by John Meador
Can expository preachers who aim for life transformation make use of video clips, movie excerpts, drama and assorted imagery without watering down the message? There are some who say that such use amounts to worldliness and compromises our preaching. Others, coming from another angle, assert that a failure to use these communication tools amounts to irrelevance to the listener. What do you say?
I'm convinced that the tools we use to communicate have very little to do with the depth of the message. Those who want to emphasize the Scriptures will do so even if they regularly use modern media in the message. By the same token, those who aren't interested in scriptural content will keep it out, even if they preach like they live in 1960.
But, the fact is, we don't live in 1960. We who grew up in that era could tell you it was a relatively black and white world, with very little TV (at least in the home where I lived) and only a couple of options for music. You had your big black vinyl records with some jazz or gospel music, and then there was AM radio. It was a big, disconnected world. In church, we sang the doxology the same way every single week. The preacher would stand up after exactly three hymns, sung exactly the same way as they had been for all of his life, and preach exactly the way his forefathers preached. The really lively preachers simply had some really good stories.
Some would say that was a better world, and there is no doubt that it was a simpler world, but regardless of that we live in a very different time.
So now, today, how should we preach? In 2007, we live in a multi-colored world. We have incredible clarity on our plasma TV, amazingly high quality music being piped into our inner ears by way of our iPods, and an average of 2000 songs to listen to on those devices. This is not your earthly father's world. And yet, we, as preachers, have the divine responsibility of standing in front of a diverse group of people who have nearly unfathomable differences in interests and tastes-and communicating a single message that is designed to transform lives.
You can't do that without scriptural content. I also believe you cannot do it well without creative communication. I'm not saying you have to have the skills of a Hollywood producer and the budget of Titanic. What I am saying is that we preach to people who are daily exposed to those elements. We can't compete, but we should at least connect with the world we live in.
We have none other than the greatest preacher who ever lived to mentor us: Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't do a great deal of preaching in box-like buildings with four white walls the way we often do. His preaching was out in the open, where people were, and His messages involved living illustrations, parables, and the drama of everyday life. Images were woven throughout His messages. He challenged people to lift their eyes and see fields white with harvest. He wept openly to let people see His grief. He allowed storms to unleash their power and then calmed them to illustrate His power over all creation. He held up before the crowd people whose lives had been touched and allowed the story to be told.
When Jesus preached, people listened, and watched and looked around at the living drama he pointed out, and heard and smelled and sensed the unfolding of truth. He brought color into an otherwise bland world by interrupting human life and introducing divinity. He was the Master Story-Teller and Illustrator. He left people hanging on every word and allowed them sometimes walk away wondering what had just happened.
We may not be able to get people outside those four white walls every weekend as we preach but we can bring the elements that help us connect with people into the message.
Word by word, verse by verse, and chapter by chapter, I can illustrate and draw pictures to describe the biblical words I'm bringing that day. The preacher can utilize video, sound, drama, and pictures to help others "get" the truth in a clearer way-and not compromise one iota. I can learn to tell stories to illustrate better, use humor to help people stay focused, and I can move around a little to keep them awake!
Having said all of that, I affirm it is the living, sharp Word of God that changes lives. I cannot and will not compromise that. But it is the preacher God has entrusted to communicate truth to a world who desperately needs to hear. May we do that with all the resources we have been given!
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.