Movies and the gospel

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JonathanBradley

Puritan Board Freshman
What do y'all think of using movies and the Christian undertones which some have as the backdrop(for lack of a better term) for Bible studies for youths ages 12+?

Currently, we are doing Bible studies that mostly point to sin nature and lead to salvation based on the movies Despicable Me 1 and 2.
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
What do y'all think of using movies and the Christian undertones which some have as the backdrop(for lack of a better term) for Bible studies for youths ages 12+?

Currently, we are doing Bible studies that mostly point to sin nature and lead to salvation based on the movies Despicable Me 1 and 2.
Hi Jonathan,
My advice would be to avoid it. Youths ages 12+ have the intellectual capacity to understand the teachings of Scripture presented in a straight-forward fashion apart from cinematic entertainment. You're talking about an age range where they have already begun to grapple with how death, sexuality, and violence are a part of our fallen world. They have serious questions (even if they don't always admit it) and you should provide them with serious answers in the little time you have with them. I share this with you wanting also to emphasize my heartfelt appreciation of your inclination to share Christ with youth. They need Christ and I praise God for your concern to both share the Gospel and critically evaluate your methodology. May the Lord bless your labors.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
First, you are to be commended for seeking to reach the young people with the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Young people definitely need to hear the gospel so it's great you are specifically seeking ways to reach out to them. However, don't sell your young people short!

You mentioned you are working with 12 years and up - those are teenagers! Teens are easily capable of far more in-depth studies than Despicable Me!! I see no reason why you can't go through a Catechism class with them or just dig right in to the Scriptures. As Austin has testified, teens don't need nor want the Gospel dumbed down to them. With all due respect brother, I fully believe that "dumbing down" church/Christianity is the major reason the Church sees droves of teens leave once they hit adulthood. Modern Evangelicalism has a mindset that youth can only respond/enjoy parties, games, loud music, etc. They end up trying to make the church like the world so that young people will be interested. However, the problem then becomes when the youth graduate to the adult service they find it boring and they leave the church! Modern evangelicalism isn't winning their young people to Christ - they are winning them to silliness and games!

Okay off my :soapbox:

Try a few weeks of walking through some bible passages expositionally with them and see how they respond. I think you'll be surprised. And I will be praying for you and your young people.

EDIT: brother Bryan and I cross-posted or I would have just Amen'd his post since he basically said exactly what I did.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Occasionally, okay. Regularly, not a good idea.

When you make a movie your starting point, it's too easy for the subtle message to be that (1) movies are more interesting than the Bible or (2) movies are easier to understand and relate to than the Bible. Most of the time it's better to just start with the Bible itself. A good teacher will be able to show those teens how the Bible by itself actually is more interesting and relevant than a movie.

In fact, most church kids I know and teach want that. Sure, those kids like movies and some of those kids are so into them they even tend to see life through movies. But even then, most of them don't really want you pandering to them by constantly showing them movies. They're actually hungry for teachers who're passionate about Jesus and able to make the Bible come alive for them. Work on that, and you'll be their favorite teacher... even if on the surface they seem to love nothing better than movie night.

It sometimes helps to be conversant about movies, though. Some teens are helped by an occasional movie reference. Some teens have already seen certain movies that are affecting how they think, and it can help for you to be able to talk with them about those movies. And now and then, to be different, you might even want to show a movie that dovetails nicely into a Bible discussion. But only do that rarely.
 

JonathanBradley

Puritan Board Freshman
I must correct myself. Most of the youth are 12+, however, we have a couple younger ones in the class. We don't have enough people, currently, to have separate class. And, most of the older kids are quite socially awkward. And, most of them believe they are saved, when in all reality, I believe only one of them is(and she's one of the younger ones).
I'm not really using the movies and movie clips to dumb anything down, I'm using it to get the point across in a way they will better understand. I have met and worked with many 12 year olds that understand all of this, but, these kids fortunately aren't like most. I say fortunately, because, Lord willing, He will make them realize the craziness of what society calls okay and normal versus what the Bible says is okay and normal. Please pray, Lord willing, for their salvations.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Will pray for the young people, but what you've added doesn't change anything in my previous post.
 

