It's like family, only weirder…

Free Chapel Presents The Story of Christmas

My wife, a good friend of ours, and I were hired to perform for Free Chapel’s production of The Christmas Story in Gainesville this past weekend. The show was probably astounding, though I’ve haven’t seen it yet. It works out that way for those of us that are actually in the play. Getting it together was no less than a miracle either. I’ve never been involved in such a chaotic production. It was mostly volunteer help, but so is community theater and it is managed more professionally. There seemed to be plenty of people helping, but the instruction from the upper tier was a little too loose. It could have been that it was only loose to those of us that were hired for the job, rather than volunteering. I understand that the assumption was that the professionals were supposed to magically know what they were doing. You’re probably wondering what kind of performance I did, being that I’m not a performer by trade. It turns out I can walk on stilts and eat/blow fire. I can also juggle, which is a bonus for the stilt-walking gig. My wife and friend were both clowns and put together a funny sketch to do on stage. Another guy did all the fire work for the engagement, though I was prepared to step in if need be. Free Chapel hired several other performers as they do each year for this performance. If you don’t know what Free Chapel is and you live on Earth, then you’re a troglodyte. I’m kidding. They’re big, but maybe not that big. The place has more money than you can imagine, and they hold no punches for entertainment. The play was televised nation-wide and distributed via DVD. I’m interested to see the DVD because we filmed it first and practiced later. Sort of an odd way of doing things, but understandable with their desire to have the DVD’s available at the show. There were a couple of mishaps, one of which was me almost falling. My stilt foot caught some cellophane as I walked on stage and very nearly met my demise. I had actually resigned myself to the fall, but held out some hope that I would at least slow my descent. It turned out that I was able to recover, but not incredibly gracefully. My legs shook for the rest of the night while I was on the stilts. I’ve not fallen yet. I wanted to fall to know what it was like, but once I got up the my full height I was cured of any such wish. My wife did fall as a clown. It was fitting, but not intentional. She took a dive on our way down the plank on seemingly nothing. It was the clown shoes in actuality. It’s a bit like walking in diving fins. She got going too fast and just hit the carpet and slid. Nice!

*UPDATE 1/20/2006*
I received a call from my manager this evening telling me that I needed to take this post down per Free Chapel’s request. I couldn’t recall any scathing details published here, so I had to tell him I’d think about it while I went and reviewed my post. This post was nonchallant at best. I wrote it in a hurry and skirted opinions that might have angered people. Even still, somebody got their feelings hurt because of what I’ve said.

*UPDATE 1/21/2006*
At this point, I’m really not interested in taking down this post or any others. I am entitled to my opinion, and I haven’t slandered Free Chapel’s name in the legal sense. In fact, there are several back-handed compliments throughout. I’m going to contact Free Chapel to get a better feeling of what the problem actually is. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong – I can admit that.

*UPDATE 1/26/2006*
Thank you all for your support! I contacted the gentleman who originally contacted my manager to try and work out the problem between us. I haven’t heard from him yet, and it has been several days now. That lends me to believe that this is probably his personal venture, and not that of the church’s. It turns out that he was the director for the play I wrote about. So I hurt his feelings and he wanted to try and use the church’s presence to overwhelm me. If anything does come of this, you’ll see it here!

Also, if you’re planning on using any of this material for your own purposes, please contact me directly to discuss it. I do feel I need to know what I’m being involved in.


Reader Comments

  1. Wow, sounds like someone is using their religious beliefs as a weapon for their own misguided agenda. Threatening legal action for your right to free speech? Wow, not a very christian attitude from that church. I read your original post weeks ago and didn’t think anything of it. Still don’t. Just sounded like an account of your experience. All productions are chaotic and crazy. Nothing seemed like it should have been offensive.

    Come to think of it, didn’t the Catholic church pursecute Jesus because he spoke his mind? Seems like an odd paralell, but Free Chapel seems to be doing the same thing against you. Persecuting you in the name of their faith for speaking your mind. Sad and misguided. Preach on!

  2. Ok, I was ready for something scathing here- and frankly I was disappointed. If the representative of Free Chapel was going to get in a tizzy, it should have been over something, oh- I don’t know- MILDLY offensive? And in several places you even COMPLIMENTED the church!!!

  3. I too was expecting more earth-shattering stuff when I heard of the complaint by Free Chapel. The only things I could possibly see that they might be upset about is you saying the place “has more money than you can imagine, and they hold no punches for entertainmen.” The problem is that is not slander, it would be a telling of the truth.

