Preaching with Visual Impact

September 19th, 2013
© United Methodist News Service

Preaching is more effective when it is both heard and seen. Like the prophet Isaiah, today’s worshipers benefit from an encounter with God that impacts both their ears and eyes. In Isaiah’s life changing worship experience in the temple (Isaiah 6), he said, “I heard the voice of the Lord.” But he also said “I saw the Lord.” In our day, projection technology makes this combination of hearing and seeing possible in amazing ways.

I know many churches still resist having screens in the sanctuary. But that battle needs to end. Modern culture is visually oriented. Television, computers, tablets, and smart phones have changed the way we process information. People now need to hear and see messages to comprehend and retain communication. The church cannot ignore this huge shift in communications. We've moved from a print society to a visual and digital society. To effectively share the gospel, we must use the communication tools of our day—which are high tech and overwhelmingly visual.

Preaching with visual impact is far too complex a subject to cover in one article. The way you plan your visuals can vary greatly, depending on your church’s size, staff, and strengths. You may have a group of five or more people collaborating on worship each week, a graphic designer on staff, and a media team trained in using projection. But let’s start simple, with just the preacher and those individuals preparing slides and running the projection system.

What follows is an extremely simple, real-life example of a sermon manuscript with projection notations. This was the opening message of a sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer. In this manuscript you can read the sermon, discover what kinds of visual images we used to enhance the sermon, and see the actual notes used to communicate with the media person who prepared the projection images and then placed them on screen during the sermon.

“A Journey through the Lord’s Prayer” (Part 1)

“Our” (Matthew 6: 9-13)

Every Monday afternoon, several members of our worship team gather together to review the order of worship for the following weekend. Last August, after having served here for only one month, I noticed that we said The Lord’s Prayer at every service. So I asked the Monday afternoon worship team, “Do we say the Lord’s Prayer every week here?” They all said, “Yes, we do.”

Then I asked them, “Do you think we need to say the Lord’s Prayer every week?” They looked at me with eyes that said, “If you want to live to see another Sunday, you better not mess with that!” So I didn’t. And now, nine months later, we continue to say the Lord’s Prayer every week, and we probably always will. And that’s fine with me. It’s a good thing to say Jesus’ sacred prayer every week as part of our liturgy.

Since the Lord’s Prayer is such an important part of worship for us, our worship team decided it would be a good idea to take a journey through the phrases of the prayer. But we are not going to get very far today. In fact, we are going to stop with the first word, “Our.” There are 68 words in the Lord’s Prayer, so at this rate we will finish this sermon series in about a year and a half! It really won’t take that long. But it’s important to stop with the first word and consider how important that word is.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with the word, “Our.” So the first thing to notice about The Lord’s Prayer is that it is a community prayer, not an individual prayer, as you can see on the screen. [Slide of the Lord’s Prayer (please make the capped words stand out, using red or another color that pops on the screen, and put a photo of a congregation in prayer in the background, it could be just a few people with a close up image): OUR Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give US this day OUR daily bread. And forgive US OUR trespasses, as WE forgive those who trespass against US. And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]

Notice that the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say, “My Father.” Instead it says, “Our Father.” The prayer doesn’t say “Give me my daily bread.” Instead it says, “Give us our daily bread.” The prayer doesn’t say, “Forgive me my trespasses.” Instead it says, “Forgive us our trespasses.” On nine occasions, the Lord’s Prayer uses the terms “our,” “us,” and “we.” You see, Christianity is not an individualist religion. It’s a community religion. You and I can’t be a Christian in isolation. We can only be a Christian in relationships with other Christians. [END SLIDE]

Several months ago, I heard about a Presbyterian pastor who received a complaint from a person who visited his church. This church, like ours, has a time in the worship service for the passing of the peace. [Video clip of passing of the peace from previous Sunday (a still photo would also work here)] This ancient tradition goes all the way back to the New Testament. During the passing of the peace, people greet one another in Christian love and friendship. It’s a way of saying that we come to worship not only as individuals but as a community of faith, as a church family.

