BURLESON—Few churches produce full-length feature films, but when Pastor Chuck Kitchens looked at various ways to spread the gospel and recognized the talents of the people God had brought to Retta Baptist Church in Burleson, the path seemed clear.
My Son, the movie that grew from the church’s vision, premieres in September.
Jarod O’Flaherty grew up in the Burleson church and began making videos to bring the energy of youth camp to the church at large. Then in 2010 and 2011, he made music videos, seeking to use YouTube as an avenue to reach people for Christ.
When his grandmother died in 2010, he realized he had failed to keep a promise to her—to video his grandfather telling of his World War II experiences. So, he not only subsequently recorded his grandfather, but also memorialized the recounts of 21 World War II veterans telling their stories.
He edited those stories into a 90-minute film, We Were There, which his church used as a Memorial Day outreach at a local theater.
When Kitchens saw the quality of O’Flaherty’s work on that project, he immediately began to consider how his talents and the gifts of others in his congregation could be used to spread the gospel.
“He said that since God had provided the people who could make a film with quality, perhaps that was what God wanted us to do,” O’Flaherty said.
“That scared me to death. I had done these little five-minute music videos that took three months of planning and two months of editing. What kind of time would a movie make?”
O’Flaherty planned to tell Kitchens the task was too time-consuming. But on the day he was scheduled to meet with the pastor, O’Flaherty received a message from his employer announcing the company was granting every employee two months leave to do something they loved to stave off burnout. O’Flaherty no longer could say he didn’t have the time.
“Those two months are what we used to film the movie,” he said.
O’Flaherty had a clear goal for the film from the beginning.
“All the Christian films we had ever seen, or 95 percent, were films that seemed to be motivated to take people who were in church and encourage them to be more, do better. They also painted a picture of the church where it solves everything. You go out into a field with your Bible, kneel down and raise your hands to the sky, and for the next half hour, everything gets perfect,” he said.
“We said: ‘We don’t want to do that. We want to make a movie that from the beginning assumes the audience is unchurched people, lost people.’ … It’s not so much about what the people in our church think about it; it’s what the guy at the construction site will say, the girl in the bar, the people in break room, how they feel when they see this.”
O’Flaherty recognizes the tightrope he had to walk.
“There’s going to be some stuff in the film these people are going to say, ‘I get that; I relate to that.’ And the Christian people are going to say, ‘I don’t like seeing that.’ At the same time, we’re not going to overstep any boundaries to where we throw our witness in the trash,” he said.
Unlike a music video, a movie needs a script. O’Flaherty, Kitchens and Michael Dennis, minister of college-aged students, began speaking to others in the church who enjoyed reading and writing compelling stories.
Members submitted about 20 story ideas, and finally one was selected that centered on a church shooting.
“It wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t anyone’s first choice. It wasn’t easy. For a first movie, you want a T-ball shot—bad things happen, he prays, good things happen. But this was the one that stuck in our minds,” O’Flaherty said.
Differences over the script threatened to sink the film before it ever began.
“Everyone was going in all sorts of directions. It was like tug-of-war, and the rope was about to snap,” O’Flaherty recalled.
Kitchens called a meeting.
Starting on their knees
“The pastor said, ‘Let’s get together on a Saturday, put everybody in one room, lock the door, pray until our knees are sore and see what God will do,’” O’Flaherty said.
At the end of that day, he had a script in hand.
Over the next three months, God brought people to Retta to play the three primary roles.
While O’Flaherty had some skill editing film, neither he nor anyone else involved had any experience on a movie set. He and the rest of the team prayed: “We have no idea what we’re doing here. We’ve never done this before. We don’t know how. God please make this happen. You’re in charge here.”
“If you looked at what we had and what came out of it, it’s abundantly clear to everyone who worked on it that God did something a whole lot bigger that us in this.” O’Flaherty said.
Made for $25,000, My Son will be shown to the cast and crew Sept. 20, and then it will run several days at a Burleson theater. A trailer of the film can be seen at www.mysonmovie.com.
O’Flaherty is thrilled by the difference he has seen in the Retta congregation on Sundays. “There are people who had a chance to work side-by-side on this film who in any other situation, wouldn’t be working side-by-side. We’re seeing hugs between people on Sunday mornings who never hugged before,” he said.
Praying for transformed lives
Above all, he hopes to see transformed lives outside the church.
“I want lost people to see this film. I want people outside the church to get a different perspective of what church people are like and also for them to realize that the church is much more relevant to their lives than they may believe,” O’Flaherty said.
Kitchens likewise wants to see nonbelievers transformed. “When we looked at how we could have a mass evangelism approach in our world and the people that God had equipped Retta Baptist Church with, we had to do this,” he said.
“I believe that God puts people in churches to do the things that God wants to do. Rather than just keeping salt in the salt shaker, we decided to get out into the world.”