Hit Filmmaker Alex Kendrick
Season of Prayer Guides Filmmaker Alex Kendrick to Tell the Story
Written by Kelli Gillespie
Many are cautioned about the potential pitfalls of mixing family with business, but this warning didn’t seem to faze the Kendricks as together these brothers have defied all odds and grossed more than $75 million dollars in their first four films. Add their bestselling books with millions in print and Alex and Stephen Kendrick become a force to reckon with. The power behind this creative duo; they credit their faith in God. From Flywheel, to Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous, these filmmakers tackle topics ranging from strengthening a marriage to becoming a better father. Still serving on the pastoral staff at Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, the brothers are expanding their movie production outside of Albany with a special resolve to equip and encourage the next generation of Christian filmmakers. Alex Kendrick sat down with Risen to talk spiritual warfare, seasons of prayer, his new challenge to parents, and why life in the desert may be hard, but not bad.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: You and your brother Stephen work together on most of your projects. What was your household like growing up and were movies a part of it?
Alex Kendrick: We were a low-income family; our father was is in ministry so we learned to be creative because we didn’t have a lot of the “toys” that our friends did. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have a television until I was almost a teenager. In many respects I am grateful for those days because I think it helped set the stage for the right priorities and we didn’t get oversaturated with entertainment. As we got older, my brother and I went into ministry, but never lost the love of telling stories, which we did growing up. When we eventually did get a video camera we used it very little for home movies, but more often used it to tell our little adventure stories we’d shoot in our neighborhood. By the time we were in seminary, we developed a real thirst for wanting to use that platform of telling stories of God’s goodness to draw people into a relationship with him and that led to our first movie Flywheel in 2003.
Flywheel was meant to be a very local outreach in Albany, Georgia, in our one theatre, and it turned out to sell almost one million DVDs, which led to Facing the Giants hitting theatres, followed by Fireproof, and Courageous. So we learned to pray through these ideas until the Lord told us what to do. It was amazing how when he did tell us what to do, he would line up everything to help us with that theme, if you will. And as a part of that we learned to write. Because we would always ask ourselves the question, “What if somebody went to see Fireproof or Courageous and they left the movie theatre saying, ‘I want to take the next step.’ What would we give them? What would we say to them?” And that ended up being the drive behind the books, The Love Dare, The Resolution for Men, and now The Love Dare for Parents. We are trying to give them as much ammunition as we can to encourage seeking of the Lord and to apply biblical truth to their lives.
Risen Magazine: When it comes to inspiration for the stories you choose in your films and books, how do you hear what God wants you to do next?
Alex Kendrick: We go through what we call a season of prayer first, and that season may last six months, nine months, or even a year in some cases. And as we pray, it’s interesting that near the end of that season, the Lord tends to turn our hearts towards a direction – marriage, fatherhood, prayer, faith, whatever it is – and he gives us a direction and turns our hearts into speaking into that theme. We look around at what culture is doing, and yes, we tend to write things that we know. In our world, small town world, we write from a fire department, police department, or a local football team’s standpoint because we interact with those types of things and our church members do those types of things, so that maybe gives us a flavor – but the theme and direction definitely comes after a season of prayer. We then also do lots of scriptural research, lots of interviews and after several months, we start developing a story. Our hope is to tell stories that people can relate to; issues that men and women deal with on a regular basis. If we can do that in a very personal way, and hopefully a very engaging, entertaining way, where people want to make a change in their life, or seek the Lord in a certain area, then that is success for us.
Risen Magazine: Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous… as success and wealth comes, because it’s such a prayerful process, I’m sure many more doors open, but I also have to believe the spiritual warfare side is stronger too. In your opinion does the road get easier or harder? And how do you balance this schedule with your own family and personal life?
Alex Kendrick: Every project we have done has stretched us a little bit more. Nothing has ever been as easy as we hoped it would be or within our realm of confidence. It has always been just higher than we feel like we can handle. The scale of every movie, the lessons we speak into every movie, are always things that stretch us a little more than we want to be stretched. I also think the Lord allows a certain amount of spiritual warfare, because fortunately when there is a strain or uncomfortableness from time to time, it makes us seek him more, it makes us pray more. It’s not always something easily understood, or something we can grasp on the front side. God shows us the next three steps and then we don’t know what to do after that. When he takes us through those seasons, that’s when we grow. It’s like working out. You have to do 10 more sit-ups or push-ups than you really want to do. And it’s by doing 10 more this time, and 10 more next time that you start building your physical man. And that same thing is true spiritually. The Lord gives us a little more than we think we can handle, but that causes us to depend on him more. So yes, spiritual stretching, and attacks from the enemy as well. It’s interesting that whatever we are focusing on tends to be where we are attacked the most – whether it’s family, fatherhood, or faith – those tend to be the areas. So it’s obvious to us when we are obeying the Lord, especially when the enemy attacks, we know we are on to something.
