Leith Anderson is both a pastor and a careful observer of culture. The pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is also author of Leadership That Works. Lee Dean of Leadership's sister site BuildingChurchLeaders.com asked Leith about how technology is affecting preaching.
What major developments you have observed in preaching in the last decade or so?
Clearly, the introduction of the experiential into evangelical preaching has been a significant factor. Preaching is not just someone talking, but it's providing sight and sound and experience. This is done in different ways at different levels in different churches. But the introduction of PowerPoint added a visual aspect for a while, perhaps less so now. We see the use of video clips and other visuals, and increasingly in many churches that reach a younger generation, participation through various exercises and activities that are connected to preaching.
PowerPoint is declining?
PowerPoint has been largely a Baby Boomer phenomenon. Younger adults wonder about the validity and credibility of anything perceived to be canned. Authenticity is a critical aspect, especially with younger adults, in the preaching experience. It doesn't seem authentic that a speech is all written out and words appear on the screen at exactly the same time. So PowerPoint is less used with younger adults and becoming more a characteristic of an older generation.
Yet younger adults are very high tech.
It's a delicate balance here, because to be authentic, things can't come across as too scripted. And yet, a certain amount of scripting is necessary in order to use technology. For example, one of the things we're working with at Wooddale Church is encouraging young adults to use their cell phones to text message questions about the sermon and have those questions appear on the screen. That's participation, that's technology, but it's not prepared questions in advance in a PowerPoint that shows up at exactly the right time. So it's high tech, but it's participatory, not scripted.
Can the medium overwhelm the message?
The challenge is to proclaim the themes and truths of the Bible and then to use illustrations or technology to support and reinforce that. The danger is when we are so enamored with a sermon illustration, whether verbal or video, that we use it, even though it does not effectively make the point the Bible is making. This isn't new. This has been a temptation for every generation.
As preachers, we need to be driven by the truth of the Word of God and not by the technology or the cleverness of the story.
So it's a problem when people remember your illustration but not the theological point …
But that happened with Jesus' parables too. People could tell you about Jesus' walking on the water or feeding the 5,000, but they had no idea what it meant theologically. So it's not fair to blame current preachers and a modern generation with a reality that has been around since the first century.
Authenticity is sometimes defined as "preaching from the heart." How do you balance head and heart, intellect and emotion, when you preach?
Aristotle's classic teaching suggests the three components of effective communication are logos, which is "word" or "truth"; pathos, which is "passion"; and ethos, which is "character."
The best communicating is done by a person of good character, well spoken, telling the truth. If someone tells the truth but is not passionate about it, or if someone passionately says something true but lacks character, the message is undermined.