Preachers work with words. We prayerfully study the Word of God and then carefully use words to craft biblical messages. When we preach, we pray that those words will convey life-changing truth to our hearers.
But have you considered the fact that words are just a small portion of the communication process? Nonverbal communication can either reinforce or hinder your effectiveness as a biblical preacher.
Included in the nonverbal communication process are your facial expressions and gestures; congruent ones will increase the impact of your sermon. If your nonverbal communication is not congruent with your words, listeners will not believe what you are saying. Even in preaching, actions speak louder than words.
In addition to facial expressions and gestures that agree with your words, you can also use visual illustrations to increase the impact of your sermons.1 This article will highlight five forms of visual illustrations that, when used appropriately, will make your words more powerful.
This first example of a visual illustration can be found in a sermon titled “What Jesus Taught About the Judgment.”2 To illustrate the anxiety that some Christians feel when thinking about the coming judgment, the preacher recounted the experience of a child standing before a judge. To the child, the judge’s gavel looked like a deadly weapon. To increase the impact of the illustration, the preacher decided to look for a judge’s gavel that he could hold in his hand while preaching. A few days before the sermon, a member of the worship team found something even better than a regular judge’s gavel. While in the process of ordering a wooden gavel at a local trophy store, she noticed a massive gavel hanging on the wall. This oversized gavel was more than three feet long, and she was able to borrow it. When this dramatic visual aid was lifted up by the preacher during the recounting of his childhood experience, the impact of the words was greatly increased. Following the sermon, a businessman approached the preacher, pointed at the oversized gavel, and said, “That’s exactly how I felt about the judgment when I was growing up. I was afraid. That sermon really helped me to understand what Jesus taught about the judgment. I could really love a Savior like that!”
In a series of sermons titled Healthy Christians, 3 another example of a visual illustration was found. This illustration provided a visual motif for the entire sermon series. Large 24-inch letters were cut out of 5-inch thick styrofoam to spell the title of the sermon series, HEALTHY CHRISTIANS. The letters for HEALTHY were created using a Comic Sans font with each letter painted a bright, different color. These letters were balanced on top of the letters for the word CHRISTIANS, which were created using an Arial font and painted black. The theme of balance was conveyed by balancing HEALTHY CHRISTIANS on top of a full-size balance beam, borrowed from a local gymnastic training center.4 A foam-board cut-out of a gymnast was placed on the balance beam alongside the title of the sermon series.5 This visual illustration was memorable. Creating a visual illustration for a sermon series may require more work than simply fi nding a prop for a single sermon, but the benefi ts continue to be felt throughout the entire sermon series.
In a sermon titled “God’s Masterpiece,”6 the preacher focused on the work of a potter to illustrate that “you are God’s masterpiece in progress.” However, instead of simply using words to describe the work of a potter or holding up a piece of pottery, the preacher brought a potter to the platform, who created a clay pot in front of the congregation.7 While the preacher preached, the congregation watched the potter at the potter’s wheel. An image of the potter working with the clay was also projected onto a large screen at the front of the church. This living visual illustration was powerful because every action of the potter reinforced the biblical truth that we are God’s masterpiece in progress. The actions of the potter will be remembered long after the congregation forgets the preacher’s words. The pots created during the sermon were later glazed, fired, and returned to the church as a visual reminder that we are God’s masterpiece in progress.
Because the form of a sermon titled “The Innkeeper—Making Room for Jesus”8 was a first-person narrative, a seamstress in the congregation volunteered to create a costume for the preacher. The seamstress carefully researched the clothing of firstcentury Palestine and then sewed an innkeeper costume for the preacher. A member of the worship team, with the help of some members, created a visual representation of an inn on the platform. The result was remarkable.9 Those involved sensed the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit as the visual illustration took shape. Creating this visual illustration was just as important a part of the sermon development process as the sermon. Like all effective visual illustrations, this inn did not simply draw attention to itself but rather helped the congregation to experience the full impact of the biblical sermon.
