John Buckeridge explores ways you and your church can get onboard ‘Evan Almighty’, a movie crammed with positive biblical themes and set to make waves this summer.In this article:Ways to use the filmSermon themesDiscussion triggersWeb links CLICK HERE to watch Christianity editor John Buckeridge and Youthwork editor Martin Saunders discuss their first impressions of Evan Almighty. This programme includes exclusive film clips.
Following in the wake of Hollywood films that explore Christian themes such as Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’, CS Lewis’ ‘The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe’ and more recently ‘Amazing Grace’ – the latest movie with a positive church-friendly premise is coming to a cinema near you on 3rd August.
Evan Almighty is a modern day Noah and the ark parable which boasts all age appeal, loads of laughs, great special effects, big name actors, a good plot and a powerful trinity of theological themes, namely; salvation from impending judgement, the power of prayer, and God’s love for people and the world he has created. The overarching film theme that neatly fits into the ‘ARK’ acronym is ‘Acts of Random Kindness’.
If you are looking for this film or any other from Hollywood for that matter, to be a biblically and theologically balanced message, which perfectly tells the gospel – you will be disappointed. That said this comes closer than most others.
What this movie does deliver is a rare opportunity to consider the character of God, judgement, salvation, the power of prayer, God’s calling on a person’s life, stewardship of the earth, faith, spiritual discernment and more besides! Oh and you will get to smile, chuckle and laugh out loud. My son’s only complaint at the preview screening we attended was that I guffawed too loudly and too often! This movie is a gift to the church and I recommend you take all ages along.
This feature briefly outlines some of the ways you and your church can use this unique movie opportunity.
Ways to use Evan AlmightyIn place of a regular church service organise a group booking at your local cinema or a special screening. Then afterwards get everyone together at a picnic, barbeque, coffee shop, or back at the church, or in small groups in homes to discuss the key themes of the film.
Evan Almighty is a rare beast - an all-age-friendly comedy - with no bad language, nudity, or suggestive behaviour. Why not cancel Sunday School and Morning Worship and do church at the cinema instead? At the same time invite friends who are not regular churchgoers. Maybe you could subsidise the price of the ticket or even give them away! Then organise an event straight after where, ideally over a meal, some of the films many positive themes can be explored.
Many churches run Holiday Bible Clubs during August – why not invite the children and their parents to join with the church and holiday club helpers to see this movie at the end of the week? The attendance is sure to be higher than the traditional – come to church at the end of the Holiday Club approach – and yet you still get some quality time after the movie to meet, greet, build relationships and discuss positive, biblical themes.
This movie is youth friendly – our sister title Youthwork magazine is publishing ideas for youth ministry tie-ins in its August issue available now - go to www.youthwork.co.uk/magazine - or buy a copy at your local Christian bookstore.
This film would make a great evening out for your church small group/ home group. Or why not organise an Alpha reunion around seeing the film together? Afterwards retire to a local coffee shop to talk about the movie. Mother and Toddler groups could organise a group screening or book a minivan or small coach to take and pick them up after. The journey home after would be a great opportunity to start talking about some of the positive themes from the film. You could buy some Noah and the Ark storybooks from the local Christian bookstore to give away to each family group.
Why not organise a work-social – get everyone from the factory or office to join you for this movie – along with their partners? After meet up for a coffee and cake at Starbucks or something similar? It will certainly make for a fun evening and give you some great opportunities to talk with, and maybe pray with, your work colleagues in the days after. Show scenes from the movie (available to download from the Christianity website) to introduce the theme of prayer and how God answers… You could then do a Bible study on prayer – or have a prayer meeting with the emphasis on knowing God’s will and crafting prayers which are in line with his will for our lives and others.
The power of prayerThe film takes a major twist when God reveals himself to Evan and tells him to accomplish a holy mission – to build a modern-day ark. Evan attempts to run away from his ‘calling’ – but eventually accepts God’s ways are higher than ours and begins work building a monstrously huge boat. His wife and three sons, think Evan must be having a weird mid-life crisis of truly Biblical proportions. In a touching – and central scene in the whole movie – God appears to Joan as a waiter in a café. She and the boys have left Evan to his mad scheme and are travelling across country to her parents for a break. Telling this kindly stranger about her distress, the waiter (God) advises her to think again. “If people pray for patience, God gives them an opportunity to grow in patience. If people pray for their family to grow closer together – he gives them the opportunity to grow closer together.” Kaboom – the lights go on in Joan’s head and she realises the mad ark building plan would be a project they could share together, bringing the family closer. A mad option becomes an answer to prayer. In a flash director Tom Shadyac, a committed Christian, shows his true colours, shinning a light onto this brilliant illustration of how our loving God works with our hopes, dreams and requests, to paint a beautiful picture that might be in contrast with our expectations, but is ultimately a masterpiece.
