If film clips are to be used effectively in preaching, guidelines concerning number and placement need to be observed. How many clips should be used in a single message? For preachers who are new to video usage the prospect of illustrating an entire message with vibrant images can be very seductive. I warn against using more than a couple of film illustrations in a single message—one of which should be an opener or a closer. Movie clips are expansive. If the focus is to remain on the text, it is important not to overwhelm the congregation or your small group.
How does placement in the message affect the way clips are used? There are only three places where clips can be incorporated into a message—the introduction, the conclusion, or in support of a particular point in the body of the sermon. Clips for an introduction need to encompass the sweep of the sermon, but they do not have to be positive in tone. They can also afford to be lengthy. Imagine opening a sermon on greed. The lights go down in the sanctuary and the image of Michael Douglas as corrupt corporate raider Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street appears. Gekko is thundering out his "Greed is Good" speech to investors. It is moving; it resonates. It may even illuminate the hearts of some in the congregation that find that they are inexplicably cheering (only inwardly, I hope). Even though the clip champions greed, what a great setup to a discussion of that sin.
Clips for a conclusion can also be lengthy, but they must reinforce the thrust of the sermon. You should choose clips that mirror the sermon's tone and content. If I were ending a sermon on the Prodigal Son, or the parable of the lost sheep, I might end with a clip from the film Finding Nemo. In the scene, Nemo, a clownfish captured by divers, and who is now on display in a dentist's office, despairs of ever escaping and rejoining his father, Marlin. Just when things are at their worst, a pelican appears on the office windowsill. He begins to recount for Nemo all of the dangers that Marlin has gone through to come to Nemo's rescue. In fact, Marlin is in the bay just outside the office window. The recognition of his father's love motivates Nemo in his struggle to escape his captivity and get back home.
In the middle of a sermon, lengthy film clips can be distracting, and any clips should be used sparingly. In support of a sermon point on renewing the mind, setting the mind on Christ, or the rewards of self-control, there is a moving clip from A Beautiful Mind. The film chronicles the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematics professor who overcame his battle with mental illness by committing himself to a "diet of the mind," avoiding entertaining those thoughts that would trigger his illness. The careful, and sparing, use of video clips increases their impact on a congregation.
The last issue concerns the use of film clips: should they be used before or after a truth claim? Preachers should introduce a claim first, and then illustrate it with an example. The parables of Christ follow this pattern of propositional truth followed by illustration. Teaching what is true is often not enough to move people to change their minds or behavior. The idea that human beings are strictly rational creatures is a myth, as any counseling pastor knows. People are unlikely to act until they are emotionally moved. Dramatizations can take the rational claim and add to it passionate motivation. Tell people the truth, and then motivate them to live it out. The only exception to this rule is when using a clip at the beginning of a sermon as an attention-getting device.