The Chosen’s Dallas Jenkins on fallen pastors, his imperfections, and artists in the church
These days, Dallas Jenkins is known as the writer, director, and all-around-creator of the hit TV show, The Chosen. But it wasn’t that many years ago when he was making short films for his local church.
Speaking to Eternity earlier this year, Jenkins described how that time he spent working at the church, along with his former pastor’s subsequent fall from grace, deeply influences his work on The Chosen today.
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“My church allowed me, for our good Friday or Christmas Eve services each year, to do a short film or a vignette about Jesus,” Jenkins told us. “And that’s where I first got the opportunity to try telling stories of Jesus from different perspectives.”
Those church short films provided some significant moments, not only for Dallas as a filmmaker but also for the church.
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“Some of those vignettes and short films that I did at Harvest [Bible Chapel] were huge moments for our church and for our people.”
One such moment was his first “Jesus joke”.
“My very first ever Jesus joke – Jesus telling a joke – was for a little short film that I did for my church’s Good Friday service. And when I heard the laughter and the response and how… just moved people were to see Jesus have a sense of humour, I thought, ‘Man, this really has a chance of working.”
Jenkins says he would love to see more churches making more space for artists to explore like he was – with a caveat.
“I think churches have an obligation to make sure that they’re staying within their theology,” he says. “Sometimes churches need to be a little bit contained and making sure that they’re still communicating the message that the pastor and the leaders want communicated.”
Jenkins acknowledges that “artists will push the envelope.
“But I think there’s this balance and I think churches need to see media and art as an authentic and worthwhile expression of worship. And when it’s done right, it can be another tool in your toolbox as a leader to communicate God’s word to your people,” he says.
Despite Harvest Bible Chapel affording Jenkins these artistic opportunities, the church was far from perfect.
Former pastor James MacDonald was stepped down from leadership in February 2019, with a church statement saying he was “biblically disqualified” from the position of elder and could never return in that role or as pastor to the church he founded decades ago.
Now, MacDonald is often grouped with fallen pastors like Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias and Mark Driscoll. He even gets a mention on the chart-topping podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which details the downfall of Mark Driscoll.
With so many of Christianity’s failures the current focus of media – for valid reasons – The Chosen’s depiction of early Christianity provides a striking contrast. So, is Jenkins himself struck by the timing of the show’s release?
“Absolutely,” he says, revealing he has also been listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. “I actually knew Mark Driscoll fairly well,” he says, explaining that his pastor, James MacDonald, was a good friend of Mark’s.
Jenkins says he has “great affection” for his time at Harvest, his work there, and even his time even knowing Driscoll. He says he knows, “from the inside, some of these things that have come out in the public about pastors”.
“And at the same time, I’m doing a show about humans who are flawed people,” he says.
“I’m going to make mistakes. The show is not the Bible” – Dallas Jenkins
Jenkins says that one of the great things he experienced when at Harvard was that MacDonald would always preach, “It’s not about the messenger, it’s about the message.”
It’s a teaching that has stayed with him.
“I feel like I’m doing that now with the show,” he says. “I’m trying to tell people, ‘Look, I’m a flawed, broken, humble, surrendered man. I’m going to make mistakes. The show is not the Bible’.”
Jenkins says listening to the podcast has been instructive.
“We need to make sure that we’re communicating this message repeatedly – that this is not about me,” Jenkins says.
“So that if and when I do something wrong or I mess up in some way – which I’ve done plenty of times already – people don’t have their vision of Jesus or their vision of the church completely broken.”
The content of The Chosen is consistent with this idea, Jenkins notes, with the disciples portrayed as imperfect people.
“It really took off during the pandemic and I think was healing for a lot of people,” he says. “But I think seeing Simon, Peter, and Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus struggle significantly, and have questions and have problems… ”
“And then in Season Two, where we see Mary Magdalene relapse and go back to some of her old struggles, for some people that was really controversial and upsetting. But for most people it was very healing and important,” Jenkins says.
“And I think that’s an important message we need to share.”