Elizabeth

Puritan Board Sophomore
However, the problem then becomes when the youth graduate to the adult service they find it boring and they leave the church!
Unless they go to a church in my town. The marquee says: The Gospel according to Disney. This week: The Lion King! :banghead:
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
I have taught a "high school" level class at our prior church with kids as young as 9 and as old as 16. We went through Romans(!), but the hard work is on us in order to show them why and how the words of Scripture speak to all, no matter the age. We did a variety of thought exercises, what-if? scenarios (especially positing what would happen if the opposite of what Paul said was true), role playing exercises (using the apologetic that Paul teaches in Romans 1-3), and so forth.

I ended up leaving that church before we could wrap up Romans, but the kids and their parents would often mention how exciting and interesting the class was for them.

I don't think it's the young people to blame if we are starting to think about bringing Despicable Me into a discussion of the gospel as the primary means to show the gospel. Now, I did on occasion reference secular movies to illustrate a point. When we were in Romans 5, I illustrated Federal Headship with the last Batman movie. We all knew for instance, that it didn't matter if the cops or the convicts actually fought each other. The champion on each side was important - Batman with the cops, and Bane with the convicts. If Batman won, so would the cops. If Bane won, the convicts would win the day. We then also linked that to David and Goliath and Jesus and Adam. The kids really loved that sort of thing and I hope it has stayed in their minds.

Just do the work to engage these kids with the gospel as represented through the Scriptures and use illustrations where appropriate.

Many in this group too were socially awkward, but started to loosen up as time went on. My first class was met with a ton of silence and looking down at Bibles. But a few weeks in, there was genuine engagement.

Persevere brother, roll up your sleeves and do the hard work! :)
 

whirlingmerc

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think you need to balance the passive nature of watching something and actively studying and workign thorugh something.

I found the visual Bible John, Acts and Matthew helpful but recommend small chunks to view in about 15 min segments and discuss.
 

Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
I don’t see how a movie could possibly help anybody, young or old, better understand the Gospel. Nor do I see anywhere in Scripture, the Apostles or Prophets using the world’s entertainment to teach God’s truth. It is the Word of God which does not return void, not worldly movies! If they don’t know whether they are saved or not, they need to hear the plain words of Scripture and understand in no uncertain terms the way of salvation. If they come from Christian families, then why are the parents not instructing them in such plain truths at home? If they come from unsaved families, then just as much, if not more, they need plain Scripture and prayer and a call to repent as a means of convicting them, not more of the stuff of the world.
 

JonathanBradley

Puritan Board Freshman
I think some are misunderstanding my point. It's like an object lesson to make a point, backed with with much scripture we go over with the kids. But, instead of an object, I used a couple minutes out of a movie. I'm not trying to use the movie to teach the gospel, I use scripture for that, however, I use the movie to help the kids understand it. If I thought the kids would understand straight use of scripture, I would do so, and I know God can do that in a person. There is a 7-year-old in our group that, to an extent, does just that. However, most of these kids are lost and have the attention span of maybe 3 minutes before they need to fart, giggle, run around, and then listen again.

We do small chunks of the video, may 3-4 minutes of a video clip, then 20-25 minutes of scripture and discussion of the scripture.

They come from "Christian" families, and there is reason why I place quotations marks around that. Unfortunately, a vast majority of families that I work with that claim to be Christian families lack in the areas of teaching their children scripture and the Bible. And that problem is something that my pastor and I pray about regularly for wisdom on how to deal with it.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Jonathan, you started a thread and asked for advice. Advice was given and now you are arguing against said advice. If you are already convinced of your current methods, then what was the point of this thread?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Jonathan:

The fact that you're only using brief movie clips to introduce a topic changes the matter some in my mind. The revelation that the movie clips are being used because without them there's trouble holding the kids' attention is even more important. Holding attention seems to be the real issue, and it's a legitimate one to talk about. It's a very common problem in youth/children's teaching, and one I'm glad you're willing to discuss.

