“Education doesn’t happen when a teacher teaches, but when a learner learns.”
This was one of my homiletics professors’ favorite phrases, and it’s been burned into my mind. It’s simple yet profound—simple in that it should be obvious, profound in that it forces us to evaluate everything we say and do not against how we teach, but by how our learners learn. For preachers, we must ask ourselves if what we’re saying week in and week out actually is connecting with those who sit within earshot of us.
Put another way, our task is to proclaim the message of Jesus in ways that engage and transform those we serve. We cannot simply present ideas and hope people connect. It’s a tall order, but I don’t have to tell you that. This is what you do each and every week.
One of the chief ways we do this is through stories. Stories go beyond the delivery of data and invite people to connect with a setting and with characters. Humans are built to connect with, and we see evidence as early as Genesis—the story of a God who created humankind and who has been pursuing us ever since. This is the story that transforms us.
The best stories are those that engage multiple senses, and that is why video is such a powerful storytelling tool. We see and hear at the same time, drawing us deeper into the story than just an image or a spoken word.
Technology continues to get better and cheaper, and more and more churches now have access to this powerful ministry tool. Before we begin to use video, however, we first must learn to use it wisely and to its full potential. Video can be used in a number of ways to expand our sermons, but we must first explore some best practices before we turn on the projector.
Before You Preach…
Video Should Never Be a Shortcut
After meeting with the board, spending time mentoring other staff and lay leaders, visiting that sweet older lady who just wouldn’t let you get out the door, praying with a grieving family, settling a dispute between some volunteers, answering e-mails complaining about your last message or the worship team’s new songs, you’re exhausted, and you don’t see how you’ll have time for that little detail: this week’s sermon.
You’re tempted to phone it in. You’re tempted to take a shortcut. You’re tempted to log on to your favorite website, find a compelling video and build a sermon around it. I believe God can speak to us just about anywhere through just about anything; and certainly God can use a pre-produced, theologically sound video to inspire us. We must be careful, however, that we’re not using the hard work of another as a crutch.
We should be listening everywhere, walking around with eyes and ears wide open to hear what God is saying to us and what God wants to say through us to the congregation we serve. We should spend time in Scripture, mining truths that will transform our folks by their proclamation. (Don’t forget, we should carve out time to plan message series in advance so we don’t find ourselves in such a last-minute time crunch!)
Once we have found the truth God is calling us to preach, we can then find the right illustrations to enhance and expand our message.
Illustrate Your Main Point
Video is unique in that it engages multiple senses at the same time. Sounds and images work together to trigger emotions and memories in a way that few other mediums can. Determine what is central to your message, and find a clip that drives it home. I always think, “What do I want Tom and Nancy to be talking about the car when they drive away from church this week?” Figure out what that central point is, and use video to deepen it.
A video, as with any good illustration or story, most likely will be what is remembered after your bullet points are forgotten, so be very careful when picking a video. If you’re preaching Philippians 2 and your focus is on selflessness and self-sacrificial love, look for a video that makes that illustration. Make the main thing the main thing.
Prepare in Advance
A company that works largely with church tech and media folks gave away a T-shirt a couple of years ago that said “I Love Last-Minute Changes.” They were being ironic. Most churches have limited systems that are run by volunteers; adding a video to a service at the last minute can create a number of complications, not to mention increased stress levels. Do yourself and your team a favor and plan ahead. Think through how best a video will fit in your sermon and make a plan with your team well in advance.
Planning ahead is not only good for your team but is good for you. Shifting focus from the pulpit to the projector (and vice versa) can be an awkward transition. Make sure you’re prepared for how you will introduce a video and how you’ll bring the focus back once the video has ended. The use of video should be as seamless as any other story you may tell as part of your sermon.
Obey Copyright Laws
Imagine you have the opportunity to visit another church in your area one Sunday. You sneak into the back and sit down. As worship ends and the sermon begins, you start to think, “This sounds familiar.” The preacher’s opening reminds you quite a bit of the introduction to a sermon you wrote and delivered a few months ago. As he continues, you realize he’s preaching your sermon—almost verbatim. You might begin to think God had laid the same message on his heart, and then he uses your very personal illustration as if it were his.
The preacher had gone to your church’s website and plagiarized your sermon. You probably wouldn’t be very happy, right?
So imagine you’re a video producer, and you discover a church is using your content without permission. Beyond the scriptural admonition of “Thou shalt not steal,” various copyright laws exist to protect those who create media from piracy and intellectual property theft. Make sure that when you’re using video in your services that you have permission to do so. Christian Video Licensing International has a video license you can buy that covers the use of most mainstream video clips (CVLI.org).
Videos from sites such as SermonSpice.com and WorshipHouseMedia.com include the rights to show the videos publicly in venues such as church services where viewers are not being charged to view the content. Content found elsewhere on the Web, such as YouTube.com and Vimeo.com may or may not include these rights, depending on the wishes of the video’s creator. When in doubt, research to make sure you’re covered legally and that you’re obeying the eighth commandment.
Using Video in Your Sermon
You’ve done the hard work of preparing your sermon; you’ve found a video that illustrates your main point brilliantly; you’ve given yourself and your team plenty of notice; and you’ve made sure that all is right in the eyes of God and man regarding copyright. Now you’re ready to find the best spot to use your video.
Before the Sermon…
The following thoughts are floating around your worship center on Sunday morning:
“I can’t believe Bobby is failing math.”
“I really hope that check I wrote this week doesn’t bounce.”
“Ugh…I forgot to take the car in for an inspection. I hope I don’t get pulled over.”
“That stupid meeting is tomorrow, and I’m not at all prepared.”
“These pants really don’t fit me like they used to.”
“Wonder where we should take the family to lunch?”
And that’s just one guy.
People show up to your pews on Sunday with heads full of noise. Sometimes, the best way to grab their attention and refocus it on the sermon is to open with a compelling video. The Skit Guys have an incredible series called “The Skinny On ________.” They have a video on tithing, one on prayer, etc. Multiple characters share their thoughts (humorous and otherwise) on the subject and provide a great opener if you’re trying to corral people’s thoughts around a topic.
You also can open with a video in an attempt to show it before you say it. Let’s say you’re preaching on
During the Sermon…
You’ve presented the passage and explained the context; you’re diving into the meat of your message, and you want to emphasize one of your points. This is a perfect spot to seamlessly throw everyone’s attention to the screens. This is a great time to use a video such as “Strangers” from Igniter Media.
“Strangers” is about the impact our lives can have on people who we may not ever meet. The video presents one of the best pictures of relational evangelism and its exponential results I’ve ever seen. Introduce the characters and then let the video tell its story. After the video, conclude your message by inviting your congregation to make a difference in their dorm rooms, offices, homes, clubs, etc.
After the Sermon…
One of my favorite ways to use a video to enhance a sermon is as a closer. You’ve preached your message, and it’s time to drive the point home through a powerful story. This will be the last word for the Sunday, the thing that will linger with your congregation.
The Skit Guys have a really powerful video called “God’s Chisel” that is perfect for this. You’ve been preaching about the transformation that comes when God speaks into our lives and calls us to be new creations. Tommy and Eddy illustrate how that process looks and feels as God chips away at the stuff that must be removed as God remakes us into the image of Christ.
Using video to make your closing argument for you can be really powerful and can grab the attention of anyone who may have zoned out while you were teaching.
Using video in preaching is not about using the latest technology or about being the coolest church on the block. As preachers, we’re called to use every tool at our disposal to communicate the good news of Jesus in a way that touches and transforms the people we serve. Video is an incredible storytelling tool and, when used properly, can expand and enhance your sermons.