Our friends at FaithVisuals.com recently spoke with Shane Hipps, author of The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. We posted part one of the discussion last month where Hipps uncovered the ways electronic media affect our messages, and how it can be misused. In part two, he talks about what kinds of messages are well-served by electronic media. You can read more from Shane Hipps about the challenges of ministry in a visual culture in the summer issue of Leadership available now.
Speaking from a specifically church-based context, what kinds of messages are well-served by video or other visual media?
Any messages that demand sustained concentration and intellectual participation or engagement are not well-suited to a video medium. For example, the kind of abstract theological reasoning found in the letters of Paul is extraordinarily difficult to express and depict in visual imagery, since video and images offer impressions and evoke emotions. So, if the content that you want to communicate demands any kind of complex reasoning, images and video will actually work against your best efforts. This is one of the reasons that in the Middle Ages, when literacy rates plummeted and the dominant means of communication was stained glass windows, Paul's letters disappeared in the church. And it wasn't until after the print revolution that Luther "re-discovered" the epistles and basically elevated them above the stories of Jesus.
The question that we have to ask as leaders in the church as we consider using video and visual media is this: Are we inadvertently facilitating the disappearance of Paul again?
On an average Sunday, what are some practical ways that you think the church can use visual media without threatening the integrity of our message?
This question is an interesting one, because embedded in the question is the assumption that there is an "integrity of a message" - I don't think there is such a thing as a pure, unadulterated message.
All messages are delivered through a medium and are, therefore, invariably shaped by our choice of media. It's often said in the evangelical world that the methods can change as long as the message stays the same, and the reality is that when you change the methods you necessarily change the message.
This may sound like I'm saying "make sure you don't change the methods, so that we can keep our same message." But I don't believe there ever was an unchanging message. And I don't think this comes as a surprise to God; he has used so many different media for his messages - a burning bush, a donkey, stone tablets, and ultimately the person of Jesus Christ, which is probably the only place that the medium and the message are perfectly united. But God understood that each of these media conveyed a different message, regardless of the content:
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