From 26th March friends and strangers in your neighbourhood , place of work, local pub, church or gym will be watching a film at your local cinema about Jesus. Many of them have already heard about this movie from newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and websites. Like it or loathe itThe Passion of the Christ is attracting huge interest.
Churches in the US have booked out whole cinema screenings and are using this movie as an evangelistic tool. In the UK Premier Radio (part of the Premier Media Group which are co-owners of CCP who publishChristianity+ Renewal), are helping Mel Gibson’s distribution company Icon, to promote this film to churchgoers in the UK. During the first two weeks of March, Premier invited local church ministers to one of 11 advance screenings throughout England, Scotland and Wales. As we went to press over 3,000 ministers had booked a seat.
“We’ve invested a huge amount of time, energy and resources into helping to promote this film because we believe it may result in many people coming closer to Christ in their walk of faith,” explains Peter Kerridge, managing director of Premier Radio. “We are aware it is controversial, but wanted to play our part in ensuring as many church leaders could see it ahead of its general release, so they could make their own mind up about this movie. Whether they like it or not, hopefully they will be better equipped to tell their congregations about the film and answer the questions enquirers will have.”
Christianity+Renewal columnist and Baptist minister Steve Chalke describes The Passion of the Christ as; “the most dramatic, shocking, compelling, emotional film I have ever seen in my life. This film was a tonic to my soul.”
Kevin Bird, state director for the Bible Society in Queensland, Australia says: “This film represents a multimillion dollar gift to the Christian church around the world. Many Australians who have never read the gospel accounts of Christ’s death and resurrection will see the film, feel its impact, and wonder about its meaning. We need to be ready to help these people make sense of our story.”
American evangelical leaders have been incredibly upbeat. Veteran evangelist Billy Graham says; “Every time I preach or speak about the cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind.”
“Brilliant, biblical… a masterpiece” was the verdict of Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church – the Californain mega-church and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.
Lee Strobel, former Willow Creek staff member and author of The Case for Christ is equally positive: “It will stun audiences and create an incredible appetite for people to know more about Jesus. I urge Christians to invite their spiritually seeking friends to see this movie with them.”
However, it’s important that we don’t get caught up in hype and imagine that this film will bring about some massive revival – it is important to step back and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the film and its potential as an evangelistic tool.
Most people in the UK don’t come to faith in Christ out of the blue. The idea that inviting a neighbour, who you have barely spoken to before, to this movie and expecting them to fall on their knees as they leave the auditorium and declare; ‘What must I do to be saved?’ – is unrealistic. Certainly the response of some American churches and organisations to this movie seems overly optimistic. However, if you have a friendship with your neighbour, have spent time with them, developed common interests, at least shared a coffee together – then inviting them to this movie may be appropriate as a natural development to your ongoing contact and friendship. Check out the 20 ideas on using this movie for more guidelines and resources.
Meanwhile other churches and Christian organisations have feigned indifference and at least one high profile British organisation turned down the opportunity to be associated with this film over concerns about the anti-Semitic claims and the nature of the brutal depiction of the scourging and crucifixion. With reputations and brands to protect it is understandable – some would say prudent, others might suggest cowardly.
It’s important also to understand the concerns some have expressed. They claim that this film will encourage hatred and excuse prejudice against Jews.
Mel Gibson’s father has made hugely unhelpful and overtly anti- Semitic statements. But Mel himself has made cuts to the movie in response to accusations of insensitivity. The line ‘his blood be on us and on our children’ from Matthew’s gospel was removed. Mel Gibson has said that those who have problems with this film “have a problem with the Gospels. They say; ‘Who killed Jesus?’ I believe we all did. I don’t want to lynch the Jews. I love them, I pray for them. Anti-Semitism is un-Christian.” These statements have not quelled the critics who accuse Gibson of selectively portraying the Jewish leaders as hostile to Christ.
Newsweek magazine (16 February) ran an extended feature exploring the critics claims. It hopefully concludes that this film might prompt constructive conversations about the origins of Christianity that ought to lead believers to see that Christian antisemitism should be seen as an impossibility – a contradiction in terms.
The bottom line is – this film is like no other you are ever likely to see. People are not going to be able to eat popcorn or swill Coke during this film. It is stark, gruesome, at times almost unbearable to watch. I personally believe that this movie is a God-given gift – an opportunity to talk about the person, life and death of Jesus – and at Easter time – what better time to do that.