Well, this visitor did not like the passing of the peace. He said to the pastor, [Show a still photo of the passing of the peace and add this quote: “The passing of the peace feels like an invasion of my privacy.”] The pastor replied, [Drop the previous quote and put this quote up: “When you come to church, to some extent, you give up some of your privacy.”] This pastor is exactly right. Church is not a private affair. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. It’s a community religion. It’s a religion of “we,” not “me.” [END SLIDE]

I want to show you how crucial this is in the Bible. Over and over again in the New Testament, you find the phrase, “one another.” Let me give you just a few examples. [Slide: add these verses on screen as I rapidly review them (image of our church worshipping in the background):

  • “Love one another” (John 13)
  • “Accept one another” (Romans 15)
  • “Instruct one another” (Colossians 3)
  • “Greet one another” (1 Corinthians 16)
  • “Serve one another” (Galatians 5)
  • “Be kind to one another” (1 Thessalonians 5)
  • “Be patient with one another” (Ephesians 4)
  • “Forgive one another” (Ephesians 4)
  • “Encourage one another” (Hebrews 3)
  • “Pray for one another” (James 5)

There are over 50 of these kinds of “one another” verses in the New Testament. The Bible is clear—we are part of a “one another” religion. [END SLIDE]

I don’t want to over-romanticize this notion. That doesn’t mean we always get along perfectly. It doesn’t even mean we all have to like each other. Do you get along perfectly and like everyone in your extended family? If your extended family is like mine, I doubt it. So this “one another” theme of the Bible is not some kind of idealistic, warm and fuzzy church where everyone holds hands all the time and sings Kum ba yah. But it does mean that we are all part of God’s family, connected to one another by our common faith in Jesus Christ, and that we live out our faith not as individual believers but together—as a community of faith. In Southern lingo, this means that Christianity is a “y’all” religion, as in “y’all are my church family.” You cannot do this online. You cannot do this watching religious television. You can only do it connected to real life, flesh and blood and flawed broken people in Christian community.

Many ways exist to live this out this “one another” faith of ours. Let me briefly mention two. The first is by attending weekly congregational worship. [Slide with image of our church in the background: 1. Attending Weekly Congregational Worship] Gathering with the community of faith every Sunday is at the core of our faith. It’s crucial that we sing together, pray together, pass the peace of Christ together, hear God’s word together, and celebrate Holy Communion together. Unless we are homebound, or sick, or out of town, God expects us to gather with our church family every week for worship. It’s what Christians do. God deserves it. We need it. And our church needs it. Weekly worship is a vital part of living out our “one another” faith.

A second way we can live out our “one another” faith is by connecting to others through group-life. [Add to slide: 2. Connecting To Others Through Group-Life] As important as weekly worship is, it’s not enough by itself. Every Christian believer needs to connect to a group of Christian friends for support, for learning, and for service. The Church began—literally—as a small group of twelve disciples. That model of group-life Christian connection will never go out of style. Our church takes this mandate very seriously. We offer large numbers of group-life opportunities from Sunday school classes, to support groups, to Bible study classes, to service groups of all kinds. If you are not currently connected to a group, I hope you will do so soon, because it is a crucial part of living out the Christian life. [END SLIDE]

Years ago the Los Angeles Times published an interesting story. A young woman fell asleep while driving her car over a huge L.A. overpass. The car plunged through a guard rail and was left hanging by its left rear wheel, dangling in space. The highway below was at least one hundred feet down so a fall would kill her. About a dozen passing motorists stopped, grabbed some ropes from one of their vehicles, tied the ropes to the back of the woman’s car and hung on until the fire unit arrived. The fire truck extended a ladder from below to help stabilize the car while firefighters tied the vehicle to tow trucks with cables and chains. It took three hours for the passers-by, the firefighters and the tow truck drivers, about 25 people in all, to secure the car and pull the woman to safety. “It was kinda funny,” the L.A. County Fire Captain recalled later. “She kept saying, ‘I’ll do it myself.’”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot do it ourselves. Self-sufficiency does not work, at least in the Christian faith. We need the love, support and help of other Christian believers to live out our faith. That’s why the Lord’s Prayer says “our” Father, not “my” Father. That’s why the Lord’s Prayer uses the words “our,” “us,” and “we” instead of “me,” “my” and “mine.” Our faith is not an individual faith—but a community faith. Even God is a trinity.

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