Karen Covell was just a young theater producing major at USC when she came to faith in 1977. Not fully understanding how it all worked, she immediately placed certain limits on how she would live out her Christianity. “I told God, I want you to come into my life, but three things we gotta work on: I don’t want to be a missionary, I don’t want to tell anyone about you, and I don’t want to go to Africa. Other than that, have all of me!”
Beginning with her mother and then her grandmother, she unwittingly began polishing her evangelistic chops, leading them both to the Lord. After she met and married Jim Covell (a composer) and they both started their professional lives in Hollywood, God upped the ante. “I met Jim the next year, we graduated, got into the Industry and found out, it was really hard–waay harder than we thought. And we started needing to find more Christians.”
Somehow they found six others, and together they launched a prayer group. That group, now called Premise, has grown to a membership organization of over 100 Entertainment Industry professionals whose sole purpose is to pray for each other and pray for the Industry. While Karen was discipling another Industry believer, she began developing an evangelism teaching course. Now in its 20th year, “How to Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out” has assisted many Christians who, like Karen early on, were afraid to share their faith. And Karen now runs a ministry network built around prayer for and about the Entertainment Industry–The Hollywood Prayer Network (HPN). “One day I realized, Oh my gosh–I’m a missionary, I’m telling people how to share their faith–and I am dying to go to Africa!”
No small potatoes for a woman who simply wanted to stay underground, at least where her Christianity was concerned. As usual, God had other plans, and the Entertainment Industry, and the many Christians who populate it, are reaping the benefits.
Karen Covell is a producer and co-owner with Jim at JC Productions. Her name has been attached to projects big and small, from Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion from PAX Entertainment to Matt Lauer’s Headliners and Legends. Karen is a forerunner and a trailblazer, with 30 years of Industry experience, coupled with her Christian life and work. She has been instrumental in establishing a community and discipleship opportunities for Christians who work in Entertainment, and transforming the way they (and the church) view their work in Hollywood.
“I couldn’t find Christians in the early ’80s. What I realized is that they were there, they were just hiding. It was a time where you really believed that you could lose your job if you told someone that you were a Christian. There was not a mindset of connecting your faith with your work.”
Karen credits her epiphany to a visit from missionary friends, on furlough from their ministry to the Maasai tribe in Tanzania, Africa. The couple spoke at a Sunday School class and Karen first thought was “that’s so cool. Then I thought, wait a minute–Hollywood is just like Africa! There is no difference. Different language, different people group–they’re both a hidden people group, they’re both misunderstood, both judged. They both are just people who don’t know God!”
This produced a paradigm shift in Karen and Jim. “We started realizing that we were missionaries in a mission field.”
Along with other missionaries who have a heart for Hollywood (like the late David Schall, co-founder and director of Actor’s Co-op and Inter-mission until his death in 2003), Karen has helped to change the face of how Christians in the Industry, and especially Christians in the church, relate to Hollywood.
When Karen birthed the Hollywood Prayer Network (HPN) in July of 2001, she had one goal in mind: “I saw that Christians coming into town desperately needed prayer. They came from families that thought they shouldn’t be coming here, or they were following their egos, and needed to get a real job. So when Christians come out here, a lot of them are already broken, and wounded, and beat up before they start.”
From this singular beginning, HPN has blossomed into a three-fold thrust of ministry. It’s first goal is to inform Christians living outside of Hollywood. Many desire to know how God is moving and working in Hollywood, and want to be an integral part of this work through prayer.
“I get great joy out of speaking to people in the church on the outside and explaining what I see as our mission field. And it’s brand new information, it’s never crossed their mind. They just think we hate them, and I tell them, ‘No! You don’t get each other. There’s a divide between your culture and theirs.'”
HPN’s second goal is to encourage Christian media professionals living and working in the Industry through prayer support and Christian community. “I’ve also found a difference of Christians realizing that we have a foot in two worlds, and we’re acknowledging that it’s harder than we thought; but we’re not running from it, we’re trying to balance the two. And I find that encouraging.”
HPN’s third goal is to pray for media professionals in Hollywood who don’t yet know the love and life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Through its newsletter and website, HPN sends out prayer blasts, encouraging focused prayer for the Oscar nominations, American Idol, and industry names like Ricky Gervais, Lindsay Lohan, and Justin Bieber.
The organization’s foundation and focus is all about prayer, and all about people. “Jim and I both love to talk about prayer. We love to pray. We love to talk about how to share our faith, and we love to get the word out to the church outside of Hollywood that Hollywood is a mission field, and to pray for the people there. Don’t hate them–don’t boycott! So those became our three passions.”
I asked about the transformation that has occurred with Christians in the Entertainment Industry since 1980, and Karen acknowledges they have been multitudinous. One significant change has been in the way Christians now integrate their church life and their life in Hollywood.
“A pastor once said to us, ‘As a Christian you can’t live your life like a TV dinner, with every compartment separated: the church, the church friends, the work, the work friends–living different lives. You have to live your life like a Chicken Pot Pie: where everything is mixed up under the covering of God’. And that’s the biggest change. When I got here, people lived their life like a TV dinner. And now, people live their life like a Chicken Pot Pie. They want to do ministry, they want to work. They invite non-believers to church. It’s now part of the culture.
“The Christian community in Hollywood is different, there are ministries now, where there were no ministries before. There’s a community where we can gather. We want to make a difference, we want to love each other and be a light. And that’s exciting. I think that’s a start to seeing the content change, but I don’t think the content will change until the hearts of the people making it, change. And their hearts won’t change until someone shares their faith with them. We’re slowly moving in that direction.”
Karen equates the work in Hollywood with missionary Jim Elliott’s work with the Waodani people of Ecuador, beautifully documented in the book, Through Gates of Splendor. “[Jim] moved there and found that those people were so entrenched in their culture, you couldn’t just go in and give them the gospel. It was generations of people breaking down centuries of a culture and a mindset–that was very slow-going. And honestly, it’s the same here. This is such a broken community. People are so leery, so you can’t get trust right away. On top of that, they have a worse view of Christians than most cultures. In our culture, [Christians] are the poufy-haired, finger-pointing, Southern-accented, homophobic, right-wing fundamentalist. And the minute they find out you’re one of them, they back off. So now you’ve got that extra step as a Christian in Hollywood to have to prove yourself. And to “hang in there” and build relationship, until their defenses go down. So, it just takes longer.”
Karen also sees changes in the way the church relates to creative Christians. “There were ministries that would reach out to people in Hollywood, but then they would tell them that if they became a Christian, that they should leave Hollywood and work in the church. Whereas now, when someone becomes a Christian we say, ‘Stay right where you are–stay where you’re planted, make a difference.’ So that’s another mindset as well. It’s much more incorporating everything and not separating ourselves from culture. People are getting smarter about being more culturally relevant as Christians than they used to be, and that’s a huge thing to me.”
And most important, she sees changes in the way Christians in the industry view the mission field of Hollywood and their place in the church. “We do have to realize that Hollywood-world and the Church-world, they’re both messed up. But because they’re so different, you’re going to be judged based on your foot in the other world! I think we’re getting a little smarter in embracing the two, acknowledging the difference, and moving forward–not backing off. I think there are big changes.”
Next week, I talk to Karen about the spiritual battle involved in ministry to Hollywood, the equipment necessary to be a missionary to Hollywood, and how she raises Godly children in a culture in opposition to godliness.
For more about Karen Covell, visit her website.
You can follow the Hollywood Prayer Network on Facebook.