A Gracious Place

Saturday, January 13, 2007

PowerPoint and Bibles

John Mark raised a good question on his blog regarding the use of PowerPoint to display the scriptures during sermons. I’ve had the same thoughts and questions turning in my mind, so I thought I’d try to post some of my musings.

My preaching professor last semester said he does not like to use PowerPoint at all during his sermons, because he wants people to listen to him. Especially during the “text” portion of his sermon. If he has taken the time to polish his dramatic reading of the text, sometimes he’ll even tell the congregation to look at him and listen as he reads (or quotes) the Scriptures. At this point, he argues, PowerPoint is distracting.

However, this same professor admits the usefulness of PowerPoint in preaching when he wants to demonstrate to the congregation how to study and mark their bibles. For example, perhaps he will highlight repeated words, etc.

I think there are benefits to encouraging the congregation to bring their bibles, to open them, and to follow along during the sermon. I encourage people to bring the same Bible (their primary Bible) every time. Over a period of weeks and years, their brains will start to remember where things are. They will begin to be people of the text, who can find things in their Bibles. The spatial relationships of the words on the pages gives the brain an additional “hook” for the memory. (Admittedly, the use of electronic Bibles makes this seem less important, especially with slick search features.) (Also, in private study, I encourage using many different Bibles, translations, helps etc., to avoid over-familiarity and to encourage contemplative thought.) I think it is good for children to see their parents carry, follow along in, and mark their Bibles. I think it is good for parents to encourage their children to do the same. At home, seeing Mom or Dad’s well-worn Bible on the table can be a reminder that we are families of the text.

John Mark mentions that an overemphasis on following along in Bibles can make unchurched visitors feel overly uncomfortable, and that PowerPoint can help. I agree. Finding creative ways to emphasize the importance of the text without being inhospitable is the balance at which you want to aim. Perhaps PowerPoint slides are like training wheels. You need them to learn the basics, but over time want to encourage people to ride without them. You also don’t want to be a community that actually worships the Bible. Confusing road signs for destinations is tragic.

All that to say, be purposeful. If you use PowerPoint, use it for good reasons, and occasionally explain what those reasons are. If you decide not to use it, think of ways to be hospitable to the visitors. Over time, hopefully the congregation is growing in their knowledge and love of the Scriptures, and the Glorious God they reveal.