by Matt Erickson
Should technology be used in sermon preparation and delivery? If so, how much and in what ways? Those aren’t easy questions to answer—and there’s no “right” answer that applies to every preacher and every context.
Certainly, technology can be a great help if used wisely. But it can also distract from the message when relied on too heavily.
What does good preaching mean to you?
Browne: Good preaching is biblically saturated teaching that always leads a person to the gospel and not just to life principles or self-improvement strategies. It offers Christ as the answer to our problem, and it offers Him freely.
Ford: Good preaching is communicating the intent of the text as the very heart of God. It should lead hearers beyond principles to a person—Jesus Christ. And it should engage and direct peoples’ affections toward Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation between God and man, between people, and ultimately for all of creation (see Colossians 1:20).
Cucuzza: Good preaching means you are preaching the Word of God and letting it speak, and not making the Bible fit your own ideas. We do a lot of expository, verse-by-verse, preaching and teaching in our church.
How has technology impacted the way you prepare to preach? What technologies do you use?
Browne: The primary way it has impacted me is in my studying. Typically the only book I have open now is my Bible. The other resources I use are online, which has saved me a lot of time and money. And I preach from a tablet.
Cucuzza: Technology has had a great impact on my preparation and preaching. I have been an avid WORDsearch user for years.
It allows me to go deep into the Word of God and explore cross-referencing, word studies, and topics in much more detail than I ever would be able to with physical books, but in a very natural and flexible way.
While it certainly is time-saving, I see it more as an aid to thoroughness, and therefore giving our people the best explanation of the text I can.
Ford: Technology is an integral part in my sermon preparation. I regularly use Logos software for commentaries, Greek/Hebrew word studies, and historical/archeological information.
How can we use technology to help, not hinder, the proclamation of God’s Word?
Browne: I think we shouldn’t be afraid of new technology. However, if we’re using technology to appear “relevant,” we’re not serving the people anymore, but only ourselves.
I think it’s in the attempt to appear “relevant” that our use of technology can come off as gimmicky. At our church, we do simple things like projecting the Bible verses on the screen to help people see what they’re hearing. (We also pass out Bibles before each sermon.)
Sometimes people text in questions, which we’ll address. Also, things like movie clips can be effective if not overused.
Cucuzza: Technology can help by saving time, which frees us up to meet the needs of people. But with Bible study, this can backfire and actually hinder by having so many resources to read and study that you can spend too much time on it. It is a matter of prayer, honesty, and balance.
Also, an iPad is a great companion when visiting people in the hospital, at their homes, or in a coffee shop. I have ministered to people dying in the hospital with my iPad by reading Scriptures, looking up verses that come to mind, playing them music, jotting things down that they need so I can meet those needs and not forget.
I know much of this can be done manually with several tools, but I prefer having it all in one place and having it synchronize and backed up with my desktop. I also preach from my iPad in the pulpit.
Has using visual technology ever backfired on you?
Browne: We’ve had videos not start or the audio is off. We connected through Skype once to a mission team in Europe. It wasn’t the smoothest thing we’ve ever done, but the opportunity for visual connection with our people was worth the awkwardness.
How important is it to use 21st-century technology when communicating the gospel in the 21st century?
Browne: I think it depends on your culture. There are a lot of churches using cutting-edge technology that are growing and discipling many people. There are also churches experiencing similar growth that sing old songs and pray out of the Book of Common Prayer.
The most significant principle for churches regarding technology is that it be used well.
Ford: I think using up-to-date technology can be a great aid to communicating clearly to your people. Utilizing common devices and methods of communication isn’t compromise; it’s relevant contextualization.
People want to know I’m not only good at explaining Scripture, but that I’m also capable of understanding and explaining people and culture, including some of the latest technology.
Cucuzza: It shouldn’t become overly complicated. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). This is an issue of “seeing” the Scriptures with your eyes and ears. Jesus said the words that He spoke were spirit and life.
Do you think the popularity of visuals in preaching is helping or hurting the church?
Browne: If you’re not a visual learner you probably think it’s distracting. However, if you’re a visual learner like my wife, then you’re thinking, “Finally!” There’s no reason to ignore an entire group of learners just because it’s “not the way we’ve done it.”
Ford: I think it depends on whether or not the visuals are sufficiently connected to the sermon and message of the text. In some cases, eye-popping, heart-pulling graphics can work to hide the scriptural or theological weaknesses of a sermon.
In other cases, visuals work to clarify and augment a well-prepared sermon. The strength of a visual for a sermon is usually directly related to the level of preparation that went into the sermon. People learn through multiple forms of communication.
Our goal should be to meet people where they are, albeit without compromising. We can become socially tone deaf if we refuse to communicate with people on Sundays in ways they’re familiar with.
Cucuzza: In many cases visuals help by keeping people’s attention. But they can be overdone and hurt people by getting away from the Scriptures themselves. Too many visuals can lead to distracted people who focus on the “coolness factor” and not on the Word. The Bible is where the power is.
What are some ways to keep people actively engaged in a service?
Browne: Try to make the sermon feel like it addresses the questions of normal people in your congregation. I love exegetical preaching. In our church, we mainly work through books of the Bible.
However, if a pastor is more concerned with covering everything in a verse or passage than he is with inviting his people to cast their burdens onto Jesus, then I think he’s missed the point.
Ford: We should be open to multiple ways of engaging the congregation. We should pay attention to the latest findings in educational theory and talk to experts in the field. Many would argue that the 40-minute, one-way monologue isn’t the most effective to communicate to everyone.
Options like allowing for Q&A after the sermon, and allowing for people to tweet or email questions during or after the sermon could be effective ways of engaging people during the sermon.
Matt Erickson (@_Matt_Erickson) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.