I love watching TV and movies, probably more than I should. But don't judge me. There are a lot of good shows out there with profound stories, whether fictional or based on real life. Sometimes it takes work to find those shows. Other times they're right under our noses.
I grew up a pastor's kid who now as an adult currently works for the church. I've been fascinated with the way Christians and the Church have been depicted on screen. Sometimes cynically. Sometimes cheesy and questionable (I'm looking at you, "God's Not Dead" and friends). But other times, I've seen some really insightful portrayals of the Christian faith.
So, here's my list of the 7 shows or movies I think do a pretty good job at taking us behind the scenes with of the church and those a part of it. Here we go:
1. "Sister Act" (1992, comedy)
Classic 90s cinema. Whoopi Goldberg stars as a lounge singer forced to hide out in a Roman Catholic convent under witness protection. What I love about this film is that explores a number of themes including: redemption, forgiveness, and dealing with change.
What I like: My favorite part is watching St. Catherine's Church struggle to adapt to the world around them. It takes an "outsider" to help them see things in a new way. The Church in real life struggles with this big time. It really shows that the very people we margnalize (intentionally or not) can add value to the faith community.
2. "Rev." (BBC TV series, 2010-2014, sit-com)
The Rev. Adam Smallbone is a Church of England (Anglican) priest, newly appointed to the busy, inner-city parish St Saviour's in East London. He's a fish out of water coming from a small town. The show explores his struggles in the parish with a small, "eclectic" congregation.
What I like: The show depicts legit pressures of being a pastor in a more post-Christian city while comedically depicted the other 6 days of a pastor's week.
Favourite episodes: Season 1, Ep. 2 "Jesus Is Awesome." & Season 3, Ep. 5-6 (season finale that explores Holy Week).
3. "The Preacher's Wife" (1996, comedy, drama)
An angel (Denzel Washington) sent to help a Baptist pastor (Courtney B. Vance) with a struggle congregation and struggling faith accidentally falls in love with the preacher's wife (Whitney Houston).
What I like: Pastors and their spouses go through a lot when in ministry together. This shows a glimpse that congregants don't often get to see. Truthfully, it can be a real part of clergy home life.
4. "The Exorcist" (FOX TV series, 2016-present, suspense)
The Rance family gets involved with the Catholic church when it feels there's a demonic presence in its home. This show is connected with the 1973 film of the same name, but I won't tell you how.
What I like: Stay with me on this one. While it definitely explores demonic possession, the real story is about a priest and a family's faith in everyday life with loss, pain, and the past.
Favourite episode: Season 1, Ep. 10, "Chapter Ten: Three Rooms."
5. "Black-ish" (ABC TV series, 2014-present, sit-com)
"Andre 'Dre' Johnson has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow, four kids, and a suburban home. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family?"
What I like: Specific to this topic, watch season 2-episode 5 "Churched" and season 3-episode 2 "God." The first explores the Johnson's attempting to re-engage with church (filled with shenanigans, of course). The second explores Zoey (the oldest child) struggling with whether or not she believes in God.
6. "Hillsong: Let Hope Rise" (documentary, 2016)
This is a documentary on the Australia-based band from Hillsong Church and their rise to prominence as a band and church.
What I like: Worship music and leaders get a lot of flack (sometimes from face-value judgements). The film goes behind the scenes with the band members and pastors to talk about the real life sacrifices of following God's call on their lives. I also like that the film was shot by someone who isn't a Christian, so it has a more objective storytelling perspective.
7. "Doubt" (drama, 2008)
A Catholic school principal questions a priest's ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student.
What I like: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Meryl Streep. Amy Adams. Viola Davis. My goodness. The cast alone is worth the watch. The theme of doubt permeates this film. Some people hold that faith and doubt can't share the same space. I just don't believe that's true. Life is complicated and this film depicts this complexity—making you even question what you think you know.
If you're not religious, these are good stories regardless. I hope you see something redeeming in these stories that you can apply in your life's journey.
If you're pastor or church worker, watch with eyes that see your congregation more than just their pew.
If you're a regular church member/attender, watch with eyes that see your pastor or church staff as normal people with issues just. like. you.
Hopefully, this will lead us all to living a more authentic life for the world to see.
Comment on your favourites below!