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#203 Using visual aids during sermons

posted by Stephanie Drury

Nothing gives your sermons that extra something quite like visual aids. They’re the only kind of AIDS Christian culture openly embraces. Ha ha haaaaaa but seriously, folks. The pastor really wants to keep your attention. He reckons a visual aid will make his sermon that much more intriguing and applicable.

In non-denominational churches and many Baptist franchises you stand an excellent chance of getting a visual aid with your sermon. Visual aids during sermons will never be found in the mainline denominations or in Episcopal/Catholic churches. Those guys do not follow the evangelical trajectory and wouldn’t even consider such cloying gadgetry.

Some common evangelical visual aids are vines (for a vine-and-branches sermon series) and a wall (for any number of biblical references to walls, literal or figurative). Pastors like to walk around and brandish the vines, or stand and sit on the walls. Then there’s the prop bed for the have-married-sex-for-30-days sermon. They’re making it interactive, y’all.

The sanctuary’s screen is a lax version of a visual aid, but it’s a visual aid nonetheless. It’s mostly used to display the words to non-hymnal worship songs and count down the minutes till the sermon begins, New Year’s Eve style. Lately they’re being used to illustrate points and display audience-engaging images (engaging the audience being a priority in Christian culture), as well as just flat-out ask for money (see below). No beating around the bush here.

Then again, some energetic pastors forego gadgetry and just try to make their speaking as engaging as possible. Do veins popping out of your neck count as visual aids?


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posted November 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

The subtitle of this post could very well have been “The #2 Reason Beth Ran from the Church of Christ and Is Now Episcopalian,” #1 being the Jesus-and-me date songs instead of actual hymns. Every now and then there will be a non-electronic visual aid in a sermon at my current broad-church church, but as it’s usually connected with a children’s sermon (and it’s preceded and followed by hymns from a book), I can deal. Good Lord, the PowerPoint nightmares I’ve witnessed…

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posted November 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm

That bed prop is just begging to be turned into a demo.

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posted November 29, 2010 at 8:11 pm

At the Christian elementary school I attended, a speaker once brought an actual brain to use as a visual aid. We were encouraged to touch it as we filed out of the sanctuary. I have no idea what that sermon was about. If anyone has any idea what the message was, let me know…

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posted November 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I laughed out loud at the guy with the plank in his eye. Looks like he spent some time whittling it just right…

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posted November 29, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Had a pastor that did magic tricks… (key word, Had)

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posted November 30, 2010 at 12:05 am

I had a youth pastor who brought in a lamb. Yes, I mean a live baby sheep. Said pastor put down a large tarp (put the lamb on it) and then walked around with a large knife while he gave his talk. I didn’t really think he was going to kill it. But I wasn’t sure.
Vegetarian Atheist

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posted November 30, 2010 at 4:20 am

I’m rather amused with myself, but if I tell you why you mustn’t tell anyone at my church – I’m the Youth Pastor and often have to do talks with visual aids, so when I was passing the Halloween section in my local supermarket on 1st November, I picked up some plastic chains (Samson, Paul in Prison) and swords (any OT story with a battle, Ephesians 6 full armour of God). Here in the UK the evangelical community is very anti-halloween, so I’m very amused that I’m illustrating talks in church with such ungodly items!

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posted November 30, 2010 at 6:26 am

“Need 1.2 Million”
Perfect. I so wish I was going to that church… wait… I think I’ve been going to that church all my life. sigh.

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Still Breathing

posted November 30, 2010 at 7:34 am

I think the ‘Need $1.2 Million’ is wrong; they WANT $1.2 Million. I don’t remember anything in the Gospels to say that you need anything to spread the Kingdom of God.

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posted November 30, 2010 at 11:28 am

The “need $1.2 million” church is Mars Hill in Seattle.

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posted November 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Of course it is. That is where the Pillsbury Dough Boy (Driscoll) is, right?

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posted November 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

The idea of a bed being used as a prop during sermon caused this unfortunate recollection from Monty Python:
Not the worst thing, but not really safe for work

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posted November 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Is that last preacher Henry Rollins?

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posted November 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Meant to say,
“Not the worst thing, but NOT really safe for work.”

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posted November 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm

The best visual aid I ever saw was a youth pastor who let two of his youth leaders beat the crap out of him in front of the youth group. Seriously, they did not pull punches… they hit him hard, kicked him in the stomach when he was down, and spat on him. The point was to some extent show the suffering Jesus put himself through voluntarily. I don’t know if that point really sunk in for anyone, but some of the kids were crying. Probably disturbed everyone more than anything.

