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Stephen Kendrick Interview

by Tracy & C.J. Darlington

"It’s our job as the body of Christ to obey the Lord and then leave the results with Him. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We don’t have to read all the fads and know all the stuff. We just need to tune into His voice, ‘cause He’s more cutting edge than anyone."
-- Stephen Kendrick


Stephen Kendrick has served as associate teaching pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church since 2001. He leads the church’s prayer ministry, major ministry events, an adult Sunday school class, and The Great Adventure, an adult discipleship program that he developed. Stephen also serves as the senior pastor’s preaching assistant, filling the pulpit when the pastor is gone.

Stephen and his brother Alex helped Sherwood Baptist establish Sherwood Pictures in 2003. Stephen filled vital roles in both of Sherwood Pictures’ movie releases, Facing the Giants and Flywheel as a co-writer and producer. He also worked with Provident Films, developing marketing and Bible study resources for churches in conjunction with Facing the Giants.

Fireproof the movie was #4 in the nation its opening weekend and so far has grossed over 33 million. Not bad for a movie made for $500,000!

C.J. & Tracy: What surprised you most about Fireproof’s run in theaters?

Stephen: Opening weekend was a shock, because we were hoping to be in the top ten, but that was a big jump for us to even hope for. We were praying God would do more than we could ask or imagine, and that’s exactly what happened. To open #4 in the nation at 6.8 million dollars with an 8,000 per screen average was huge.

We got calls the next day from a Hollywood reporter. The guy was actually cussing on the phone, saying, “Who the blankety-blank are you?”and “What the blankety-blank is Fireproof?” He said, “I know about every movie that’s coming out, and I know pretty much what they’re going to do in the theaters. This wasn’t even on my radar screen.” We explained we’re a church making a movie, and he’s like, “You’re a church?! Let me pull over.” And he pulled his car over and said, “I don’t even know how to write this story. This came out of nowhere. Do you realize your $500,000 church-made movie beat Spike Lee’s 45 million dollar movie “Miracle at St. Anna”? You had a higher box office than “Burn After Reading” this weekend. These are bigger name, bigger budget movies, and Fireproof is beating them. This does not make sense.” We laugh, because God is all about taking little small things and doing great things for His glory.

Share with us a bit about The Love Dare book.

We wrote the book out of a sense of obedience to the Lord. There was just a sense of rightness. We realized, hey, this movie storyline uses the book as a plot device. People are going to want to go through this journey like the characters in the film. We can write this book. We spent months in prayer but had already done a lot of research. I’ve done years of marriage counseling, so we wrote The Love Dare together.

We did 250 pre-screenings of the movie across the nation before opening weekend. Broadman & Holman publishers is a 100 year old publisher. They contacted us and said, “The movie hasn’t even hit the theaters yet, and we have pre-sold 300,000 copies of the Love Dare book. There was incredible buzz. They said, “This is the fastest selling book in our 100 year history.” We didn’t know what the numbers meant, and they said, “This never happens.” We were just like, “Well, Lord, You obviously made that happen, because it wasn’t because of our names or who we are.”

If you could do anything differently in Fireproof, what would it be and why?

I know looking back we did the best that we could as unto the Lord with what he had. There was a sense of the fear of God on us. We would say, “Lord, You have entrusted this to us. We don’t want to screw it up; we don’t want to take the Fireproofreins back from you.” There was prayer at every level, the whole journey. We were seeking the Lord, crying out, as we read the script. We were begging God for help with the actors, with who we chose, and we made those decisions in unity. Then, even with the distribution decisions, we were trying to seek the Lord.

In the future we want to continue to improve the acting. We would probably do more training on the front end. And we would spread out production more. We cranked this movie out in a very short amount of time. We wrote it, and went right into production, shooting it, then editing, and then right into distribution. We were on these tight deadlines in order for it to be released in the fall. That was so intense. I ended up traveling so much last year, ‘cause we were doing the screenings and promoting the movie. There were times I came home and wanted to cry as I pulled into my driveway, thinking about my awesome wife and my kids who’d been at home faithfully waiting for me, supporting me in prayer. I missed them. So spreading out our schedules is a good thing. You gotta put cushions between the moving parts.

