In a recent post on the "Ask Pastor John" section of the Desiring God website, he responded to the question, "What are your thoughts on drama and movie clips in church services?" That caught my attention because I use movie clips in my sermons from time to time. We have also used drama upon occasion, although not so much recently.
After making the point that Scripture doesn't forbid it, Piper said:
"I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire. It's going to backfire. It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does. And we'll just go further and further. So we don't do video clips during the sermon. We don't do skits."
I agree that there is power in the preaching of the Word, and that the Word doesn't need "help" to accomplish its purposes. Isaiah 55:11 assures us that the Word that goes out from the mouth of God (e.g., by preaching) will bear fruit. It doesn't need any clever additions from me to be the living and active sword of the Spirit. The gospel is inherently powerful.
I also believe preaching is vastly underrated today. I bristle when someone refers to my sermon as a "talk." It's not a talk, it's a message from God's Word. Mark Driscoll, a popular figure among young Christians today who freely uses media in his sermons, writes that "preaching is the first priority of ministry that leads God's mission" (Vintage Church, pg. 88). He goes on to say that "Preaching is not sharing or chatting but rather proclaiming with authority and passion the truth of God's Word about Jesus."
And there is no doubt that lots of preachers neglect the close, tedious study of God's Word. Many preachers over-rely on media to compensate for their lack of passion and understanding. Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, said it well: "We cannot...be excused if our discourses are threadbare and devoid of substance."
So why do I use movie clips, YouTube videos, and other media helps in my preaching? For at least two reasons.
First, in the Bible I see examples aplenty of people using visual and other aids to get God's message across. They didn't just stand up and preach. For example, the prophet Ezekiel acted out the Babylonian seige of Jerusalem (Ezek. 4:1-13). You might say it was a kind of skit. He also did a little drama with his hair to symbolize God's judgment of Jerusalem (Ezek. 5:1-4). Jeremiah put a yoke on his neck to warn the people of his time of their impending subjugation by Babylon (Jer. 27: 1-2). He used a linen belt to illustrate Judah's unfaithfulness (Jer. 13:1-11). And of course, Jesus taught using parables, current events, stories, and figures of speech. Many other examples could be given. People learn in different ways. Apparently God thinks it's OK for his messengers to use a variety of (dare I say it) techniques to communicate his truth.
Second, there is the issue of contextualization. Contextualization means making the church as culturally accessible as possible, without compromise. It means to communicate the unchanging message about Jesus in ways to which a particular culture can relate. The Apostle Paul said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). He didn't change his message; he changed his approach, depending on his audience. He became like a Jew to win the Jews. He became like a Gentile to win the Gentiles. We might say that he changed his style, depending on the group to which he was ministering.
A perfect example of contextualizing the gospel is the JESUS film. A project of Campus Crusade for Christ, the JESUS film has translated the gospel into more than 1,050 languages, with a new language being added nearly every week. Since 1979 the JESUS film has been viewed by several billion people around the world, and has resulted in more than 225 million people responding with a decision to follow Jesus.
I'm not comparing a sermon to the JESUS film; I'm comparing preachers to missionaries. In my opinion, when a preacher uses a movie clip or something like that in a sermon, he is doing nothing different from a prophet using drama, or Jesus telling a story, or a missionary showing the JESUS film. Granted, dramas and parables in the Bible are inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Movie clips in sermons are none of those. But in my view they are illustrations that shed light upon the Scriptures and help people in a particular context understand the Scriptures better.
As with many other things, it's possible to go too far. I could neglect my study and depend on a clever video illustration to do what only thorough exegesis and passionate proclamation can do. But I don't intend to do that. So, unless I'm persuaded otherwise, I'll continue to pull out a movie clip now and then when I think it serves a good pedagogical function.