Story and Christian Formation: Using Movies, Video, and Music with in Christian Formation

file000212843612Think about one of the most memorable movies/videos you have watched. What was it about? What made it powerful? In what ways did you connect with the characters and story? Whether silly or serious, movies/videos/videos have a way of making a connection with us. They tell us stories that transport us to a different place, time, culture, situation, or experience. They are stories that can also tell us more about faith, belief, doubt, struggle, journey, and ourselves.

As people of the Bible, we are people of story. Our faith has been passed down in the stories of the Bible and the stories of our traditions. We know about the struggle, joy, triumph, encounters, confusion, doubt, faith, prayers, and journey because of the stories we read in the Old and New Testaments as well as in the literature that has been found from those periods in history. Our foundation is built on story, the most epic story we know.

The stories woven through the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible are stories of people and their interaction with God, each other, and themselves. They are stories that still ring true today because they are our story, your story, my story.

Jesus taught in stories throughout his ministry. He taught people through parables, which are stories that appear to be simple, but are usually complex and multi-layered. Parables are used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Jesus also taught people by using the stories of the people he encountered, teaching them through their own experience and culture. Jesus’ ministry was filled with the use of story as he taught, instructed, prayed, and engaged the people around him.

We are a people of story. We are drawn to story as a way of connection because it helps us find our experience in the experience of another. It helps us to know that someone else has similarly experienced our own struggles, joys, doubts, belief, encounters, and triumphs. We are drawn to story as a way of discovery and epiphany. Stories give us a way to learn and gain new insight. They allow us to escape to a different place, if even for a moment. They motivate us to do the big and small tasks in front of us. They engage us in a bigger and broader story than our own so we remember that the world is a place full of diverse problems, joys, struggles, and triumphs.

Today, movies, videos, and music that accompanies them serve a similar purpose. Movies, videos, and music can help us learn, escape, motivate, engage, and share our own experiences and the experiences of others around the world. They can be great resources of formation and education as they engage us in stories that are different from our own. They teach us by both opening us up to a wider world and showing us our own world.

Movies and video can…

  • help the group engage with a topic on a different level.
  • inspire and motivate us to change injustices in the world.
  • teach history, culture, faith, struggle, etc. in a unique way.
  • open up a minefield of questions, concerns, and off topic issues if you don’t prepare with care and intentionality. Making sure you fully prepare will save you having to deal with parents and kids who are upset or confused about the movie/video.
  • teach kids and adults to think critically about what they see and hear in film and tie it to their faith journey.
  • give you the opportunity to talk about the power that music plays in the movie/video and in our lives.

Learning Styles and The Use of Multimedia

As you think about ways in which you can use movies and video in your setting, remember that it’s not just a fun and interesting activity, but that using multimedia speaks to many different kinds of learners. Learning styles influence how we receive experiences, what we remember about those experiences, the words we choose, and the way in which we learn best. Each learning style uses different parts of the brain, so when you engage in using multiple learning styles, more of the brain is involved which increases our memory and involvement.

There are seven recognized learning styles.

  1. Visual – learns best through pictures, images, three-dimensional imaginings
  2. Aural – learns best through sound and music
  3. Verbal – learns best through the use of words in speaking and writing
  4. Physical – learns best through the use of body, hands, and touch
  5. Logical – learns best through the use of reasoning, logic and systems
  6. Social – learn better in groups or with other people
  7. Solitary – learns better when he or she works along and does self-study.

You can see that the use of movies and video will engage many, if not all, these learning styles in various ways, such as:

  • the presence of pictures, images, sound and music engages the visual and aural learners.
  • watching and processing in a group incorporates the social learners.
  • the quiet of a movie/video (if it is watched in quiet) can invite the solitary learners to escape into the movie/video and begin asking their own questions.
  • processing the movie/video afterward will engage the verbal learners.
  • questions and participating in debriefing a movie/video can invite the verbal and physical learners to delve into the conversation on a different level. (Think about ways you can invite that kind of learning by acting out a scene, journal writing, and verbalizing questions and responses.)

Guide to Showing Movies and Videos

Watch the Movie or Video First

  • Watch all of it. Missing even a scene or not watching it until the end can lead you to miss a scene, word, or phrase that can catch people off guard and ruin the experience you are trying to create.
  • If you can, invite other adult leaders to view it with you. Process it together after the movie or video.
  • As you watch, think about your context and its culture.
  • Write down your own questions, thoughts, and concerns. What were your favorite parts? What were the troubling parts? What did you have questions about?
  • What does this movie or video say about our story as Christians, faith, and doubt?
  • Does it echo any of the stories in the Bible? Beliefs of your faith tradition?
  • Think about follow-up questions you will ask when you are processing this with your group. (see section below with post-movie questions)
  • What will this movie or video say to your group?
  • Is there a scene, phrase, or word that your group won’t be able to get past because it is too provocative?
  • Is there a scene, phrase, or word that may bring about a moment of clarity?

