During his 27-year police career, Craig Dodd has suffered cracked ribs, split his head open, broken both hands, and had so many teeth knocked out that dentists have crammed 17 crowns into his mouth.
Such real-life experience made the chief investigator for the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Department an effective technical advisor for Courageous. The forthcoming movie from Sherwood Pictures is creating a buzz in Christian circles, thanks to a flock of already-released biblical resources.
Yet it’s another underlying reality in Craig’s life that created a thread between the Georgia officer’s heart and the theme of the movie created by Albany’s Sherwood Baptist Church. Along with its heart-rending, sometimes humorous, and often action-packed scenes, Courageous emphasizes the courage required to be a strong father.
The film portrays four policemen whose parenting skills don’t always match their zeal for upholding the law. Still, as the father of an adult daughter, Craig gleaned considerable insights from the movie.
The leading lesson came from appreciating that although he may have fallen short during her younger years, his 21-year-old daughter still needs his guidance, insights and wisdom.
The college senior particularly needs his undivided attention. As he approaches his 50th birthday this November, Craig now grasps the difference between idly listening and hearing the emotion and unstated messages she is conveying.
“I’m afraid when she was younger I was very guilty of just listening because I didn’t have time [to hear her],” he says of past preoccupation with his job, a habit that sometimes included 18-hour work days. “I was always busy. Now I make time.”
“My daughter is still daddy’s little girl in her own way, even though she’s very independent. She is always coming to me with any problem she has. I like trying to spend more time with her. When I do, I try to make it valuable time.”
Prompting this kind of reflection is one of the movie’s goals, says Ken Bevel, an associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist. He portrays officer Nathan Hayes, one of three leading roles played by members of the southwest Georgia congregation.
The former Marine officer thinks Courageous will resonate with people over 50 by helping them review their relationships with their adult children and, where necessary, acting to restore them.
After attending one of the many preview showings held for church leaders and media, a friend remarked to
Ken that you never stop being a father because it’s not over when the kids move out.
“There’s still fathering and parenting that needs to be done,” Ken agrees. “I pray when the 50-and-up crowd sees this movie, they will say, ‘You know what? My fathering job is not done. I just can’t get on the boat and go to the lake on Sunday and see my grandkids when I want to see them.’”
“The fathering aspect is still going on,” says the dad of two pre-schoolers. “They need to be pro-active and engaged in the lives of their children. Not to the point where they’re bothering them all the time, but to the point where they’re still a part of their children’s lives.”
Life Imitates Art
After the stirring $33.5 million box office performance of its 2008 film, Fireproof, Sherwood Pictures is familiar to churches everywhere. The movie has sold three million DVDs, and thousands of congregations have hosted screenings.
Like all its films, Fireproof contained a Christian-based message, one that used a firefighter’s saga to focus on marriage. It proved so convicting to one man and his mistress that partway through she whispered, “I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable right now.” They left and the man broke off the affair before calling his wife to say, “We need to reconcile.”
This life-imitating-art achievement is only one of countless stories of how Sherwood’s movies have touched lives for the better, showing how a desire to serve God can unfold in far greater ways than we can imagine.
This unique ministry goes back a decade, to a church staff retreat in Florida. There associate pastor Alex Kendrick daydreamed with his brother, Stephen, about using movies for ministry. When Alex confided this passion to senior pastor Michael Catt, he replied, “Why not?”
The brothers responded by shooting Flywheel on a shoestring budget of $20,000. The story of a shady car dealer whose life-changing encounter with Christ transforms him into a man of integrity has sold more than 300,000 DVDs.
It was followed by 2006’s football-themed Facing the Giants, whose “don’t quit” message revolved around prayer and faith. Giants grossed $10.1 million in box office receipts on a $100,000 production budget—the equivalent of a $1 million movie returning $100 million.
That attracted Hollywood’s attention and thrust the church into what has become an international spotlight. Yet Ken, who became minister of connections and major events after retiring from the military, says Sherwood doesn’t want to just churn out films while going through the motions of ministry.
“We don’t want to be making movies just to be making movies,” says Bevel, who also starred as Lieutenant Michael Simmons in Fireproof. “We’re trying to impact nations and cultures.”
That impact is shown by Sherwood plowing part of its movie earnings into an 82-acre sports complex that is open to the public. Among its local outreaches are helping fund a food pantry, a crisis pregnancy program, and a drug-treatment center.
On a wider scale, it supports North American and international missionaries and has helped start churches in San Francisco and Baltimore.
“Sherwood uses all the money from these movies to reinvest in the community through all their missions programs, youth programs and outreach centers,” says Captain Dodd, a member of another church who often works security detail at Sherwood on Sundays. “All the money spent in the local economy has a good impact.”
The impact is more than monetary. During filming in one poor neighborhood where some of Courageous’ gang scenes were shot, young people curious about the project wound up hearing the gospel. Three of them later accepted Jesus as Savior.
After filming ended, Sherwood used relationships established with children in that neighborhood to set up a weekly food-and-games fest in a nearby park. Last Christmas, the church staged a Christmas party there, giving away 100 bikes, a truckload of presents and boxes of food. The church returned this past summer to reprise the outreach.
This interaction with the low-income community had a life-changing outcome for Doug Cochrane, the movie’s locations manager.
A self-employed consultant who manages railroad expansion and bridge projects, the 56-year-old member of Sherwood confessed to feeling apprehensive about approaching property owners for permission to film on their land.
“I thought, ‘What might happen?’” Doug says. “I asked two guys from church to go with me. But I found the most humble, wonderful, Spirit-filled people. People welcomed us and we didn’t have a bit of trouble. God opened my eyes about the fear I had taken into this.
“We had no idea this was going to happen, but God showed us this was our Jerusalem,” Doug says, referring to Jesus’ call in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to one’s city and beyond. “God tore down a wall that had been erected for years in different parts of Albany.”
Doug identifies the erasing of fear as one of many blessings he received from working on Courageous. His position included many 12- and 14-hour days during the peak of filming, something he says he wouldn’t have been able to do had he not been downsized by his former employer at the end of 2008.
There are many other behind-the-scenes stories from production, like the days in the boiling summer sun when church members successfully prayed for cloud cover. Or when rain clouds threatened and prayer staved off moisture long enough to complete a scene.
Still, the prayer that drives everyone—and there were more than 600 volunteers involved in some aspect of filming— is that God uses Courageous to touch a nerve in America’s moral fiber, regardless of age.
“I think America is in a desperate situation,” Doug says. “We’re going the wrong direction and are headed for disaster if it doesn’t turn around. Somewhere we need to transmit the parenting skills our fathers and grandfathers had to younger parents. Men need to step up and be the fathers God designed them to be.”
Ken also prays that God uses the movie, noting that it is simply a tool for Him to speak to fathers, mothers and grandparents so they will fulfill the call He has placed on their lives.
Throughout the book of Joshua, God tells the ancient warrior to be strong and courageous, until the final chapter when Joshua declares, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).
“Our prayer is that men will walk out of that movie saying, ‘You know what? I’ve experienced the blessings of God on my family. I’ve experienced things going well. God has given us peace in many situations. So as for me and my house, we’re going to serve the Lord,’” Ken says.
A fitting declaration for all parents—and their parents—to make.