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Flah the Heretic Methodist

posted November 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm

@ Beth: Jesus and me date songs? Bwa ha ha ha …’s hard enough for me to sit through the contemporary service, but with that on my brain, forget it.
While he sits on the bed and challenges the marrieds to 30 Days of Wow, the singles, divorced, and teens can just let their minds wander. I’m sure they’ll all be thinking “pure” thoughts. (While the married contemplate the bataan death march of coerced sex.)

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posted November 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm

The sheep and knife story made my day! Thank-you!
My pastor fortunately only uses visual aids for children’s sermons, although my Grandfather was complaining about his “newfangled” pastor who tries to use crazy visual aids… apparently when he wanted to symbolically burn people’s “sins” they had written down but he didn’t properly contain the fire and the burning paper nearly caused a catastrophe when it attempted to, shall we say, “ascend to heaven.” (wish I had been there!)
Honestly visual aids are only interesting because we want to see what crazy thing a pastor is going to do next.

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posted December 1, 2010 at 7:31 am

I wonder how much of that $1.2 million is going to fund the pastor’s fancy jeans (Steven Furtick, I’m looking at you).

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posted December 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Not that this site would ever use any visual aids :)

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stephanie drury

posted December 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Yeah, no way. That’s just cloying gadgetry.

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sue b

posted December 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

So! Let’s see, Jesus turned water into wine, walked on the water, calmed an angry sea, fed 5K w/a couple of fishes & loaves of bread…well, Ok they WERE miracles but some mighty powerful visual aids, eh?

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stephanie drury

posted December 2, 2010 at 11:56 am

That’s an interesting point. Are you saying that using visual aids is Christlike? It’s interesting to me how he was rather reluctant to perform those signs, it seems. He resisted jumping off the temple or turning stones into bread after fasting in the desert, when the crowd was hungry he kind of put off the loaves-and-fishes miracle and the whole thing was so underplayed, no prayers or announcements, just break it up and pass it out. To my mind this all points to Christ’s left-handed power (as Luther put it) as opposed to the straight-line, rockem-sockem right-handed sort of power that human nature is so fond of.

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Still Breathing

posted December 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Sue B, John’s gospel calls them signs so you may have a point but as Stephy said Jesus did them in an understated way. The problem she is pointing out is when the visual aid takes over and becomes the message; something that can be a problem in any type of public speaking.

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posted December 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Sue B’s comment reminds me of how much I hatehatehate it when a pastor litters his sermon with touching, amusing (well…), or illustrative anecdotes. Or, more likely, tells a series of stories and then tries to tie it together as a sermon. And then I substitute the words “anecdotes” or “stories” with “parables” and I wonder if I’m just being a jackass.
Well, that’s very likely true in any case.

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posted December 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I’d say Sue B. was onto something, except for the fact Jesus performed miracles in order to give people things they could not give themselves. They were not used to prove a point. Even today they can not be used to prove Christ is God because there is no way to confirm that they ever happened. We cannot see them. We can only read about them. They were not, and are not sufficient visual aids, which lead me to believe that visual aids are not necessary. They’re just trendy.
Christ used parables to illustrate the truth. To teach. The parables in and of themselves were enough. Having “ears to hear” was a recurring theme when he enlightened the masses. Let’s talk about the plank eye pastor. Using a plank in a sermon doesn’t do anything to illustrate the point Jesus already made. It’s like:
Stupid Sheep: Excuse me, pastor, but what do you mean by “plank”?
Smart Shepherd: I’m glad you asked! See how BIG this plank is? Way bigger than a speck! Now how am I supposed to remove a speck from someone else’s eye when this huge plank is blocking my vision? Planks are sooooo big! Just look at the size of this plank! Huge!
Stupid Sheep: Ohhhhh! I get it now! Way easier to understand when you explain it like that rather than just reading and understanding exactly what it says for myself. What you’re saying is: I have to remove the plank from my own eye, which is very large, before I can attempt to remove the speck from someone else’s eye, which is very small! What you’re saying is….Well….You’re saying what it says…
Smart Shepherd: Exactly! A plank is big! A speck is small! Thank God I’m here to teach you!
Stupid Sheep: Yes, pastor! Thank you! But…Could you SHOW me that plank one more time? (Shepherd shows plank next to his eye. Sheep contemplates.) Wow! Planks ARE big! Does that mean that we’re not qualified to judge others until we’ve thoroughly examined ourselves? Does it mean we shouldn’t judge others because we’d have more expertise in examining our own large amount of sin with which we’re well acquainted? Does it mean that I’m the only one who can understand the quantity of my own sin and that it’d be more useful to examine myself than to waste my time “fixing” others? That I have no business worrying about the small amount of sin I might see in someone else because I have my own bullshit to deal with, just as others have their own “plank” to examine that only they can be fully aware of? Does it mean I should mind my own business?
Smart Shepherd: Gr8 questions!!! I wouldn’t worry your pretty little head about all that. I mean, now you’re just kind of reaching for something. What Jesus meant is, planks are super big! I mean, just look how HUGE this plank is…..
People understood Christ’s teaching because he simplified theology with common language and verbal illustrations. Visual aids are redundant. Just as me saying “visual aids are redundant” is not necessary, since I clearly illustrated that point with the previous script, Jesus explained himself clearly enough with no need of props. When people needed to eat, he fed them, using a miracle. When they needed to learn, he taught them, using parables. Pastors can repeat what Jesus already said with a “fresh take” on an ancient truth as many times as they want, but honestly, their “fresh take” makes Christ’s blatant illustration seem stale. Sometimes I think pastors are unnecessary props in and of themselves.