    I would also like to say that I have never heard of these people, and to add a real insult–they do not have a listing in Wikipedia, so they can’t be that big! 🙂

    First amendment rights are some of the most important to protect. I hate that your employer is involved in this because it makes things more complicated. sigh…

  4. I’m a big beleiver of freedom of speech but can i ask you one question? Who stands to gain from you posting such a comment. It really is of no benefit for you to tell a negative story of a one off experience. Just because a church is big, well funded etc. Who said they were professionals at everything? To highlight the negative of a church that is touching thousands of lives with REAL needs is speaking against God himself. People didn’t build that church, God did. So for all of you that think it’s ok to speak negatively about a church that is truly sharing Gods love and word, think about who your actually speaking against…

  5. The truth is, there really isn’t any condeming purpose behind my original post on this subject. The trouble came when I was asked to remove the post from my site. I would also like to point out that the original post was never very damning in the first place. I commented on the church’s production efforts and abilities, not their religious views. If you want to balk at something, try the post after this one. It *was* in response to religious views, though not in retaliation from any remarks from the church. Purely a personal opinion. Oh! This whole site consists of my personal opinion, lest anyone forget. And Dave, the latter part of your comment today has inspired me. Look forward to a poignant post in the near future regarding gods and people.

  6. The church itself doesn’t appear to be Christian at all. When i first moved to Gainesville the first thing that sparked my curiousity about Free Chapel was that it was totally devoid of any religious markings or symbols on the outside. I had hoped that perhaps it was a giant bastion of religious symbiosis. Come to find out it’s primarily where the “cultural elite” of Gainesville and those who indulge themselves in trivial theatrics and substance-free Christianity congregate. I suppose it’s only fitting though. What better way to feel better about sinning than to cover it up with rampant recruiting. 4,000 people all acting together can’t be wrong, right?

  7. I agree that there was not anything terribly awful written about Free Chapel in your original post, but I understand why some people would be upset that there was any kind of negative comments written about their church, no matter how trivial. Personally, I am not upset by these comments because it does not reflect on the fact that my church is being used by God in mighty ways. We indeed have faithful tithers in our church who fund all the wonderful ministries and community projects, not to mention world missions. By the way, I am not part of the cultural elite. We are a middle-class family like alot of the families in the church. We searched a long time for a good bible based church where we and our children could be taught the word of God in an enjoyable environment. We found everything we were looking for and more in this church. If you ever hear Pastor Franklin preach, you would know without a doubt that he truly has been called by God to do what he does. We are a church full of praising, worshiping, believing, caring sinners (because after all we are all sinners), who are not experts in the area of productions. I personally will take it for what it is, not perfect, but wonderful in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Free Chapel. There is no reason to defend what we do to any man, because I know what we do there is pleasing to God, and that is all that matters. For anyone reading this, I invite you to church so you can make your own opinion. I am confident that you would love this body of Christ as much as I do!

  8. I just came across the post while trying to find Free Chapel’s site. I agree with Sue – I am from a blue-collar lower class family who is barely earning enough to keep our power turned on. We’ve been going to Free Chapel for 2 years and not once have we been judged based on our income. Pastor Franklin reaches all of us, rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. We were welcomed into the church with open arms, and just because there are no traditional religious markings outside does not at all mean that the church is not Christian and faith-based. Free Chapel actually started out in a small skating rink years ago! So yes, you are free to speak your mind, but don’t judge a book by its cover – or a church by its lawn. I challenge you to attend just one of our services, and I’m confident your opinion would drastically change.

  9. Though Sue and Amy are much more elliquent than me I could not resist putting in my two cents worth.
    We ask you to join Gainesville’s cultural elite at our next service (we meet at 9:00 and 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings and 7:00 PM on Wednesdays) for some” trivial theatrics and substance-free Christianity”. Such as prayer, genuine and heart felt praise and worship of the Lord God of all the universe, receiving valuable teachings from a truely annointed man of God and raising money for trivialities such as world missions, feeding and clothing the poor(locally and abroad), providing counceling for christians in addictions, pre-marriage, marriage, grief, family crisis, divorce recovery, and depression.
    We are also helping people with drug and alcohol addictions and inner city and international ministires (ther’s probably more but I’ve only been attending for a couple of months and am not aware of all of our missions yet) and generally spreading the Good News about Jesus and doing our best to do the will of God through out the world.

    4000 + people can certainly do wonderful things when united for the purpose of serving our Lord and savior Jesus. If you can’t make it in drop by our web site at http://www.freechapel.org and put in a prayer request. We WILL pray for you!

    P.S. I never feel better about sinning, but do feel awesome about being forgiven. Praise Jesus.

