Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 3

I am a firm believer that the messages, stories and themes of pop-culture serve as modern day scripture. Really.
I know, I know sounds a bit of a reach but here’s what I mean.

You could look at the success of stories like Twilight and see that to millions of young women, is a very informing if not identity-shaping story, and not just a teenage, romantic dream.
Go to a concert and you may find a gathering of strangers that are so united by the message of the music that they are actually a tighter community than some churches.
If you can quote more Seinfeld lines than verses of your holy book, you might get what I’m saying.
And my final argument are the number of people that have gotten YOLO tattoos.
We know all sorts of these references because they are everywhere, on our screens, on advertisements, mentioned by our co-workers, etc. Think of it as part of the oxygen we breath.

There is so much to say about the use of pop-culture in sermons because so many of us have seen it used in really bad ways. I like to joke about the time I heard a message that had my inner-monologue agreeing with his thesis and conclusion until he gave his final few lines, “We have to commit our hearts to Jesus! Whomp there it is!” I, and everyone listening fell apart laughing. I know the giver of the message thought he was speaking our language but this usage only created more distance between his message and us.

I’ve heard other preachers say they don’t use pop-culture references for reasons including: avoiding the risk of coming across as desperate or trying too hard to be “relevant” or more or less implying that such silly inferences do not have a place in our sermons or “they only preach the Word” and therefore ….

But over the years, I’ve found that some of these sermons either make the preacher/sermon unrelatable, have the potential of coming across as a snobby “holier than thou”. Even more interesting to me are those who unknowingly actually do use pop-culture references – they have to – they are a part of the culture. Again, pop-culture is in our oxygen, we can’t really escape it.

Here’s a bit of how and why I’ve incorporated the use of pop-culture in my messages.

1. I like to use the pop-culture references that I actually like. Examples include using Lost, Inception and Radiohead. Among other things, it reveals that you have a real life outside the pulpit and since it’s a bit hard for some to relate to pastors, this is beneficial. Among my favorite moments after a sermon is not when someone says, “I really liked it” which make no mistake, is much better than, “I really hated it” but when someone says, “I too loved Lost, I never thought of it in terms of a spiritual exile awaiting salvation before but that makes sense with characters like Sawyer.” I get to say, “Oh Sawyer was one of my favorite characters, I loved the nicknames …”

2. I never villainize – I may exegete and critique the messages found in pop-culture (as I believe that is part of my responsibility). When pastors attack personalities in pop-culture, they tend to come across as condescending. Further, you risk not only alienating members of your audience from you as a preacher but from those siting around them that may know/assume about their media consumption.

3. When I do use references that are more neutral to me, it’s because of the metaphorical power I think they contain. So recently I was preaching out of Eph. 2 and Paul says we were dead in our transgressions … and we lived following the ways of the world. The Greek word for “lived” actually means “walked” so in essence he’s saying we were spiritual-dead walking corpses, hmmm, that sounds like a zombie to me – a helpful metaphor for some of us today.

I have found using such references is a work in progress.  And while there is no such thing as “the perfect sermon” until the Holy Spirit uses it, preaching is a life-long craft that some have been entrusted with using – may we all continue learning and improving.

As we do, one final point: One of the chief rules of any type of public-speaking is knowing the audience, another is to know yourself and further is to know your Scriptures and how they relate/contrast to the competing messages in our culture. Using reference points helps. In being conversant with culture, preachers can connect more of the dots of God’s love and life.

In our times of study, I hope we can effectively use these touch points to bring hope to those listening and to bring glory to God.
Whomp – There it is ;)


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