Growing up in the church, I heard numerous sermons by well-meaning pastors that admonished how we should be “in the world, but not of it.” It felt like a backhanded slap to all the good things I loved that didn’t fit into my church world: my non-Christian friends, my schoolwork, my voracious appetite for YA romance books, to name a few. I was allowed to tolerate them, but not let them influence me in any way.
Thankfully, as I grew older, experienced other viewpoints, and matured in my faith, I came to see there was a wider breadth of things within the circle of what God would call “good.” I also came to understand the giftings that God had given me, which included growing in a career that I felt called to and satisfied by. But there was still that pesky secular world. Could I, as a Christian, truly succeed in secular pursuits without losing my faith?
That’s why I find DeVon Franklin and his new book The Hollywood Commandments to be a breath of fresh air. Franklin is the CEO of Franklin Entertainment, a production company part of 20th Century Fox, and a New York Times bestselling author. He knows secular success, but he’s also a person of strong faith. When he left home to pursue a career in Hollywood twenty years ago, his well-meaning Christian friends and family warned him that Hollywood was the Devil’s playground, and that he’d certainly lose his faith. Instead, he says Hollywood taught him more about what it means to follow Christ with every part of his life than the church ever taught him.
Insert raised eyebrows here, which is the response Franklin usually gets when he shares this message in bookstores, conferences, and yes, on church stages. But it raises a question that I believe the church needs to think more about. The church at its best is a place where we go to encounter the sacred, to worship, to share life with other believers, to serve and be served. It’s also a place where we are equipped to live into the life that God has called us to—spiritually, of course, but also in every aspect of our lives. God has called us to live a life of abundance, but if that abundance stops where the church door meets the city sidewalk, our abundance is lacking.
“How can we, as the church, be better at equipping our members to take the teaching they learn on a Sunday and apply it to their secular pursuits?” Franklin says, and I agree, that it starts with giving people permission that it’s okay to pursue excellence and success in their lives. God has uniquely called and gifted us in numerous ways, and we honor him when we find excellence with those giftings. Then, we can give people the tools to succeed in their pursuits, practical advice and information that leads them out into the world, confident that after they’ve prayed about what to do, they can now take action to make it happen.
Last week, I got to hear Franklin bring church to a crowd gathered in an independent bookstore in Oakland, California. There, he mentioned that phrase that I’m all too familiar with—how we should be in the world, but not of it. But then he paused, and said something that has stuck with me. For too long, he said, we have been skipping over the first part, how we are to be “in the world,” in order to get to the second part, “but not of it.” We emphasize the latter, the “but,” basically ignoring the former. This misses the point. It is important that we Christians are in the world, bringing salt and light to address and heal the pain, suffering, and darkness that surrounds us. And our success, our influence, doesn’t mean that we lose faith, but that we are able to use that faith to influence the world around us in a big way.
Katy Hamilton is an editor who, over her eight years at HarperOne, has worked closely with the imprint’s bestselling religion/spirituality and self-help authors.