Let’s see. There’s Chariots of Fire. Ooh, Ben-Hur is a good one. But those are pretty old. What’s at least from this millennium? Oh yeah, Fireproof and God’s Not Dead were popular. Those should all work to pull examples from. And if need be, I can always talk Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Seinfeld. Oh, wait. Not Seinfeld. I don’t want them to know I’m too familiar with that show.
Have thoughts like these ever entered your mind as you were preparing for your next sermon? Or have you ever edited out of your notes something regarding a movie or television show because late Saturday night you woke up in a cold sweat thinking, I can’t make that parallel between Samson of the Bible and Sigourney Weaver of the Alien movies! If I do, then Mr. Hunter is going to come chew me out on Monday for talking about an R-rated movie during my sermon!
The first thing to take note of is, though we would never want to intentionally do or say something to upset even the hardest-to-love in our congregations, sometimes we have to realize it’s unavoidable. Complainers will always complain, no matter what we preach on, therefore we need to be more concerned with the majority in the congregation, and especially the young or non-believers in our churches—who are almost definitely keeping up with the latest movies and television shows. And they think Chariots of Fire is the name of the latest game app for their iPhones.
But still there must be a line, right? Comparing King David’s thoughts after realizing Bathsheba was pregnant to a story from The Hangover would not be wise, for even the youngest and most “hipster-friendly” church.
Here are my simple, concise parameters for deciding if an example from pop culture is okay to use:
- Does the example celebrate a lifestyle that is contrary to that which followers of Christ know is right? But be careful though—just because something contains improprieties does not mean it is lifting up such behaviors as moral and right. Remember, the Bible is filled with imperfect people living imperfect lives, which a perfect God still found a way to redeem. But celebrating a lifestyle is different and is something we must consider before using such an example.
- With each possible story or example, ask yourself, If someone were to mistake my use of the example as an endorsement of its source, which they in turn went and watched on my “recommendation,” is there content that would most definitely become a hindrance and a tool of temptation? But remember, R-rated content is not all equal. The blood and violence of Gladiator or Aliens is unlikely to be used in a tempting way for someone, but the sexual content of Game of Thrones would definitely be a stumbling block for the young men in your congregation.
- Does the use of the example help your sermon or at least help draw the attention of the non-churchgoers, or are you just using it to be funny, fill up time, or look “hip”? At all times, we must be lifting up the gospel and our Savior, not ourselves.
If after this short checklist (and remembering you can never please all the complainers), you still feel comfortable using the pop culture reference in your sermon, then have at it! Jesus and Paul were definitely culture-relevant in their teachings. Our pastors and other leaders definitely need to be also.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Need to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.