I admit it: I’ve enjoyed computer technology for a long time. I purchased my first Mac (an LCii) in 1993. I’ve read (and kept on file) a score of manuals for computers, apps, cameras, and more. Managing a smartboard, DVD player, PowerPoint and 2 computers during a lecture is invigorating (as long as they all work properly).
But I’m slowly falling behind digitally—based on the age of my cell phone, and on my absence in the Twitterverse. Furthermore, I recognize that the digital highway is pockmarked with potholes.
This article, therefore, caught my attention a few days ago: Physicists, Generals and CEOs Agree: Ditch the Powerpoint. A group of physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider recently banned the use of PowerPoint because it quashed the group’s capacity for asking good questions. From then on, they allowed presenters to use only a board and markers. Others have also discovered that PPT slides act like a big glass barrier between the speaker and the audience. PPT slides allow people’s attention to drift, and easily mislead people.
That got me thinking: how are churches using PowerPoint slides? In what ways is PPT creating barriers between preachers and congregants? Preventing dialogue and stifling questions? Fostering lazy audiences? Even being heretical?
When I was a seminary student, my worship arts professor taught us that liturgical banners should avoid words if at all possible, because when people read the words, they ignore the art—they say to themselves, “Oh, now I know what that banner means.” And they tune out. Check yourself the next time you’re in an art gallery, and see whether this isn’t true.
Alright: if as preachers and worship leaders our primary purpose is to transmit information, data or content, then perhaps there’s a place for PPT slides with bulleted points beautifully illustrated.
But what if we want to engage people as active worshipers, as taught in 1 Corinthians 14:26-31? If we want people to contribute, ask , think, feel, and love, then we’ll need to use media that open space, invite participation from the margins, and warrant attentiveness.
More than that, if we want to evoke faith—which can never be manufactured by mere information—we will need to be artists with our words, our relationships, and our images.
So how about bringing out chart paper, and handing out markers? What about stopping the sermon and passing a mic around for reactions? How might a beautiful work of art, displayed throughout the worship service (even on a single PPT slide) communicate the heart of a sermon?
Tomorrow, I’ll be preaching from Romans 5:1-11. I’ll suggest that by boasting in the hope of God’s glory, and in our real life troubles, we’ll be living Jesus’ joy-full resurrection life. (It’s not easy to do both!) The life of Mary, Jesus’ mother, presents the contrasting dimensions of such a life: trusting and pondering at Jesus’ arrival, weeping and being embraced at his death, walking and witnessing at his resurrection. In recent years, I’ve seen various portrayals of Mary that capture the inspiring faith and the heart-wrenching pain of her life. How could a PowerPoint slide ever evoke such a life in us?!