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lynne baab: sermons in a visual culture

I Inmobiliaria just returned from a research Project trip to Melbourne and Sydney, where I conducted interviews about visual communication and visual wholesale nfl jerseys arts in congregations. Some of the interviews touched wholesale nba jerseys on the role of visual components in preaching. I heard practical Writing ideas as well as questions and deep reflection. Much of what I heard is relevant for New Zealand preachers who desire to exposit the Bible in their sermons.

The need to consider visual components in preaching arises because of the steep increase in visual communication in recent decades. Leonard Sweet calls today’s Western culture “imageholic.” Preachers need to think more carefully than ever before about the ways they want to – or don’t want to – engage in communicating visually.

Some snapshots from my trip to Australia:

A minister in a Melbourne Baptist congregation, as she studies the passage for each Sunday, thinks about art works that connects with the passage. When I visited the church, a large marble sculpture was sitting on the platform. Often she puts a painting on an easel at the front of the worship space. Sometimes she mentions the connections between the artwork and the Biblical passage, and sometimes she doesn’t.

A Uniting Church minister in Melbourne, committed to exegetic preaching, often chooses artwork that connects with the biblical passage for the sermon. That art will usually appear in three places: on an easel in the worship space, on the projection screen, and printed on the cover of the worship bulletin.

A minister in an Anglican church plant in Sydney uses a white board to illustrate the passage with drawings, charts and graphs as he preaches.

A Church of Christ congregation in Melbourne has an artist in residence who often paints during the sermon. I also visited two Pentecostal churches where artists paint during worship. In one of those churches, the words “prophetic art” were used to describe the paintings. Artists are invited to paint what they believe God is saying to the congregation, and at the end of the service, they talk for a couple of minutes about the message from God they heard and painted.

Several of the artists and ministers I interviewed talked at length about the distinction between art or graphics that illustrate a biblical passage or a concept in the sermon, and art that raises questions and makes people think about life and God. Both have value at different times, and it’s worth thinking about what both forms of visual communication – illustration and raising questions – offer as a part of a sermon.

Several of my interviewees also talked at length about the role of the visual arts in helping people feel emotions, in helping us connect honestly with what’s inside of us. One music director, who coordinates the artistic team at a large evangelical Anglican church, said, “We’re made to express ourselves. It’s is good to elicit emotions. It’s real. We’re not trying to create or manufacture emotions. We want people to be moved toward God by what we do.” One of the other interviewees, at a Pentecostal church, talked about the fact that helping people feel emotions as they engage with visual art enables them to turn away from negative cultural forces and give more of their lives over to God.

I want to encourage preachers in New Zealand to consider the way visual arts and visual communication can illustrate biblical passages in a way that is memorable and vivid. And I want to encourage preachers to think about the significance of art as a way to raise questions, stimulate reflection, and elicit emotions.

(see also Lynne’s PDF, ‘making sermons visual‘ – which is also in the Resources section)

Lynne M. Baab is a Presbyterian minister and cheap jerseys the author of Insights numerous books, including Reaching Out in a Networked cheap jerseys World, Februari Sabbath Keeping and Fasting. She has a PhD in communication and teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago.


  1. Great post Lynne, very interesting. Although personally i would find it hard to focus on worship if someone was actually painting in front of me, i’d be far too interested in the painting! But would have to be an improvement on ribbon waving dancers at the front of the church.

    Kia ora 🙂

  2. Scott Mackay says:

    I wonder too if there is a generational aspect to the use of visual communication…

    I remember being at a conference where, interestingly, it was the more senior preachers who used Powerpoint and Youtube clips, rather than the younger speakers. It was just one incident, but reflecting on it, I wonder if younger audiences actually place a higher premium on personal connection with the preacher, rather than visual/media aspects of the presentation. We long to relate to the person rather than the idea or image, because our image-saturated culture is so impersonal.

    That said, I’ve found a great image for a talk I’m doing on 2 Peter 1:12f – a large floodlit stadium in Bremen, Germany. I’m hoping it will help people remember the two floodlights shining on Jesus from the scriptures; the word of the gospel which declares Jesus’ majesty, and the word of the OT scriptures.

  3. I think I’d be a bit distracted by the painting too, Jon. Esp. if it was being done ‘up the front’, etc. 🙂

    And yeah, Scott, I think it’s interesting the different ways people relate to visual communication. I think the style of the preacher and the content of the sermon also play into how ‘distracting’ or helpful the visual bits will be? Interesting to think about.

  4. Allen Hince says:

    My thoughts are that some times the whole visual thing is over done, particularly with the use of power point. Not only can it take sooo long to prepare but actually during the sermon can be very distracting.

    I do use visuals from time to time. I preached a sermon on communication some time ago were I used a telephone, a key pad and two cups with string just to make a point. I thing we can sometimes be to restrictive in using the same kind of visual though, we need to mix it up and even at times have no visual. In fact just stepping out from behind that pulpit will speak volumes.

  5. Peter Hanks says:

    We have power point working all the time, some interesting concept drawings are often displayed above the Pastors head. Just helping us to get the point.
    One of our previous Pastors was chalk artist- he drew a scene on the canvas as he spoke , showing the fact and the reason for the Lord’s sacrifice, then he switched on a small light behind the canvas – The cross was then right central in the canvas. Yes the whole message was woven in and around that picture.
    It was a very powerful presentation.

    Mostly I love to hear preachers and or missionaries who tell of people and experiences which come to life in my mind.

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