I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.
I taught a lesson at church about why movies can be an effective tool to share the gospel.
There are dozens of movies that I’ve watched over and over. I have several friends that could have a long coversation with, using noting but movie quotes.
Here is a sampling of some of my favorite films, in no particular order…
Sci-Fi & Action
The Matrix (reality is not actually real), The Fifth Element (an action movie that becomes a comedy), Serenity (a misfit space crew saves the galaxy from itself), Buckaroo Banzai (genius rock-star/surgeon/adventures fight interdimensional aliens), 12 Monkeys (the past isn’t what it used to be), Hackers (cheesy, but many of the personalities are relatable), The Hunt for Red October (an invisible submarine is defeated through song), The Lord of the Rings (friendship is stronger than evil), Army of Darkness (a smartass with a chainsaw hand kills zombies), The Princess Bride (death cannot defeat love), V for Vendetta (the only real prison is the one we believe), Fight Club (we can be our own worst enemy), A Knight’s Tale (a man can change his stars), Big Trouble in Little China (the hero doesn’t realize he’s actually just the sidekick)
Comedy & Inspiration
The Court Jester (we can be who we want to be), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (look at life with a sense of wonder), The Gods Must be Crazy (we must walk a mile in our neighbor’s shoes, or bare feet as appropriate), UHF (sometimes you have to grab life by the lips and yank as hard as you can), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (shh! it’s only a model), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (the best place is here and the best time is now), Clue (), The Frisco Kid (I am God’s child even in the mud or on my butt), The Wizard of Speed and Time (nothing can stop the creative spirit), The Truman Show (every life is amazing if we’d only look), Apollo 13 (failure is not an option), Raising Arizona (we all can have a second chance), The Hudsucker Proxy (career matters, but love matters more), O Brother Where Art Thou (family is worth sacrificing for)
…and many more.
According to the latest statistics, people go out to the movies a lot. Here’s a breakdown of how many movies people see in theaters each year, by age group.
2-11: 3.4, 12-17: 6.5, 18-24: 6.7, 25-39: 4.4, 40-49: 3.6, 50-59: 3.0, 60+: 2.4 (Source: MPAA)
So the average 50-year old has seen around 225 movies over those years.
Netflix streaming service has grown incredible since it started in 2012, reaching just over 250 million households worldwide, as of early 2018 (which is also roughly the number of households in America). (Source: Bloomberg)
We, as a people, see so many movies. This gives us a lot of common reference points.
So far, I have preached full sermons about three specific movies.
They Live (1988, directed by John Carpenter, Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster)
A wanderer finds sunglasses that reveal the world the way it truly is. Subliminal messages keep the population subdued. Our leaders are secretly aliens bent on world domination.
They Live was the first movie sermon I preached. I was at a horror movie convention, and John Carpenter was one of the guests. Since They Live is my favorite of his films (not necessarily the best, I’ll be the first to admit, but still my favorite), I chose that as my sermon topic. A man learns of the beings that are secretly controlling us through subliminal messages, thanks to some lenses that he found at a church. He uses this knowledge to recruit others, and to directly confront evil. This is not a family film, by any stretch, but it has a solid message.
Ghostbusters (1984, directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Sigourney Weaver)
A team of scientists lose their cushy jobs at a university in New York City, and become “ghostbusters” to wage a high-tech battle with the supernatural for fun and profit.
I preached about Ghostbusters at Wizard World Comic Con, not because it’s my favorite movie, but because of a friend. Ryan E Kemp founded the Western Kentucky Ghostbusters. He loved the optimism and enterprise that the movie’s heroes showed, and wanted to bring that excitement and positivity to those around him. He died three years ago, when he was driving to a children’s hospital to dress as a Ghostbuster and cheer up the sick kids. At first, I was stunned, and wondered what are the odds of dying while doing something like that. But then I realized that the odds weer actually pretty high, in his case. He did that a lot. It got me wondering about how often I spend time doing something that I’d like to be remembered for, if I were to die that instant. Frankly, they weren’t as high as I’d have liked. Kemp’s wonderful example helped me (and just about everyone he ever met) to be a better person.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Pratt)
The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and other Marvel superheroes unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet. Thanos plans to collect six Infinity Stones, so he can kill half the entire universe with a snap of his fingers.
When I preached about Infinity War at the Lexington Comic Con, the movie hadn’t come to theaters yet, but was just a month away. Congoers eagerly anticipated the movie, so the timing was opportune. The local FOX News station even filmed my sermon for the Spirit of the Bluegrass segment.
Besides movies, there are may other common experiences that we can use to reach our neighbor.
I’ve preached about Settlers of Catan (at a board game convention), Pokemon Go (at a game convention), Football (on Superbowl Sunday), and Dungeons & Dragons (at a science fiction/gaming convention).
Sci-Fi & Action
I’ve preached about pirates (at an author convention), monsters and aliens (at a science fiction convention), zombies (at a horror convention), blood and gore (at a horror convention), and superheroes (at a comic convention).
Comedy & Inspiration
I’ve preached about costumes (at a costume convention), outer space (at a science convention), tattoos (at a tattoo convention), and creativity (at a creative writing convention), humor (okay, that was at a science fiction convention, but it was April Fools Day), and music (okay, that wasn’t at a music event, but it was still cool).
I like to focus on the things that I have in common with my audience. To that end, I often pick a sermon topic that’s directly related to the interest at hand. Instead of trying to get people to disengage from what interests them so they can engage with the Word, my usual approach is to find the ways that what they’re currently engaged is already part of God’s story and purpose for our lives.
Apart from movies, games, and other potentially common points of interest, there’s another story that I always have up my sleeve. That’s my story. People can argue with me about religion, history, philosophy, politics, science, and just about anything else, but the one thing that no one can refute is my story. I know my life, because I was there.
I’ve done a lot of things and been a part of a lot of things in my life.
I sported an orange mohawk when I was a part of the punk and new wave scene. I hosted a weekly radio show for years about punk rock and comedy. (What, do punk and comedy seem like different things to you?) I founded the Men Without Hats fan club, over 30 years ago. I help organize a music industry event each year. I’ve been on TV and film. I’ve designed for a living. I write for Nerd Louisville. I make my own costumes. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines. I’ve created crosswords professionally. I ran a publishing company which published hundreds of books for dozens of authors. And much more.
I wrote space shuttle software for NASA when I was just a teenager. I worked in bioterrorism for Homeland Security. (I can neither confirm nor deny that I’ve worked for other intelligence agencies that I can’t tell you about, or I’d have to kill you.) I’ve programmed video games. I’ve spoken at dozens of database conferences. I volunteer at global hackathons, and even host some. I’ve founded a technology conference. I ply cybersecurity, and speak at those events. I’m the calendar coordinator at my city’s largest online technology collective. I’ve taught Alexa new skills. And much more.
I’ve taught at college. I’ve founded startups and mentor in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’ve won two DTMs (Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest award from Toastmasters International). I dabble in improv comedy, and frequently bring those principles to other areas of my life. And much more.
I bring God with me wherever I go. This includes my favorite oddball ministries, which reach out to the freaks, geeks, and weirdos. My people. I co-teach a class at the largest church in Kentucky. I preach on behalf of the Christian Gamers Guild, and have served as its VP for many years. I served a Sector Commander at Fans For Christ until the organization disbanded. I game with Jesus at Game Church. I punk out with the goths at the Grave Robbers ministry. And much more.
I… I… I… I.
That’s a lot of I stuff. And that’s only a selection of some of the larger areas of my life. If I have nothing else in my metaphorical toolbox to help me build a bridge to someone, I’ve always got my story with me. The Bible tells us to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have.
Christ’s last words before he ascended to heaven, often called the Great Commission, were:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19)
Those words were not just meant for the people standing around him at the time; they also apply to us. We are told to bring the good news of Christ’s sacrifice to everyone. But it’s not only a matter of telling — it’s also teaching.
Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. “How can I,” he asked, “unless someone explains it to me?”
So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30)
Those who encounter the gospel won’t make heads nor tails of it without a guide. We are also told to help the people to obey.
How can they call on the One if they do not believe? How can they believe if they have not heard? How can they hear without someone to preach? How can they preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14)
The first step is always to take a step. Any step. We won’t accomplish much in life just sitting on the couch. By spending time with people, and building the relationships which are begin based in common cultural reference points like movies and games, we can teach them the Truth.
I have become all things to all men so that by any means some may be saved. (1 Cor 9:22)
The Apostle Paul traveled to many cities to start churches. The first people he’d talk to are those who were already churchgoers, but then he’d go to the cultural centers. He talked to the Greek philosophers in the manner they were most accustomed to, standing in the public forum to explain his ideas. He talked with workers while he himself plied his own trade as a tent-maker (a tentist? did he go to tental school?). He even preached to prison guards while he was shackled to them. To paraphrase the Watchmen movie/comic out of context, “I’m not chained here to you. You’re chained here to me!” Way to make lemonade, Paul.
Our God is a God that tells stories. Around one third of Jesus’ recorded words are parables (he told 46 of them). A list of facts and figures can easily be forgotten. A list of do’s and don’t’s can easily be disregarded. But a story can last for centuries. We share a culture of movies, television, songs, artwork, and games. We can use those stories as the foundation for sharing the true story of God’s love and our redemption through His Son’s sacrifice.
You can download the PowerPoint slides here.