Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 14, 2011


Visual images increase the power of preaching  


          The art of preaching has changed dramatically during the past 60 years. Before the era of television it was not uncommon for the preacher to hold forth for two hours. Nowadays the norm is about 20 minutes – and that time is not all devoted to speaking.

Our culture is now visually oriented. Television, which combines visual images with words, is responsible for the change. The impact of television upon preaching has been profound. We have been taught to receive significant information in pungent sound bites. So when we go to church we are no longer satisfied with mere words even when delivered by skilled orators.  

          Wise preachers have learned to inject visual imagery into sermons. They do this with brief clips from movies and other sources. Illustrations now come packaged in CDs. Words are still important but people learn with their eyes as well as their ears. The heart and the mind are impacted by truth conveyed through pictures.

          Recall how we learned about the tragic results of the recent tsunami tragedy in Japan. We saw it on television. Though the media had no professional cameras rolling, they showed us amateur footage made by people who grabbed cameras to film the powerful waves crashing ashore. Someone with a camera is more effective than a professional anchor sitting in Washington or New York. The public is more interested in seeing what happened than in hearing commentary on the event.

          This cultural shift influenced my preaching. I felt compelled to give people a simple message, one they could visualize and remember, one they could understand. I feel affirmed when someone says, “Your sermons are so simple that even the children can understand you.” Some may say that to insult me but I receive it as a compliment. I feel I have failed if I do not reach the children with my message.

          Simplicity, however, can be a problem. The danger is that we can become too cute, too “rinky dink,” until the message has no real meat to it. Simplicity then must be combined with substance for the sermon to be worth sharing. And that substance must always be biblical truth, not the latest cultural whims.

          A hundred years ago people lived in an oral culture. The good preachers gave people sermons they could remember and even repeat. They did this with simple outlines that helped people remember the basic elements of the Gospel.

          Fred Craddock, one of the great preachers of our time, has taught the art of preaching for many years. He insists that preachers need to preach in such a way that people can learn to “say the faith.” Craddock says people are reluctant to share their faith because their preachers have not taught them how to speak, or say, their faith.

          In a conversation with an African American pastor, Craddock asked what he thought was the problem with preaching today. The pastor replied, “Singing is the problem.”

          “What do you mean?” Craddock asked.

          “I mean,” he said, “where you have only a dab of singing, you have only a dab of preaching.”

          He was right. Good singing is necessary for there to be good preaching in worship. Music sets the stage, prepares the heart, for the Spirit to use preaching to touch the souls of the listeners.

          The faith, then, Craddock says, must be a faith we can say, and a faith we can sing. Singing it helps save it from the shrinkage of simplicity since we can only sing the faith in majestic language that lifts the soul.

          Craddock is absolutely right in insisting that the preacher must also live the faith in order for the sermon to set his people on fire and enable them to share the faith with others. If the preacher does not live the faith he proclaims, his words will be powerless.

          The challenge then for today’s preacher is clear: to craft and deliver a sermon that people can say, that people can sing, and that people can live. Add to that visual images that help people see what you are saying, and you have preaching that will make an eternal difference. And that after all is the primary purpose of preaching.  + + +