And then, we want to do interviews over the phone and by satellite instead of having to fly to every location in the nation. That will be better for our families and our marriages. God is calling us to minister to Him and have a marathon mentality where we’re pacing ourselves. We actually wrote about that in the Love Dare book, on the day we talk about “love is not irritable”. Anytime we’re trying to sprint through life and do ministry full on, writing, editing, and shooting a movie is an all day and all night challenge. Sometimes you’re working 18 hours a day, and you can’t do that long term.

Love DareOn the movie website it states that 2,413 marriages have been impacted by this film. Can you tell us some stories you’ve heard about how Fireproof has changed peoples’ lives?

And those are just the people who’ve emailed us. If you do the math, about 5 million people have seen the movie in the theater. The DVD will be way more than that, because churches are showing it to their entire congregations. They’re buying the site licenses from Outreach.com, and they are setting it up to use the movie to minister to their whole communities. We’re so grateful, because that’s our plan---to partner with the body of Christ and all work together to make this happen.

The emails that have been coming in, are just great stories. There was one couple that had been divorced for 7 years, and they lived 700 miles apart. They ended up going to see Fireproof together. Afterwards they decided they’re going to get remarried and work it out.

We had one guy who was having an affair. He and his wife agreed to get a divorce, they signed the divorce papers, and he moved out. He took his new lover to the theater on a date, and they ended up going to see Fireproof. While they’re in the theater seeing a movie about marital faithfulness, she turns to him and says, “I feel very awkward right now.” And he got so convicted that he went back to his first wife and told her he wanted to try and work it out. They tore up the divorce papers, he moved back home, and now they’re working out their relationship.

One couple, they engraved Fireproof on their wedding rings afterwards, one couple tattooed it on their arms and sent us the picture. It says Fireproof down their arms. They both got tattoos together. They said, “Our marriage is going to be fireproof.” He’d had an affair on her, and she’d forgiven him. Couples in their sixties say to us, “We feel like we’re newleyweds again, ‘cause we’re going through the love dare. We’ve seen the movie, and we’re beginning to demonstrate love on a daily basis.” We had a marriage therapist say that it’s now his homework for the couples who come in. He says, “You’ve got to see this movie and go through the Love Dare.” I had a divorce attorney tell me, “You’re going to put us out of business because it’s really going to help strengthen marriages.”

Two weeks ago I was in San Antonio, TX, and a man walked up to me with tears in his eyes. He said, “My fourth Fireproof Still Caleb & Catherinegrade daughter had to write a paper in school, and as she was going to read her paper another little girl stood up to read and said, “My mommie and my daddy fight at home, and my daddy abuses my mommie. My daddy left my mommie and moved out. Then someone told them they needed to go see a movie. And my mommie and daddy went to see the movie in the theater, and my dad cried at the end of the movie. He gave his heart to Jesus. My daddy has now come home, and now my parents are back together. I’m so grateful for the fire movie for helping my parents.”

I just tear up hearing these stories. I’m like, “God! You’ve taken our five loaves and two fish, and You’ve multiplied it and turned it into many and You do more than we can ask or imagine.” It’s our job as the body of Christ to obey the Lord and then leave the results with Him. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We don’t have to read all the fads and know all the stuff. We just need to tune into His voice, ‘cause He’s more cutting edge than anyone. He knows when an ark needs to be built because He knows it’s going to rain and nobody else does. The financial experts couldn’t figure out all the economy stuff ‘cause we’re bombing, but the Lord knew. We need to be in step with His voice. Those kind of stories have been such a huge blessing. It just confirms again that God is in this, and that He’s wanting us to keep doing it.

Stephen & Alex KendrickWhat does the collaboration look like between you and Alex? Do you ever have any brotherly disagreements to work out? How does that work with you guys?

It works very well. We are best friends; we love one another. We made a commitment years ago that we were going to support and work as a team, not attack one another. At the same time, we disagree all the time. While writing the script there were many times I wanted to go in one direction, he wanted to go in another. We would fight it out in love. I’d say, “No. You’re going to destroy the storyline. Here’s what needs to happen.” And Alex was like, “No that won’t work, and here’s why.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, but it’s going to be cheesy if we go that direction.” And he’s like, “No, it won’t. It’ll work.” And we would go back and forth.

