Christians see Passion
as ministry opportunity
By John W. Kennedy
While Hollywood has
churned out about 100 motion pictures dealing with the life
of Christ, evangelical churches have never responded with as
much enthusiasm as to The Passion of the Christ.
The film, released
on February 25, depicts Jesus’ final 12 hours of suffering
before His death. In an unprecedented alliance between the pulpit
and the big screen, tens of thousands of churches have lined
up to promote a big-budget production. Some congregations reserved
entire theaters for opening day and pastors are preaching sermons
in conjunction with its release.
Mel Gibson went to
meticulous lengths to ensure the biblical accuracy of the motion
picture, including using Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic dialogue,
languages spoken in the first-century Middle East. Gibson, who
won an Oscar for directing 1995’s Braveheart,
used an estimated $30 million of his own funds to make this
film about Jesus’ torment and crucifixion. The movie debuted
on 4,643 screens, an unmatched opening for an independent film.
The Assemblies of
God Commission on Evangelism and Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel partnered to communicate
to church members how to effectively share Christ with nonbelievers
who have attended the film. The cover
story in the March 14 issue of the Evangel has also been printed in booklet form and is available
Publishing House (item #749145).
many ways Christians can take advantage of opportunities for
witness because of the impact of this film,” says Randy
Hurst, commissioner of evangelism. “We chose to focus
our attention on friendship evangelism. While an abundance of
good follow-up literature is available, I believe that literature
without personal interaction will not be highly effective. The
most effective witness will be done by believing family members
and friends who can share Christ personally with wisdom and
grace. To be most effective in witness will require the gift
of time to converse with non-believing friends.”
C. Dan Betzer, senior
pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Fla., decided
to use the film as a means of spreading the gospel. “It’s
the greatest evangelism opportunity of my lifetime,” says
Betzer. The week before the February 25 release of The Passion he mailed letters to 180,000 area homes, offering a
free 40-minute CD on why Jesus went to the cross and why Calvary
Pastors from the
church responded to questions before and after each screening.
Now, classes are being held at First A/G and two satellites
for those who made a salvation decision after seeing the movie.
the first time people are beginning to understand what Jesus
really went through for us,” Betzer says.
Evangel Temple in
Columbus, Ga., bought 600 tickets for a Sunday night service
for congregants to take non-Christian friends and neighbors.
“The simple message of the Cross is still very important,”
says Evangel Temple pastor Richard Collins, who has preached
several messages on the Cross. “And we want that story
to be told.”
Pastor Scott Rachels
of Newport Mesa Christian Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., says,
“We made it clear that the violence of the crucifixion
is pretty substantial, so we encouraged parents not to bring
their kids under junior high age. Rarely do we have a cultural
moment where everybody is talking about an event like this.
This is a great way for believers to open up a conversation
with those who are exploring faith in Christ.”
Jim Detweiler says cell groups at Seaport Community Church in
Groton, Conn., are following up with guests who made salvation
decisions at screenings. The church gave altar calls at the
conclusion of the film in the theater, with trained workers
leading prayers. “We didn’t just want to fill the
theaters up with Christians,” Detweiler says.
pastor of Harvest Time A/G in Asheville, N.C., encouraged parents
to decide for themselves whether to allow their teenagers to
see it. “In this day of shocking media images let’s
shock young people with the truth: the painful death of our
Lord Jesus Christ,” McClaren says. “It is violent,
but the reality is Jesus suffered to become the perfect blood
sacrifice for us.”
people who would never set foot in a church going to this movie
because a friend invited them,” says National Association
of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard. Haggard compares the
artistry of Gibson’s film with sculptor and painter Michelangelo.
“This is the Michelangelo portrait of Christ for our generation,”
Haggard told PE Report.
— With additional
reporting by Isaac Olivarez