving to the Global Leadership Summit in his ’98 Civic). Is it any wonder why we have the expectations that we do about the benefits package that’s supposed to come with being a Christian?
“I stopped smoking weed and gave my life to Jesus! Where’s my book deal?”
But, reality is much, much different for the rest of us, isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that Jesus never promised us that following him would be easy, lead to popularity or make us wealthy. In fact, He said quite the opposite. When we choose to follow Christ, we are labeled as an enemy of the entire world, and Satan has his sights set on bringing us down, any way he can. Amber and I knew that chosing to devote ourselves and a majority of our business resources to telling stories of faith in Christ through the medium of motion pictures was not going to make us popular, bring us wealth, or win us awards. But what we did know, without a shadow of a doubt, was that we were being unmistakably called to do it. What we truly didn’t know was just how much the battle was going to cost us.
The design for our film series called “Fearless” is simple: Sharing stories of life, loss and redemption through Jesus Christ. As we are led to stories of how people came to faith in Christ, we pray over them and decide which ones we feel led to produce as films. We purposely avoid celebrities and anyone who seems to be looking for publicity. We also tend to avoid those who already have a platform to talk to a mass audience. Christ came for all, and real stories of faith exist in every corner of life, not just on the pretty side of town.
From a business standpoint, “Fearless” makes no sense whatsoever. Telling stories of faith in Christ, purposely looking for stories from individuals with zero publicity or social following – relying 100% on the Lord’s guidance and our ability to hopefully tell a story so well that it doesn’t need a celebrity…oh, and we’re not going to monetize the films in any way whatsoever. Yep. That’s my most profitable business plan ever. And it makes perfect sense to us. When we started calculating what each film could potentially cost us, we realized that we really had no idea what the true cost could be, because every film would be different.
But, we were about to find out.
When you take a stand for Christ in the real world, no matter what your walk of life, you’re going to experience hardships. In our case, the first attack we felt was in our commercial work, our bread and butter business that we not only live on, but that “Fearless” was entirely dependent upon. We were counting on being able to self-fund our new filmmaking ministry for at least the first few years, but right from the start we were attacked on that front. We had no sooner committed to our gameplan for “Fearless” when, out of the blue, several longstanding client relationships suddenly disintegrated before our eyes as their businesses underwent massive upheavals in their corporate management structures. As new managers came in, we were swept out with many other vendors as they “hit the reset button”. In the course of just a week, our entire summer production schedule was wiped out as projects were suddenly cancelled with no hope of recovery.
It didn’t stop there, either. I had also experienced a recent rash of kidney stone attacks that would literally drop me to the floor. Before this, I hadn’t had a bad kidney stone episode in over 10 years. They would take me down for an entire day as I writhed on the floor in pain. I would get relief at about 20 minute intervals, after I crawled to the bathroom and vomited. Then, the cycle would begin anew. It works wonders for your productivity.
Then again, one morning, driving home from dropping our girls off at school, I sneezed from what I thought was a simple cold and found myself partially deaf in my left ear from what was later diagnosed as a ruptured eardrum. I couldn’t edit or mix audio for months, and it made it horrendous to try to sleep for at least 2 weeks. But the hits just kept coming. Cars broke down. Tires went flat. Computers crashed. Together, we would spend entire days just trying to figure out how to fix one problem, only to be bagged by another that would cost us more time and money. It was like torture by 1,000 paper cuts. I started to think about the real possibility of having to abandon our film series plans before we even began. How in the world would we finance even our pilot film at this pace, let alone our plans for an ongoing series? Our plans for “Fearless” depended upon our commercial work, so that we could afford to produce and release the films.
No doubt about it, we were under attack.
With a gaping hole in our production schedule and reeling from our string of bad luck events, we just did the only thing we could do. We gave it to the Lord in prayer. Together, we knew that we had to find a way to work like it all depended on us, and pray like it all depended on Him. We felt like we were being stretched over a rack, and things were starting to dislocate. For weeks we prayed, then one day I had enough.
If there’s one thing I know that Amber and I have in common, it’s that we’re fighters. We’re also both slightly type-A and stubborn (read with slight sarcasm, please), which means when we’re backed into a corner we tend to get only momentarily discouraged, then fighting mad, ready to slay dragons with our bear hands. For me, it had been building up for a while, and I finally just acknowledged it.
“If I’m going to go down, then it’s going to be in a blaze of glory. A hole in the schedule is just an opportunity in the making. Let’s shoot as much “Fearless” as we can.” And with that, we started hammering on it as fast and furious as we could. It wasn’t just a matter of taking the camera out and shooting footage, either. This was a matter of a startup company that needed an entire marketing structure, web and social media presence and both short and long-term goals laid out. But we seemed to suddenly have the time, so we pushed like there was no tomorrow. It was time to move.
For six weeks we labored non-stop on our first film. The only comparison for success that I had was to look at the impact similar projects in the past had made. When I produced a series of simple testimonials a few years earlier for our church, they were viewed in-service by maybe 700 people, once, and after that they were never used or seen again. “Real Change”, a biographical series we produced for broadcast in conjunction with the local rescue mission would occasionally pass 1,000 views online, depending upon the film. We didn’t know how big of an impact our “Fearless” films would have, but I thought I would be happy if we could at least hit 1,000 views.
When our first film was ready, we published the Facebook page for Fearless Features, our not-for-profit production company, and then uploaded the first film. Then, we waited. And wouldn’t you know it – the Lord showed up.
In the first 5 days, “Grace and Mercy” surpassed 5,000 views on Facebook, and we didn’t pay for one cent of advertising. We were bowled over. And it’s not just about views, either. We were amazed at the engagement people had over it. The comments, the shares, the personal messages – started to roll in. This simple film, telling the life story of Cathie Humbarger and how she came to faith in Christ, fell away as a young adult and then came back to Him later in life, was having more impact on people than anything I had ever produced before. Ever. And I remembered that conversation years earlier in the comedy club, where I called myself and everyone else out for the fact that we were adding nothing of redeeming value to people’s lives with our work. All we were doing was debasing ourselves and broadcasting it to the world.
But this…this was different. This was impacting people’s lives and turning them to Christ, and that’s all the payoff I’ve ever wanted, because a life changed through Christ is an eternal reward, not a trophy that will sit on a shelf. I’ve won a lot of awards through the years, been to a lot of places with a lot of famous people and worked with some pretty big names in Hollywood, and I would give all of that up to see even one life changed – turned to Christ – through a film I made. It will never earn me an Oscar or a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but if it turns even one heart to Christ, it’s worth every bit of time and every dime spent, and I can die a happy man – knowing that my work actually mattered.
And I remembered back to that one afternoon, in my delivery van, asking the Lord to bless what I was about to do, going back to filmmaking after 3 years away, and committing my plans to Him. And it made me smile.
“Fearless” continues on. Our second film, “Firm Foundation” surpassed over 8,000 views and was shared in 5 countries. The next film to be released will, I’m sure, far surpass that. And it’s not because Mark Archer is such a great filmmaker. It’s because Jesus Christ is such a powerful savior.
And, while it’s not about the numbers, but the lives impacted and changed eternally, it’s an amazing thing to watch the impact of real stories on real people’s lives. The attackes will continue, but no matter what the cost is to us personally, it’s worth every penny to know that we’re following the Lord’s calling, not our own.