Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor . . . but he (the rich man) took the poor man’s lamb . . . ” (2 Samuel 12:1-4 [NKJV])
Nathan was sent to David armed with a message from God, but that message was embedded in a story. The story drew David in, evoking great emotion as he interacted with the principal characters of the story. Then to David’s great surprise, the story threaded its way through his imagination and into his conscience, causing him to repent of killing Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba.
Prophets and preachers have always used illustrations to comfort and confront their hearers. Ranging from dramatic demonstrations of the prophets to the enigmatic parables recounted by Jesus, illustrations of truth have pierced hearts and changed lives throughout biblical and Christian history.
Using a video illustration in a sermon is simply showing a story, instead of telling it. The Holy Spirit can use a carefully selected video to capture the hearts and minds of a digital generation to hear and understand the Word of God. How can you master the art of video sermon illustration?
Begin with the Scriptures, not the Silver Screen
A friend was joking when he said, “I wish I could find a sermon to go with this great story I heard.” Avoid the temptation of trying to find a sermon to go with a great video clip!
Prepare your sermon first. Like Nathan, determine to come before the people with a message burning in your heart. Study hard and pray long, refining your thoughts and reaching a conclusion regarding the message God wants you to deliver.
Prepare your sermon sooner, not later. Using a video clip in a sermon requires careful selection and planning to assure that it is an aid, and not a distraction, to the message. So set a personal deadline for completing your sermon preparation well in advance, to allow adequate time to include a video illustration.
Illustrate the Heart of your Message
Engaging sight and sound, video taps directly into our senses of sight and hearing. Although verbal illustrations can powerfully capture our imagination, the video clip will often be remembered long after the specific points of your message have been forgotten.
Identify the heart of your message. What is the “takeaway” message you want your hearers to remember days after you are finished preaching? Imagine a situation where you could only speak one sentence to the church, summing up your entire message. What would that single statement be? Arm yourself with the main idea before you search for a video illustration.
“Burn in” the message, not the movie. Because message retention is often linked to the best illustration, be careful to associate the video clip with the heart of your message. Carelessly illustrating a secondary point with video can distract your audience from the main idea, setting them up to quickly forget what you had intended to make memorable.
Never Trust the Ratings (or the Academy Awards®)
Movies can tell wonderful stories, but they can also contain graphic expressions of violence, profanity, sex, and drugs. Although the clip you choose may be morally neutral, other parts of the film may offend members of your audience – even if it was an Oscar-winning film! Ultimately, you want your audience to react to the truth, not your video clip.
Anticipate your audience response to the entire film. Why? Because they often will decide to go out and rent the video after viewing the clip you used in your sermon. Your use of a video illustration will be received as a tacit endorsement of the entire film. If you use a clip from an R-rated movie, you may be inadvertently leading members of your church to go out and view some deeply objectionable material.
Review and personally rate the movie before using any part of it. Since 1968 the Classification and Rating Administration has assigned ratings to films (G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17). A fulltime board of 8 to 13 men and women jointly view, discuss, and vote on the rating a film should receive. Because the process can be highly subjective, you really need to become personally aware of the film’s content by viewing the movie for yourself. If you are short on time, consider an online subscription to ScreenIt.com (www.screenit.com), which thoroughly evaluates film content based on 15 different moral categories. Another option is to subscribe to Focus on the Family’s Plugged In magazine (www.pluggedinonline.com).
Search for the Perfect Video Illustration
Finding a good video illustration takes T-I-M-E. If you have one that you really like, but find yourself struggling to “make it work,” you probably have not discovered the best film clip-yet. Here are some ideas to help you find the perfect illustration.
- Keep a notebook. When you finish watching a great movie or a favorite TV show, pause and jot down ideas. Even commercials can contain content for a sermon illustration. Although copies for public viewing can be difficult to obtain, most feature films will make their way to the stores after several months.
- Buy a book. Several titles are on the market containing ideas for video clips. With each illustration, the authors often provide scripture references, story backgrounds, and suggested thematic applications
- Go online. Websites like SermonSpice.com and WorshipHouseMedia.com offer hundreds of downloadable, high-quality video clips for a small fee. Made especially for use in churches, the videos are topically categorized and can be previewed before purchase. (See the Survey of Video Resources for Preaching found in this issue of Preaching.) There are also sites like MovieMinistry that offer suggestions for film clips that illustrate key topics and themes (www.preaching.com/movies).
- Brainstorm with a team. Set out some refreshments, and then invite some movie-goer friends together to discuss possible scenes from films that could illustrate the heart of your message. Besides drawing on the experiences and memories of someone other than just you, the exercise can be a lot of fun!
- Do-it-yourself. If you have the right person and equipment to help, occasionally you will find the best way to make your point is to make your own video. For example, when trying to stress what a lost world thinks about a particular Christian belief, a series of man-on-the-street interviews will make your point.
Observe the Copyright Requirements
Before showing a video to a public audience, like a church, you must ask yourself the question “who owns the copyright?” The Copyright Act of 1976 expressly forbids the public performance (viewing) of copyrighted media outside the home, even it the viewing is free and you have purchased the video for the church. For videos that you did not create, you must obtain permission from the copyright holder, or violate the law (U.S. Copyright Office www.loc.gov/copyright).
