August 19, 2008

When the Medium IS the Message

I received the following news story from two different blogging friends and felt summarily compelled to post it for everyone's enjoyment and comment. My personal reflections follow.

Vacationing pastor lets PowerPoint lead service


WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — When Doug Smith went to Bermuda this month, he left preaching duties to his favorite substitute: his PowerPoint program.
Smith says he felt better leaving the sermon to his PowerPoint than to his youth pastor, who has "made controversial remarks" in the main service before, or his associate pastor who will be busy with other important Sunday morning duties like stuffing bulletins.
Smith programmed the PowerPoint to deliver a 25-minute sermon, slide by slide. It included a closing prayer which some staff members found sterile.
"If he can't trust me to sub for him once a year, why do I work here?" said one pastor who asked not to be identified.
After worship time, Smith's PowerPoint presentation began and the congregation sat quietly, reading each new screen and taking notes. The PowerPoint even told a few jokes, spinning in the punchline. Smith says he worked hours to get the timing right and programmed his pauses down to the quarter-second.
"Not to boast, but I have a way with PowerPoint," he says. "It's like an instrument. When you play it well, people notice."
The final slide read, "Go with God! See you next week!" People were mostly surprised that the sermon felt like Smith was actually there.
"Everything he preaches is with PowerPoint anyway," says one member. "The only thing we were missing was him standing up there pressing the button. Maybe we should just hire the PowerPoint."

First a disclaimer. I use PowerPoint sometimes. I usually get positive feedback when I utilize it to emphasize points. Engaging people visually is a part of effective communication whether it is through the use of props (I currently have an old top harrow on the stage of our church to go along with the current series) or through pictures, video, or bullet point emphasis. Different people listen in different ways.

Additionally, as we live in a visually oriented society and the need for visual element in worship is obvious. I have made the statement on several occasions that we live in an literate society that is illiterate. Attention spans have shortened and the ability to process multiple streams of information simultaneously have brought on a generation that finds it difficult to attend to a talking head for very long.

As for this pastor's decision to utilize a PowerPoint presentation rather than ask someone to fill the pulpit for him, I have to take serious issue with his decision. The communication of the truth of Scripture is an intensely person-to-person endeavor. God has made it clear that He intends to communicate His truth through the medium of humanity. A quick flip through the pages of Scripture reveals God, time and again, speaking through, working through, and partnering with imperfect and flawed humans. I am always stunned/amazed/startled/dumbfounded that God chooses this course of action.

If the exercise of a sermon can be boiled down to a well timed and choreographed electronic presentation then let's all just stay home and not bother with gathering together. If the communication of truth is simply affirming some propositions we can all agree on then let's agree on them and go on about our business. But all who know and follow the living Christ understand that it is so much more. Truth must be lived in the context of community. I need brothers and sisters in Christ to challenge me, encourage me, and hold me accountable to the Truth we say we believe. I need the context of others on the journey to properly process the marvel of Christ living in me. I need others to rejoice and weep and shout and sit quietly with along the way.

Oh God, deliver us from dead words and lead us into a living encounter with the Truth.

4 comments:

Kuya Kevin said...

You sure this didn't come from larknews.com?

Kuya Kevin said...

Yep, I was right :)

http://www.larknews.com/may_2007/secondary.php?page=2

John said...

I should have recognized it as a larknews event. Getting from two VERY different sources threw my internet skeptic radar off. Unfortunately it was just believable enough to be true.

Thanks for setting me straight!

Kuya Kevin said...

No prob. As with many larknews stories, there's a kernel of truth in there.