Content is king?
Last week I was sent a link to this remarkable picture. It shows some graffiti on a wall in Nantes, Western France. The unusual thing is that the graffiti displays its message both in sign language and braille – allowing many to access it. You have to admire the skill and ingenuity of the artist who has gone to all this effort. That said, it is still graffiti – a (presumably) uninvited painting on a space which does not belong to the artist. Not only that – but I cannot understand it. Since I read neither sign nor braille, it means nothing to me. (I’m sure someone will let me know what it actually says)
[Paul Morris, of Wycliffe Bible Translators, has now translated it for me: “Entendre l’infini à perte de vue” – “hear infinity as far as the eye can see”. – brilliant!]
Skill of presentation is all very well, but if the content is poor no amount of fancy presentation will rescue it. Whenever I am training preachers, it is necessary to spend a good deal of time talking about presentation skills. This may include everything from facial gestures and body posture to digital presentation software and embedding videos. This stuff, many feel, is the ‘sharp’ end of preaching. They see it as the place where preachers usually fail their congregations through dull, unarresting and unimaginative presentation. They may have a point.
The thing is though, whilst good content can be spoilt by poor presentation bad content cannot be rescued by good presentation. Powerpoint is no substitute for prayer and embedding is no replacement for exegesis. This is doubtless the reason why Richard Lischer poses the question in his book The End of Words , as to how Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech might have looked in Powerpoint! We so easily get caught up in the finer points of presentation and illustration that we often short circuit the earlier stages of the preaching process. In this regard, the capabilities offered to us in a digital age are more curse than blessing. The fact that we can do all these visual things makes us feel that we must do them. A preacher who spends hours tweaking her or his Powerpoint slides compared to minutes deciding what to say has been hoist with their own digital petard, so to speak. When this happens, both preacher and people suffer.
Of course setting content and presentation against each other is a false dichotomy. Both are vital and neither should be neglected. However, preachers know thyselves, and if you would rather spend twenty minutes choosing your slide background than an hour analysing the biblical background through commentaries – beware!
On my first week in Christian ministry I was dropped on at the last minute to speak at a Women’s Meeting – a new experience for me then. The retired missionary who had booked me for it saw the slight panic in my eyes, and clamped a firm hand on each shoulder of this frightened young man. Looking at me sternly she said ” it doesn’t matter what you say dear – just say it loudly”!