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Powerpoint And All Its Works

Category Articles
Date September 22, 2005

My friend the national children’s work coordinator of the Presbyterian Church in Wales writes to me to announce a “Creating a Powerpoint Presentation” Saturday Conference. It will be “A practical session to create a finished PowerPoint presentation” and costs £10 including a two course lunch. You will need to bring a laptop and your Microsoft PowerPoint software,” I was told, and was warned, “There will be a restriction on the number of people who will be able to attend the courses.”

For lectures and seminars one has no objections to blackboards and white boards and overhead projectors and Powerpoint, but one welcomes them to Sunday sermons as much as a girl would welcome being proposed to by her boy friend with the assistance of Powerpoint, or that a sincere apology were to be made via such a form of communication. So barriers are erected.

The Powerpoint presentation has much to answer for. It has gained ground in churches because it fits into the idea that the purpose of church services is for ‘teaching’ and also it goes along well with the current thinking that the first half of the service is about ‘worship’, that is singing, and that the second half is about ‘Instruction for the Thinking Person who Brings a Notebook to Church’, and in assisting them Powerpoint comes into its own. But if your idea of Sunday services is that every part of them is for ‘worship’, and that the climactic aspect of worship is hearing God speaking to us in the sermons during which the congregation are repenting and loving and pleading and trusting and praying because they are under the living word then Powerpoint is a fearful distraction. Dismantle the thing. What it does is give you the crusts but not the warm fresh bread inside and it’s making the crusts thicker and more inedible. It tells you the MAIN POINTS; they are written there on the screen in large capitals, and they are often also on the Worship Sheet Sermon Outline printed beneath the songs of the day so that you can’t miss the MAIN POINTS, but just in case you did miss them the speaker laboriously repeats them, reading his slide words word for word like a news anchor holding up the autocue. Pretty toe-curling stuff. But we don’t want the crusts; we want the winsome convicting affectionate soul stirring contents.

If a preacher had ever grasped the grace of oratory then he let it go again the day someone introduced him to Powerpoint. A Cambridge Baptist pastor I heard could really use an overhead projector. No clumsy blunders as he picked up each slide in the right order, put them on the screen the correct way up, used the different coloured felt-tip pens for the sub-headings, moved away so that his shadow didn’t obliterate the screen. The master of the OHP, what would he have done with a Powerpoint? Other amateur speakers develop a certain camaraderie with the congregation, with sympathetic smiling watchers as the slide is put on upside down or too near the top. That is never the problem with Powerpoint. It is utterly arrogant. At a recent wedding the groom, who was a preacher, gave his tongue-in-cheek speech with Powerpoint. It was not quite hilarious, but it was enough to make every other preacher present vow they would keep their Powerpoint locked away on the hard disc.

Powerpoint flattens everything to the same emotional level. The thunderings of Sinai, the crossing of the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus, the cursed anathema and darkness of Golgotha, the furnace of hell, the beseechings of the gospel are all reduced to three bullet points and a bar chart. How will a pulpit that thinks in no more than three bullet points ever move a congregation by the incredible news of the incarnation of God the Son?

Soon there will be day conferences on the necessity of the preacher dressing down in the pulpit, but when a congregation decides that its pulpit is a chinos and chambray free zone then that must be recognised throughout the entire church for the humanitarian gesture it is. The sight of the gut falling over the belt is distracting. The greatest dress-down fallacy is that it makes preachers look cool. Formal workwear in the pulpit was like school uniform, it was claimed, and it built a barrier between the suited preacher and the smart casual of New Labour, or fifty somethings abroad. But at least a suit contains the middle-aged body, lending it structure and boundaries, especially concealing the ministerial corporate stomach. The congregation are properly fearful that the distraction of the dressing down will be greater than the distraction of dressing up. Their minister is God’s ambassador, knowing the terror of the Lord, warning sinners of hell, and persuading then to flee from the wrath to come to the crucified Redeemer who alone is life and salvation.

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