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Warning: Power Point Sermon Ahead—Proceed with Caution
Modern technology has changed the preaching event for both those who listen and for those who preach.

It is about time

Modern day computer technology has finally emerged and firmly positioned itself in the context of our church services in the form of Power Point computer software. This software is mainly utilized during worship and sermons to include song lyrics and main preaching points but many churches have found other creative ways to utilize its effectiveness throughout the Sunday service. These would include creative announcements and promotion of upcoming events. Surely we would all agree that it is about time our churches entered the 21st century in its methodologies.

Technology … is a temptation to overuse in an effort to enhance the overall church experience …

As successful as this paradigm shift towards technology in our churches has been, allow me to play devil's advocate on this matter before everyone decides to throw away their Bibles with excitement simply because can locate your favourite Scripture verses with only a few clicks of a mouse. All may not be appropriate on the technological front for preachers or congregations.

The temptation of technology

Modern technology in the church can be a huge temptation. A temptation, that is, for preachers to take away from their diligent study of God's Word during sermon preparation knowing that the Power Point slides can pick up the slack if the sermon is going to be ineffective, boring or simply not going to go beyond the first pew.

Technology also is a temptation to overuse in an effort to enhance the overall church experience. Yes Jesus used object lessons, word pictures and stood in front of effective backdrops to help Him communicate His message, but we will never know, if Jesus walked the earth today, how attached He would be to computer software in His communication strategy. We will never know if He would have carried a laptop in His travels or whether His proclamations would always contain a pixel packing punch.

This renders the whole 'wouldn't Jesus have used the technology available to Him?' argument a moot point. Today we are in a 'screened culture' so it is obvious that we should utilize this technology today in the church but Jesus Himself can be left out of the discussion. We can be thankful technology assists us in getting His message communicated but we have no one to blame but ourselves for its shortcomings. How it changes preaching or how it changes listening.

The good old days

My mother Marilyn can recollect the day when my grandfather, Rev. Willis McPherson, would 'pray through' his sermons on Saturday nights before entering the pulpit the next morning at Toronto's old Evangel Temple. My grandfather preached during the 1950's with godly fear and trepidation as if standing on holy ground to present the unwavering Gospel in spirit and in truth to his generation.

Are today's hi-tech preachers preaching with the fear of God …

Today's techno-preachers may have to spend their Saturday nights carefully going over design templates, color schemes or a particular video clip. Some will even take time to select the precise font necessary to emphasize a certain point. Sunday morning priorities may include double checking the slides or getting to the church in time to meet the church's person in charge of all things technical.

Saving the presentation on a memory stick may expedite the Sunday morning process but this assumes the device gets into the right person's hands by the right time and that the particular sermon or presentation for that morning can easily be located without the help of the church's remaining technical pros having to meet just as the service is starting. Technology has definitely changed the way we 'do church' both on the night before and the morning of and during the service itself.

Paul's 'foolishness of preaching' has changed over the centuries and undoubtedly in the last two generations. I ask you: if that is the new Saturday night pattern for some preachers, does it not seem dangerous? What about the Sunday morning trappings? Are today's hi-tech preachers preaching with the fear of God and as if standing on holy ground? Or are preachers standing on shaky ground fearing their presentations will sound good and look great? Or sound great and look good … depending on their priorities. Are we not in jeopardy of losing something valuable here? Has the preacher's priority gone from 'praying through' to choosing from 'portraits or landscapes'? Let us not become guilty of establishing precedence on the latter instead of the former.

A slippery slope?

What will a sermon sound like or, should I say, look like two generations or even one generation from now? Are we in danger of sliding down a slippery proclamational slope from which we cannot return? Will sermons some day become so watered down that they are reduced simply to words on a screen? We cannot let this happen.

Is technology in the sanctuary forcing us to expect entertainment …

What about those who come to hear the preaching of the Word? Will they become guilty of coming to church to watch the sermon? Will our congregations get to the point of totally disregarding a solid biblical exposition if it looks boring or, in fact, cannot be seen at all? What is technology in the church doing to God's people? Is it changing how sermons are heard? Would the people of God get to the place where they aren't even listening at all-only watching it … or we hope … reading it?

Will Christians concede that their preachers can abandon basic guidelines of preaching as long as the sermon has an excellent 'appearance?' Will foundational principles of biblical interpretation be disregarded in favour of blinds vertical and checkerboards moving across the screen introducing the next main thought? Is technology in the sanctuary forcing us to expect entertainment instead of being brought closer to God? These are a few honest questions we have to ask ourselves—both preachers and listeners alike—in this day and age of technological reliance.

The medium is the message

As the saying goes 'the medium is the message.' Modern technology is here to stay and today's effective communicators may indeed have to master technology in an effort to gain the attention of a culture encircled by screens. Both clergy and laity, however, must not allow the high-tech lure to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in today's preaching. Pleasing aesthetics must never be preferred to power and anointing.

To those who effectively preach the Word in Spirit and truth for today's audience and utilize the technological resources available … I say 'go for it!' May God give us the wisdom to utilize today's modern day advantages as we proclaim the good news to His people but let us caution against overuse and over reliance on the same.

Dr. Richard Burton is the senior pastor of Immanuel Pentecostal Church, Kitchener, Ontario.

Originally published in Testimony, July/August 2007.




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