Ask Others who Have Seen It

  • After you have seen it, use your network, colleagues, or friends as research partners.
  • What did they think of the video or movie?
  • Would they show it to a group like yours?
  • If you are a part of a social media group, this might be a great place to post your question about the movie or video in question.

How to Use Movies/Videos in Your Ministry

If you want to use movies and videos in your ministry, make sure you have a plan and have done the work ahead of time to make it successful. If you are going to the movie theater, make sure you have a certain number of “scholarship tickets” for those who can’t afford to come. Make sure you also have space set up to talk about it afterward (not next week, but right afterward when it is fresh.) If you are showing the movie/video on your own, make sure you get the proper permissions (see the section below that addresses this) and that you have the proper equipment you need to show it and have it be heard well.

Know your Audience

When selecting a movie/video keep certain things in mind such as age range, culture, experience, old references that you may have to explain, etc. Keeping your audience in mind will help you choose the right movie/video.


Think strategically about when you want to show movies/videos throughout the year. You don’t want to overuse the multimedia, nor do you want to ignore it. It makes sense to use a movie when you will be together for longer than three hours. It makes sense to show short videos or clips from a movie when you will be together a shorter amount of time.

Communicate with Parents

Let the parents know you will be watching a movie and how it fits into the curriculum and scope of what you are trying to do. If at all possible, send some reflection questions home with them so they can further the conversation at home.

Question and Response Time

I use the words “question and response” here intentionally because there is not one answer for any of the questions. When watching a movie or video each person will have a different experience. By asking questions, you are inviting response and dialogue, not the correct answer.

Before you sit to watch a particular movie or video with your group, make sure you have a few sets of questions ready to go. The first set will be general discussion, the second will be more in-depth, the third will be more pointed questions. You can do the question and response time in the large group or small groups.

Ground Rules for Q and R:

Before you begin your question and response time, you will want to set up some ground rules. Remind the group that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion even if it is different from your own. That we may disagree and when we do, it invites us into a deeper listening to the other rather than trying to prove your point is correct. Have fun and enjoy the dialogue.

General Questions

  • I wonder what your favorite part of the movie/video was? Why?
  • I wonder what your least favorite part of the movie/video was? Why?
  • What were the things you did not understand or that confused you?
  • What do you think the message of this movie/video is?
  • What themes do you see present in this movie/video?
  • Are any of these themes similar to themes we would see in the Bible or in our religious tradition?
  • What do you think the filmmaker was trying to tell us? Did they accomplish this?
  • What did you learn from this movie/video?
  • I wonder what an important moment was for you in the movie/video? Was there a moment where you had an ah-ha or gained some deeper knowledge?
  • Did the conflict in the movie/video enhance the story? I wonder what we learn from conflict? I wonder how people in the Bible dealt with conflict?

More In-Depth Questions

  • I wonder who your favorite character was? Why?
  • I wonder who your least favorite character was? Why?
  • If you could ask anyone in the movie/video a question, what would it be?
  • How are the characters like people who you know?
  • Were there instances when they made you think of people in the Bible?
  • Did you see similarities in this story and any story you know in the Bible?
  • Is this story a parable? Is it a moral story? Why?

 Pointed Questions

  • How did the music enrich the movie/video? Were there lyrics that stood out for you?
  • What does this movie/video say about our experience as humans today?
  • What symbols did you see present in this movie/video? How did they enhance the story? Did you notice they were there? (Symbols in movies and video are used often as a simple way of pointing to something else. Such symbols include things like the cross, the sun, a nation’s flag, a star, an animal, the season of the year, etc.)
  • If you did not notice symbols, might the movie/video be different if you watched it with that in mind?
  • In this movie/video, what are the issues it presents that are most relevant to your story? To the stories in the Bible? To the stories in your community?
  • Are there any life lessons you will take away with you after watching this movie/video?
  • Which character do you admire the most?
  • How might you imagine God reacting to this movie/video?


Getting permission to show movies

  • Permission from Parents – make sure the parents know what movie/video you are showing, the time of the showing, and that there will be follow-up discussion. Tell them why you are showing a movie/video and having a discussion so they know it’s not a “blow off night” and that it has a purpose.
  • Show the movie/video with in the copyright guidelines. Here is a helpful resource on using music and media materials.

Movie and Video Directories

There are many movie/video directories or indexes on the Internet, Here are some that I find helpful.

This article first appeared in the Lifelong Faith Journal, Fall 2014

Categories: formation, story, youth, Youth Ministry

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