  10. Well Sue and Brooks thank God for people like you who protect and pray for your church and pastor. I have been attending Freechaple for 2 and a half years now. I was very depressed and using drugs on the verge of a divorce, my husbands choice. Thank God for his guidance and Grace, my husband said if I go to church he will give me time to work through this, we were attending a church I will not name. but being depressed he litterly had to drag me out of bed to go. I felt very unwelcomed, by the way it was a small church cross out front all the religious signs on the outside but on the inside no one approached me it was like I was just another body sitting there. The reason I am mentioning this is one morning God told me simply 3 words FREECHAPLE JETEZEN FRANKLIN . From the moment I walked in I was approached, welcomed, prayed for and invited back. After 3 visits my life was change, Pastor had a sermon ready and he felt the holy spirit lead him in a different direction and it was for me that day I gave my life to the lord. You only worked behind the scenes we do not pretend to be professional performers, we are just trying to reach as many souls as we can, which was Jesus purpose and we are to continue his work until the day he comes back for us. If you would come and visit us in worship you would see the power of the Holy Spirit at work. Yes our building is paid for by the Grace of God and those givers that gave are being blessed. My life was dramatically change by the life changeing messages and the anointing on our pastor. I have never entered a service where I was not taught the truth and reflected on what I was going through at the time. No I dont like to hear people who down my church my home and my pastor. God is using him in a mighty way. by the way I live off of disability, I tithe my part because I know the wonderful ministries that we have. Our church is blessed by God and reaching and saving thousands. That is how our church is able to reach these hurting people. There is a variety of people who attend our church all race, rich and poor but not one is greater than the other. Why dont you check out our missions before downing us for having money. It is not like we have to tell our salary, pastor has no idea what anyone makes, we are a faithful tithing church and some give only what they can. Yes we have a large congragation, doesnt that say something about how Powerful and anoited our pastor is. As far as no outside markings well look at it this way CHAPLE means church place of worship and FREE well people by the hundreds, thousands are being set free, by pastors sermons, doesnt the bible say to those who are faithful he will return 30, 40, and some 100 times. Bless God we have the resources to reach the sick and poor. After our Wednesday service we open the food pantry for the poor and this is all done by volenteers who want to give back what God has so graciously given to them. We do not do theatrics our pastor does illustrated sermons whichs reaches people in a different and more powerful way. I praise God for Freechaple and pastor Franklin he has a big heart for everyone in that church. I will end with that and hope that the negative comments does not influence people. Actually I believe this is going to make us a stronger more united church and also bring in more hurting people because they will know they will be loved and helped by the truth!!!!!!!!!

  11. Just want to add one more line. I attended our christmas presentation and I thought it was awesome, and well presented, and relayed the truth.

  12. Interesting! I’m new at Free Chapel. First time I came in Jan 29 2006, after attending TBN Live Studio in Decatur. Pst. Jentezen Franklin was the host; from the way he talks, preach, and worship, I know right away, that there is something different with him. He’s one of a kind of pastors who is original, humble and know that he is who he is now because of Jesus. But then I don’t go there anymore since I live 40 miles from Gainesville. But since that moment, Free Chapel is always on my mind. And so I decided to come again on Easter day, April 16 2006. Since then, I do NOT WANT to miss any of their services – and I’m walking my talk as of today. Wanna know why? You won’t understand nor believe unless you try it by yourself. I’m not a baby Christian or an easy Christian. For me, Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. With Jesus, and with others. Therefore I have very high standard when it comes to church – the body of Christ. You better not called yourself a Christian if you don’t know what Jesus likes and what His hobbies are. or if you never listen to what He wants you to do.

    Free Chapel to me, is an answer to my prayer. Free Chapel puts smile on God’s face ; the pastors, the ministries, the sermon, the worship, the cafetaria, the congregations, the KidPak, the KidsLife, the bookstore, the coffee bar, the volunteers, even the building. Soul winning is its purpose. I never love the body of Christ as much as I love Free Chapel now. And it’s really because of the love&support that they give to me.

    Back to the core. Performance, whether it’s professional or not, is really NOT what matter. God will make it perfect – as long as He sees us put the best effort. God’s presence is really what’s important. Remember that God concerns more about your willingness than about your talents. For me, a church needs to do what’s right – not necessarily have to be professional.

    Free Chapel has more $$ than what I imagine? I’m very glad to hear that. I’m one of their funding sources and I know that I put mine in the right hands.

    No offense to anyone – this is just my true opinion.

  13. Make no mistake, Free Chapel is having a significant impact in the lives of thousands of people… worldwide. From their television ministry, website, and local church in Gainesville attended by thousands each Sunday…. there are lives being changed by the power of God.