There were things like “lead with your heart” and the Mr. Rudolph scenes that the Lord gave me, that we put in the storyline. And then there were scenes like the apology scene that Alex crafted. I didn’t realize how strong that scene would be. Alex had a better vision for that scene than I did. I believe it’s anointed by God. It’s Kirk Cameron’s best acting. A lot of men when they walk out of that theater they say, “I know now what I need to do. I’m going to go home and do what Caleb Holt did for his wife in Fireproof.”

Kirk Cameron told us that was his favorite scene.Kirk Cameron

It’s so strong. I have a lot of favorite scenes in Fireproof. I love the scene with Wayne in front of the mirror. I love the train scene. If you watch the train scene, you’re seeing a call from beginning to end from the perspective of the firefighters. They’re at the station, and you follow them on the whole call from beginning to end. The momentum of that scene is so strong, and the bay scene at the end. I tear up when Catherine shows up at the bay. She says what every man is longing for his wife to say to him. And in the apology scene Caleb says what women are longing for their husbands to say.

What exactly is Fireproof in 60?

Oh, you gotta see that! It’s not for people who haven’t seen the movie, ‘cause we don’t want to give away anything. When we were shooting the movie Alex had an idea of doing snippets, re-shooting scenes in speed mode, where you can say a statement and it’ll summarize the whole scene. We would shoot a scene, and then we’d say, “OK, here’s the Fireproof in 60 version.” And we’d say like one line. Alex edited that together. You can watch the whole movie in 60 seconds. It’s very funny. If you’ve already seen the movie, you’re gonna love it.

Fireproof Still Kirk Cameron Saving GirlSpeaking of Kirk Cameron, I hear he did his own stunts. Were you at all nervous about that?

No, we were lovin’ it. We were excited for him because on a Hollywood set a lot of times actors don’t get to fully do what they want to do. We felt like kids in a candy store. We were like little boys excited about getting to burn stuff down and blow stuff up. There were times on the set when Kirk would turn to us and be like, “I can’t believe I get to do this. This is awesome!” The crawling through the fire, that’s all him. Dragging the girl, all the train stuff, anything that was action oriented, that was Kirk doing it. We didn’t have any stunt doubles for any of that stuff.
The actress who plays the unconcscious girl was great. Her name is Jade Young in real life. She’s a sweet girl. We said to her, “We need you to play this girl who’s inhaled smoke and passed out.” So at different times people would walk up and say, “You’re so good at playing dead.” And she would insist, “I’m not dead; I’m unconscious!” She did a good job.

The message of Fireproof’s all about real love. As a pastor, what would you say to someone who wonders what real love looks like, whether in a marriage or the workplace, or anywhere?

First, you need to understand the definition of real love. Love is sacrificing yourself to meet the needs of others. It is a commitment, not a feeling. It’s so deep and so wide; we’re like ants trying to swallow the ocean to fully grasp what love is. Paul said in Ephesians 3, “I’m praying for you that through the power of the Holy Spirit that God will enable you to grasp the width and depth, to know the love of God.” And then he says, “Because it surpasses knowledge.” If you read that you wonder what does that mean to know something that surpasses knowledge? One of the words means to comprehend, and the other word means to experience. He’s saying, “I want you to fully experience the love of God, ‘cause you’ll never be able to fully understand it.” You can’t comprehend it. It’s like if lightening struck me, I would experience it, but I would not understand it.

God wants us to experience Him, but we are finite beings trying to understand an infinite God. I’m grateful that He Fireproof Still Kirk Saving Girlgives us even a little capacity to do that, but when you understand what love is, that it’s sacrificing yourself to meet the needs of others, putting someone else above yourself, valuing and honoring them even when they don’t deserve it, then you translate that over into, “Then who’s sacrificed the most to meet the greatest need?” And it goes back to what Christ did on the cross. Greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends. God’s word says that His greatest demonstration of love is what Jesus did on the cross. He experienced the most painful, the most shameful, the most horrific, drawn out death, the most bloody death. And He did it when He didn’t have to. He who deserved it the least. That is the greatest demonstration of love. If you see that picture, our understanding of love is not based on some abstract, euphoric theory that’s out there. We have an historic event, a fact of what Christ did for us, that solidifies how much He loves us. Then after we come to know Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love in our hearts. That’s how we’re fully going to be able to experience it on a daily basis.

How have churches been using Fireproof in ministry?

