"God's Not Dead" actor and Pure Flix founder David A.R. White has shared tips for those seeking to discover their God-given dreams and discussed his journey of growing up in a small Mennonite community in Kansas to becoming a successful Hollywood filmmaker in an interview about his book, "Between Heaven & Hollywood."
White is one of the most recognizable faces in the faith-based film industry, starring in more than 25 films and producing over 40 films, including God's Not Dead, God's Not Dead 2, Revelation Road and The Moment After. He is also a founding partner of Pure Flix, the largest indie-faith film studio in the world, and has written several books.
However, the actor's story of success is anything but common. Raised in a small Mennonite community in Kansas as a preacher's son, White traveled to Los Angeles in the late 1980s. He got his big break in 1990, when he starred in the Burt Reynolds show "Evening Shade." There followed several years of success on TV and in movies, and eventually, God placed it on his heart to begin a studio specializing in faith-films.
The following is an edited transcript of GH's interview with White in which he talks about his new book and shares his thoughts on how, based on his own experiences, one can discover, pursue, and advance their God-given dreams.
GH: You're behind some of the biggest faith-based films in Hollywood, like God's Not Dead. What do you think is the secret to the success of those films and what did you learn about God through this process?
DW: I've been in the Christian film industry since the early 90's, originally as an actor. I came to LA when I was 19 and jumped right into the entertainment industry, first working with Burt Reynolds on a hit show. In the middle of that, someone asked me to do a Christian movie. I had grown up in the Mennonite Church; my dad was a pastor, and every now and then a Christian movie would play in the church, like Corrie Ten Boom's story of the Joni Eareckson story. We rarely got to see the endings because the projector always failed or the sound wouldn't work (laughs). So, I grew up seeing those movies, and I had a passion for the industry, but I was engrained in what I was doing in the mainstream.
But, I did that first faith-based movie, and I did really well, and people started hiring me as an actor in faith films in different organizations. I think it's interesting how the Lord puts desires in your heart. A lot of times, the dreams we think we have aren't the ones that we truly have, and it takes time to find that out. For me, while acting in faith-based movies, I saw that I really had a passion for the genre, and I wanted to make films that lift and inspire the human spirit.That's what led me to producing faith-based movies and starting Pure Flix.
GH: What were the biggest surprises or obstacles you encountered when entering a completely different world than the one you grew up in?
DW: I didn't know much about Hollywood growing up; it was kind of a distant place that I romanticized. Growing up as a Mennonite I saw one movie in the theater; I was ultra conservative. I never told anyone I wanted to go to Hollywood except for one person, because it didn't make any sense. I think I mentioned it once to my dad when I was 14, and he said, "David you don't know how to sing or dance so you can't be an actor." However, my librarian told me to follow my dreams. We didn't have a theater or drama program in my school, but again, it was something that I couldn't shake. In my book, I talk about how you can know if a dream inside of you is from God, or it's something you're fabricating and shouldn't chase. One of the things I always come back to is asking, "Is that dream bigger than you? Can you let the dream go?" If you can't, then there's a good chance it's from the Lord. That's what going into the entertainment industry was for me.
GH: In what ways does your upbringing impact your work today?
DW: I think I have a good beat on how to make movies that will resonate with the faith audience. There were three starters to Pure Flix; Russell Wolfe, Michael Scott, and myself, and we grew up in the church, so we have a pretty good awareness of what the church expects in a faith film. We also have a heart for it, so it just makes it easier. It's not like we're trying to fabricate some Christian message so we can make a movie in this space. We're coming from a passion and a belief of what it is what we're making, and who we're making it for.
GH: You found your calling despite overwhelming obstacles. What are some steps you would encourage people to take to help them discover their God-given dream?
DW: First, ask yourself if your dream is actually from God. A God-given dream is always going to be bigger than you. If you can accomplish it in your own strength, then I don't know if that's all God call you to be. I think He wants to depend on Him - that's where it all starts. God wants the prayer of Jabez: "Expand my territory for Your Kingdom." Ultimately, it's all for God's glory.
The second thing to ask yourself is, "Can I let this dream go?" If you can't let it go, a God-given dream is a bothersome thing, it will clamor for our mind's attention. If your dream is that way, there's a good chance it's from God and you should pursue it. Finally, does your dream bring glory to God? If it's self-motivating, if it isn't serving others in the process and honoring God, then we shouldn't be pursuing it.
Don't keep a narrow view, but be open to see where God takes you. Life happens, a lot of things are hard in life, marriage are tough, our whole country is moving around, but God is faithful and He has a specific purpose and plan for each one of our lives. You were created for a specific purpose and designed for something great. Start believing in your God-given ability, and then watch it come to life, and you'll be amazed to see what God will do through you.
GH: In your book, you talk about "The Someday Myth." What is that about? Why do you think so many never pursue their God-given dreams?
DW: I think it's funny, cuz it's a little cliche, but if you look on your calendar, "someday" doesn't exist. We don't accomplish something by continually putting things off. We need to take that and do it today. Even if it's uncomfortable - there's a chapter in my book about being comfortable in the uncomfortable. Right where you're at is okay. When we find ourselves doing things we don't want to do, that's where we think most about what we want to do. We allow ourselves to dream. My mid 20's slowed down as an actor, and when that happens, it's easy to become discouraged and think God has given up on you. Those are the times that we find ourselves. Allow yourself to dream; think about what it is you really love to do, and then start taking steps. Don't put it off. Start taking those baby steps toward the goal, and you'll be amazed to see how all the sudden, those barriers will start coming down and you'll start accomplishing great things.
You can read part one of our interview with David A.R. White here.