HANNIBAL – “Whoever wants the next generation the most will get them,” Alex Kendrick told the crowd gathered for the Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU) Booster Banquet Nov. 16. “The world wants the hearts, minds and loyalty of this generation.”
Kendrick, associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., oversees the motion picture ministry of Sherwood Pictures, an effort to fight back against a sinful culture with family friendly entertainment that is – crucially – well-made.
The church has released four increasingly successful movies with Christian themes starting in 2002 with Flywheel, which Kendrick wrote, directed and starred in. Kendrick and the church followed up with Facing the Giants in 2003 after partnering with distributor Sony Pictures. After that came Fireproof in 2007 and Courageous in 2011.
“God can do more than you ever ask or imagine,” Kendrick told the crowd of 800 people, “if He gets the credit and is in charge.”
Kendrick grew up constantly commandeering his parents’ camcorder writing and producing short comedies and action films with – in his words – “dangerous stunts” for his own entertainment. He enjoyed telling stories and dreamed of being a professional filmmaker. But he had no connections and no idea of how to break into Hollywood. Plus, God was calling him into fulltime vocational ministry at a church.
“I had to die to that vision in my early 20s,” he said. “When you have something you care about, it is so hard to surrender it to the Lord. But that is the secret.”
But as he continued in student ministry, he enjoyed making short, “goofy” videos for his students and camps. These caught the eye of Sherwood, which called him to take over their media/TV ministry in 1999. In 2002, God “resurrected” Kendrick’s desire to make movies, but this time it was feature films for Gods glory.
“I read a Barna study that said movies, television and the Internet were the three most influential factors in our culture,” he said. “The church was way behind in using these to impact culture.”
After presenting the idea to the church and raising the money, they showed Flywheel – the story of a used car salesman who finds the Lord – as a one-weekend release in their hometown, thinking it was simply a ministry to their local community who probably would never come inside the church walls. Instead, it was the second-highest grossing show at the theater and brought in nearly double its budget in three days.
Kendrick said it was the difference between “a good idea and God’s idea.”
“They didn’t come to see how good it would be,” he said, “they came to see how embarrassing it would be. But God stirred peoples’ hearts, especially men.”
From there, it began to snowball. They took the proceeds, and produced Facing the Giants, a football movie released in 441 theaters nation-wide; Fireproof, a marriage drama starring Kirk Cameron, was the highest grossing independent movie of 20009 and sold more than 3 million DVDs; and most recently Courageous, a police drama aimed at boys, men and fathers.
But for all the anecdotes and insights into film production, Kendrick was most interested in asking the HLGU community to stand tall and not surrender popular culture to the world.
“There are three arenas of battle that Christians in today’s culture have to be willing to fight,” he said.
Those three arenas: personal holiness, corporately (as a church, as a unified body of believers), and the heart of the nation.
“We need Christian men and women fighting in all three of these battlefields,” he said. “We’re losing our culture because we’re not fighting effectively. Why are we as a nation seriously considering homosexual marriage and why are we coming up on our 55 millionth abortion? We are not unified and not enough of us are fighting. That’s why schools like HLGU are important: It teaches a biblical worldview to the next generation and the Word of God is what unites us. You want to go into entertainment, law, medicine, politics? Equip the next generation to do it with a biblical worldview.
“Christians have to lock arms,” Kendrick said. “And we have the greatest reason in the universe: Jesus.”