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Animating the Gospel

The story of animator Dan Stevers

Published on:
July 17, 2017
Read time:
10 min.
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Hi, I’m Dan, and I produce videos about Jesus.

A couple quick facts about myself:

I am about as introverted as they come. For every hour I am required to socialize I need about a week to recoup. For reals. I am obsessed with documentaries. I rarely watch anything else. My least favorite spice is rosemary. Bleck. I made my first video at twenty-one while working as a bartender.

Surprised by that last fact? Well it’s true!

I’ve always had in interest in art and design and spent many summers during my youth locked up in my room painting or sculpting. As someone with social anxiety, my outlet was always art, so it naturally became my path in life. But as I was preparing to transfer from community college to San Diego State University to study sculpture, God redirected my life.

I was a twenty-year-old bartender when I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to volunteer to make videos for my church despite having no experience making videos. I had fiddled with the programs in high school, so I knew a little bit about how to use them but had never actually made anything substantial. I wrestled with this leading for a few weeks and finally bit the bullet and approached my pastor with the idea.

Dan Stevers

I was expecting either a “Thanks but no thanks” or at best some sort of training or probation phase that would help me learn the ropes in a safe environment. Boy was I wrong! I was hoping to join a video team, but to my horror I became the video team—it was just me. I was an immature Christian and a clueless video creator, but two weeks later the church was showing my first video in front of a thousand people. (I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who had to endure those early videos of mine.)

But here’s the shocking thing—God used those ugly, poorly written videos to speak to people. I couldn’t believe the response. I thought I was going to get chased out of the building, but here people were having powerful responses to something that I had written and animated. God spoke through my work despite my fear and doubts throughout the creation process.

The lesson for me then—and I still have to remind myself of it to this day—is that I will never feel qualified, but that doesn’t faze God. He simply needs people willing to take risks, to step out of the boat, to risk making a fool of themselves. He doesn’t require unshakable confidence, only the small kernel of faith required to take action and move. It didn’t matter how unqualified I felt because I wasn’t alone—I had a very good God with me who was moving through me. My responsibility was and still is simply to be faithful. I still struggle with self-doubt, I probably always will, but I choose to follow in the midst of that, and as a result God works through me. I don’t have to worry about being smart enough or strong enough—I simply have to be faithful.

That volunteer position at my church turned into a part-time job and then a full-time job where I spent seven years learning how to become an effective storyteller and communicator of the gospel. It was an amazing time in my life. It was also an incredibly stressful and difficult time in my life. During my seventh year I began sensing that it was time to move on. As with most big life-decisions there were a few factors that led to my exit.

After seven years, the weekly church grind was wrecking my body. I’ve always had chronic pain issues in my back and neck ever since I was a child and the long hours were making these problems worse. Many nights I couldn’t sleep because of the searing pain. I was experiencing pain in my neck and back 24/7, and anyone who deals with chronic pain can attest to the effect that it has on your mood and overall outlook on life. I tried all sorts of remedies for my pain to no avail and was eventually confronted with the harsh reality that the pace I had been maintaining during those seven years was unsustainable. Something needed to change.

Another effect of the relentless nature of church production were the very short turnaround times for each video. I was putting out videos so quickly that I was rarely proud of the quality of what was going out the door. Sunday has a way of coming around every seven days, so there’s rarely time to stop and seek the Lord when working on a project let alone be able to clock the hours required for animated video. People are surprised to hear that a two–three-minute video can take hundreds of hours to produce. Animation is a marathon, not a sprint, and trying to create animated videos every week was like trying to run a thirty-minute marathon—many corners would have to be cut to meet my deadlines. The inability to produce excellence on project after project was becoming a constant discouragement.

Not all of the factors for leaving my job were negative ones; there were also positive ones. God had given me a vision for creating gospel resources for the global church. Compared to the English speaking church, the global church was starved for quality media. The church in China became a specific burden on my heart.

I also felt a calling to go and make disciples. Being an introvert, I had always kept to myself, but this also meant that I had been keeping my skills and my knowledge to myself as well. I kept feeling the same conviction that my gifts and abilities weren’t meant to be kept to myself. I was meant to be pouring into the lives of other artists.

It felt like all the signs were pointing the same direction, so I left my job and struck out on my own. The chronic back and neck pain eased as I curbed my hours at the desk. But as my work days shortened the time spent working on each project grow longer and longer. Two-week production phases turned into two months which evolved into twelve-month phases. I was finally able to breathe during a project. My health was better, my mood was better, and the videos I was producing were better. I was discovering a new rhythm for my life. It was amazing.

As God continued to grow my passion for the global church I began expanding into more and more languages. To act on my burden for the Chinese church I created free resources to bless missionaries and churches in China. And in an effort to break the language barrier altogether I began creating videos without any text or voice to make universal gospel resources that tell the gospel visually.

To act on the conviction to share my knowledge with others I began creating video tutorials in which I shared my knowledge of the animation process with aspiring animators. My aim is to offer the help to other artists that I wish I had when I first started making video.

Even though the pace of working on my own had reinvigorated me, I was still doing everything on my own. I was wearing every hat throughout the production process and it was still too much for one person. So, I began reaching out to other artists who were believers about collaborating, and to my surprise they were thrilled. After my first collaboration I realized I could never go back to working alone. Today I am unbelievably blessed to work with animators, writers, and musicians all around the world. Being a lone-wolf is so overrated.

It is an incredible honor to be able to serve the church making short films and worship media to re-present Jesus to a world that desperately needs the gospel. You can see my work at DanStevers.com.

Dan Stevers
In 2005 with no prior experience in video production, Dan volunteered making videos for his church in San Diego, CA. That role led to a full-time position where for seven years he was responsible for conceptualizing, writing, and animating creative video pieces to communicate the gospel. See more of his work at DanStevers.com.

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