Their latest release, Overcomer (coming to Blu-Ray and DVD on December 17th) is no different. With people searching more than ever to determine what defines them via social media or pop culture, the movie delves deeply into a person’s quest to find true identity and self-worth.
Earning more than $36 million at the box office to date, the sixth Kendrick Brothers movie stars Priscilla Shirer (War Room), Shari Rigby (October Baby), Cameron Arnett (Meet the Browns), and features the debut of Aryn Wright-Thompson.
I recently sat down with Stephen Kendrick to discuss the eternal significance of knowing your true identity, the critical importance of discipleship and mentoring in the life of the Church today, and why the brothers may step away from directing and producing movies in 2020.
First off, why do you think this film has resonated with audience of all ages? When I first saw it, I thought it was a great movie for teens, but I was thrilled when I realized that it spoke just as effectively to older age groups. Your thoughts on that?
Identity is a universal issue. All of us are not only born not knowing who we are, but throughout our lives, we are redefining ourselves in our own minds — our positions, our purpose, our value to this world is based upon what’s going on around us. In other words, what other people are saying about us. It’s so important that we learn to disconnect from this world’s opinions and instead we connect into what God’s Word has been saying about us. I think about Job and how he actually had two identities. He had an identity on the earth that was totally wiped out and taken away from him. And he had an identity in God’s eyes that never changed. For us, our identity in God’s eyes is if we’re a believer in Jesus Christ it’s what Ephesians 1 and 2 says about us. It says that in the heavenly places and from God’s perspective, we are blessed, loved, chosen, forgiven, adopted and sealed by His Holy Spirit.
The message of identity is something that we not only need to discover but be reminded of throughout our lives regardless of what we’re going through. This movie is not only emotionally entertaining; people are laughing in the theater and they’re wiping a tear away.
You just mentioned the book of Ephesians, specifically Ephesians 1 and 2. You and your brother Alex (Kendrick) have been very devoted to rooting your movies in the Word of God, which is fantastic. Could you talk a bit about how the two of you come up with and arrive the core themes for your movies?
Sure. We don’t know what the next film usually is going to be after we’re finishing the previous movie. And so, it has really been a faith journey for us of trying to be faithful to what God has entrusted to us. With War Room, it didn’t make sense to a whole lot of people or even to us in a lot of ways. Why would God call two white guys in Albany, Georgia to make a movie about a black woman’s prayer closet? But the Lord just kept confirming, I want you to do this. And so, after War Room, we were praying for months, just asking the Lord to give us clarity and direction. What usually happens is the Lord will inspire Alex with an emotional scene idea that’s very powerful. Basically, in all the movies, it started with this spark scene and it’s usually at the end of the film.
From here, Alex begins to craft a lot of the storyline. At the same time, the Lord has consistently been teaching me something theologically that parallels with that. With Fireproof, I had already been studying and preaching on marriage and unconditional love when he came up with the idea of the Love Dare. With Courageous, I had been preaching on fatherhood. With War Room, I had been leading our church’s prayer ministry for years and had all these messages on prayer.
With this film it was Ephesians 1 and 2. This was a passage of Scripture where I had been for the last couple of years. Through our daughter’s adoption, I saw the difference in her identity shifting. Then the light bulb went on for me. When I look back at Ephesians 1 and 2, that’s exactly what God has done for us in Christ. This whole package deal comes when we believe in Jesus, that we are adopted into His family. We’re blessed, chosen and forgiven. We have an inheritance in Him and the Holy Spirit. All these things come with it. So, the Lord marries those two things together. As Alex is developing the storylines and I’m bringing some theological scriptures to the table, it really has been an exciting journey with the Lord because we know we’re not driving the bus in this situation. We’re just trying to fasten our seatbelts and hang on.
Discipleship and mentoring are so vitally important to the Church today. How does Overcomer address these topics?
I believe every generation needs to be passing on what they’re learning to the next generation. That’s modeled in the Old and New Testament. It’s how Jesus did ministry with his disciples. In II Timothy 2, Paul is saying the things that you’ve learned, seen and heard in me, you must trust these to faithful men who will be able to then teach other people also down the road. It should be a part of the life of every Christian believer, that whatever they’re learning they are passing on to someone younger than them or more immature than them. At the same time, we’re all seeking Godly counsel from people that are smarter than us and are further down the road than we are. In Overcomer, you see coach John Harrison not only being mentored by Thomas in the hospital bed, but you also can see him passing on to Hannah what he’s learning as well. You also see him investing in his own kids at home. Then you follow Priscilla Shirer’s character, Olivia Brooks, as the principal. She’s also pouring into Hannah as God opens the door to her circumstances. We love to model that in our films, that we’re not just saying go do something, but we’re showing you how it can be done so that you can walk out with a more vivid picture. This message of coaching, mentoring, and pouring into the next generation is throughout the film. But we think it should be a part of all of our lives as well.
Changing gears, I saw a press release in recent days that said a new Kendrick Brothers movie is coming in 2020 but Alex may not be directing it. I have long said that the two of you have been raising up a family tree of Christian filmmakers (ex. the Erwin Brothers, I Can Only Imagine). What can you share about this?
We are excited about this because we are going to be continuing to work on films that we will have our hands on producing. But this is going to be the first opportunity for us to step into more of an executive producing role where we’re building the team, coaching them through production, shepherding them through, setting up distribution, and crafting the story. But it’s going to be us working through the hands and feet of some of these other gifted filmmakers that we’ve been working with and investing in. The plan is for Alex to be working through another director and letting that director, under his leadership, direct the film. I’m going to be doing that with the building of a producer team, so we’re going to be actively involved.
Our workload will be cut in half, but we’ll be able to help shepherd the project and get more content out there sooner. That will free us up to be able to jump into our own next production sooner. So, instead of a movie coming out every four years, we’d love it if every other year you would be seeing one of our movies. We’re all about setting up people for success. We love to see people that we’re pouring into really step up and grow in the craft and their love for the Lord. We want to honor God with filmmaking. We really need more Christian filmmakers stepping up at every level, whether it’s producing a YouTube channel or a television show or, or a network like CBN, whatever it may be. Christians need to be on the cutting edge, and we need to be the experts when it comes to the topics that our culture is dealing with. We need to be stepping up with authority, clarity and speaking to these issues. And we must do it in a way that is very relevant for this generation.
After people have seen Overcomer what would you like audiences to take away with them after seeing it? What is your greatest hope for the movie?
First, that when they watch the film they will have an encounter with the Lord. We have prayed through the entire journey of this film that the Lord would place His hand on the finished product and that when they’re being entertained, when they’re laughing, crying and cheering, that the Holy Spirit is speaking to their hearts. Only the Lord knows what people need to hear at that moment in their lives. We’re praying that the Lord will use the movie as a tool and instrument of His Hand so that whether they’re watching it at a church screening or they’re sitting on an airplane watching, that they will have an encounter with the Lord.
The Gospel is crystal clear presented in the middle of the film. It they don’t know Christ we would love for them to, to place their faith in Him. If they’re a believer, we hope they’ll discover more about their identity in Christ, that they will have a hunger to study Ephesians 1 and 2. And there’s also the messages of forgiveness that are in the film. There’s marital reconciliation that you see happening. You see mentorship taking place in Overcomer. So hopefully there’s enough there that they’ve got a seven-course meal that will challenge, inspire, nourish, and create a desire to share it with other people as well.
Watch an exclusive video clip from Stephen Kendrick on the theme of Overcomer: