Pastors and Movies – Stop Bringing Hollywood into Your Sermon

It’s an ordinary church in Ohio. The people are sitting in the pews on an ordinary Sunday morning. During the sermon, the pastor shows a humorous clip from a movie. It’s a dialogue between Will Ferrell and John Reilly

The clip was not just humorous. It was blasphemous. After doing some research, I found out that the same movie has multiple sexual innuendos and near-sex scenes. Flagrant immodesty is everywhere. Violence is rampant. The f-word makes an appearance in the script. The name of God is dragged through the dirt on about a dozen occasions. Almost 90 occurrences of profanity, name-calling, and scatological, sexual and anatomical slang keep the TV guardian very busy throughout the movie.

Do you see a problem with this scenario?

Sharefaith is all about using technology. In fact, we have thousands of video clips available for you to download and use in your church service. But just because we use video clips doesn’t mean that we’re all that excited about the influence that Hollywood is allowed to have in the church. In fact, in most cases, letting Hollywood into the church is a bad idea. Sure, you may be simply showing triumphant scenes from the Lord of the Rings, an insightful conversation from Chronicles of Narnia, or a poignant clip from the Passion of the Christ. But is this really a good idea? It may not just be movie clips, but merely references to or illustrations from movies. Should you do it? Let’s answer this question with a series of six questions. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how or how not to integrate Hollywood into your sermons.

What’s your motivation?

Why do you want to show movie clips? Watch out for slippery motivations here. The popular appeal of Hollywood makes it easy for us to crave relevance, and try to achieve it in the wrong way. In order to better capture the attention of our people, it’s easy to think that a short clip from a popular movie may do the trick. The motivation, however incipiently, may stem from a desire to be more relevant, to get a higher attendance, or in order for people to perceive you as being in-touch. It is healthy for you to question these kinds of motives. Why? Because they seem to fall short of the biblical pattern for pastoral motivation. (See 1 Thessalonians 2.)

What are you communicating?

Proclaiming the gospel with relevance, power, and accuracy does not mean that you need to use movies, clips, or illustrations from the latest blockbuster in order to do it. What are you communicating–as a whole–by doing so? Take the opening example as a case study. The pastor may have had pure motivations when showing the clip. Granted. But what about the whole message of the movie? Sex scenes? Profanity? Violence? What did that communicate? Let the message of the Bible be your source of communication. Yes, you can use visual aids and media. You should. But do you need to insert a movie clip that carries a message that is different from your sermon? Probably not. Keep your message pure, and communicate Jesus Christ.

What is the context?

Some pastors play movie clips as a form of negative illustration. For example, a pastor might show a scene from Bruce Almighty, in which people’s view of God is messed up, and how this is a dangerous and unbiblical way to be. But consider the context. In a movie as anti-God as Bruce Almighty, it is incumbent upon the pastor to offer huge disclaimers about the movie. Or nearly any other Hollywood movie, for that matter. Context is huge. Most movies are not designed to enhance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are designed to do damage to it.  What kind of worldview do the movies communicate? Is their opportunity in your message to deconstruct the deviant worldview, and correct it with a Christ-centered perspective? Think about that as you bring that 45-second clip into your message. You are showing it in a context–a context of people’s, maturity, misunderstanding, hurt, unforgiveness, anger, or discontentedness. How does it help?

Where might this lead?

Do you really have time to offer disclaimers for the sex, language, violence, and nudity contained in the movies, even though you’re showing a quick clip? Are there young people in your ministry? How might you be influencing them as they decide what to watch or what not to watch? Are you stirring up curiosity, and perhaps giving an implicit okay to a harmful movie? What about adults? Does this movie-clip showing give them a pastoral pass on more movie trash that they want to watch? Movie watching can be an addictive and time-wasting habit. Do you really want to run the risk of being responsible for nudging people in that direction? There may be people whose Christian convictions have led them away from movie watching. But a brief clip in church may bring back to their minds the sinful scenes which they used to watch. You need to exercise caution in the pulpit, realizing that the things you say, do, mention, or show, can have effects that are far-reaching.

What’s your testimony?

Here’s where it gets personal. A “testimony” is more than just a good reputation, or concern about what people will think of you. A testimony is your personal reflection on Jesus Christ. For any Christian, a good testimony before the world is important. For a pastor, it may be even more important. That being said, what does movie-clip showing suggest about the pastor’s personal movie-viewing habits? What does this suggest about how he spends his time? Pastor, people are not as concerned about your so-called relevance, as they are concerned about your reverence to Jesus. They will be less impressed by the fact that you watched Twilight, than by your passionate love for Jesus Christ. They will be changed by the preaching of God’s Word, not by the illustrative impact of a skillfully-selected movie clip.

What’s the use?

People do not attend church to see movies. They attend church to see Jesus Christ, and to hear the message of His grace. Movies are shown at the theater. God’s Word should be preached in church. Protect the “church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14). Defend the truth of the gospel. Rather than give assent to movies, give glory to God. Make Him big. Teach the word. Preach Jesus.

We don’t have any movie clips to sell, but we do have a wide variety of video loops that you can use for your worship. Get started with a Sharefaith membership in order to use these tools.

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  • Jerry Guyers

    Thanks for the insightful article.

  • Eva

    Ok Entiendo y es muy valioso lo que a escrito.Eso lo e aprendido bien. Todas las personas pueden fallar. Pero lo que vale es ir a adelante. Y una falla no significa que todo dirije al mal. Depende de como uno lo cambie a lo bueno. Le agradesco a su pagina y va hacer de gran ayuda estos dias para mi en la Iglesia para mantener todo en puro se nesesita siempre material cristiano y le agradesco por su blog que ayuda bastante. Muchas Gracias.

  • Hein

    Awesome article!

    I agree 100%. Hollywood as no place in the house of a Christian or in the house of the Lord. Today there is so much garbage and Hollywood has a very clear agenda: To distort the view of creation, of family and of holiness. It is not the role of the believer to be current on whats hot and whats not! Neither should a pastor EVER employ such a medium to make a statement.

    You may say “I will never commit murder”, or “I will not steal” or “I will not commit adultery” but yet we enjoy watching TV shows and movies where these things are in abundance.

    The church tries to be too “Cool”. They think they have to step down to the level of the world in order to reach the unsaved or entertain the young generation. Not so.

    Romans 12:3 “And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

  • Seek

    This article is a perfect example of why people ought to think twice before contributing money to radical traditionalist churches. “Step Brothers,” the John C. Reilly-Will Ferrell movie whose name our illustrious author “Daniel” apparently could not mention, was a touching comedy about how people can come to accept each other despite the strange circumstances — over which they had no control — brought them together. Far from being “blasphemous,” I found it to be a good deal more Christian than the people who routinely go off the rails about “immodesty.”

    Perhaps “Daniel” could use a dose of humor and wit (among other things). Film, like literature and music, has much to teach us. And its lessons often come from unexpected places.

    Hooray for Hollywood. May more clergy incorporate its work in their sermons.