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We had a guest preacher at our church yesterday and he brought to mind a Jamsco Principle of Preaching* that all pastors should consider.


He was talking about different ways of considering the future (whether optimistically or pessimistically) and he said something like “. . . or should we go the way of Isaac Asimov or Battleship Galactica?”


And at that moment I can guarantee that about 15 percent of the people in the congregation (mostly the men, mostly the less-cool men) were thinking (or even whispering to their wives) “No, no. BattleSTAR Galactica!” ** ***


So I thought of the Principle. But before I state it, let me set the table.


There are two schools of thought for pastors when it comes to pop cultural references.


1. Make no (or very few) cultural references.  Since Pastor Piper rarely (never?) watches television or movies, this is his modus operandi. **** I think this is extremely reasonable and very often wise.


2. Make references to shows and music that you know are a part of your congregation’s lives. This is also reasonable, but I think it can be more dangerous. Pastors who do this risk  listeners thinking you are endorsing the cultural elements you are mentioning, or looking like you’re trying to be cool.


So here comes the principle:

If you, as a pastor, are going to make cultural references, get it right!


The infraction from yesterday’s sermon was very minor – one syllable in an otherwise excellent sermon. But I have heard much worse.


         Decades ago, I heard a pastor denouncing a Macaulay Culkin movie based on the advertisement of the movie. He pronounced the actor’s name wrong and totally misunderstood the premise of the movie.

         Back when the Seinfeld show was popular, I heard a sermon talking about the Yada Yada episode in a way that made me doubt whether the pastor had seen it. He certainly didn’t understand what ‘Yada Yada’ meant as used on the show.


So Pastors – you walk a thin line every time you do this. Take care. Do a little research.


To paraphrase Twain: Better to not talk about our culture and have your listeners wonder if you are clueless about it than to talk about our culture and remove all doubt. Or worse, look like a poser.


What do you think? Am I being too harsh?


* Yes, I’m able to make these up even though I have had not a single hour of seminary training. That’s what having a blog means.


** And I know this is wrong without having watched a single minute of the show.


*** Yes, since he was going to give the sermon again at the second service, I did consider going up and pleasantly informing him of his error. This is a little like the “frosting-on-the-public-speaker’s-face” conundrum. It is better to tell him or to not tell him?


**** He does keep up with the news, however. A few weeks ago he gave a helpful primer on what a ponzi scheme is and showed how each religion had one.

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February 2009