Before the fruitful days come, the Lord will allow you to go through that season in the desert and those are not bad days. They are hard days, but it doesn’t mean they are bad days.
Risen Magazine: Talk about creating additional material like The Love Dare book to strengthen marriages, which sold six million copies, and now you have The Love Dare for Parents. How can this help moms and dads with their relationship with their kids?
Alex Kendrick: The Love Dare for Parents is different in the fact that we talk about winning the love of your child. There is some overlap in the way we love other people no matter who they are, but there are some strong differences in a marital type of love and a parental type of love. We start off the book talking about how can you win the heart of your child. Because if their heart is closed to you, it doesn’t matter what you are going to say, because it’s going to deflect off of them and they are going to believe who loves them the most. But if their heart is open to you, they will then receive what you have to say. The first thing is making sure you know how to win the heart and keep the heart of your child, whether they are in their formative years, teenage years, or even as young adults. We talk about ways to do that and once their heart is open to you, then you want to invest in who God made them to be.
God has given all of us a personality and a certain bent to have interest in certain things. I have six children and all of them are extremely different. It’s amazing to me, and evidence that there is a God, because they are growing up in the same house, same atmosphere, same parents, and yet they are all very different. As I discover what makes each of them tick – some are more athletic, some are more social, some are more given to academics, some are more into the arts and creative things – I want to help them blossom in the areas that God has given them a bent. I want them to blossom in their areas of strength. Then once I do that, how can I impart the love God has for me into them, where they know not only mom and dad love them, but God loves them. I know investing in my children is going to carry on to their children; it’s not just this generation I’m considering, it’s the next one, and the next. That’s how the The Love Dare for Parents lays the strategy out from winning the hearts of your children, to discovering what their natural abilities and bents are, and then loving them in a way that means the most to them with the love God has for us. If you make it through these 40 dares, I promise it’s going to make a major impact on your kid.
Risen Magazine: I think a top concern for parents is making sure their children love and follow the Lord, because they have that relationship and not because they are being told to go to church or read scripture. As you mentioned having six children of your own, what have you found to be the most effective way for parents to instill core values and biblical truths within their kids?
Alex Kendrick: Absolutely. One strategy is to do it as the spiritual leader of my home where they see that my wife and I are on the same page and that we both love our kids and want the best for them. We do family devotions every night. I read a chapter of scripture and we talk and catch up as a family. But I also have time with each individual child, and each of them receives love in different ways. One of my kids just loves quality time… “Dad will you come play a game with me? Dad will you come read a book with me?” And he’s always asking for time. Another one of my kids wants a gift. Every time I come in from work, or from a trip, “Dad did you bring me anything?” When I do a creative gift that is specifically geared towards him, it means so much to him and he knows, Dad loves me. Another one of my kids is very affectionate. They’re the first one to run up and give me a hug every day. And so I know to hold them, to tell them “I love you. You’re God’s gift to me and I want what’s best for you.” I can speak into their lives that way and then they hear me when I talk about life lessons and things they need to apply to their lives. I do it collectively in one regard, and then individually in another way. But you know, God loves us that way too. God does things in my life that minister to me, that help me, that show me things, especially when I’m seeking and listening to him. He does other things for my wife in a different way; how he ministers to her. God does love us collectively and loves us uniquely. As I see the way God ministers to me, I want to do the same thing for my kids.
Risen Magazine: What is something your parents did really well that you wanted to make sure to replicate within your family structure?
Alex Kendrick: When we would go on family trips, I remember my dad sharing with us humorous stories and embarrassing stories from when he was growing up. And sometimes in the evenings, my brothers and I shared a room, he would come in and sit on the end of the bed and give us opportunities to ask whatever we wanted to ask. The older we got, we asked about relationships, or jobs, or his first fight with somebody else, and I remember Dad sharing all those things and then asking us not just, “How was your day?” But, “What are you the most afraid of? What gets you the most excited?” Things like that [helped] to really learn who we were as people, and for us learn him.
