One of the emphases that Dan Kimball made (see previous post) that DID spark my thinking was in regard to learning styles. As I said before, nothing he said was all that new, but him raising it again helped me think through why I do what I do.
I am speaking particularly of using PowerPoint (PPT). I have used PPT for many years. I began using it sometime back in the mid-90’s. And I still do pretty much every Sunday today. I will admit that there are not a lot of differences (I don’t think) in my PowerPoint presentations today than what there were in the 90’s, except I am intentionally making shorter presentations (fewer slides).
But I had toyed with the idea of discontinuing them. I know that many preaching purists talk degradingly about them. And in many business blogs, there is talk about not using them at all because they are often done so poorly and are so distracting. A while back, one of my elders commented that on a Sunday when the PPT didn’t work that he liked it so much better because he could pay better attention by just watching me as I preached. The PPT was (in his mind) just a distraction; I wondered if all the effort put into PowerPoint presentations was really a waste of time.
But Kimball talked again about learning styles. The number of people whose primarily learning style is auditory is very small. There are more who learn best by seeing something, or by touching something.
While he didn’t use this quote, I think it illustrates his point:
"Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the school-aged population remembers what is heard; 40 percent recalls well visually the things that are seen or read; many must write or use their fingers in some manipulative way to help them remember basic facts; other people cannot internalize information or skills unless they use them in real-life activities such as actually writing a letter to learn the correct format." (Teaching Students to Read Through Their Individual Learning Styles, Marie Carbo, Rita Dunn, and Kenneth Dunn; Prentice-Hall, 1986, p.13.)
And that is really why I have stuck with PPT all of these years. I have said that I want people to hear the sermon, see the sermon, touch the sermon (by having a worksheet to write on), even taste it or smell it if we can. Because people learn in so many different ways. And so, I have been adverse to giving it up. Obviously, PPT can’t be the ONLY visual learning activity. An object held in the hand to illustrate a point, a video clip, something like that also enhances learning. But I still hold out that PPT is a helpful tool for impressing the point of the sermon on the hearer.
(Some wag has commented, “Just think how much more effective Jesus could have been if only he had had PowerPoint and movie clips!”)
But I would say that Jesus used what he had in front of him. As he preached on a hillside and talked about the lilies of the field, as he sat in the temple; he spoke of the widow who put her two mites into the treasury; as he held a child, he talked about the necessity of becoming like a child to enter into the kingdom.
If someone criticizes (as they do) that by using props or video we are implying that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are not sufficient to impress the message home in the hearts of people. But if that criticism is fairly leveled at us, it must also be leveled at Jesus. Because he used the objects around him to focus people’s attention to the message.
I guess I would hold that culturally they are similar. Jesus took what was around him in the environment and used it to impress visually the message he was trying to drive home. We preach (too often, unfortunately) in sterile, corporate theater-like facilities that are so unlike where our people live the rest of their lives. We need to bring in a little bit of reality, either in the form of pictures or clips, or objects, or…yes, even PowerPoint…to help people hear and learn.