In my previous post I mentioned the importance of preachers being careful with the use of multi-media in their sermons because of some potential problems inherent to multi-media. The use of multi-media in preaching is a (relatively) new trend that is only growing in popularity among preachers (instead of the traditional “3 points and a poem” sermon, it’s now “6 points and a movie clip”). The trend is becoming such that even if a preacher does not like it, congregations now demand they use multi-media in the sermon. Whether true or not, the perception of many in our congregations is such that unless the preacher uses multi-media in the sermon, they’re not really trying (It’s the new “greek-word reference,” the signal to the congregation that the preacher had studied that week). All of this is to say multi-media is a reality of preaching in the modern pulpit. The problem is that multi-media is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that a preacher who carelessly throws different forms of multi-media into the sermon will easily find themselves swept away with the result that what they actually say during the sermon is lost in the noise of media.
This reality has caused me to think long and hard about how preachers can effectively incorporate technology into their sermons in ways that still respect the sermon for what it is- a spoken word to God’s people. Confession time: I don’t use media much. In fact, I hate using it (it’s been my experience that because of what I believe preaching is and how I preach, media ends up as way more trouble than it’s worth). But when/if I do, here are the guidelines that inform my use. I believe if preachers are going to use multi-media in ways that are faithful to the preaching task, there needs to be some boundaries and “rules” for how we use it. Here are some suggestions:
1) Plan. Plan. And then plan some more.
Like any aspect of good preaching, using media requires planning. Think of it this way- barring unforeseen events that happened during the week, no preacher should be writing their sermon on Saturday night; it’s the same with using media. No preacher should be throwing in media at 10:00pm on a Saturday night. It also requires working with those who operate the computers/technology at your congregation. They have to be brought in early enough in the process that you aren’t just throwing a jump drive at them and saying, “Make it work!” That’s a great way to ensure mishaps during the sermon. Using media in the sermon takes time, coordination, and working together with whomever might be involved in the worship service (that’s why using media can sometimes feel like a “production,” you have to involve so many people to make it work smoothly). Nothing can ruin/wreck what you’re trying to do in the sermon more than technology mishaps that often arise when the preacher doesn’t plan enough on the front end.
2) You can’t win, so don’t compete.
Like I’ve said elsewhere, the problem with multi-media is that it works. Movie clips, pictures, and cool slideshows do grab attention. The problem is it’s often hard for the preacher to get that attention back. You may only play a 30 second clip from that popular movie, but if it’s a movie everyone knows and loves, they will continue to play the film in their head. “I wish he had showed that next part too…” And while the movie is playing in their head, they’re not listening to you. This is what David Buttrick calls “splitting congregational consciousness.” You want their attention, but if you’re running multi-media while also trying to preach, the congregation now has two sources wrestling for their attention. Which do you think will win: the guy speaking or the movie/picture with bright colors? It’s not even close.
Instead, work hard to control when the congregation sees the media and how it fits into your sermon. I have a couple suggestions. Don’t try to talk if you show something that has audio or movement. If you show pictures, make sure they are relatively simple in their content, and don’t keep them up on the screen if you’re no longer talking about the thing you are using the picture for. I personally never keep a picture up longer than 15 seconds. Your use of multi-media should match the movement of the sermon, not slow it down. Use an image, but when the sermon moves on, so does the picture. This way, your use of multi-media can enhance the sermon, not compete with it.
3. Don’t Overdo It.
It can be tempting to over-do it with multimedia. If 1 movie clip is good, 10 is great, right? Not really. Too much media can overwhelm and confuse the congregation as to what you are actually trying to say. Remember, one image that can completely encapsulate what you’re trying to say is better than 20 that only halfway get it. I always try to restrict myself to one form of media per move in the sermon. Remember, the goal isn’t to put on a show; the goal is to preach in a way that transforms God’s people more into the image of Christ. And you can’t do that if the congregation is confused or overwhelmed because you’re throwing movie clips and pictures at them left and right.
4. Trust your own voice.
This is the biggest one for me. One thing I see in a lot of preaching is the tendency, when they want to say something they feel is important, to trust the message to a form of multi-media. You probably hear it most often in the preface, “This clip says it better than I ever could…” or “This picture conveys the message like I can’t…” I don’t want to argue the possible right/wrong of those statements, because there’s really only one issue: the move clips aren’t the preacher, you are. If movie clips can say what you want to say better than you, then why should the congregation pay you to be their minister/preacher? Why not just show movies? This is where preachers have to learn to trust their own voice instead of running from it. The movie clip doesn’t have a relationship with the congregation, you do. The slideshow didn’t stay up all night with the couple whose child is sick in the hospital, you did. The picture isn’t involved in the lives of everyone that’s now listening to you, you are. Trust your own, unique voice and the relationships you have built with the congregation. If nothing else, don’t sell yourself so short. Who’s to say that you, the one who intimately knows your context, can’t say it better than that impersonal movie clip? Think about it a little more about how you might say it before you run to a movie clip.
Multi-media is here to stay. So the responsibility is with those of us who preach to figure how we might use it responsibly. But the responsibility is also with the congregations that listen to us. They have the duty of not being fooled into thinking a shiny presentation is the same as good preaching. It’s not. Let me say that one again: A high-tech/fancy/creative presentation (multimedia or otherwise) is not the same thing as good preaching. Maybe now, more than ever, our congregations have to be a people of discerning ears who demand more from their preachers than movie clips and funny pictures. We can use multi-media, but not as a substitute for actual content.
What have your experiences with technology and preaching been like? Are there any “rules” you might add to mine?