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Engaging with Pop Culture

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Joshua reflects on how we can think about and approach pop culture, and how it can also be an opportunity to reach and engage the youths in our midst. 

My wife and I like to relax by watching shows but since having our child, we rarely have much free time. Every now and then, when we have a free evening, we will try to spend time together watching something. When that happens, ironically sometimes we spend more time deciding what to watch than actually watching. One such occasion happened earlier last month.

We switched on Netflix and had no idea what was good. However we had heard lots of reviews about a certain Korean drama which is very popular at the moment. Everyone was talking about it, so we decided to watch it. We ended up picking what to watch purely based on what is popular.

Pop culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time.

Pop culture presents in many shapes and forms. It includes recently released movies or shows, pop songs, up and coming actors, actresses or artistes, memes found on the various social media platforms and even choice of social media itself etc. Try as we might to avoid engaging in pop culture, it is inevitable that we come across or have to interact with it, in one form or another.

How should we as Christians, then engage with pop culture?

With praise to God because it is a gift

Culture include the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. In the most basic sense, culture can be defined as what a group of people decide to do with what God has created. Pop culture specifically develops when something or someone interesting in God’s world becomes well known in the society. Human beings in their creativity are both the origin and the driving force behind pop culture. Creativity, entertainment and appreciation of these things originate from God. Hence, pop culture is a manifestation of these good gifts from God.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen 1:27)

Pop culture is therefore not something to be feared nor should it be something to be inherently opposed to. It is part of God’s good creation.

"The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it." (Ps 24:1)

With discernment because the world is fallen

However, even though pop culture is a part of God’s good creation, we live in a fallen world, with broken and sinful people. As a result, God’s good creation is distorted and pop culture has both good and bad aspects to it. As Christians, we need to exercise discernment in differentiating between God-honouring media, morally neutral material and sinful content in pop culture. We should avoid the things that are unhelpful for our relationship with God and others, and aim to honour God in the things that we expose ourselves to or engage in. As the well-known children’s song goes “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down with love”

"Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8)

Youth and Pop Culture

One thing I have noticed during my time in youth ministry is that young people really like pop culture. It shapes much of their speech, thoughts, actions and even life decisions e.g. “do I aspire to be a Youtuber?”. Even though we ourselves may not understand the appeal of various aspects of pop culture, it could be a way we can relate to the youth in our church.

Perhaps discerningly engaging in pop culture is a way of stepping in love towards and relating to our youths. It is a great conversation starter with our younger people! When youths see that you are interested in the things they are interested in, it helps them feel loved and accepted. My hope and prayer are that when our youths experience the love of the members of our church, enough to be interested in what they are interested in, the youth will reciprocate in turn to be interested in what we are ultimately passionate about – The Gospel and God’s Word. Not only that, only when pop culture is discussed in the safe context of the church, can we really help our youths appreciate pop culture in ways that are God honouring.

Learning about pop culture could be a platform for the gospel especially for our younger brothers and sisters in church -- from youths to even our primary school kids. How are you engaging with pop culture today?