Monthly Archives: September 2011

A few sentences summing up my week:

  • Humbled by seeing God’s grace in weak people, leading them to great boldness.
  • Concerned, but not enough, for those who are seeking for satisfaction away from the only one who truly does satisfy.
  • Learning one more that where sin abounds, grace super-abounds.
  • Rediscovering the God who chose to be born in an animal trough.
  • Looking forward to the day the truth is proclaimed from the rooftops.
  • Enjoying the sunshine as a reminder of common grace.
  • Reaffirming my trust in Jesus, the Shepherd God, in everything.

In my previous post, I suggested that the best way of structuring a film night is the discussion format. Yet in my experience the hardest part of a film night is working hard so that people not only want to stay around, but also they share opinions. I’ve been to several evenings when guests have filed out as soon as the credits have started rolling. What can be done?

In my opinion, this is where a little thought can make a big difference. There’s a big difference between a dull, large, vacuous lecture theatre and a room that’s well lit and comfortable. Even better if it’s someone’s front room or lounge. Sometimes only pretty drab rooms are available but I’ve seen CUs make them feel much nicer with a few bean bags and fairy lights. You’d be amazed the different that a nice environment makes to encouraging people to stay around and relaxing. And the more relaxed people feel, the more willing they’ll be to chat.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Explain before the film that there will be a discussion afterwards. Reassure those there that they don’t need to be film experts but that everyone will have a chance to speak about how they feel about the film, and that there will be a chance to explore some of its themes.
  • Have refreshments made available at the end of the film. Food is ideal – folk are much more likely to stay around to chat if its over pizza. If hot food isn’t available, then cookies or doughnuts do almost as nice a job. Hot drinks will also encourage people to stay – again, not skimping heremakes a difference. Who can resist a hot, creamy hot chocolate?
  • Put on some soft music. Again, a nice ambience can be easily created. You might even find that it’s possible to play the film’s sound track.
  • Have a short break before starting the discussion. It’s good to allow people time to grab food ordrink, nip to the loo and begin to process what they’ve seen. If there’s been an emotional ending, it’s particularly important to allow those there a few minutes to gather their thoughts.
  • Announce how long the discussion will go on for. It’s helpful to give people a definite end time. Twenty minutes of group discussion is more than enough. Those who want to chat for longer can, whilst those who need to head away to finish a last minute essay can do so too!
  • Close by saying what’s coming next. There’s no harm in announcing what else the CU is hosting, the next film that’s up for discussion or the pub that everyone is decamping to!

Today I had the pleasure of joining Bradford CU to speak at a lunchbar during their Freshers’ Week. The lunchbar was titled: “Christians: freaks or….” The CU at Bradford are clearly loving their mates, engaged with the campus and were brilliant at welcoming guests.

I made two points in my lunchbar:

  • Christians are normal – in that all sorts of people of different religiosity, background, nationality, gender and age follow Jesus. I gave examples from Luke’s Gospel. I posed the question: why should such a diverse group of people all be drawn to Jesus? I suggested that it is because through the cross Jesus meets our fundamental needs – for forgiveness, and bringing us into a relationship of love and satisfaction.
  • Christians are abnormal – I then spoke briefly on the parable of the hidden treasure. Jesus is making the point that we organise our lives around that which is most treasurable to us. When Christians know all that they have in Jesus – forgiveness, love and a satisfying relationship with God – they do not need to look elsewhere, but out of love for God are set free to love others. I gave examples from around the world of believers who might be considered ‘freaks’ in the eyes of the world, loving boldly and sacrificially in this way.

I was so encouraged by the response. In particular, I spoke to one student from Nigeria who’d come from a very legalistic Roman Catholic background. He was obviously very moved by what he had heard. After asking me to go through the whole of my message again, so that he could take it in, he admitted to me that he believed that the gospel was true, but that up until this point he’d never known any comfort in the gospel. He’d just been made to feel like a failure who constantly fell short of God’s standards. It was thrilling to be able to share not only that Jesus brings forgiveness in full, but also that our hearts are changed as they become gripped with the gospel and love spills out for Jesus. What a pleasure to be able to bring such good news!

