Monday, June 12, 2006

PowerPoint and the death of preaching

I have nothing against PowerPoint presentations when it comes to missionary spots, illustrated talks or lectures etc. But I take issue with the use of Power Point in the pulpit. A preacher told me recently that a church he was due to visit asked him not only for his hymns and Bible readings, but his sermon headings for PowerPoint. Whatever is the world coming to?
.My objections to the use of PowerPoint in preaching are two-fold:
.1) Practical
.PowerPoint done badly is depressingly awful. If people are going to use this medium for anything other than their private enjoyment (how sad is that?), they should really take the time to attain some level of competence at this kind of thing. I have witnessed a PowerPoint presentation that would not project onto a screen, so people had to huddle around a Lap Top PC. That was OK until the screen saver activated and the poor presenter did not know what to do about it. What of PowerPoints where the specially arranged sermon headings announced by the preacher are out of sync with what is projected onto the screen? That really helps people to follow the message!
.When PowerPoint is done well the presentation looks really professional. I even like it in certain contexts. But preaching is not meant to look professional is it? John Piper should have had a chapter on Brothers, Take Pleasure in Preaching without PowerPoint in his Brothers, We are not Professionals (see review here).
.I am no Luddite with a fear and loathing of new technology. This blog is not written on parchment with crushed up blackberries for ink and a quill pen! But when it comes to PowerPoint preaching, I say "No!"
.2) Spiritual
.Preaching, by definition is a speech act. One man speaks to a congregation of people concerning the message of the Bible. He engages them, looks them in the eye. They (hopefully) look back at him. The preacher tries to hold the people's attention by the Truth that he is speaking and by the manner in which he speaks the Truth. Authentic preaching involves interaction and spontaneity. Yes, the preacher will have done his preparation. He takes care to present his message in a coherent and logical way. But we preachers never really know how people will react to our carefully prepared sermons until we begin to preach them. Someone looks encouraged. The message seems to speak directly to their situation - so we expand on it a little to be of help to them. Another looks confused. We need to clarify and illustrate. Someone else seems to be troubled or challenged. Do they need to be healed and soothed or does the point need to be brought home with greater power and conviction? A decision will have to be made. All this involves communication between preacher and people. Along the way, sermon headings may be modified. A point may be dropped because another needed greater emphasis. There should be an element of unpredictability about preaching because it is an act of personal communication. The ordered professionalism of PowerPoint has no place here. Preachers should use as few notes as possible in the pulpit for the same reasons.
.Preaching, according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones is meant to be "logic on fire", Theology presented through a man who is on fire for the truth. But that "fire" must not be man-made or manufactured emotionalism. We need what used to be called "unction", where the Holy Spirit empowers the preacher and gives him great liberty and power in preaching. When that happens, the last thing on the preacher's mind should be, "what about my PowerPoint headings?" The use of PowerPoint suggests that the preacher expects his sermon to go as planned with no breaking in of the Spirit to disrupt his carefully crafted message. He may have accurate exposition, telling illustration, nicely alliterated headings and thoughtful application. But where is the "demonstration of the Spirit and power"? That is what we preachers should long for above all else.

20 comments:

K. Elijah Layfield said...

I think you're right.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thank you, Elijah!

Guy Davies

Jonathan Hunt said...

Strangely enough, so do I.

Having recently been exposed to this, I am dead against it. Completely distracting from the word, and also the tendency is to try and 'distill' everything, or dumb it down so it fits on the screen.

Even worse is when they try to put a funny picture up to get a laugh. Or meaningless clipart to somehow illustrate the point.

Yeuch

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi FB,

Would CHS have used PowerPoint? Merely to raise the question is to invite ridicule, scorn and derision. Why did I raise it then? Who knows?

GD

Jonathan Hunt said...

Because you and I both know the answer.

With a dismissive sigh, Spurgeon turned away. He was heard to mutter 'tinsel and baubles' as he shut his study door and got back to the living Word'

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi FB,

Wow, that's amazing. You seem to be able to read the Great Man's thoughts from beyond the grave. Spooky.

GD

Stephen said...

I can live with a preacher who wants to put up the main headings, and a key bible reference or two. It seems no different to putting them on the bulletin for the congregation to follow.

But there are dangers:

1) The temptation to over-egg the pudding. I once heard a sermon where the preacher wanted to use the story of a famous footballer as an illustration of his point. But to do that he put up a photo of the man. Suddenly I found myself thinking about the quality of the photo and the lighting used in it and I had missed the point the preacher was making! I was guilty of allowing myself to be distracted, but the preacher can be unaware of the consequences of what he is doing.

2) PP is often be seen as a new way of retaining the attention of hearers. This view is often held by those who have little experience of such methods in other environments. I am thinking of those approaching or in retirement, or pastors who have never done any other job. But people in industry or business, such as I used to be, are often fully exposed to PP where they are used to 'death-by-powerpoint' presentations. Frankly, PP in church is expected to be a yawn.

3) Finally, I cannot help feeling that the move to PP is a symptom of bad preaching and poor vetting and training of preachers. The preacher lacks the ability to speak well and/or lacks conviction in biblical truth and so looks to other methods to pep up the 'talk'. This is of great concern and should drive us to prayer.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Stephen,

Yes, I agree with the concerns you articulated in points 1) to 3).