ARK - Acts of Random KindnessHaving watched the film together why not organise a follow-up activity that blesses your community and ties into a central theme of the movie. Dream up your own ways to bless strangers and witness to the power of God’s love - here are some suggestions to get you started…· Buy and give away fairly traded chocolate - knock on doors around your church and give them out. Say they are a gift from the local church. Or hand them out on a street corner – either way people will be pleasantly surprised that you are simply blessing them with a free gift. Pray for and expect opportunities to have a conversation about why you have been motivated to give away a free gift. Think of how you want to express that – it could be along the lines of ‘God has been so good to us – we wanted to pass on a small token of His amazing gift of love to us.’· Wash car windscreens for free at a road junction or go the whole hog and wash the whole car. Refuse to take any payment. Explain you are from XYZ church and wanted to bless them. If you wash windows at a junction take great care – it is not safe for children or youth to do this and is illegal without a parents written consent - so stick to parked cars if children/ youth are involved. Have a business card-sized slip of paper with the website of your church printed on it and the slogan ‘a free gift from…’ or something similar.· Weed gardens - be sure to wear garden gloves and take away all the weeds to a green compost site at your local council tip. Why not go the extra mile and plant some free flowers in the gardens?· A litter pick will bless your local community. Make sure that everyone is equipped with protective gloves and other appropriate tools for the job, including black bins. · Glass bottle clear up – this variation on a litter pick could significantly reduce crime and the incidents of violence in your town/city centre. Organise a team to collect up discarded glass bottles late night on Friday and Saturday nights in your town centre. Liase with Street Pastors (www.streetpastors.org.uk) as this may already happen in your town – so take care to avoid unhelpful duplication. The amount of physical damage inflicted during alcohol-fuelled fights when a person picks up a discarded bottle in the street is significant. People have lost eyes and worse when broken bottles are used – clean up your town and reduce potential damage to local youngsters through your act of random kindness.
God is loveThroughout this positive movie the strong message is, God loves us and wants to change the world and all in it. “Whatever I do,” says God to Evan, “I do because I love you.” You could use this theme in a post-film church service to trigger praise and worship. Ask people to list the ways they have experienced God’s love in their lives. Maybe have a testimony time where people briefly share how God has blessed them recently.
What is your calling?A key theme of the movie is God’s call on Evan to build an ‘ark’ (the word means ‘chest’ not boat). Get people to ask themselves, ‘What is God’s calling on my life? What has God stored and invested into me? Why am I alive and what does He want me to do?’ Some people will have thought hard about this and have considered answer, for others they may never have thought about this and will have no idea! How does a person go about finding out what God wants them to do? This question is a major sermon series in itself, but give people some tools to start exploring this theme.
One way into this is to invite people to get into small groups of no more than three or four and then to write down or verbalise aloud the gifts they see in the others in their group. This should be very affirming, but may also start to indicate the ways God is calling us to do His will by identifying the gifts he has given us. If appropriate in your church you could move into a time of prophesying – inviting people to prophesy over each other about their gifting, calling and purposes in God’s plan. Ensure that there is accountability and safety within this by ensuring people do not get into one on one huddles.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.
Sermon themes from Evan Almighty
John Buckeridge outlines some sermon themes which tie into ‘Evan Almighty’, a movie released early in August which has plenty of positive biblical themes.
Key themes from Evan Almighty:
· Salvation from impending judgement – Evan builds an ark so locals can escape a deadly flood caused by man’s greed and despoiling of the environment. A sermon, Bible study, or discussion could easily link into this theme. Remind people that like Noah, Evan was mocked and ignored for warning of impending doom. However, unlike the Noah story, in Evan Almighty everyone makes it onto the ark – just in time. The Bible warns that a second judgement to affect the whole world will come unexpectedly and suddenly. Jesus (a type of Noah) died, was resurrected and then sent the Holy Spirit so that we could be rescued from the power and consequences of sin (John 3:16). We need to ask his forgiveness, trust in him and ask him to cleanse and fill us.
· Stewardship of the earth – greedy land-hungry developers built over valleys and built a poorly constructed dam. Thje first man was called by God to look after the world and rule it carefully (Gen 2:15). Poor stewardship of God’s creation is leading to climate change, extinction of species, loss of beautiful and natural resources, the forced eviction of native peoples, pollution and much more. God has given us dominion over creation so that we can be good caretakers and stewards of His world – not so that we can rape and pillage the natural world for short term and selfish gain.