OK – you’ve got accurate expectations for your film night, and after much agonising you’ve chosen the film to use. What’s next?

The next step is to decide the format of the evening – in other words, other than showing the film, what will happen over the course of the evening? How can you encourage those there to start engaging with the film’s big themes?

There are several formats that can all be utilised. To an extent, the format you choose will influence the outcome and nature of discussion over the evening.

1.      Someone gives a talk after the film
This would be most similar to the traditional ‘epilogue’ at the end of an evening. A key theme or idea from the film can be presented with a Christian perspective. This can work well – I can, for instance, think of one event where Gran Torino was showed, and where the speaker winsomely compared and contrasted Walt’s sacrifice with Jesus’ own sacrifice. If this approach is used, the key thing is to keep the message short (I’d say 10 minutes maximum) and to illustrate every point from the film (if possible). The downside of this approach is that it stifles discussion, and if the speaker is not very used to this type of event, the links to the Christian worldview can be quite tenuous.

2.      Before the film, give hints for certain things to look out for
In this approach, the audience are encouraged to look out for a certain theme or themes before the film even starts. This heightens awareness of these themes as the film is shown. At the end of the film, the audience can be encouraged to share what they noticed about the theme, and whether or not they agree with the film’s portrayal of this theme. For instance, a group could show Man On Wire – before the film is shown, they could be asked to look out for the film’s portrayal of beauty, or ambition, or fulfilment. This can work effectively, particularly for groups that are not used to discussing films. However, be aware that groups will vary in their ability to spot themes (naturally, some will pick up the subtleties more than others). Sometimes it’s hard to tell people what to look out for without inadvertently given a spoiler. Additionally, if a person feels most moved by another theme in the film, there is little or no opportunity to discuss it afterwards.

3.      Allow time for open discussion after the film
This is my preferred method for a film night. The film is shown, people are encouraged to stay around and to discuss scenes, items and themes that have particularly struck them from the film. Discussions can be structured (where a group leader goes it with a specific set of questions) or more unstructured (where more open questions are used). I’ll write more on this in posts to come, but it seems to me that almost any group – regardless of their experience – can profitably use these questions:

  1. What was your initial reaction to the film? What was it that prompted this reaction?
  2. What impressed you most about the film? (this could be the plot, script or screenplay, an acting performance, film making technique, cinematography, soundtrack etc.)
  3. Did any part of the film stand out to you as particularly meaningful or powerful in any way? Why?
  4. What is the message of the film, or view of life and the world that is presented? (Try to state this in a sentence). How did the film-maker’s technique seek to make this message plausible or compelling?
  5. To what extent do you agree with the message of the film?

What I like about this set of questions is that it approaches the film as a piece of art. We can find good things to say about the film even if we fundamentally disagree with its message. Additionally, these questions give space for those in the discussion to speak about things from the film that they particularly enjoyed. Having set this positive tone, you can then try to state the message of the film in a sentence (this is harder than you think, but can be very enjoyable in a group setting!) and talk about the extent that you agree with this statement. It’s at this point where it can be natural to present a Christian perspective without shoe-horning it. Then prepare for conversations to go on well into the night!

Sarah Dawkins gives her experience of a recent film night, and being surprised in her weakness here.

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Bessacarr Evangelical Church in Doncaster. I was particularly pleased to speak there as Bessacarr planted our church, South Doncaster Community Church, about four years ago.

I found the passage that I was given, Acts 18:1-17, a hard one to prepare from. There’s so much going on – I must have drafted at least ten different outlines for the sermon!

In the end I focused on how Jesus wades into Corinth through Paul’s ministry – sovereignly opening a door for the gospel, and then working through the apostolic gospel to draw many nations to himself. (I’m convinced, by the way, that this is the correct meaning of the famous “many people in this city” encouragement that Jesus brings to Paul – rather than referring to many individuals, Jesus is actually speaking of many nations). It was good to be able to illustrate ways in which Jesus has worked in this way through church history – opening doors and then drawing people to himself through the Spirit-inspired word of the apostles – and how he continues to do so today.

