Visual Aids Reloaded

March 9, 2007

After a barnstorming discussion last Friday about visual aids in the context of preaching, I thought I’d return to this for one more week. Basically, I’ve read through the comments and want to summarise some of the responses.


Its helpful to note that those proposing the use of visual aids in preaching can be divided into two camps: those who use almost exclusively text (with the odd picture) and those who advocate much more frequent use of visual images. Either way, here were some of the arguments advanced in favour:

1. Visual images were frequently used by Jesus to illustrate the word he preached.
“I think Jesus’ own example in teaching shows that there was room for creativity without compromising the message.” (Peter Bogert)

2. In a visually conscious culture, images connect well and may provide an audio-visual double emphasis.
“I like it for images…since we are an image driven society (logos, commercials, advertising) and a good image can drive a great point home.” (Brandon)

“It is impossible to distract this generation with too much visual simuli as long as it is saying what God told you to say, go for it!” (Mark Morris)

“I think that using this works best because people are getting the main points and scriptures two ways via audio and video.” (Peter)

3.It can helpfully and quickly bring in cross-references.
“I use it to present additional scripture in my sermon. This helps the congregation to not be constantly flipping through the Bible and missing what I am saying.” (Bill Reichart)

4.Some people will especially benefit from the visual element.
“I preach in a Deaf church to Deaf people. Deaf people are primarily visual learners. It is infinitely easier to keep their attention and keep them in the flow of the message when the sermon (the outline, at least) is compiled in Powerpoint and the speaker can preach from such a medium.” (Stephen Newell)

5. If we are opposed to images on screens, what is our rationale for illustrations which paint pictures using words?
“For those opposed to powerpoints, I suppose I wonder if they are opposed to illustrations (verbal) in sermons. In an illustration, you attempt to paint a picture with your words that better illustrates your point. Just as visual illustrations can be abused, so can verbal illustrations. But I have never once heard of anybody who opposes powerpoint ALSO opposing verbal illustrations.” (Michael Garner)

1. It shows a lack of confidence in the word preached.
“I am afraid what drives many preachers to use PP is that they don’t think people will listen if they don’t have some cool graphic displayed behind them.” (Justin Childers)

“In a culture surrounded by visual religion (viz., idolatry), the OT prophets proclaimed the Word of the Lord. The same was true of the early church. Throughout history as the church began to rely more and more on images (e.g., statues of the Virgin Mary), it drifted farther and farther away from the Word.” (Milton Stanley)

“I appreciate that we live in a visual age but does that necessarily mean we should pander to it? Our congregations need encouragement to be word focussed – both written and spoken.” (John Brand)

2. It may produce a sloppiness of language
“A preacher should have or should be striving for such a mastery of words that it would be second rate to use powerpoint to illustrate a point in a sermon. Are not the powers of language enough? Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones would agree, and I’m sure Whitefield would as well.” (Ryan Findlay)

3. It can produce a ‘lecture feel.’
“I do not want my sermon to be a lecture and I do not want people to be frantically taking down notes as though there was going to be a final exam. What I’m aiming at, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, is an encounter with the Living God in his Word resulting in reformation, renewal, conversion etc.” (Peter Foxwell)

4. It can take a long time to design
“I’ve sat through far too many sermons where the preacher clearly spent WAY more time on his slides than his preparation.” (Tim Challies)

5. It can discourage people from reading their bibles.
“I really dislike, though, having Bible verses on the screen, or photos. Already our congregation does not check in their Bibles (or even write the verse references down, as far as I can tell) to see if what is put on the screen and said from the pulpit is accurate. I think PP makes it worse; even those who would normally open their Bibles don’t now, because it’s all up there on the screen.” (Karen B)

(ps. I think the comments I liked best – and probably summarises my own approach – came from Justin Buzzard: “I’ve found…limited, in the background, use of PP to be beneficial to our people and to not distract from the preached Word. I understand, though, many of the no PP comments here. Visuals can quickly get out of hand and distracting if one’s not careful.” I also think Brendt asked a key question: “I think it comes down to ‘do you use it, or it use you?'”)

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