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Stephen Charles

posted December 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Visual aids during sermons will never be found in the mainline denominations or in Episcopal/Catholic churches. Those guys do not follow the evangelical trajectory and wouldn’t even consider such cloying gadgetry
Maybe you’ve not heard of the Catholic Clown Mass? And look at those videos to the side: puppets and Halloween. It would seem that a penchant for cloying gadgetry is an equal opportunity affliction. You know, like sin.

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posted December 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Visual aids may be out for making a point, but scripted theatrics, now that’s where it’s at!
Watch out Sue B. you may lose your “you go girl” status if your not careful.

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posted December 5, 2010 at 10:46 am

I don’t know why this bothers anyone. Satan uses visual aids through movies, commercials, bill boards, magazines, internet, etc, to plant ‘picture seeds’ in our minds. Why do you think so many are hooked on porn? Visual is powerful. Our minds work like computers. When we ‘see’ something it is stored in our memory. It’s just using all of our senses that God gave us to learn. I happen to be a visual learner, so putting something visual makes a sermon that much more impacting and memorable to me. When I may forget the words spoken, I will remember the point made because of the picture memory I have stored. That does not make me a dumb sheep, I’m actually very intelligent and very grounded in the Word of God, however, that is how I learn opposed to those of you who obviously learn audibly and think that should be the only way anyone should learn. That makes me sad to hear fellow believers be so judgmental and devouring one another over an issue that has nothing to do with sin or immorality. How can we be about the Father’s business winning souls if we are so busy chewing each other up over such trivial issues? Jesus used parables to ‘paint pictures’ with his words.

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posted December 5, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I am a kinetic learner. Maybe, just to make Jesus’ words come alive, I will just have to start chopping off my hands and poking out my eyes every time I sin to make scripture more meaningful to me in a concrete, “hands-on” way. Forget learning how to love by actively loving. Thats wussy stuff.

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Chas Cliftonb

posted December 5, 2010 at 6:13 pm

The issues in this post make sense if you think in terms of anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse’s categories of “doctrinal” religions versus “imagistic” ones.
Protestant Christianity is highly doctrinal—lots of talk, not much “embodied” religious experience. The model is a person sitting down while being preached at, sung at, etc. (Even Episcopalians move between standing, sitting, kneeling, and sometimes genuflecting.) Doctrinal religions have lots of “semantic knowledge” and focus on the individual.
Imagistic religions are focused on ritual episodes. A classic one might be the old Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, an experience that took several days, counting the preparations, and was only experienced once in a person’s lifetime—yet it was of tremendous importance and so respected that will have no definite knowledge of what took place in the sanctuary.
What matters is that people go through these episodes together and are forever linked with those who experienced them—kind of like combat veterans, but in a less traumatic way.
These pastors with their beams and beds are trying in an unconscious way to be more imagistic, but they fail because there is not enough shared, embodied, experience among the congregation—no movement, no pain, no pleasure, no exhilaration.

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Tony D.

posted December 8, 2010 at 4:37 pm

SimplyHis, try visiting an Orthodox church some time. Now THAT’S visual!

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Follower of The Way

posted February 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

LOL at “Do veins popping out of your neck count?” I’m dying here. This is too good.

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Your Name

posted April 29, 2011 at 1:00 am

Those god-awful visual aids… like throwing an apple at a mirror in the middle of the sermon and scaring everybody, or bringing a freaking chainsaw or hammer or something to make a point… -_-

I’m starting to realize just how annoying it all was… because %100 of everything you have said on this blog is true… nostalgia…

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