I just started reading a new book titled Pop Goes the Church. It was written by Tim Stevens who is a pastor at Granger Community Church in Indiana, one of the few churches I’ve heard about lately that I actually get excited about because they seem to be connecting people living in our (constantly-changing) media culture with God’s story of hope, love and forgiveness (things that never change) in meaningful ways by engaging pop culture. I don’t mean this to be a critique of most other churches I hear or know about – well maybe I do, but only a little – but I’d like to focus on what is going on here that I think is good. I find hope in the realization that there is a pastor and a church that are passionate about some of the same things as me. Stevens and Granger Community Church seem to share my vision of a church where the “texts” of pop culture (music, movies, tv shows, etc.) are discussed alongside the biblical text — even on Sunday morning during the sermon — without compromising or watering down the message as a result.
Here’s a sample of how Stevens thinks from the introduction of his book…
If Jesus physically entered twenty-first century America, I believe he would do much as he did in the first century. He would hang out with normal people in the real world, and he would reserve his strongest words for the entrenched religious leaders who love their traditions more than they love their people. He would leverage the culture. He would read our books, go to our movies, watch our TV shows, look at our magazines, and surf the internet so that he could better understand our culture. I believe he would look for themes in our popular culture that would help him make a connection between the topics that had our attention and the kingdom life he was offering. He would be encouraged by the lyrics in some of today’s mainstream music. He would see honest searching in the words, and he would use those lyrics to reach and penetrate hearts.
I think, that just as he did in the first century, Jesus would disciple a small team of leaders while at the same time looking for opportunities to attract and influence large crowds. And when those crowds gathered, he would draw upon what he had learned about our popular culture and would use illustrations, props, and analogies that would connect his love to our hearts.
I believe that is what Jesus did and that is what he would do, and I believe he expects no less from us.
I could not agree more with this or have written it any better. I believe that what Stevens is saying is important and true for not only the church and people of faith, but also for the world (inside the church, outside the church, everywhere), and I want to thank him for expressing this so well. Perhaps others do not agree with Tim Stevens, or with me. Maybe you think that letting the values and behavior expressed in contemporary pop culture will corrupt the church (and Christians) to the point where we will erode into some form of moral relativism (not knowing what is right anymore, because everything seems to be alright). I know for a fact that many people feel this way because I have had conversations and received emails from people who thinks this way. The last thing I want to do is keep anyone out of this conversation or make it sound like I don’t agree with them (I actually think there’s some validity in what they’re saying and their opinions should be heard by people like me and Stevens as a legitimate warning/caution), but before anyone jumps all over this with harsh criticism let me first clarify some things.
This is more than just a conversation about whether or not media should be used in churches. It’s less about churches having video screens and projectors in their sanctuaries and more about how they use them. Yet it’s not even about video screens and movie clips during sermons, it’s about pastors and ministry leaders reimagining their ideas of what it means to be the church in a media world. That’s why I think pastors and churches should use wisdom to discern how to most effectively incorporate pop culture into their ministry. It is not good enough to simply force connections between faith and culture, as if it’s a fool-proof equation (pop culture + church = good). I would have a difficult time convincing anyone that there was a meaningful connection between Jesus saying “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) with the movie Dude Where’s My Car, or that the Apostle Paul’s suggestion to “consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) was somehow illustrated in The Big Lebowski, but I can see a powerful example of someone loving others as himself in Patch Adams or selflessly considering others better than themself in Good Will Hunting (coincidentally, the characters I’m thinking of from each of those movies are played by Robin Williams).
What I’m trying to make clear is that not any/every thing from pop culture will be appropriate or effective in communicating the Gospel. In fact, there are some topics or themes where using illustrations from pop culture might even insult or take away from the message. For instance, when I preached at Journey a few months ago about Jesus washing his disciples feet – and then calling them (and us) to serve each other in the same way – I did not use any clips from a movie, lyrics from a song or even a touching story from the newspaper (although I considered examples of each). I chose to give an old fashioned “no frills” sermon because none of the pop culture references or examples would have added anything to the message. Any examples I could have used from pop culture would have been merely an imitation of the original; but Jesus washing his disciples feet along with a few verses of laying down his life for us? That’s a powerful witness and example of what it means to be a servant.
Sorry I started asking for your thoughts and then went on for a few more paragraphs. I really would like to hear what people think about all this. Leave a comment if you have something to say.