I found Acts 18 a particular encouragement to keep my eyes open for the way in which Jesus is sovereignly knitting opportunities for his gospel to be shared; and also encouraged to have renewed confidence in the apostolic testimony about Jesus… a good thing to remember in my own discipleship and witness, and for our ministry with CUs, especially with the Uncover project in mind.

If you’d like to listen to my message, you can do so here. Feedback and insights are welcome as always. (Unfortunately you’ll have to tolerate my faltering start to the message – I was clearly nervous!).

I’ve been meaning to post something on last week’s team days for a little while but not had opportunity.

In the mean time, both Matt and Ellie have beaten me to it. Their write-ups are both worth reading – you’ll learn of our Apprentice themed team building activity, about the sheer amount of cake, and the teaching that we received from Arnold Bell from City Church in Sheffield.

I really appreciated Arnold’s teaching. Matt has already written about how Arnold highlighted the relationship between the Holy Spirit, prayer and joy. I loved his stories of seeing this worked out in his own ministry, plus the challenge to teach those that we are discipling how to pray. Arnold reminded us that the gospel is never just therapy, but as we pray the Spirit joyfully makes us willing to suffer and to cross boundaries (whether geographical or cultural), counting our lives cheap for the sake of knowing Jesus. Even when the flesh is weak, the Spirit is instilling these desires within those he has regenerated. The challenge is to listen to the voice of the Spirit rather than to the flesh.

The other thing I appreciated was how Arnold made such close links between Luke and Acts. He stressed that Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel with a sequel, and how many of the principles that Luke highlights in his Gospel clearly flow into Acts. In that respect, it becomes exciting to read Luke’s Gospel missiologically and with direct impact on the Church’s ongoing mission.

All in all very refreshing to us as individuals, as well as speaking to us as a group in our ministry, and fuelling us for the term ahead. May we and the students we work with joyfully pray and cross boundaries to share Jesus.

Arnold’s first session

Arnold’s second session

In Part 1, we considered what the aims of hosting a film discussion might be. In this post, we’ll think about which are the best films to use.

Film-makers are essentially story tellers. Like all humans, they are in Francis Schaeffer’s words ‘glorious ruins’ – people made in the image of God, yet fallen. Because they are made in the image of God, we can expect every film to have things that we really can celebrate and endorse as good. Yet every film will also have aspects that fall short of God’s glory.

There’s sometimes a temptation for Christians to just want to show nice films. Let’s be honest, though. The word is broken and cursed. It isn’t always nice. Horrible things happen. So don’t be frightened away from films that illustrate something of just how broken the world really is.

Equally, sometimes Christians feel as they have to go for a ‘Christian’ film. Actually these films aren’t often very Christian. Perhaps the worst film night I ever went to was a screening of Evan Almighty – whilst vaguely biblically themed, it is a stupid and poorly made film which actually endorses a kind of religious humanism (and which was looking to make a quick buck out of a franchise!). I’d much have preferred that the leaders went for a film which was actually worth discussing!

With this in mind, here are some guidelines for choosing films (some of these points come from Ted Turnau):

  • As I have implied above, you should not always disqualify a movie if there’s sex, violence or bad language in it. But if there is very strong sexual or violent content, it can be a distraction and this doesn’t help discussion.
  • Go for a high-quality film – that is, a film that you’d happily see twice or that you were gutted to have missed when it was out in the cinema. It’s much easier to discuss a film that has been well made.
  • I’d avoid films that are longer than two hours. Normally, people are far too tired to discuss them afterwards. Unfortunately this counts out some really great films (for instance, Inception and The Dark Night) – but its better to go for films that folks will actually want to discuss.
  • Generally, students are most keen to discuss recent films. If you can go for a film from the last couple of years, all the better.

With all this in mind, here are a few films currently worth considering:

More to follow.