I’ve entered an experimental phase in my preaching where I’ve moved away from using either extensive notes or powerpoint. I call it a “phase” because I’m not committed to it, and the next time I preach I may just show up with a manuscripted sermon and a gig of powerpoint on a data stick. I don’t see my experiment ending any time soon, however.
I started ditching powerpoint for a couple reasons.
First, as a teacher, I’ve observed the mind-numbing, passive learning powerpoint seems to produce. While teaching, I’ve experienced making a point not supplied on the slide. Although I’ve instructed the students that “this is really important – you should write this down,” and even: “this is something that will be on the exam,” I’ll still have the majority of students not make a note. So I’m not at all convinced that powerpoint in fact aids actual learning.
My second reason for getting away from powerpoint is from something I noticed while at church.
As do most churches these days, my church projects on the big screen the Scripture text being preached. Consequently I, along with most people I’ve observe in our congregation, rarely bring a Bible to church any more. On the one hand, like them I’ve got numerous Bible apps on my iPhone. On the other hand, however, I rarely even need the iPhone since all the relevant Scriptures appear miraculously on the screens at the front.
This got me thinking.
In the “old” days (like 10-15 years ago), anyone engaging deeply in a sermon would have needed to crack open their Bibles and locate the relevant text under discussion. And in the process of locating that text, they would necessarily have had to skim over other texts – books, chapters, verses – that surround it. Whether people were conscious of it or not, the process of locating a given text in the Bible was actually an important part of interpreting that text.
Skimming through the surrounding texts reinforces for readers that any given biblical text is in fact part of a much larger literary project. I don’t just mean the immediate context surrounding a given passage (though certainly that), but the fact that a given passage is part of a larger chapter, which is part of a larger “book”, which is preceded and succeeded by other “books”, which books belong to a collection labeled “Old” or “New” Testament.
Every search through the Bible reinforces the reality that there’s more to a given text than the text itself.
Now I think about my own kids’ experience of Scripture in church.
My kids are nine and five. All they’ve ever known is the contextless appearance of a given text on the screens at the front of our church or on my iPhone.
It doesn’t matter whether the pastor explains there’s a wider context involved with this passage: my kids won’t experience the passage’s place in the wide world of the Bible because they won’t encounter that wider world through their incidental skimming of it.
I can’t be sure of the longterm effects of this new reality, but that loss of familiarity with the wider world of the Bible doesn’t seem like a good thing.
I realize that preaching without powerpoint doesn’t counteract this new reality, either. We still read our passages context-free on our iPhones. But there’s something about making the congregation work a little harder to receive their message that seems like a move in the right direction.
Still, I’ll keep my data sticks.
(Here’s a sermon I preached recently without notes or powerpoint: From Ebenezer Baptist Church, Saskatoon, March 9.)