Ultimately, although using a movie clip to get a discussion going now then can work, I think you will do those kids a disservice if you consistently try to hold their attention by pandering to the entertainment culture. It sends those subtle messages I mentioned in my first post. It also tends to make the church into a place that's mimicking the world rather than one that's providing a refreshing respite from the world. Kids who're soaked in a culture that can't get anywhere without a movie reference really need for the church to be a place where that isn't true.

That still leaves you with the attention problem. It's a real problem that I relate to as a guy who teaches kids. Your goal should be to send the message that Jesus (whom we know through the Scriptures) is better and more interesting than anything else—better than, say, movies—and to show them that he's better and more interesting through engaging, Christ-exalting teaching. To do this you need to overcome the attention problem without pandering to interests that are less than Christ-centered. Some practical things to try include the following:

- Change teachers. The teacher is often the problem. This may be a hard change to make if the teacher is established, or if the teacher is you and you're expected to be "the guy" as part of your job description. But do your best to bring in others who're gifted both in handling the Scriptures and controlling/engaging kids. Teaching youth may be the most difficult teaching assignment in the church, and it usually takes a highly gifted teacher. Who is THE most gifted teacher in your church? Recruit that guy, and if he can't do it or it doesn't work, try the next most gifted person. A good youth leader keeps looking for the right teacher even if it isn't himself.

- Change the format. If a large group isn't working, try several small groups. If open discussion isn't working, try worksheets (seriously). Mix it up and find what works for your bunch of kids.

- Get more adults in the room. Recruit parents to "assist" just by being there. In particular, the mere presence of an older man who's not the teacher often does wonders. You'd be amazed how much more attentive a group can be when there are attentive older adults sitting among them, especially parents.

- Pray. Pray personally for the teaching time, but also pray with the kids and get them involved. Typically, the more unattentive I fear a group of kids is going to be, the more time I spend before the lesson praying for the time and getting the kids involved in praying for the lesson too. If the kids currently aren't actively involved in praying for the teacher and the lesson at the start of the session, this might be the first change you need to make. Come up with several different ways to get those kids involved and praying at the start of class.

You've brought up a great topic, Jonathan, and I hope these ideas are some help.
 
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Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
However, most of these kids are lost and have the attention span of maybe 3 minutes before they need to fart, giggle, run around, and then listen again.

The foolishness of children should not be catered to! Rather they should be instructed as to how to put that off! A 4 minute movie clip to distract them from their distraction will only succeed in keeping them ignorant as to just how perfectly capable they all are of sitting still and quiet and actually using all their God given faculties to listen and understand important truths. Not to mention keeping them ignorant of the truths you sincerely wish to impart to them.

I would establish a rule which requires a proper demonstration of reverence for the open Word of God. (Sitting still and quiet for the entire time as a minimum.) Those not willing to abide by that should be asked to leave the group and not be permitted back until they are willing to abide by it. But then I’m a very long way away from their parents who would quite likely not be too chuffed with that idea! ;)
 

jblue88

Puritan Board Freshman
Jonathan,

Your goals are noble and you seek to do right. Well done.

Having been a 7th Grade Bible teacher, I can attest to how difficult it is to keep students "attentive". I designed my class to be stretching for the students (short papers, debates, exams, class presentations) and I knew going into the year, that it would be difficult for them. While my class was busy digging into Scripture, writing papers, and having great discussion in class, the other 7th Grade Bible classes were doing more "entertaining" practices (i.e., instead of discussing Jonah in redemptive history as we did, they watched the Veggie Tale Jonah :banghead:). [One caveat, I did use some videos when discussing historical background...therefore, I am not opposed to video as a teaching tool, but we must be guarded in its use. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing]

Not surprising, I received complaints about class difficulty (along with the usual student groaning about work) and many days the students would ask, "why can't we do X like the other classes." Everyday I told them that we would not do such things because Scripture was supremely important. Everyday I sought to show them the grand drama of Redemptive History and instill in them a love for God's word.

