How many of these terms can you identify? Metrosexual. Bennifer. Blogging. G-Unit. Is it hard to stay on top of the constant stream of culture swirling around you? (Metrosexual: a heterosexual who embraces much of homosexual culture; popularized by the wildly successful TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Bennifer: the movie star couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Blogging: a Blog is a web log (an online journal); blogging is using your online journal for the purposes of criticism, which then has extensive influence because web search engines link to them. G-Unit: The band of top-selling rapper 50 Cent.)
If we are to be like the men of Issachar "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do" (1 Chronicles 12:32), we need to study the culture. Here are a few pointers on how to catch the culture in order to bridge the gap from the unchanging gospel to the contemporary world.
Jesus used farming stories to connect with his hearersbut today that common cultural touch-point has changed to sit-coms and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)
Listen to Non-Christian Radio
At least one day a week, don't listen to the local Christian station as you drive around. Instead, listen to stations you normally wouldn't: the hard rock station, the alternative station, the rap station, the country station, the hip hop stationeven the Spanish station. Listen carefully for both the lyrics and for the feel of the music, and ask yourself why that song is getting so much more play than the Christian music you just turned off.
Driving on a Los Angeles freeway pondering my upcoming sermon on the Woman at the WellI heard her voice come across the airwaves in a most contemporary lyric by agnostic musician Avril Lavigne.
Because of the stain I often feel after watching television, I've set a goal to watch only 10 hours of TV a yearwhich is certainly not the norm in our TV saturated culture. But it's easy enough to keep up on it. Once a month, I'll record a six-hour sweep of TV. Then, instead of watching the shows, I'll fast forward to the commercials. Good commercials are 30 second, self-contained stories that tie a product to the cultureand in the process, reveal both what key touch-points are current and how to use them to connect.
In our December 2003 family series, we used a number of current commercials to set up the sermonsand each commercial was gleaned from a single afternoon of commercials during NFL games I didn't even watch.
Study Their Bible
Subscribe to Entertainment Weekly magazine. It's an incredible source of up-to-date trends, facts, fads, and issues in the culture-shaping entertainment industry. You'll need to have your spouse pre-screen it for offensive photos before you open it (this is no Christianity Today!), but it's worth it. In particular, study closely the "Top" listsa ranking of the top movies, music, books, and TV shows of the preceding week. Jesus used farming stories to connect with his hearersbut today that common cultural touch-point has changed to sit-coms and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI).
Since an average of 26.4 million Americans watched Gil Grissom carefully study clue after clue on CSI each week in the fall of 2003, doesn't that suggest inductive preaching still has a place in our pulpit? And isn't the story-driven, mystery-heavy, fact-uncovering CSI a great image for preaching that connects?
If Entertainment Weekly is indecipherable, then start with Time magazine.
Find a Culture Coach
Hopefully you know some good, strong non-ChristiansI call them Normal Peoplewho can help you in your study. Normal People swim in the culture all day long. Ask them questions about what trends they see going on around them, what shows are hot, what issues are pressing. Your kids and the kids in your church are the next best spot to look for coachesand they'll be so honored if you ask them into your office to find out what movie all their friends watch over and over. And many of us have culture experts on hand regularly: our Youth Pastors.
Bill White is a church planter in urban Long Beach, California.