If you are a preacher, you have done it. You have been right in the middle of preaching your sermon and used that illustration you had a feeling might flop, but decided to take the risk anyway. Then it happens.
It detonates in your face and all you want to do is sit down and let the band come back on and play. Maybe it was unnecessarily offensive, distracting, or not thought through. Maybe it made no sense, confused people, or wound up serving no purpose whatsoever.
I have done this more times than I care to admit. I remember preaching a sermon in the first year of Redemption and for some reason I am still unclear of I chose to use Jean Claud VanDamme as an illustration.
Yep - the Jean Claude Van Damme.
Right in the middle of my illustration I realized I had no idea what I was talking about and I could tell by the confused looks on the faces of the few people listening, that neither did anyone else.
The riskiest part of every sermon is always the illustration. It either clarifies or confuses - there is no middle ground. By far, the riskiest of all sermon illustrations are those drawn from pop culture.
Referring to television, music, and movies always runs you at least four risks...
1. They might distract from what is important
The last thing you want to happen when you make a reference to Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or The Chronicles of Narnia (I'm a nerd, so these would be my "go to's") is to see everyone's eyes glaze over because they start thinking about how much they want your sermon to be over so they can go home and watch the movie you are referring to. What you intended as a source of help instantly becomes a hindrance.
2. They might alienate your listeners
Have you ever experienced that awkward moment when you ask something like, "How many of you saw the Jersey Shore last night?" and only three people raise their hands? It's brutal. It means the illustration you thought was going to perfectly land your point will now only make sense to the three degenerates (like you) who saw the show. It alienates everyone else and leaves them foggy as to what you are trying to communicate.
3. They might devalue your point
When we seek to illustrate subject matter like the atonement, divine sovereignty, and grace through the means of reality TV, sitcoms, or movie clips, we run the risk of making these breathtaking and beautiful issues appear cheap and unimportant. We must always do the hard work of seeking out appropriate illustrations for the truths we are expounding.
4. They might offend people
Everyone has differing convictions around media intake. What serves as entertainment for one person often offends another. An innocent reference to a song, a band, a show, or a movie can instantly and unintentionally offend, destroy your credibility, and rob you of voice in a person's life.
My point is not to say we should never use pop-culture as fodder for illustration. My point is simply to say we should always evaluate the risks and ensure they are worth it. You may find that a movie reference is the perfect way to make your point, or you may discover that laziness has left you looking for the cheapest, easiest illustration you can think of. Let's prayerfully, patiently, and diligently seek out the best ways to illustrate the great message God's given us to proclaim.