But I'm such a purist, that I don't even like the practice of putting sermon headings in bulletins. That can make preaching seem too prepackaged. The congregation knows exactly what is going to happen next in the sermon. This can rob preaching of its drama and spontaneity.

Not to mention the work of the Spirit in preaching as set out in my two most recent posts. Not that the Spirit is unable to use preaching with PowerPoint, but why put obstacles in his way?

Yours,

Guy

Stephen said...

When I said, "I can live with" it, it did not mean I like it! I would much prefer to do without. I agree with everything you say. Often what people consider to be enhancements are in fact distractions, as you say. But when God speaks, let there be no distractions!

Hmm. Can I still "live with" PP?

Anonymous said...

Guy

I couldn't agree more. I am a Pastor and I have people regularly discuss or tell me of something that I said in a sermon long ago...and talking with people in my church I do not get the impression my sermons are going in one ear and out the other. And yet we are told that we can't hold peoples' attention without powerpoint. That seems to me to be an ASSUMPTION which no one is able to substantiate.

One more thing, as time goes on the pressure to use powerpoint becomes greater and greater. I had one guy visit me recently, had nothing against my sermons, but wanted to know why I didn't use powerpoint. I feel this pressure and so I am glad to see that there are others out there like yourself who have written thoughts on it. Thanks.

Alan

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for your comments. If preachers are coming under pressure to use PP, then things are worse than I thought.

TheRevivalist said...

You're absolutely spot on brother! This use of powerpoint is being subtly introduced and encouraged by the devil himself.

A meeting should have the eyes of the congregation fixed upon Christ and not on corrupt modern technology!

Reformed Renegade said...

Too bad. I humbly submit that PP is often a great help to those that a) have trouble reading (poor eyesight, etc.) b) have trouble hearing (seeing assists the hearing), keeps the head up instead of looking down at a psalter of hymnbook when singing, assists in the understanding by various visuals used by the minister. I would humbly and respectfully encourage everyone not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As for PP being introduced by the "devil himself", please sight chapter and verse for this ridiculous statement.

Anonymous said...

I will have to disagree with the masses on this one as well. As long as the "slides" do not take away or distract from the message being delivered, I don't have a problem with ppt. Keep it to main points and verse references to back up your main passage of scripture.

Anonymous said...

I am keen to use this article in our church magazine. Could you e-mail me at j.hughes@btinternet.com to let me know whether this is ok and if so, how to add your name as the source?

I am on a church camp in Bala this week so am unlikely to pick up any e-mails. I shall respond on my return.

Thanks,
James

Anonymous said...

Hi! God bless! I believe that one doesn't need PP to preach the Word of God; but I do use it when I want to show evidences (with pictures or graphics) that show that the Bible is right (for the visitors) and unbelievers are not. Maybe the evidences that I want to show are historical, geographical, arqueological, biological, etc. to make the point that the Bible says is for real and there are evidences out there against the skeptics. But, for other things I don't use the PP, not even to show the Bible verses because I prefer for them to read the verses in their own Bible. Thanks and God bless!! -E.P.

Anonymous said...

PowerPoint is an excellent tool and like learning to ride a bike or drive a car or preach a sermon or give a talk it takes practice!

Paul said...

In general, I agree but does having general headings of a sermon up on Powerpoint restrict the Spirit or the act of worship that is preaching (and listening to preaching) any more than typing out the words to the songs/hymns/psalms that are sung? Or having a set form/liturgy to the service.

However, yes. I've seen unhelpful pictures of women put up through entire sermons which was only meant for the first point. If it has to be done at all it has to be done well.

Still, neither of those is as bad as the preacher who quoted from a copy of the Sun, page 2 and pointed page 3 in the direction of the congregation through the entirety of his sermon. (True story, I know the guy)

Simon said...

1) I presume those of the 'anti-powerpoint' camp are taking great efforts to ensure that they are not lecturing and are actually preaching?

2) As with anything, there are bad examples and good, this issue is no exception.

3) What we so desperately need is faithful, biblical exposition. Anything that prevents that is to be avoided - including misuse of PowerPoint. If, though, it helps people understand the thrust of the passage without distracting them from the sermon, praise God!

On top, of course, of the need for exposition is unction from the spirit who is not bound or hindered by PP, nor is He dependant on it!

James Wood said...

I'm really surprised at the outcry against PowerPoint.

I agree that practically, PowerPoint provides some challenges to the preacher, but so does working with the Greek text or using a microphone. However, when done well, visuals can make an impact that speech cannot. A picture of a person in poverty brings home the point of helping the poor much better than simply telling a story. Even Jesus pointed to things in his preaching to bring home his point (fig tree, children, the temple, etc.).

Spiritually, I would agree that PowerPoint should not prevent the Spirit from moving within the preacher and the church during the sermon. A well crafted sermon leaves room for the Spirit, and a well crafted PowerPoint does the same.

I'm compiling resources to help prevent "death-by-PowerPoint" over at powerpointforpreachers.blogspot.com

Thanks,

James