Shawn Bolz: How Christians are lighting up the entertainment world

Originally published in Charisma Mag

Christians in entertainment are seeing a strikingly new narrative behind the scenes. This narrative is creating a fresh conversation for the role of faith in the entertainment world.

For as long as Hollywood has been making films and television, as long as the music industry has been selling physical or digital songs and as long as athletes have been playing sports, Christianity and popular culture have been in conflict. This is, in part, because of the moral decay evident in the way some celebrities live, infecting society with hell itself. Another reason is that some Christians feel that if the subject matter is not directly related to Jesus or discipleship, then it is not inherently worthy of our focus; it’s simply not “spiritual.” There are many other complex reasons, but the avoidance of entertainment comes from the doctrine of dualism that is invading many well-meaning churches and ministries. In this context, dualism manifests in this attitude: If the subject is not focused on being spiritual, then it is not Christian.

This belief has set so much of the church and individual believers way behind in affecting culture at large, let alone popular culture. One of the examples that really impacted me came while recording an episode of a radio show I used to host. A musician I interviewed said something like this: “If we don’t bring the conversation of moral integrity to relationships and help define what love and romance is, then we are letting the world do it. One of the greatest ways these are defined is to write love songs that help people define their romance. Every couple has a song; who is writing them? Someone inspired by the God who created romance, or a young, sensual teen just singing lyrics some morally bankrupt marketing machine wrote for them to perform?”

In other words, we are called not only to the first commandment, to love God with all our hearts, mind and strength, but also to the second, to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matt. 22:37-39). I liken the entertainment industry to a huge tool that directly or indirectly has an impact on imparting a culture of how to live out relationships and love in the world around us. We might do this through a sitcom telling stories of friends and co-workers, an action movie or a romantic song. If creative Christians understood their calling to help live out not just the first commandment but the second as well, we would have invaded Hollywood in much greater ways a long time ago.

Reaching through the screen

When you consider that the average American spends an average of only eight minutes a day in prayer, but up to seven or more hours a day on screen time, we have to realize that God doesn’t want to just replace entertainment, He wants us to engage it. (A 2019 study by Common Sense Media found that tweens have an average screen time of four hours and 44 minutes for reasons other than schoolwork or homework, and teens spent a whopping 7 hours and 22 minutes on screens per day on screens for the same reasons.)

What if we could turn that seven or more hours a day into God-centered and love-centered healthy engagement instead of just trying to decrease the time we commit to it? Back in 1997, I had a vision of God using film, television, music, musical theater, video games, fine arts, sports and all the pop culture and art industries to be one of the greatest instruments of imparting His culture.

Look at how Jesus preached. He used popular stories to express how the kingdom of God looks. The disciples asked Him something like this: “Why don’t you speak clearly and just give us orders or directives?” But He answered: “That’s why I teach the people using parables, because they think they’re looking for truth, yet because their hearts are unteachable, they never discover it. Although they will listen to me, they never fully perceive the message I speak” (Matt. 13:13, TPT). Jesus used creative storytelling to bring insight and moments of revelation that caused a people who would not be lectured to hear and transform.

God Himself is the most entertaining being in the universe. He first showed Himself to us as the creator in Genesis 1. He knows how to hold an audience captive. The whole Bible is filled with the most entertaining and dramatic displays of passion, love, human plight and action. God is sending Christians into entertainment industries with the same passion and calling as the missionaries He sends to unreached people groups. Those who are saying yes to a role in entertainment are experiencing miraculous stories that you only find when you are willing to go where the thickest darkness covers the earth.

For decades, Christians have sought to impact the entertainment industry, but never has there been such a widespread underground move of God across the board.

Answering prayers

For years, I have interviewed entertainers and hosted dialogues through events, radio and TV shows and now via my series, Exploring the Industry, on my Exploring the Prophetic podcast on the Charisma Podcast Network. I have done this to create a conversation for what God is doing and can do through Christians in entertainment, but there has never been a time like now for this subject.

Recently, in one of my Exploring the Industry episodes, I interviewed a man I call my spiritual grandpa. You know him as Pat Boone. Pat is one of the most celebrated entertainers in history. Elvis opened for his shows, and he has been one of the top-awarded singers in history. On top of that, he has been an actor in dozens of blockbusters, a bestselling author and a political advocate. In his younger days as an A-list celebrity, he and his wife were often alone in their faith journey, but they prayed for revival in the entertainment industries for over 50 years. When I met Pat and his beautiful wife, Shirley, I realized what God is doing in these industries today has come because of the people who paid such a severe price to be there. These and other prophetic forerunners who spent decades in prayer asking God to manifest in the entertainment industry are now seeing the answers to their prayers emerging.