My dad wasn’t the dad that always spent time throwing a football and [playing] basketball with me, because he wasn’t able to, he had health issues. But I remember him demonstrating love to me by taking an interest in who I was, giving me an opportunity to ask him anything, talking to me, being honest with me, and I want to be able to do that same thing for my kids because it meant so much to me. He was faithful to my mom, faithful to the Lord, and I want to do the same thing for my kids.
Risen Magazine: As you mention your brothers, there were three boys growing up, but I only hear about you and Stephen when it comes to all the movie-making. Was your other brother not passionate about the same things you two were, or did he just take a different career path?
Alex Kendrick: Our older brother Shannon – and I hate to admit this – but academically, was by far the smartest. He had straight A’s and made the Dean’s List in college. He loves computer work and he went to work with IBM for 20 years. Today, he has joined Stephen and me in making films and writing books. For the past year-and-a-half, all three brothers have been together. We’re very excited to have all three of us on this adventure and he’s brought his wealth of computer and internet information to our world and helped us create KendrickBrothers.com. We love him being a part of it. He’s the quiet one, he doesn’t like being in front of the camera, but we love his intellect and what he brings to the table.
Risen Magazine: As the three of you team together I see you’re launching your own production company. Is this still with the vision of changing America through movies? What are you most excited about moving forward with this venture?
Alex Kendrick: Our goals are exactly the same and you’ll see the same types of movies. There are two reasons that we made this shift. Number one, the first four movies we made all had to be modern day Albany, Georgia. The reason for that is that our church members made up the workforce. They all volunteered for each of our movies; 1700 of them helped us make Courageous, and hundreds before that with our first three films. As wonderful as that has been, we realized that if we were gong to grow, we had to have the freedom to go wherever we needed to go to make that next film. It’s hard to take 1700 volunteers with you, especially when they have day jobs in Albany. So two years ago we began talking about this [shift] with our pastor and leadership team and they gave us their blessing saying, “Well, we’ve loved doing it at Sherwood [Church], we certainly understand. You have our blessing, go where God takes you.”
And the second reason is, for years now, we’ve been approached by Christian film students from various universities all over the United States, saying, “We would love to mentor under you and be interns on your crew.” And Stephen and I have wanted to give them an opportunity to do that and invest in the next generation of filmmakers. One day we are going to have to pass this torch. The next movie will be made, wherever it needs to be made, we’re not locked into Albany. And we’re gong to use primarily really gifted Christian film students as the crew. Everybody knows we are still at Sherwood Baptist Church, we still are ministers on staff, that is our home base, and we haven’t left the church; it’s just that the movies are now free to be shot wherever they need to be shot.
I wanted to make movies when I was 23 years old, and God made me wait until I was 33, and those 10 years felt like forever.
Risen Magazine: For someone who may be frustrated with God’s timing, or questioning if he is even there, what encouragement can you give and what are a couple of the most significant ways you’ve seen the Lord work in your life?
Alex Kendrick: This is what I’ve learned about the Lord; if you go through scripture, most of the time, the men that God used from Abraham, to Moses, to Joseph, even Jesus, when it came time for them to launch into their ministry they first went through a desert time. Jesus went into the desert 40 days fasting and seeking the Lord, and was being tempted. Even the apostle Paul, before he started his ministry went to Arabia and spent years in the desert reading, training, praying. We know Joseph was in prison before he eventually became a leader in Egypt. Moses went to the desert as a shepherd before he came back to help release the people of Israel.
This theme that we studied, that God sometimes will allow you to go through a time that you may feel like you’re in the desert and you say, “Where’s God? I’m just waiting,” he does that to help season and mature you, and build your desire to seek him. And that struggle has great value. But in our culture we hate it. We hate waiting, we hate not knowing, we hate struggling and asking, “Where is God?” The Lord has not left you. He is allowing you to go through this season to help prepare you and mature you and build your understanding. Before the fruitful days come, the Lord will allow you to go through that season in the desert and those are not bad days. They are hard days, but it doesn’t mean they are bad days. Let the Lord do what he wants to do. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:13, “If you seek me, you’ll find me if you seek me with all your heart.” So part of that waiting is seeking the Lord. You have to chase after him, and he loves to be sought. And when we do that, it prepares us for greater things down the road. Most of us can’t handle great fruit until the time we are ready for it. And I learned that. I wanted to make movies when I was 23 years old, and God made me wait until I was 33, and those 10 years felt like forever. But when the Lord prepared me and opened the door to do it, he then gave more fruit than I could have possibly imagined in every possible way, and I’m so grateful today for those 10 years of having to wait.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2013