20 ways to harness the gospel potential of The Passion of The Christ
Organise prayer meetings or prayer triplets to pray that filmgoers will have a profound spiritual experience. Pray for individuals, Alpha groups and follow-up meetings. Encourage Christians to ask God for guidance on who to invite to the film.
Hire a mini-bus, offer subsidized travel to see the film in rural areas – the return journey will provide a great opportunity to start discussing the film.
Produce a feedback form as a way of gauging reaction – and providing useful follow up info for other similar events. The form could include questions such as:
- I’d be interested to see a fuller film account of the life of Jesus (offer copies of the ‘Jesus’ film from Agape)
- I’d be interested to attend an inquirers group / Alpha/ Y Course send me details…
- I’d like to attend church on Easter Sunday [inc details]
- Tick the box if this film prompted questions you’d like to talk through with someone (one to one / phone / email) on the details of Jesus’ life, the accuracy of the film compared to the biblical account, the relationship between this film and Christian faith today.
On the journey home or in a coffee shop or pub or at work talk about the film… here are some discussion triggers:
- How did you feel about the level of graphic violence?
- Some people have described seeing this film as a ‘spiritual experience’. How would you describe it?
- Was the film how you imagined the death of Christ was like?
- What parts moved you most?
- What new insights did you gain?
- What did you think of the last scenes in the film?
- Do you think the film will attract 1) positive reviews 2) a big audience? Why?
- What questions did the film raise with you?
- Has your attitude towards Jesus changed as a result of seeing the film? If so how?
Follow up discussion
The nature of the film means some people may find it difficult to talk immediately afterwards. At preview screenings much of the audience sat stunned for some minutes afterwards. Arrange to meet up a few nights or a week later to chat. Some of the suggested questions above may be better raised then. You could read some Bible verses that talk about WHY Jesus died e.g. Romans 5:8 ; 1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21. Having seen HOW Jesus died, the question ‘why’ is important.
Photocopy and distribute the review
Mark Greene’s review of ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is on page 66. You have permission to photocopy and distribute this to help promote awareness.
Take a group
Remember that this film contains graphic scenes and has an 18 certificate. Therefore use discretion about who to invite – some might find the images too strong and shocking. Specific groups to consider inviting:
- Men’s groups - this film will particularly speak to men who will be shocked at the violence that Christ endured. Too many men think of Jesus as only meek and mild, instead of the physical and mental courage of the man-God. This film will be an eye opener to men who patronise Christians as touch-feely people who are emotionally weak.
- Alpha groups – for inquirers who want to know more about the Christian faith this film could be an excellent aid.
- House group/ cell/ small group – why not see this movie with others in your home group and then go for a coffee afterwards to talk and pray.
Block booking discounts
Contact your local cinema and ask for a discount on a block booking of seats, alternatively you may like to organise a special screening.
Give a gospel
Mark or Luke are generally regarded as the most seekerfriendly gospels to give away.
Give a book
Useful books to recommend or give away include:
- The Life by J John (Authentic Media) ISBN 186024839 £8.99 International evangelist J John has written a robust and informed guide to Jesus, that is true to the text of scripture and written in a style and at a level that convinces not-yet believers without bulldozing them.
- Becoming a Christian by John Stott (IVP) ISBN 0851105157 99p Evangelical elder statesman John Stott describes the fundamental human problem, outlines the Christian answer to it, and shows readers how to respond to God’s truth.
- The Passion (Tyndale) ISBN 0842373624 £14.99 Dramatic photographs taken on the set of The Passion film accompanied by the biblical narrative taken from The New Living Bible translation makes this the definitive companion book to the film. A coffee table hardback book extends the powerful impact of this astonishing film.
- Alpha: Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel (Kingsway) ISBN 085476738X £5.99. Explores the meaning of life – based on the massively successful Alpha enquirers course.
- Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (Fount) ISBN 0006280544 £7.99 This classic for the thinking inquirer provides a rational basis Christianity defending it as a credible faith.
- Journey Into Life by Norman Warren ISBN 085476769X 35p A classic tract which includes a ‘sinners prayer’. Some may feel it too simplistic – but if you want to give something short and sweet many consider it has not been bettered.
- The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper (Christ Is All Media Publications) ISBN 1581346085 99p Published to coincide with the film, it contains 50 reasons why Jesus had to die. Written from a reformed Calvinist tradition.
