When your church meets in a movie theater, you understand what it is to do ministry right in the middle of the marketplace.
For four years, our church plant met in two different movie theaters, each surrounded by shopping districts and restaurants. And sometimes, it got a little weird.
A few times, we had to put tape over inappropriate words on the marquee over the room we used as our nursery. We once helped a lot of people to know they were headed into the wrong room ... Star Wars, Episode VII was on the other end of the building. And quite a few people will forever remember being baptized in a movie theater lobby fountain.
There were three big reasons I always loved gathering the church in a movie theater on Sunday mornings.
- A barrier was automatically removed for people who felt intimidated by a traditional church atmosphere.
- We were gathering in a "third place," where people often did life beyond home and work anyway.
- A barrier was up for people who were attached to tradition—they stayed away.
When it comes to preaching about pop culture, it's only fitting that the things people are thinking and talking about every day become avenues for pointing them toward the gospel.
As for the question of whether we should involve pop culture in our sermons, I think it's a big "yes." As Justin Trapp wrote recently, Jesus used imagery common to his listeners' daily experience to illustrate spiritual truth.
But another question is, how?
How do we faithfully honor Christ and give the Scriptures their proper prominence in our teaching while also connecting with the experiences our listeners have encountered within the culture?
Here are four tips for using pop culture to connect people to the good news about Jesus...
See the spiritual within the secular.
It's amazing to me how well a movie like Legends of the Fall capture some of the biggest ideas about biblical manhood. Or how The Simpsons manages, albeit somewhat irreverently, to point out the things that need to be laughed at and questioned within organized religion.
All truth is God's truth, so the evidence of depravity, pictures of the gospel and glimpses of redemption show up in the strangest of places.
If you can see the spiritual within the secular, you don't need a "Christian" film as the basis for a discussion about Christ. You can start anywhere and lead someone to think hard about how God is working around them.
Have a sense of humor.
Jesus was funny. Yes, he was perfectly holy, too, but he had a tremendous sense of humor. We just miss it because so many of us have bought the lie that following Jesus means laying down our sense of humor at the foot of the cross and never picking it up again.
I once photoshopped myself into a movie poster with Brad Pitt, looking out of the back of an airplane on a world being overrun by zombies. Another time, I posed with Arnold Schwarzenegger looking over my shoulder. It was fun. People talked about it and came into the theater on Sunday smiling about the light-hearted promo opportunity.
Having a sense of humor makes you human. It makes you relatable. It makes you a little bit more like Jesus.
Don't trivialize eternal things.
There are limits we should rightfully have when it comes to weaving pop culture into our messages and media. Our real goal is never to simply lure people into another entertainment event. It's to present the gospel.
In other words, pop culture is often the bridge, but it's not the destination. Humor is a hook, but it's not the heart of our message.
Contribute to pop culture.
If you've ever seen the title sequences for the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, or Iron Man, or Oblivion, or dozens other movies and shows, then you're familiar with the work of Danny Yount.
Danny is a follower of Jesus and has had the privilege of working on the creative pieces of a lot of blockbusters. His testimony of coming to know Christ is incredible to hear.
I heard Danny speak once at a conference for church creatives hosted at a southern California church. His closing challenge to us was simply this: "Be creative. Take risks. And do things that are original. Don't just copy and offer up cheap imitations of what you see in Hollywood."
In other words, Jesus' followers have a responsibility to infiltrate every bastion of influence in society, including the entertainment sector.
If you were heading to a mission field overseas, you'd first need to learn all that you could about the language and the culture of the people to whom you hoped to bear witness.
The same is true of our "home" mission field. The language of the people we meet every day is discovered in popular culture. Without compromising our personal standards of holiness and decency, we should learn to speak it well.
Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches, large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. Currently, he is planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders as well as a blog about men's issues, a blog about blogging and a blog about social media.
This article originally appeared at ministrypass.com.
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