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Weakened by PowerPoint, Strengthened by Connection

An interview with Don Sunukjian

PreachingToday.com: How can PowerPoint help the preacher?

The greatest danger with PowerPoint outlines is they turn passionate preaching into an academic exercise.

Don Sunukjian: PowerPoint grabs the attention of the listener. While PowerPoint lends itself well to some parts of preaching, there are other parts where we may lose more than we gain. The question is, What will I use it for?

PowerPoint is good for charts. I would also use it if I wanted to put a verse up fast and didn't want people to take time to turn to it in their Bibles. I would use it if I wanted to highlight a word in a verse and compare the word's usage in another passage.

When might the use of PowerPoint be a disadvantage?

The most common use of PowerPoint is probably to advance a sermon outline. There the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Most pastors who put their sermon outlines into a PowerPoint presentation do so because they know it keeps listeners tracking and from getting lost. Preachers use PowerPoint outlines to increase clarity of communication.

But PowerPoint slides, or bulletin outlines for that matter, become distracting. You lose contact with listeners. They stop looking at you. If you continually flash the outline, your lock with the listeners is broken frequently. When you look at them, their eyes are focused above your head. You're talking to people who aren't paying attention to you.

The greatest danger with PowerPoint outlines is they turn passionate preaching into an academic exercise. Presenting outlines, especially fill-in-the-blank outlines, says to people: My outline is important; make sure you take good notes.

I've watched how PowerPoint outlines affect audiences. People react to them like a school class. Make sure you take good notes, because there's going to be a test someday. You can see this when, if they space out a little bit and then realize they've lost a point in the outline, they'll look over the shoulder of the person in front to see what it was. Okay, good, I've got it written down. Now I've got it.

But should preaching be information-oriented? Or should it be the preacher's heart locking onto the hearer's heart? It is not important that listeners remember the outline. It is important they grab hold of the one central truth God is after and they commit their lives to it.

Preaching is like Nathan going to David and saying: " David, I want to tell you a story. There's something going on in your kingdom that you don't know about. There is a rancher who has a lot of sheep, and there is another guy who had just one pet lamb. " Nathan does not say, " Here is an outline. You might want to take notes. " No. No. No. Nathan tells David the story looking right at him. David's face reddens, his temperature rises, and David says, " That man ought to die. " Nathan looks him in the eye and says, " You're the man. "

That kind of heart-on-heart passion gets lost in the academic world of outlines and slides and fill-in-the-blank.

How can preachers gain the benefits of PowerPoint without using it?

By using the skills of clear communication.

First I have to decide what I want people to remember. I want their hearts to be gripped by a central truth, which the outline will develop or reveal or establish.

For example, preaching from the Ten Commandments about honoring parents, I show that this command was written to adults, and the word honor as it pertains to our older parents is used financially. In Matthew, in Timothy, in the Corban account, honoring means being ready to take care of your parents financially in their old age.

If listeners don't remember my outline, hey, I don't care. What I want to know is: This morning as you've listened to me, has your heart said to God, " I will do that for my parents; I will honor them financially " ? And have you listened as I've suggested ways you can make that happen?

I can do that entirely through spoken words. Research shows that when your words bring pictures to listeners minds — when you create visual situations, when you describe scenarios, not just putting out abstract principles but fleshing them out with examples — you not only help listeners hear and see the lesson, you also enable them to visualize themselves doing the application.

The goal is not for hearers to get a message down on paper. The goal is to get a message into their lives.

Donald R. Sunukjian is professor of homiletics and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership Department at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

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