A six-part discussion guide entitled Experiencing The Passion of Jesus by Lee Stroble and Garry Poole (Zondervan) ISBN 0310259320 £5.50 – includes lesson plans and leaders notes for facilitating discussion on questions such as:
- Who killed Jesus?
- What crime did Jesus commit?
- Did it really happen like that?
- What did the Resurrection accomplish?
Church web links
Create links from your church site to Passion film web sites and evangelistic sites. Downloads of visuals and film clips are also available from www.premier.org.uk/passion
Visit www.premier.org.uk/passion for downloadable fliers which will include a blank space for you to add your church details. Use these to promote the film and the film-linked activities your church is organising.
Post-film Q & A
Host a question and answer session at a church or neutral venue (e.g. community centre) where questions that sceptics and seekers ask will be addressed. For example:
- Is the crucifixion a historical fact or just a myth?
- Did Jesus really die on the cross?
- Was the resurrection a hoax?
- Who was Jesus?
Use these group sessions and question times to invite people to an Alpha/inquirers course that will launch the first week after Easter.
The ‘18’ certificate in the UK and ‘15’ in Ireland means most young people in our church youth groups will not be seeing this movie. However, the publicity this movie has generated means it will be talked about. The excellent American youth ministry web site has a range of articles, ideas, and links about The Passion. (In the US the film has received the equivalent of 17PG certificate which means any age can attend with parental guidance) visit: www.youthspecialties.com/thepassion
Write and send to your local paper a press release about the post-film discussion groups, Q&A and other Passion-linked activities your church is organising. You could include a quote from the minister about the film. These can be timed to coincide with adverts – see below.
Write an advert for inclusion in your local newspaper. The ad should promote post-film discussion groups and Q&A sessions about the issues raised by the film. Local shops and libraries might also take small posters promoting these events.
Get your congregation ready
A ready made sermon about the possibilities of this film is available - visit www.pastors.com and sign up for free membership then you can get a free sermon download by Rick Warren designed to help your congregation make the most of the opportunities The Passion film provides. Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Community Church, California and author of The Purpose Driven Life.
Why not tie in the Passion film with your Easter Sunday church service theme/message. Use film posters (downloadable from the web), include film clips (these are PG-rated) on video projector and powerpoint slides to illustrate the sermon.
Visit these useful websites
- Go to www.premier.org.uk for further evangelistic ideas, information about the film, web links, clips from the film, e-cards, info on cinema listings and a host of other useful material.
- The Canada-based TruthMedia team have built an evangelistic site around The Passion - and they have created Share the Life as a site directed at Christians encouraging them to use this amazing opportunity.
- Also visit the official film website.
- This site contains various evangelistic tools/ ideas.
Passion director Mel Gibson… in his own words
About the film: “This is the ultimate hero story for all mankind. He suffered, He died and He still won.”
About his motivation: “I want people to understand the reality of the story. I want them to be taken through an experience.” “I’ve wanted to make this film for over ten years… It had its genesis during a time which I found myself trapped with feelings of terrible, isolated emptiness… I asked God for his help. It was during this period of meditation and prayer that I first conceived the idea of making a film about The Passion… My hope is that The Passion of the Christ will help many more people recognise the power of His love and let Him help them to save their own lives.”
About the Christian faith: “The gospels are for everybody from the smallest child to the wisest sage and I fall somewhere in the middle.”
About God appointments: At an early meeting between Mel Gibson and a producer at a roadside café in mid California, the first of a series of God coincidences took place. Gibson was explaining how he wanted the words to be spoken in Aramaic, Greek and Latin. Then a little French lady, not knowing what they had been discussing approached them. “She started talking about the weather,” says Gibson, “then she said she wanted to say something but she didn’t know how to say it. “Is it alright if I say this?” asked the lady. Not knowing what she would say, but wanting to get on with their own conversation they told her to go ahead. “Jesus loves you!” said the lady to the startled pair. “Those little signals were there all the time,” says Gibson. During the whole film project - “things that were inexplicable happened often.”
Jim Caviezel, the 35-year-old actor who starred recently in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is, like Mel Gibson, a practising Catholic. He believes; “this film will bring Christians and non-believers to a closer relationship with God.” Acting the part of Christ has deepened his faith. Caviezel told Newsweek; “I love Him more than I ever knew possible. I love him more than my wife, my family… I don’t want people to see me. All I want them to see is Jesus Christ.”