About this whole thing……..
What exactly is ‘Space to Think’?
And who is Jonathan Crouch, the face in the films? What’s his background?
Perhaps I should start by saying what I’m not. I’m not a Pastor, a preacher or a church leader. I’m an ordinary guy with a straightforward job who struggles with issues in the real world like anyone else. All the films, all the books – everything I’ve read and seen on this subject – tends to be produced by someone in Christian full time work. I thought it was important that somebody detached from that took a fresh perspective on life issues and whether the Christian faith really stacks up in answering them.
People have all kinds of issues – but very often – most often – a church is the last place they’ll go to try and address them. I can’t really argue with that either. In the town where I live, there are lots and lots of supposedly Christian churches, all slightly different, all believing their particular slant on faith is the right one. If you’re an ordinary person with questions coming from the outside, where do you start with that lot? Who do you go to first? Easier to do nothing and not to try.
Initiatives like ‘Alpha’ over the last few years have helped things of course, but as an outsider, you’ve still got to screw yourself up and enter an unfamiliar church to take part. Even if someone there invites you, it’s still something you’d likely be reticent about doing: ‘nice for you but not for me’ is the default response.
When I became a Christian at 26, I looked around at all this and wondered how I’d managed it. But for a unique series of God-inspired events, I wouldn’t have done. Yet the message was the meaning of life. The church – Christians – held the message. But the world – the world I knew anyway – was lacking a bridge to it.
Wanting to do something about it, I set up a programme called ‘Life Discovery’ – it’s now a registered Christian charity but back at the beginning in the Nineties, it was just a group of Christian guys doing fun stuff – going go-karting, jet skiing, quad-biking, paint balling – all the things you don’t expect Christians to do – and using the day as a basis to talk about what Jesus called ‘life and life to the full’ while living ‘life and life to the full’.
It’s not a business, not a formal ministry. It was – and still is – just a group of people giving up a few hours of their spare time each month to organise a brilliant activity day doing extreme stuff people don’t usually get the chance to do – and talking about the meaning of life while doing it. We have a website – www.lifediscovery.co.uk – if people want to know more.
There’s an awful lot of evangelistic material already out there of course – tracts, books, websites, films and so on. What was the thinking that led you to start this project in the first place – why did you think there was a need for it?
In talking to people – particularly those I met on the Life Discovery days – it was clear that much of what was out there wasn’t hitting the spot. It wasn’t where people were at. And anyway, there was a more important issue.
Much of Christian evangelism is based around answering questions people aren’t asking. Questions they should be asking – but aren’t. How do you bring people to the point where they’re asking the key questions themselves – ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What’s my purpose?’ ‘Does my life matter?’
I don’t think we should be starting with people by talking about God. I think we should start by talking about questions like those – ‘cause they’re questions everyone’ll have to answer sooner or later whether it’s now or on their deathbed. If now, and if the answers they get are credible, then they’ll free up the opportunity to live in a completely different way – freed up, the main issues of life taken care of.
If the questions are valid and people start to think through them, then they’ll be interested in how in our journey to Christianity, we thought through them too.
The more people I met, the more I thought about it, the more I felt there was a real need for the project already forming in my mind that became ‘Space to Think’. Two films, the first that didn’t even mention Christianity and Jesus but talked about the questions of life from a very personal perspective. A film that someone with no interest in religion might watch – might get something from. And a video that might earn the right from the viewer for them to view a second film that tried to provide some answers.
Part of my normal job is presenting films – I make road test videos on cars – and the production company I use, Vivid Broadcast, is run by Christians. I sat down with Rory Springthorpe and Stephen Montgomery who run the business and shared my vision. We’d all three of us already been inspired by American presenter Rob Bell’s ‘Nooma’ videos. Our concept was to produce something as rich with the same national broadcast-standard quality but aimed more at someone with no concept – and perhaps no interest – in Christianity.
The cost was going to be huge – but I’d started to write outline scripts for the two films – and pray about them. God would have to make it happen if it was the right thing to do. He did. We started shooting in March 2010.
The two films seem to be essentially a testimony – your journey of discovery towards making sense of faith. That seems to have been a story you were keen to tell……
I’m someone who likes to think things through. You don’t commit to buy a really complicated, expensive piece of equipment without doing that. How much less the most important decision of your life – committing to the meaning of existence and eternity? Yet too often I think, Christianity is reduced to a ‘Sinners’ prayer’ and a ‘you’ll pick it up as you go along – and anything you can’t, you just believe by faith’.
That wasn’t how Jesus was: he patiently sat down with his followers and answered all their questions. And it isn’t what the Bible says: in 1 Peter 3 v.15, it says you should ‘always be ready to give a defence to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you’.
In any case, I didn’t want to spend these two films preaching to people. I wouldn’t want to watch that if I was a viewer. It’s often said in retail that ’people buy from people’. So I wanted people looking at this film to get where I was at. I wanted to open up about the journey I’d taken – to see if it chimed with anyone else. Weren’t at least some of the questions I was asking the ones they were asking? I was sure that must be true.
What would you say to someone with no particular faith who ends up with this DVD in their hands or a link to the films on their PC? Someone who wouldn’t normally watch this sort of thing?
I would say that I could understand why they might throw it to one side: we’re besieged these days by stuff that claims it’ll make our lives better. But I’d ask them not to. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to answer life questions of the ‘Why am I here?’, ‘What’s my purpose?’ and ‘Does my life matter?’ variety. And they’re going to need some help in doing it.
Of course, most people don’t articulate what’s missing in their lives in the exact form of those three questions. They just feel a dull, aching, empty longing for something – they don’t know what. Something that isn’t quite right. Something they don’t know how to fix. And they just don’t know where to start. I’d ask them if they would be prepared just to look at the first film – the one that gives no answers but simply poses the questions. The worst it could do would be to give them that starting point.
And if – and only if – the questions and the journey makes any kind of sense, I’d then ask them if they would be prepared to watch the second film, to see if they might agree with the answers I arrived at – for the reasons why I was created, why my life has a purpose and why my life – and theirs – really, really matters. Because I believe it really, really does.
How would you like the films to be used by Christians?
Obviously, I’d like them to get the films in front of people they know who are struggling with the point – the meaning – of their lives. Most Christians will be more comfortable with the second film than the first. When you’ve already sorted the issues that the first film explores, the answers to them can seem obvious – perhaps even unnecessary.
Personally, unless someone was way down the road towards exploring faith, I would want them to see the first film before the second. It comes down to the old issue of answering questions that people aren’t asking otherwise. But that of course is a judgement that users themselves have to make.
The films are supposed to spark discussion. I know this myself: I showed them to my own wider family and we ended up discussing them long into the night and having the kind of conversation that we’d never had in twenty years. I remember thinking then that if that was all the films ever achieved, then they had been worth doing.
I’d also like to think that the films would be useful for Christians to help them crystallise in their minds the reason for the faith they have. We’re told in the Bible to be always ready to do that – but so often, we aren’t.
We’ve talked about Space To Think, the films, essentially chronicling your own journey in faith discovery. Is there going to be another chapter to tell here?
Honestly? I don’t know. Space to Think was something I wanted to do because it would give me an opportunity to reach a much wider audience than I could ever have managed with the Life Discovery events I was doing. I’d like to think it could go further still – maybe with specific films on specific issues. But that’s in the future. We’ve done what we set out to do here. The rest, of course, is up to God.