Movies In Church: Use Pop Culture, But Don’t Let It Use You

spider-dog“With great power comes great responsibility.”

When I wrote my last post, Uh, Pastor… Being Right Is Not an Excuse to Be Mean, I ended it with those words from the Spider-Man comics.

It is perhaps the most famous quote from superhero comics and movies (thanks to Stan Lee, and Peter Parker’s uncle Ben).

Because I used that quote, I was tempted to make it the title of my post and use a photo of Spider-Man to accompany it.

Here’s why I didn’t.


The Sign On the Front Door Matters

There’s an old, true saying in leadership circles:

What you win them with is what you win them to.

I didn’t choose to attract readers to my last post with a Spider-Man quote and photo because I wasn’t interested in attracting them to Spider-Man or superheroes.

When people were done reading that post, I wanted my readers to be thinking about how pastors need to be careful with our words, so that’s what I put in the title and accompanying photo.

In today’s post, I want you to think about being careful with how we use words and images from popular culture, so I put that in the title. And I used a photo of a little dog in an ill-fitting Spider-Man suit because I think it illustrates the point of this post well – there are some ideas that might seem cute at the time, but they don’t fit like they should.


Provide an Alternative, Not More of the Same

I have no problem using references from pop culture to illustrate truth – I used a Spider-Man quote in my last post, after all. And I’ve made multiple references to pop culture in previous posts (including quoting Keith Richards, Reality TV shows and The Big Bang Theory sitcom, among others). But I’m beginning to tire of the tendency among pastors and Christian bloggers to link so much of our speaking and writing directly from the popular culture. 

I don’t have the right to judge anyone’s motives, but some pastors rely so heavily on TV shows and movies for their sermon titles, artwork and content, it makes me wonder if they’re drawing more inspiration from popular culture than from scripture.

We need to be careful, as ministers of the Gospel, not to fall into the trap of letting popular cultural images and ideas lead the way. When we attract people to the church using the latest superhero movie, we may be attracting them to Spider-Man more than Jesus. And no, it’s not just kids and youth groups doing this.

When putting on a cool Sunday morning show becomes the focus of a pastor’s week, we’re in danger of being co-opted by the culture instead of being a transformative element to the culture.

If we fill up the church by giving people what the surrounding culture is giving them, we have to keep doing that. Then what’s the point of church?

Providing an alternative to the culture isn’t easy. But it’s essential.

Again, I’m not against using pop culture images and quotes to get our point across. Jesus did it when he asked someone in the crowd to toss him a coin with Caesar’s image on it. And Paul did the same when he referred to a statue in Athens dedicated “to an unknown god.” Even the word “Gospel” (Good news or evangelion) seems to be at least partially co-opted from Roman culture.

But using cool tie-ins to the current culture was never front-and-center of Jesus’ or the apostles’ teaching. They were all about providing a completely upside-down kingdom and culture to what was around them.


First Things First

The church is supposed to be about making disciples. Worshipers. Servants.

When we attract people to a Sunday morning stage show, we’re telling them we want them to be an audience. Sit and watch while we entertain you – usually poorly. Then we wonder why it’s so hard to get them to pitch in and help?!

Let’s put worship, discipleship and hands-on ministry front-and-center. In our language, our imagery and our teaching.

If we reach people by calling them to worship and service, that’s more likely to be what will keep them and feed them, too.

Go ahead and show a clip from the latest movie if that helps the message. I do that sometimes, too.

But we must always let the message influence the images we use, not the other way around.


So what do you think? What can we do to make sure our images and title match our true message?

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(Spider-Dog photo from istolethetv • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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3 thoughts on “Movies In Church: Use Pop Culture, But Don’t Let It Use You”

  1. Hey Karl,
    Great post as usual! About a year ago I started using our video projection technology to go back in time to when I first started preaching 25 years ago. Back then I used an expository preaching method, you know, work your way through a book in the Bible a few verses at a time. Some people open their own Bible but most just follow along on the screen. We started the Gospel of Luke in July of 2014 and I’m happy to report that we are all the way up to chapter 9 starting this Sunday. My point…back to the basics utilizing today’s tech and the people I serve are loving it. You are so right, if we make it a show, we may be attracting those who seek to be entertained rather than developing disciples. I read your book about a year ago and it transformed my mindset. Ministry is now more enjoyable than ever, thanks and keep up the great work!!!
    Chris Yount
    New Fairfield, CT

  2. I understand your implication of the reference to the coin and to the altar. I think the former was an object lesson and the latter a culturally relevant transition. Maybe just split a hair- sorry about that!

  3. Great post Karl! Question for you and other pastors: I am considering doing a summer series that leverages the blockbuster/movie themes of the season while staying biblically focused and Jesus-centric. I will more than likely use movie clips as illustrations or openers but will preach the gospel not the movie. What other advice would you all have as I move forward? Thanks!

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