First theatrically, opening weekend was largely because the church really embraced this movie across denominational lines. This is the first movie that the Assemblies of God churches ever endorsed. The Catholic church endorsed “The Passion” and “Bella” and Fireproof. The Protestant churches all across the nation have jumped behind it. They used it to do movie outreach nights and then to launch the Love Dare in their churches and discussions about marriages. Now they’ve turned it around and started using it as an outreach.

Since the DVD has come out they’re buying the site licenses. Anyone can go to Outreach.com and buy them, so you can legally show the movie publicly in groups as many times as you want, depending on the size of the group. They’ve made it affordable for people to do inexpensive outreach nights, and it’s working. We’re hearing results of 500 people watching the movie and having 22 people give their lives to Christ at the end. And some are launching a marriage ministry from it.

The Love Dare book has been something the churches have been going through as a group. Outreach has a Fireproof marriage curriculum. Lifeway has just come out with one called the Love Dare Bible Study, and it combines the movie and the Love Dare so people can go through the it as a group and learn lessons together.

Our hope is that churches will launch more marriage ministries. A lot of times the family ministries end up being about the kids. We need to be going back to the foundations, not just premarital counseling or divorce recovery, but backing up and saying “How can we train the next generation as to what unconditional love looks like and what a covenant is in marriage and the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives?” Oftentimes we don’t start training someone until they get engaged. To me that’s like trying to train someone for the Olympics during the opening ceremonies. You have to back up and be learning as teenagers how to walk in faithfulness to your future spouse and how to begin praying for them now. Learning what God’s love looks like and learning how to have a servant’s heart and die to yourself on a daily basis.

And then after couples get married in churches we need to be doing things to strengthen those relationships and help them keep the romantic fires alive and work through issues. If you can put out fires while they’re small by launching marriage ministries it’ll save pastors so much time in the long run. So many of the issues that go on in the churches are directly related to marriages failing at home. The men dropping out of church ‘cause they don’t want to be with their wives, the kids growing up and rebelling ‘cause they see their parents fighting at home. The fallout of people rebelling against God because they’re bitter, because they went through an ugly divorce. They’re so many issues that could be dealt with if we would deal with them early while they’re small.

Fireproof NovelTell us a little bit about how you came to write the novelization of fireproof with Eric Wilson. What did that look like and how did it come about?

We kind of did it in reverse. With all three movies, Flywheel, Facing the Giants and Fireproof, we’ve gotten Eric to write the books after we finished the movie. With Fireproof we sent him the script, we sent him the movie, and then we walked through all the backstory and subplots that we didn’t get to put in the movie ... like “How did Caleb and Catherine meet?” Let’s talk about why he says never leave your partner behind. Why is that important to him? After they reconcile in the bay, what does that night look like at home when he goes home? Is it romantic? What happens later on down the road? Why don’t they have kids?

There were a lot of things we didn’t have time to put in the movie that we were able to put in the book. So much of that stuff we walked through with Eric. He’s become a good friend. He’s an incredible writer, very creative, and he has our heart for ministry. He’s very passionate about his own marriage. We were thrilled to get to partner with him. We met with him over one day and ended up spending the night at my aunt and uncle’s house in Columbus, and Eric came over there. We watched things from the movie, we walked through subplots, we gave him the script and we had him write back in the deleted scenes. Eric ran with it. He did a great job.

What has been your most memorable moment in film making, whether it be working on Fireproof or some of your other movies?

Wow. There have been a bunch. Being at the Fox Theater earlier this year, in August, before Fireproof hit theaters, with about 4,000 people watching the movie and looking around the room and seeing world changers all me coming to see this movie. This big, huge formal night and then standing up and being able to share with that group what God had done. And then afterwards our pastor coming up with tears in his eyes saying how much he was grateful for what the Lord had been doing through this whole process. Our parents were there and were honored. That was a huge moment. We were just like, “We shouldn’t even be here. How did all this happen?” It was one of those moments when you know just by the Lord’s grace He’s overwhelmingly blessing you, a prodigal. We’ve had many of that kind of moment.

We got to go to the White House West Wing and have breakfast with Bill Wichterman, the liaison to the president. Fireproof Still FirehouseSitting there around these tables where the president has breakfast. Being able to share with them what God did through Fireproof and to be given a private tour and do a Bible study for some of the White House staff. That’s just one of those moments where you’re just like, “I can’t believe we’re here doing this.”