Several weeks prior to the sermon titled “My Prayer for You,” 10 a member had given the preacher a DVD, The Father’s Love Letter, which was a compilation of Scripture texts created in 1999 by Barry Adams.11 It beautifully expresses our heavenly Father’s heart of love. Several versions of The Father’s Love Letter are available on the DVD, but the preacher used the shortest version titled “The Father’s Love Letter Narration Video.” This version includes a reading of the Scripture compilation accompanied by music and pictures. When this six-minute video clip was played at the close of the sermon, the impact was profound, with the accompanying music and pictures reinforcing the power of the Scripture passages that were being read. In the week following the sermon, the pastor received many requests for copies of The Father’s Love Letter to share with loved ones and friends.
These five examples of visual illustrations demonstrate ways that visuals can increase the impact of your words. When you prepare your next sermon, think carefully about the words that you use, but don’t forget visuals even though you might be tempted to think that you don’t have time. However, you can ask gifted spirit-filled people to help you in the creative process. People have the right to be given the opportunity to be involved, and many people are eager to help. Some may not even be members of your congregation.
Remember the importance of variety by not using the same type of illustration every time. Pray for creativity and discernment as you open your mind to fresh ideas and creative approaches. Never assume that the best solution is going to be found in the most likely place. Many materials and help for visuals come from small, family-owned businesses in the community rather than from the large companies. Soliciting the help of businesses in your neighborhood can be considered authentic community outreach. You can return to those businesses with pictures or videos to show how their contribution to creating the visual illustration helped the church family.
Remember also the importance of quality. Excellence honors God. Each person enlisted in conversation for suggestions provides potential for a better visual. Nurture a culture of excellence. Determine to fi nd or create the very best visuals that you can for the honor and glory of God. Take the time to become comfortable with the visual. Then, with all of the prayerful preparation completed, preach the truths of God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that appropriate use of visual illustrations will increase the impact of your words.12
1 Jesus frequently used visual illustrations in preaching. For example, see Mark 9:36, 37.
2 This sermon was part of a six-part series titled “What Jesus Taught.” It can be viewed at <www.forestlakechurch.org>. Click “View an Archived Sermon Anytime” and go to 3/5/2005. As you review the sermon video, you will notice other visuals that are used during the preaching of this sermon.
3 A DVD of the Healthy Christians sermon series is available by calling 800-ACN-1119 or by visiting <www.acn.info> or <www.adventsource.org>.
4 As a result of our interaction with the owner of this gym, we asked permission to pray for her and her gymnastics team during our church service. We also gave her a DVD of the sermon series Healthy Christians, along with a note of thanks.
5 The cut-out of the gymnast was created by projecting a picture of a gymnast onto a sheet of foam-board, adjusting it to the desired size, tracing around the form of the gymnast, and then cutting out the shape with a utility knife.
6 This sermon was part of a series on the Epistle to the Ephesians. It can be viewed at <www.forestlakechurch.org>. Click “View an Archived Sermon Anytime” and go to 9/10/2005. As you review the sermon video, you will notice that the preacher uses a scroll when reading from the preaching passage. Each member of the congregation was also given a scroll of the letter to the Ephesians. This scroll was used as a visual to tie the whole series together.
7 The potter was not a member of the congregation. At the end of the morning service, she testified that her own life had been greatly blessed as she heard the good news of the gospel while helping to preach the sermon.
8 This Christmas sermon can be viewed at <www.forestlakechurch.org>. Click “View an Archived Sermon Anytime” and go to 12/24/2005.
9 For a detailed description of the process of creating the visual representation of the inn, send an email request to <[email protected]>.
10 This sermon was part of a series on the Epistle to the Ephesians. It can be viewed at <www.forestlakechurch.org>. Click “View an Archived Sermon Anytime” and go to 9/24/2005. The video clip, “The Father’s Love Letter Narration Video,” is played 26 minutes into the sermon.
11 Free video downloads of The Father’s Love Letter are available at <www.fathersloveletter.com>.
Permission was granted to show the DVD as part of the church worship service.
12 To dialogue about visuals in preaching or to share insights that you have learned from your preaching experience, send an email message to <[email protected]> or <[email protected]hurch.org>.