· God’s love and call – Throughout this positive movie the strong message is, God loves us and wants to change the world and all in it (1 John 4:7-10). “Whatever I do,” says God to Evan, “I do because I love you.” You could use this theme in a post-film church service to trigger praise and worship. Ask people to list the ways they have experienced God’s love in their lives. Maybe have a testimony time where people briefly share how God has blessed them recently.We know that God loves the whole world and has a purpose for our lives. A more evangelistic sermon theme could underline how we only be truly fulfilled when we search for and then obey his calling for our lives. Jesus himself said he had come to show us how to live fulfilled lives (John 10:10). God is motivated by love and His love is perfect. His ways are often mysterious – but His love for us is paramount.
· Spiritual discernment – how do we tell if a person is a deluded nutter or a prophet with a message from God? Noah, the prophets and Jesus Christ himself was mostly misunderstood, ignored or treated like they were mad or bad or both! (1 Cor 12:10; 1 Tim 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3; James 1:5). If a person tells us the ‘end is nigh’ how do we discern the truth?
· What is your calling? - A key theme of the movie is God’s call on Evan to build an ark. Get people to ask themselves, ‘What is God’s calling on my life? Why am I alive and what does He want me to do?’ Some people will have thought hard about this and have considered answer, for others they may never have thought about this and will have no idea! How does a person go about finding out what God wants them to do? This question is a major sermon series in itself, but give people some tools to start exploring this theme. One way into this is to invite people to get into small groups of no more than three or four and then to write down or verbalise aloud the gifts they see in the others in their group. This should be very affirming, but may also start to indicate the ways God is calling us to do His will by identifying the gifts he has given us. If appropriate in your church you could move into a time of prophesying – inviting people to prophesy over each other about their gifting, calling and purposes in God’s plan. Ensure that there is accountability and safety within this by ensuring people do not get into one on one huddles. (Examples of people in scripture called for specific tasks include Abraham – Gen 12:1; Heb 11:8; Sam 1 Sam 3:4-10; disciples -Matt 4:18-22; Paul -Rom 1:1). Evan Almighty discussion triggers
Try some of these questions based on the film Evan Almighty to get people thinking, discussing and opening up their Bibles.
· How many parallels with the Noah story from scripture did you spot in the film? - make a list (e.g. rainbow at the end, Evan had three sons like Noah, animals came to the ark, the ark was built well away from a natural source of water).· Evan tells God at one stage; ‘I fought you every step of the way.’ Describe some of the ways you have fought against rather than cooperated with God.· How do we change the world? This was a repeated question in the film. What is your response? · “Whatever I do, I do because I love you” was a line said by God from the film. Is this true? Discuss. What Bible verses support this view and any other views?· The Director, Tom Shadyac, a committed Christian, comments about the movie, “We’ve taken the American dream to its nth degree, which has nightmarish consequences. Evan desires the biggest house, biggest car, biggest job – the biggest everything – but he doesn’t understand the cost of all that. He ultimately discovers everything he does has a cost.” What is the cost of your lifestyle choices and ambitions?· It takes huge confusion, a personal appearance from God with a ludicrous command and the scorn of his family, colleagues and neighbours to shake Evan out of his self-centred existence. What incidents (good or bad) have shaken you into appreciating a different perspective than your own?· The faith and obedience to God of one man (Evan) saved many lives. Apart from Noah – what other men and women mentioned in the Bible saved others through their faith and obedience? Now turn to Hebrews 11, which includes a long list of biblical heroes. What names surprised you by their inclusion and what surprised you by their omission? · In what ways is the ark (the name means ‘chest’) a picture of, a) salvation in Christ, and, b) God’s church?· Unlike Evan’s ark, which provides shelter for an hour or so – Noah and his family were shut up in the ark with lots of animals for many months - this was no picnic. This was just one consequence of Noah’s obedience to God – what were the others – both positive and negative? What are the positives and negatives of being called by God into his family and to serve in the church? · Evan has a calling from God to build an ark to save his neighbours. What call has God put on your life – to do or be what?
Evan Almighty Web Links
Checkout these useful web sites which tie into Evan Almighty.www.sermonspice.com - sermon and talk ideas and a Evan Almighty trailer
www.damaris.org - discussion starters and other ideas to link into Evan Almighty
http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/reviews/2007/evanalmighty.html - USD magazine Christianity Today reviews the film and provides some discussion starter questions
www.wingclips.com - movie clips to use in church
www.premier.tv - the Evan Almighty programme includes film clips and an interview with Christianity editor John Buckeridge and Youthwork editor Martin Saunders who talk about their impressions of the movie.