Something is stirring up now that I believe is the beginning of those prayers being answered. Those of us who live in entertainment cities or work in these industries now see a new breed of Christians who have a real relationship with God and want to honor Him with their careers. They are emerging everywhere and shaking things up in the entertainment world.

Here are just some of the people in the mainstream who are changing the narrative of what can take place through faith-filled believers in entertainment:

Chris Pratt recently created a new film company and teased it on Instagram by laying a card against glass that read, “Indivisible Productions” with the tagline, “Get ready.” He has since talked about his company with both a political and religious mission statement: “Indivisible Productions. One nation. Under God. Indivisible.” The Onward actor also revealed what his fans can expect from his new business: “Our mission statement is to create entertaining content, focusing on themes which will help to bridge the growing divide in our country and world. You know, make the world a better place. No biggie, you’re welcome, but it’s whatever.”

Kanye West has appeared in headlines across the globe, many posted on multiple news sites. His Sunday Service worship events and the two operas he created, Nebuchadnezzar and Mary, all came from his deep desire to worship God. He proclaimed his stance as a born-again Christian and began to focus on his family and his new property and business. Because of God’s powerful work in his life, West began the Sunday Service events and felt something so special that he kept them going. Out of these events, the Sunday Service worship choir, which has sung in multiple venues—including Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas—was born.

David and Jessica Oyelowo founded Yoruba Saxon Productions. The A-list actor and his wife produce content specifically for mainstream audiences. Although their films are not directly faith-based, the couple create out of their Christian lifestyle and express truth through creative stories. When I talked to Jessica about their vision, she likened it to the fact that parables in the Bible mostly did not mention God or spiritual principles, but metaphorically showed people what God was like.

Athlete Russell Wilson comes from a family of deep Christian faith. I was invited to the prayer breakfast his father helped host before the NBA all-star game, which is one of the types of events to which the Wilson family contributes. Wilson has been outspoken about his faith, even sharing at the Rock Church in San Diego with Pastor Miles McPherson. Wilson shared about how everything comes back to Jesus and how, through his interviews with many media outlets, he has been using his platform to prayerfully start a foundation to help raise money to cure cancer.

God is working through His people in entertainment today. You might just see some raw footage of major celebrities on social media or in media interviews sharing their moment of breakthrough. Earlier this year, Selena Gomez was worshipping with friends to Kari Jobe’s anthem The Blessing, which made its way around the internet. Justin and Hailey Bieber shared their prayerful meditations on Instagram using Scriptures and real-life stories. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey raised more than $100 million for a faith-based streaming service that would be first of its kind to have real budget projects for the faith-based crowd. Yes, the narrative has changed.

Letting your light shine

Last year I attended one of the many Christian events in Hollywood, this one hosted by Fusion Ministries leader Rabbi Jason Sobel, co-author with Kathie Lee Gifford of last year’s breakout New York Times bestselling book titled The Rock, The Road and the Rabbi. The crowd consisted of industry career Christians with well-known musicians, actors, producers, screen writers and spiritually hungry Christians. Rabbi Jason proclaimed something that seemed to be most true for Hollywood and entertainment now. He read out of Isaiah 60:1-3 (NIV): “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

The Christians accepted this truth, that though there is thick darkness, God is rising upon those who would bring the kingdom into dark places, even Hollywood, and that this shining will cause many who wouldn’t see Jesus any other way to come to the light of His beauty. That might even include those teens who are focused on their digital devices for seven hours a day. They probably wouldn’t look up even if they were invited to church, but they would watch an anointed clip by their favorite actor on TikTok.

In Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV), Jesus declares: “‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.'”

God has created the lampstands of popular culture. Ultimately, He raises up individuals to the highest lampstand so they can shine for Him in this generation. Not many positions in history have given people such quick access to power and influence. We should not only believe God is going to bring favor on some to occupy these lampstands, but that when they get there, the light people see will help them understand that there is a God in heaven who loves them.

It makes me think of Solomon, who was such a celebrity king in his day that leaders from around the world wanted to come and see how it was that Solomon built the infrastructure of Israel. How did he maintain justice, since rumor held that he was the wisest man on earth? Leaders would come to see the architectural wonders of the temple or of Solomon’s own palace. The Queen of Sheba was so impressed that her words are included in 1 Kings 10:6-9 (MEV):

“She said to the king, ‘What I heard in my own land about your acts and your wisdom was true! I did not believe it until I came and saw it with my own eyes! In fact, I was not even told half. Your wisdom and prosperity are greater than the stories I heard! Happy are your men, and happy are these your servants who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel, because the Lord loved Israel forever; therefore He made you king in order to execute judgment and justice.”

The Queen of Sheba began to worship God because Solomon was using the lampstand to which God was lifting him to show the love God had for His people.

This is also what Hollywood is beginning to experience through the believers God is placing there. I invite you to the conversation we are having through my Exploring the Industry podcast series.