Getting those phone calls about what the Love Dare is doing. Hearing publishing people say, “We can’t believe this, but there are 1.4 million copies of this book in print, and it’s selling faster than any other book we’ve had.” We’re hearing amazing stories. And then talking to the people. The people who are saying, “Let me tell you what God is doing at the grass roots level.”

And there are crisis moments too when you look back and we were on our faces crying out to God in prayer in secret, begging the Lord to intervene, not knowing what would happen. Looking back, those are now special to us. It was not fun then. Sometimes you’ll hit those moments, like when Moses hit the Red Sea and the army is coming in behind you and you’re just like, “God if You don’t come through, we’re toast.” And then the Lord shows up.

In Facing the Giants, us getting distribution was a challenge. That whole week I remember us begging God to open the door, and all the doors shut. Then when Provident called us and said, “We’ve seen the movie; we love it. We’re owned by Sony. We want to take it theatrical.” We didn’t even know they were a film distributor. It was just out of nowhere. It was one of those “this is of God; it’s not of you” moments. It wasn’t our negotiation skills, we didn’t have the right connections, it was just the Lord.

But back to those crisis moments - the whole journey of writing the Love Dare was very difficult. There was this awesome weight of responsibility that we felt was on our shoulders, and there was a fear of the Lord that people are going to be reading this book and following its counsel. We’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to make it Biblically sound. It’s got to be wise counsel. It’s got to be long term. We took out the fluff, we took out the opinions, we said, “Let’s try to make this as solid as possible so it will be a Sequoia, like a My Utmost of His Highest”. One of those deals where it’s so Christ centered and to the point that 20 years from now I hope my own children will be giving the Love Dare to people saying, “This book changed my life.” I hope it will last a generation.

Sherwood PicturesLooking ahead, do you have any new projects on the horizon?

We are doing some Fireproof conferences over the next few months around the nation with Gary Smalley. We are very excited about the Legacy Edition of the Love Dare and the DVD going international. Every DVD has the Bible studies on there. It’s been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, Chinese. It’s going to be able to go all around the world.

Secondly, we are resting right now after two years of deadlines, and we’re asking God to give us the next God idea. We’re not interested in just doing good ideas. We don’t want to do man initiated ministry. We have tasted and seen that when the Lord is at the helm and He inspires, He blesses and opens doors, and that’s the best kind of ministry to be involved in. The Scripture says unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord makes the movie we’re wasting our time. We’re totally interested in what He wants us to do for the next project. I’d love to do for fatherhood what Fireproof does for marriage. We’ll see what the Lord does.

What is your most embarrassing moment as a film maker?

The Lord did a whole lot in us to totally destroy our pride, so there haven’t been that many embarrassing moments since it’s not about us. We’ve had the attitude of let’s not worry about this, whatever it is. If the Lord took His hand off what we are doing we would be toast. We’re just so dependent on Him. We’re inadequate. We do not have the training, skills, and expertise to do what we’re doing. Every Stephen & Alex Kendrickday the margin between our ability and what needs to happen is huge. We need Him to show up. And He keeps showing up and sending us the resources and the people and the money and saving us from embarrassment. My backdoor private legacy that my wife and I see all the time is, “Man! God totally bailed me out of that!” He carries us every step of the way. I’m like “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” That’s the way we need to be living because there are often times when we blow something.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

Selfishly, I would ask them to really pray for us that God would keep us useable. Pride can rot people. Greed for money can rot people. Letting their guard down and doing something stupid morally can derail people in ministry. I’ve seen that happen all around me over the years. People with influence failing. Pray for us that He will lead us to the storyline He wants us to do next.

We’re very excited about the Love Dare and the Fireproof DVD. The DVD is packed full of fun stuff. I’m very grateful for all that’s come together on that. There are a lot of DVDs you can rent and the special features aren’t very good. They’re a waste of your time. We want the behind-the-scenes stuff of Fireproof to be as enjoyable as the movie. When you watch how the church made the movie, we’re sharing the story about the forklift showing up, about how the Lord intervened and brought it all together. The Bloopers and the Prank sections are hilarious. We played a lot of pranks on Kirk, and he played pranks on us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Be sure to read our previous interview with Stephen in which he shares some of those pranks, specific stories of how God intervened in the movie, how they came to cast Kirk Cameron, and more. Check it out here.

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Tracy DarlingtonTracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.