Michael C. Catt, longtime pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., and the founding force behind Sherwood Pictures, has died. He was 70 and succumbed to a lengthy battle with prostate cancer on Monday.
If you’re not familiar with Sherwood Pictures, you’re likely aware of the award-winning movies his church-based studio produced:
Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous.
Catt was just 36 years-old when he was installed as the fifth pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, a congregation located 100 miles southwest of Macon. Pastor Catt and his wife Terri were excited with the assignment. With laser-like focus they concentrated on pouring into their new community and church family.
At the time of his arrival, there’s no way Michael Catt could have imagined what was coming – not even after hiring Alex and Stephen Kendrick to join the church staff. Alex assumed the role of associate pastor of media and Stephen was tasked with the role of associate pastor of preaching and prayer.
The Kendrick brothers dove into their respective roles but couldn’t shake the idea and conviction that the Lord was calling them to expand their ministry. They had made movies as kids and saw the potential to make them as ministers as a means. After prayer and discussion, they brought the idea to their boss, senior pastor Michael Catt.
It would have been understandable if Catt encouraged his colleagues to stay in their lane, i.e. “Focus on what you were hired to do.” But good leaders encourage creative and out-of-the-box thinking. They can see what others don’t – and they empower and inspire creatives to take calculated and wise risks. They leave room for the Holy Spirit to move and minister.
Michael Catt was sensitive to the common criticism at the time – that secular Hollywood had no real competition, and that Christian filmmaking was lagging. The senior pastor was eager to help change that reputation and be part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem.
“It’s easy to point fingers,” he told The New York Times. “But what we need to be doing is offering realistic alternatives.”
Pastor Catt encouraged the Kendricks to share their vision with select church members, several of whom stepped up to fund the $20,000 project. Catt served as executive producer of “Flywheel,” the church studio’s first film about a deceptive car salesman who would eventually see the error of his ways. The movie grossed $37,000.
“Facing the Giants” came next – a $100,000 endeavor that yielded $10 million at the box office. “Fireproof,” starring Kirk Cameron, cost $1 million and earned $33 million. “Courageous” topped them all at $35 million.
Sherwood Pictures was a homegrown success, recruited volunteer actors from the congregation and community – but most importantly, demonstrated that church ministry leaders need not be paralyzed by the status quo.
Catt and the Kendrick brothers took the ideas God gave them and ran – and the results were phenomenal. They modeled how to minister in a changing world – and showed that it could be done with excellence.
Michael Catt didn’t need to go to Hollywood or New York City to be effective. He said his goal was to change the world from the town of Albany, Ga., and that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t just make movies – he made disciples by preaching and teaching.
The Mississippi native also had a personal vision statement that guided and motivated his work. It read:
“Whoever wants the next generation the most will get them.”
And his life verse?
It was from the apostle Paul:
“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
The next time you question your purpose or your ability to make a difference, remember how the Lord used Michael Catt – a pastor who saw potential and poured into his people.