You know we’re in the 21st century when you visit a conservative church and they have a data projector. It’s used for showing the words to all the hymns (a big step up for bashed-up hymn books and smudged OHP slides), to show the notices (normally with complete commentary from the church secretary) and to display the minister’s sermon points.
It’s the last point (pardon the pun) that I want to focus on. Now I don’t mean to be mean but it’s easy to see why the church has such a bad reputation. They have the kit but often fail when it comes to using the kit well. Overcrowded slides full of Times-Roman bullet points that don’t necessarily help the listener understand the talk. Just because we use a slideshow doesn’t mean ‘magic dust‘ has been sprinkled on the congregation. Just because you put your talk on the data projector doesn’t make your sermon any better either. In most cases I actually think having a bad slideshow detracts from the sermon rather than helps making it more understandable.
I was reading a blog recently by a web designer who did lots of presentations all over the world (http://adactio.com/journal/1295). Every time he did a presentation he followed some simple rules. The article isn’t written by a Christian but the I think most churches could do with listening to them. Here are 6 points I’ve gained from reading his article:
- Less is more. Beware of clutter. Don’t put too much on each slide. Just communicate one main point. The slide is there to illustrate the talk, you’re not there primarily to do a slideshow. Steve Jobs of Apple fame is an expert at removing clutter from his slides. Check out how he does it.
- Gradually layer up the slides rather than presenting everything at once. By building up a slide gradually you’re building a picture, doing something interesting rather than just listing points. Avoid using fancy slide transition effects, pick one (such as dissolve) and stick to it throughout the slideshow. Don’t use the effects just because you can, use them because they help.
- Avoid bullet points like the plague. The argument is that single words are more effective. You’re trying to represent an idea not provide captions for your talk.
- Use typography to communicate. At the risk of sounding like a Geek, the typeface that you choose really matters. Some are much easier to read than others. He recommends bold Helvetica Neue with the letters pushed closer together (negative character spacing) to give it a funky feel. The colour scheme matters too, pick a font colour and a background so that the words on the slide really stand out. I like charcoal grey, burnt orange on a white background or white and orange on a black background.
- Use Flickr. Avoid clipart – it’s looks cheap and tacky. Instead use photos to express your ideas. Flickr is an online photo library. Anyone can post upload photo’s to it. You have to pay for the rights to some of the pictures but many are available under the Creative Commons licence. This means that the photo’s are free to use. Flickr has an advanced search so that you can specify Creative Commons in your search.
- My final point is if you can buy a mac and use Keynote. Not only is building presentations less of a drudge than it is in Powerpoint (it’s actually fun), but the end result (transitions, rendering etc) is so much better and more professional.
If you want to see what some of these ideas look like in practice, you can download some slideshows from Jeremy Keith’s site in pdf form. They’re all about web design, but you might find the layout useful.
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On 7 May 1963 C.S. Lewis was interviewed by Sherwood E. Wirt of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Wirt: In your book Surprised by Joy you remark that you were brought into the Faith kicking and struggling and resentful, with eyes darting in every direction looking for an escape. You suggest that you were compelled, as it were, to become a Christian. Do you feel that you made a decision at the time of your conversion?
Lewis: I would not put it that way. What I wrote in Surprised by Joy was that ‘before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice.’ But I feel my decision was not so important. I was the object rather than the subject in this affair. I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, ‘Put down your gun and we’ll talk’.
Wirt: That sounds to me as if you came to a very definite point of decision.
Lewis: Well, I would say that the most deeply compelled action is also the freest action. By that I mean, no part of you is outside the action. It is a paradox. I expressed it in Surprised by Joy by saying that I chose, yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.
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I spoke this morning at Trinity on Salvation, looking at what it means to be justified by faith. We’re working through our statement of faith which says:
Salvation is entirely a work of God’s grace and cannot be earned or deserved. It has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ and is offered to all in the gospel. God in his love forgives sinners whom he calls, granting them repentance and faith. All who believe in Christ are justified by faith alone, adopted into the family of God and receive eternal life.
I picked Romans 1:17 as the text, with 1:16 as the context:
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed [Paul says] of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
It went well (at least I thought it did) and here’s the talk. I’ve used Slideshare to create a ‘slidecast’ so here’s the talk and the presentation as well.
Here’s the Wordle:
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I’m just playing around with Slideshare which lets you upload presentations and link them to audio files that already exist on the web. What that means is, if your talk or sermon has a powerpoint you can sync the two to give a more engaging experience to people listing to talks on the web. The site has an editor that lets you pick where your slides change during the talk.
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A friend of mine passed on some talks by Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, about preaching. As a young preacher I'm always looking out for advice about how to improve and this series of talks he gave really delve into what makes a good preacher.
Prepare the preacher before preparing the sermon. He wasn't talking about prayer (although it's good to pray in order to prepare) but more about how a preacher develops. Most of the time preachers only plan for specific sermons. They prepare in a task oriented way. Keller argues that the best sermons are the ones that aren't specifically prepared. In other words, if you read widely, sermons are "discovered". In many ways they find you. Reading widely also helps the preacher become more rounded. The preacher who reads one opinion is in danger of being narrow and rigid, the preacher who reads two opinions can easily become confused but the preacher who reads six opinions is more likely to become balanced.
Read magazines across the spectrum. A good preacher immerses themselves in the world to which they preach. Keller argues that for his ministry in New York the best sources for doing this are magazines: political magazines (liberal and conservative), current affairs, post modern magazines. Anything your congregation will be reading and basing their opinions on. We need to apply this to our context.
Read book reviews rather than books. Magazines are a great way of sourcing information quickly and so are book reviews. Which preacher has the time to read lots of books? Even if you're a full-time minister it's impossible to keep up (physically and financially). The best way to overcome this is to read good book reviews. Reviews in broadsheet newspapers that go into detail about the latest books. This gives you the information to know where new books are coming from.
Read church history. Church history is largely neglected outside of theological college and yet it's a mine of great ideas. Reading church history shows you what's been important to the church throughout history. It also stops pride, when you realise that your insights have already been discovered and written about. It's humbling to realise we stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.
Listen to shed loads of sermons. It's easy to listen to sermons by contemporary preachers and be tempted to copy them. Listening to sermon tapes from the 50's and reading classic sermons stops you doing that (obviously you can't download Luther's sermons on MP3). People will think you're odd if you deliver a Jonathan Edwards' sermon off pat. To hone the craft of good preaching it's essential to listen to / read the masters.
Movies, plays, novels are windows into our culture. TV may provide a few tit bits but the good stuff is in the creative arts. They're also a good bridge over which to take the gospel. More aspects of the gospel are in books, plays and films that we think. They're especially good at analysing the nature of human sinfulness and need.
Don't right people off just because you don't agree with them on everything. I thought this was a great observation and much needed in evangelical circles. There's a massive temptation amongst evangelicals to caricature people. Just because we don't agree with everything a theologian says doesn't mean they have nothing to say. For example, just because someone like NT Wright may misinterpret aspects of the cross doesn't mean he doesn't have great things to say about the resurrection.
Read rapidly through the Bible. This is something I really struggle with, but it makes sense, not only to develop in our relationship with God but also in a strategic way. If you're reading through the Bible rapidly you're keeping the big picture in view all of the time. The better we understand the big picture of the Bible, the better we'll be at understanding the details.
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