To be sure, there were days that I almost acquiesced because it did not seem I was winning the battle. However, the next year I heard from the 8th Grade teacher and he stated that he was thrilled to have students who had worked hard and were accustomed to dealing with Scripture. They were holding their own and were excelling. Even the ones who seemed the most distracted had gained from the class. (Here I thought I had completely lost some of them to inattentiveness, yet despite their constant distractions, they still heard Scripture and it bore fruit later on)

I do not say this to toot my horn, but I give this story as a way to exhort you to let your excitement about the Word show itself to the students; pass it on to them! Show them the deep rewards gained from diligent study of the Word instead of a quick fix of entertainment. I would abandon the use of movies for object lessons and train them to rely upon the conjunction of prayer and God's word for understanding. This is a pivotal and vital connection to understand in Christian piety. The practice of video clips for illustrations when understanding is lacking may unintentionally bifurcate this connection.

May the Lord grant you creative wisdom in teaching these students.

Sincerely,
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
At a youth conference at our presbytery's camp a few years ago, the instructors used full-length films to teach the "kids" to consider the messages behind the obvious story lines. (I say "kids" because the age range was older high school through college.) It helped them engage our culture and to think critically about the messages that bombard them through entertainment. I thought it was very effective, based upon the ongoing conversations and enthusiasm throughout the weekend. (I was cook, so a fly-on-the-wall.)
 

whirlingmerc

Puritan Board Sophomore
When trying to compete with Nickelodeon keep in mind 'what you win a person by, you win a person to' Piper

Some teacher's might do something like show a vegitale and discuss how it was the same as the Bible and how it was different... with the students studying before and after
Generally, I think movies should be the exception rather than the rule and some movies like the visual bible may be word for word the Bible where other movies may be highly interpretive or have allot more artistic licence... which is fine as long as its understood and discussed which is which. Short creation videos are often helpful as students like animals and it helps hold interest

Having people interact with the class live is better than a movie. I've had fathers come in as cowboys and read the code of the west and have the kids discuss the difference between the code of the west and the 10 commandments for example.... or teen age girls coming in a proverbs class as lady folly or lady wisdom and show their scrap books of their homes... and later each hold a feast for the class... having teen age boys come in and give strange advise and older wise men give sounder advise (with the teens told to give slightly strange advice) and then vote on which advise is best and have kids say why..
 
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nick

Puritan Board Freshman
At a youth conference at our presbytery's camp a few years ago, the instructors used full-length films to teach the "kids" to consider the messages behind the obvious story lines. (I say "kids" because the age range was older high school through college.) It helped them engage our culture and to think critically about the messages that bombard them through entertainment. I thought it was very effective, based upon the ongoing conversations and enthusiasm throughout the weekend. (I was cook, so a fly-on-the-wall.)
I've heard of a couple pastors doing this. They would pause at various points and talk through the worldview(s) presented at that moment, ask questions, etc. Some would have the kiddos select the movie. Sounded like a great way to teach discernment.
 

thbslawson

Puritan Board Freshman
I've done it on occasion. I'm like Jack, I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong if it's done properly, but I probably wouldn't make it a regular habit.

Years ago when I taught a general Bible course for ninth-graders at a private school I used clips from some well-made and thought-provoking movies on several occasions to drive a point home. The class was mostly made up of kids from nominally Christian homes and some were completely unchurched. For instance, I used some clips from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to give examples of self-deception, delusion, struggle and temptation. I don't feel the kids thought it was patronizing, and several of them commented to me that it was helpful. I think this has some merit. But I probably wouldn't use many examples from Dumb and Dumber or Nacho Libre though :lol:
 
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