Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Movie Clips for Illustration in Worship

I've been reflecting on the use of clips from popular films in worship as part of the sermon. Some of you have probably seen them and seen them used effectively during worship. Perhaps a pastor is speaking about how love in Christ overcomes differences in race and socio-economic background, and they then play a powerful scene from The Blindside to illustrate their point. Is this a wise and Biblical practice?

God has certainly not forbidden the use of screens and/or movies in church. God has given us much freedom in the forms we may use in worship, so I don't see this as a simple "movies in church are forbidden" issue. However, I personally don't think that the use of popular movies in worship is wise. I'll give two reasons--one my own and one from John Piper.

First, for a great many Christians movies are a stumbling stone. It is very difficult to sit through 115 minutes of attractively presented worldliness without having your heart drawn toward the materialism, sensuality, amorality, cynicism and God-absent world view that are prevalent in most popular movies. By playing clips from those movies during our central act of corporate worship are we not implicitly encouraging already struggling folks to go back to those "broken cisterns" which are causing such destruction in so many lives?

Second, from John Piper: "I believe profoundly in the power and the till-Jesus-comes-validity of preaching. And by that I mean the spirit-anointed exposition of the Scripture through clear explanations and applications of what's there. There's something God-appointed about that.
I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire. It's going to backfire.

It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does. And we'll just go further and further. So we don't do video clips during the sermon. We don't do skits.

Of course, it would probably help if we all could preach like Piper.

Bottom line: Are the gains from playing movie clips--strong emotional impact and cultural relevancy--worth the potential losses? My fear is that many in the name of pragmatism are not even asking the question.

1 comment:

  1. A few years back I visited a hipster church where the pastor introduced his sermon on “The Christian Journey” with a clip from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Sadly, it was the best part of his message, but in my estimation the excerpt was still utterly inappropriate for several reasons. There are the morality issues you’ve already mentioned. It’s na├»ve – perhaps reckless - to think that we can cherry-pick a “safe” section from a popular film for use in worship. The excerpts don’t exist in a vacuum after all, so when you bring to mind a part, you inevitably bring to mind the whole. When Pastor Cool ran that wacky clip of the Griswald family in their station wagon, it wasn’t long before my thoughts turned to less innocent scenes featuring Christy Brinkley. Surely I wasn't the only one. It’s akin to a Trojan horse.

    I also agree with Pastor Piper’s points concerning preaching. Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me when I see ministers neglecting the ordinary means of grace in favor of something more fashionable and pragmatic. Movie clips can be used to establish a pastor's street cred (i.e. relevance), or to manipulate the emotions of his listeners. The shadow of Charles Finney and his "New Measures" still loom large over such churches.

    In summary, I see a lot of inherent risks involved with using movie clips in worship, but no compelling (much less convincing) rationale for doing so.