I'm still learning the middle school dialect

K-pop band BTS

One of the side benefits of teaching confirmation class to seventh and eighth graders each year is that it exposes me to some elements of pop culture that I would never have noticed on my own.

One of my students turned in a sermon report from Epiphany Sunday with a comment at the bottom, “‘Epiphany’ is the name of a really good BTS song!” And just like that, I took a step into the world of K-pop, or Korean pop music, which to me looks like a reincarnation of 1990s boy bands like Back Street Boys and N Sync. Maybe it’s more accurate to call the genre an extrapolation of that musical era. The groups have more members, some are female, and incorporates hip-hop, electronica, and rock along with creative choreography.

I asked this student, “If I needed to cram for a test on K-pop, what videos would I want to watch?” She sent me a long list of YouTube videos to check out, but would only just scratch the surface. We’ll see how it goes as I begin to do a little research.

There is no Rosetta Stone for learning the middle school dialect. Besides, it changes from year to year. Three years ago I had a student who pretty much spoke in quotes from “The Big Bang Theory.” Bazinga! Others of my current students speak in memes, which they spend more time studying than their academics or the catechism. Some live in video game world. Others only understand metaphors from sports they’re involved in, from golf to football to martial arts. It’s always fun to discover how God’s Word speaks to all those “worlds” in which we live.

“What are you talking about?”

marcos-luiz-photograph-292698In the introduction to my sermon yesterday, I referred the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” I knew that many in attendance were fans or had at least seen or heard of the show. Of course, you never hit the bull’s eye every time. There were some there who leaned over the person next to them asking, “What’s he talking about?”

It is so energizing to make a pop culture reference and watch as faces light up with familiarity. It is equally nauseating to see puzzled looks on faces who have no idea what you are referring to. It is humbling to either take the time to explain it, or discard what was a wonderfully powerful way to illustrate your point.

When you are speaking to an audience that ranges in age from two months to ninety-two years, with different experiences, tastes and interests, it is very hard to find that idea or image that everyone is familiar with. There are some who have never seen a Star Wars movie, don’t know anything about Jerry Seinfeld’s defective girlfriends, don’t read the newspaper, own flip phones, don’t Instagram, got a D in world history, only order wine by it’s color, and can’t name any of the Paw Patrol. I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just saying you better remember that dynamic when you’re speaking.

So what’s a preacher to do? First of all, it helps to know your audience. When I preach, it is almost always to a congregation I know well. I know many of their interests, tastes, occupations, hobbies and families. I’ve been to their homes, talked over coffee, taught them in classes, and have a pretty good idea of what they are familiar with.

Second, you can’t just depend on one illustration or example. You need to throw out a bunch to catch the attention of pre-adolescents, young parents, millennial, baby-boomers and those of the greatest generation. It helps to hang out with and get to know people from all walks of life.

Finally, a lot of it is just trial and error. Thankfully, a swing and a miss one week can be redeemed the next, because Sunday and the next sermon comes around at least once every seven days. I got on base yesterday. We’ll see what happens next week.