    With that being said, from the top down, the culture of Free Chapel is one of elitism and overly-tight control, engaged in the fleecing of God’s people and spiritual duplicity. As the faithless faithful of the church loyally give their hard-earned $$ so that the Franklins can drive new Land Rovers, BMW’s and Escalades … the fledgling staff members follow suit. That is the example Jesus set, right? Flaunting worldy images of success, at the expense of the congregation. And truth be told, thousands of people who attend the church are not in the socio-economic elite. They are ordinary people in search of hope and healing. Too bad they’ll find a cheap substitute, and not the real thing. Free Chapel only values their programs and objectives, and the people that attend the church are expendable. It’s ironic to think that a Christian ministry doesn’t value people, but it’s true all too often. This is evident in the turn-over of people from staff to full-time attenders. It’s a revolving door of carnality, pride, and performance-oriented Christianity.

    The mystery of it all is that God and does still move in the aisles of Free Chapel. He is no respecter of persons, and seeks the hurting and lost more vehemently that anyone. But if you’re going to be a functioning member of Free Chapel, then better check your brain at the door, learn to agree with whatever decisions are made by the leadership (because you don’t matter), and find your place in the proper row. The ushers will ensure that you’re seated where you belong! If you ever do make it to the front section and breathe in that putrid air, you’ll know exactly what I’m speaking about here.

  14. Roque rodriquez……….I hope you get a chance to see this…….Pastor Franklin was talking about our 21 days of fasting and prayer. As a corporate church body we fast and pray at the beginning of each year to seek God’s guidance for our church and people. We pray for healing, restoration of marriages, body’s, soul’s, relationship’s just any kind of need there is physically and financially. You can read about the Daniel fast in the book of Daniel, where he ask the king to give him no meat, no sweet breads, wine. So for the first 3 days we take only water and for the rest of the 21 days we have vegtables, whole grains just brown rice and all the fruits. This is biblical and spiritual. It cause’s the flesh to quitten down so the spiritual body can hear and get closer to God. I did this, this year and I can not tell you how awesome it was and how God has worked in my life and through me. Get pastor Franklins book on Fasting you can get it on his web page. I was told I would always be depressed in and out of hospitals. Having electro shock treatments and contiplating having to have more. Well the Grace of God I am down to 1 medication now from taking up to 6 at a time and feeling better now than ever before. God is good, He still heals today…………..

  15. I have to agree with Studious’ post of July 14, 2006. I was visiting Atlanta recently and visited this church with my brother who attends this church regularly as I wanted to see what his church was all about. I brought my Bible with me so I could read any scriptures that were quoted and determine if what was being taught was scriptural.

    As the service, if I can call it that, started what I saw was no less than a concert complete with light show and fog machines. At one point there was a short short play. All I can say is what a production. I cannot say that it was a worship service. It was completely pointless to bring a Bible. There was very little scripture quoted. What was quoted was miss interpreted and miss represented. Besides that, it was so dark you could not read a Bible if anyone brought one. It really bothered me that I saw no Bibles provided by the church nor did I see many people with one in hand.

    It is sad that this group of people, including my brother, are being miss led. I am sure that there are good people who attend this church. Being good in and of itself does not make a person acceptable to God. Only through the blood of Jesus Christ can one stand justified before God. I am also quite sure that a lot of people go home from this ‘production’ feeling good. Enjoying worship is not based on how well was I entertained. Jesus said, Mat 15:8 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
    Mat 15:9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’

    also

    John 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
    Understand that Jesus is telling us that worship can be vain if not done in spirit and according to what God has revealed in his word.

    I am also sure that some good is being done with the huge resources of this church but I will quote another passage of scripture and let those who read make up their own minds: Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
    Mat 7:22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
    Mat 7:23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

  16. Life is full of ups and downs. I am amazed that this down for you is still a banner for you after all this time.
    Why is this page even on the internet. I think some thought should be taken about what this is saying about your life’s perspective. Sad times indeed.

  17. Thanks for your post, John! Truthfully, I hadn’t given any thought to this post since November…and March before that. You may notice that that coincides with the dates of the last couple of comments prior to your own. The only reason this page gets “Internet time” is because it continues to be a popular topic for people to converse about. Religion has that effect on people, I find. It doesn’t matter the context – people enjoy arguing talking about religion, especially the Christian varieties.

    You’ve inspired me, however. I have a Religion category here at gradin.com that is lacking some content. I also have an “Uncategorized” category that should be worked through and…well…categorized. So I’ll start with Religion and go from there. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Oh, and I should also remind you that the original post here didn’t particularly express a “downer,” as you call it. I was commenting on an interesting venture I had been included in. It was actually quite fun being involved in the production, even if it was hectic. I will concede that this particular page probably did nothing to foster a continued relationship with Free Chapel and their entertainment events, as I haven’t been requested to work there since. However, I had made the decision that that was a satisfactory result long before now. January 20th, 2006, to be exact.

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