Technology in Preaching: Yes or No

I had the opportunity to preach in my home church today. This church has supported me through my career changes, and my time at seminary. I’ve preached here more than any other place; the first time when I was seventeen.

Before I went to seminary, all of my sermons were accompanied by a Power Point presentation. I usually moved quite freely around the stage, and sometimes up and down the aisles. After my first contextual ministry course, where I read some very persuasive books on the mystery, and sanctity of preaching, and allowing the Spirit to work, led me to change my methods; I become a manuscript preacher. Some of the folks in my home church wondered about the change; expressed their desire to see some of the old way again. My explanations didn’t seem to hold water with them, so, I relented.

I preached today, with a full presentation to go with the message. I found out a couple of reasons why this might not be a practice for every week. First, it takes a lot of time. The sermon was written for my candidacy interview and I had preached it a few times before. It needed to be changed to match today, Palm Sunday, but, the biggest part of my prep this week was the presentation. It’s just a good thing I had already written the sermon.

The second issue is the technology itself. Today, for the second time, I used an i-pad to preach from. It seems like a good choice of resources, it saves about twenty sheets of paper every service. I used it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, flawlessly. This morning, I was unable to switch from the order of service to the sermon. Fortunately, J wouldn’t let me leave the house with out a paper back-up. I used it. Then, the presentation software froze and wouldn’t move to the first slide. It was a simple matter to escape and restart the presentation, but the whole thing left me feeling like I had started off on the wrong foot.

Most of the angst was my own. Even though folks knew there were technical difficulties,  they are very forgiving, and the glitch was dealt with quickly, it made me wonder if maybe the distraction to the preacher, during the week and during the service, and to the congregation, does make concerns about the use of technology valid. On the other hand, I was able to see a number of younger members, often lost in their own thoughts, actually paying attention, and a number of congregants expressed their appreciation for the illustrations.

I finished more exhausted than usual, likely because manipulating text, presentation, and the actual speaking makes the job more complicated,  but, the jury is still out, this likely won’t be the last time I use technology.

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9 thoughts on “Technology in Preaching: Yes or No

  1. I personally find most visuals to be extremely distracting during a sermon. It seems like the visual part of my thought processes can easily override the auditory part. So unless the point of the discussion is the visual part (eg. “I have to show you this image so we can talk about it particularly”), I’d rather not have it there at all.

    This seems to be something that’s gotten worse for me in the past couple years. When our church had a sudden increase in power-point, I found I had to spend most the the sermon with my eyes closed to get anything from it at all.

    It’s also somewhat context dependent. Slides don’t usually bother me in math talks. Though I often find myself wishing that the presenter would not use so many useless ones.

    • Rivikah,

      Your reasons for disliking the visuals line up completely with those books I was reading. If we really believe the Holy Spirit works, mysteriously, through preaching, then we should let the congregation find their own visuals, in their own minds, rather than providing them and focusing their attention on the thing the preacher wants to get across.

      But, what do we do about the folks who have been so bombarded by all sorts of media that they cannot focus on mere words to build images?

      • I’m not sure that a “Kids these days” media saturation thing is really the right story to tell here. I feel like it’s something more like a learning styles — different people have different preferences and as long as you’re not swinging too far one way or the other, you should be OK.

        The other side of the coin — the worship spaces that you and I and your audience are most accustomed to is somewhat visually austere. Perhaps some are missing a kind of visual vocabulary to be able to translate words to images. If this is the case, I’m not sure that simply providing images in a sermon really helps. (Metaphors about teaching people to fish come to mind.) Art appreciation lessons of some sort?

      • Do you think that perhaps part of our issue is the austere nature of both our worship spaces and our services? We tend to not only minimize visuals in our space, but also symbol and metaphor in our practices. I have come to appreciate this depth in the Lutheran service. Table and font, candles and stolls, pomp and ceremony all add to a multi-layered experience we sometimes miss. Sometimes I think we’re just a little too Puritan.

      • Possibly. That is the kind of thing I was thinking of when I suggested that visual austerity might be contributing. I don’t mean to suggest that a more “high church” style is somehow better — there are equally good reasons to prefer a more minimal experience. And I tend to think that the availability of options is a positive thing.

        But perhaps having the opportunity to experience more different worship settings could be valuable. Or maybe there are other ways to cultivate the kind of visual and symbolic vocabulary that might otherwise be missed?

  2. Interesting post. I am a lay preacher, and one summer Sunday my printer did not work and I was forced to use my laptop. It was very difficult, but I made it through. I do enjoy when our minister uses visual presentation with his sermon. It is not a full work up with lectionary, etc… just photos that he has taken himself and a few simple visuals to illustrate his points. I like the points you raise. Your writing makes it evident that your sermons would be worth hearing.

    • Thanks for stopping by. My visuals are not a work-up of the text either. In fact, I usually don’t put the scripture reading on the screen, just the reference and the page number in the pew bibles. Otherwise they are all pictures drawn from the words or theme of the paragraph. Yesterday there were just over 30 of them. Thanks for the affirmation as well. We need that from time to time.

  3. The power point can be a great tool and some people are more visual learners. When the visuals reiinforce the spoken word it can be effective, unfortunately I have sat through some sermons where it is obvious more effort went into providing entertaining pictures than went into the sermon. The fact that you are struggling with how best to use this technology makes me think you will strike a good balance

    • Thanks for the encouragement Art.

      You’re right that the word needs to be central and the pictures secondary. Finding the balance is the tough piece. In this case the sermon was already written months ago so there was time to reflect on and build the illustration set. In the busy life of a full time pastor, I’m not sure the time will always be available to do a good job of both.

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