Purchase videos with “public performance rights”. Some videos, like the ones sold at SermonSpice.com or WorshipHouseMedia.com, include “public performance rights” with any purchase of the video. This means that the copyright holder extends to you the right to show the video in a public setting.
Purchase an annual site license. Christian Video Licensing International (CVLI, www.cvli.org) offers an annual site license for your church to show videos produced by most of the major studios in Hollywood. A site license, as the name implies, is good only at a single physical address. The purchase price is based on the average size of your viewing audience. The performance of the video must be in its original format (VHS, DVD etc.). In other words, the CVLI site license does not grant you the right to record or store a portion of the video on your computer.
Contact the copyright holder for permission to show the video. If the copyright owner does not participate in the CVLI consortium, contact them in writing to request permission to show the video. Offer as much information as you can, explaining the context (i.e., a worship service, a retreat setting, etc.), the approximate size of the audience, and the expected date of the viewing. Do not show the video until you have received written permission to do so.
Show It without Blowing It
You’ve done the hard work of choosing the best video illustration. You are excited at the opportunity to powerfully illustrate the heart of your message. You can hardly wait. You begin the sermon, then the time comes to show the video clip . . . and something goes wrong.
Execution is as important as the process of video selection.
Communicate with the Technician. The person(s) running the video need clear instructions from you. When will the video be shown during your message? Will you give a verbal cue? Do the lights need to be dimmed? What are the start/stop times for the video segment being shown?
Practice with the Technician. Test everything to be sure it works. Then, rehearse the transition from preacher to video. If your church has multiple services, everything needs to be checked again between viewings, especially if you are using a videotape that needs to be rewound!
Expect mistakes to happen. When mistakes happen – and they will, laugh it off. However, it is a good idea to never depend on a video illustration to make your point. Ultimately, your message is a word from God that He will use – with or without the video!
Use sparingly for best results. To maximize the impact of video illustrations, try to use them occasionally, instead of weekly. Frequent use will diminish their effectiveness. Use a variety different creative approaches (e.g., props or drama) to illustrate your messages, including video as only one tool among many in your communication toolbox.
Remember the Goal
Notice how David responded as the significance of Nathan’s story penetrated his heart: So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man . . . Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” . . . David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam. 12:5-13)
For months, David carried a horrible, secret sin in his heart and did not repent. In minutes, God enabled a prophet’s insightful illustration to slip past his emotional defenses and intellectual excuses, reducing David to a broken, repentant state.
The artful use of a video sermon illustration can help transport God’s truth deep into the hearts of your audience. What is the ultimate goal? A changed life!
Don Pucik is the Associate Executive Director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention
Online Resources for Finding Video Illustrations
Sermon Spice (www.sermonspice.com). Sermon Spice is an index of companies providing ready-to-use, privately produced video clips.
Worship House Media (www.worshiphousemedia.com). A service similar to Sermon Spice, but with some different features and resources.
ScreenIt.com (www.screenit.com). Need to know whether a movie is family-friendly? ScreenIt helps you decide by commenting on 15 different moral characteristics of a feature film.
MovieMinistry.com (www.preaching.com/movies). A great resource for movie clip suggestions, replete with DVD start and stop times.
Culture Watch (www.damaris.org/cw). Articles and study guides on films, books, music, television and some of the developments within culture as a whole.
Movie Parables (www.christiancritic.com). Features reviews and spiritual commentary on movies from a film critic.
Movie Theme Index (www.textweek.com/movies/themeindex.htm). Movie suggestions for different themes.
Movie Theology: Reviews and Resources (www.cmu.ca/library/faithfilm.html). A list of websites offering information on thousands of movies, including those that offer reviews from a Christian perspective.
Film Education (www.filmeducation.org/index.html). The Film Library section has free downloadable discussion guides for use in secular, public classrooms.
Plugged In (www.pluggedinonline.com). A Focus on the Family site offering movie reviews. A magazine subscription is also available.
The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). IMDB catalogs hundreds of details and facts about a movie.
Sermon Index (www.sermonindex.net). A great resource for audio clips of famous preachers of the past. Combined with a photo of the preacher, it can be very powerful.
Relevant Magazine (www.relevantmagazine.com/pc_movies.php). This site is an excellent source for video reviews from a 20-something perspective.
Books for Finding Video Illustrations
Videos That Teach: Teachable Movie Moments from 75 Modern Film Classics (Zondervan 1999)
Videos That Teach 2: Another 75 Scenes from Popular Films to Spark Discussion (Zondervan 2002)
Videos That Teach 3: 75 More Movie Moments to Get Teenagers Talking (Zondervan 2004)
Videos That Teach 4: 75 More Movie Moments to Get Teenagers Talking (Zondervan 2006)
Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching: 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Zondervan 2003)
More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching: 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Zondervan 2004)
Group’s Blockbuster Movie Illustrations: Over 160 Clips for Your Ministry (Group Publishing 2001)
Group’s Blockbuster Movie Illustrations – The Sequel: Over 170 All New Clips for Your Ministry (Group Publishing 2003)
Group’s Blockbuster Movie Illustrations – The Return (Group Publishing 2006)
Movie Clips for Kids: Faith-Building Video Devotions (Group Publishing 2001)
Movie Clips for Kids: The Sequel (Group Publishing, 2004)