Sunday, April 29, 2007

How to survive and thrive in graduate school

In The Blogging Parson, Michael Jensen offers 12 great suggestions for pastors who are taking graduate studies in theology. (And since he's working on a D.Phil. at Oxford, I'd say he knows what he's talking about!)

Click on the title of this post for the link.


Bill A said...

Please turn on comments for the PowerPoint post. :-)

Pastor Greg said...

Sorry about that -- for some reason, my blog has been spontaneously turning off the "comments" feature on the very posts that I'm hoping will attract comment!

Bill A said...

To be polite, Tuft is full of it.

PowerPoint is a tool. It's not the tool's fault that people use it incorrectly. We don't blame the car when someone uses it to speed and get's a ticket. We don't blame the pocket knife when someone tries to use it a screwdriver and breaks the blade. Do we blame the pipe wrench because the plumber did a lousy job fixing the leaky pipe? Do we blame the wrench because the mechanic didn't fix the car correctly? It's not the tools fault it get misused by people.

As an engineer, I've sat through as many bad meetings. PowerPoint has very little to difference as to whether or not the meeting is good. Sure, PowerPoint makes it easier for a bad presenter to do a bad job. But PowerPoint doesn't make a good presenter bad. Don't blame the tool because presenters are doing a lousy job.

If a Pastor is not skilled in PowerPoint, then they should illicit some help. I NEVER let my pastor make the slides we show at church. It's not his area of expertise.

Choosing to ignore a powerful tool just because some misuse it doesn't appear to be helpful. Do we outlaw microphones because it squeals when an untrained operator runs the PA at church? Jesus didn't do it that way - must be bad... Do we ban the airconditioner because someone set it to cold? After all, the disciples didn't have AC.... etc. etc. All of these modern devices make it easier to present the gospel. They help us speak to this generation in a way they understand.

I find it hard to believe that someone who delivers a lousy presentation with PowerPoint will do a substantially better job if they turn off PowerPoint. One doesn't just follow the other.

We should get training, or help, to make sure we present the gospel in an effective manner. If you truly believe you can only do that without visual aids, then that's what you should do. Don't blame the tool, it's your own preference.

Of course, turning off the presentation can be a powerful thing to do now and again too.

Pastor Greg said...

Okay -- so show me a pastor who does a good job with PowerPoint., week in and week out on a regular basis.

Better yet, show me a pastor who has time to do a good job with PowerPoint, week in and week out on a regular basis.

And yes, PowerPoint is just a tool -- but when a tool is consistently being used as badly as PowerPoint is used by most pastors, I say it's time to give it a rest.


Bill A said...

I say it's time for pastors to realize it's not their area of expertise and do something about it.

Either get training and improve your skill set or get someone else to make the slides. Don't abondon a powerful tool because you don't know how to use it.

A pastor will get someone else to lead the music. It's a powerful tool that helps us worship. We don't abondon it simply because we don't know how to play the organ/piano/guitar. We get help.

I'd highly recommend remembering the visual society live in. You will limit your effetiveness if you can't speak in the language the people understand. I personally am a visual learner. A person standing and talking with no visual aides is less than effective in reaching me or pretty much anyone under the age of 30. I'm not willing to write those people off.

We need to improve our skills. Not just quit.

Pastor Greg said...

It sounds as though you have a very smart pastor. Just out of curiousity -- how does your pastor let you know what he or she is preaching, and how much time do you need to put together a PowerPoint presentation for that sermon? (I'd also be interested in knowing if you meet afterwards to discuss any concerns your pastor might have had about the way you chose to illustrate the sermon with PowerPoint.)


Bill A said...

You ask great questions! I am not sure I can give exact time answers, but I'll give it a shot.

We have an average sized American church, right around 100 attenders. With a church that size there is lots of opportunity for one individual to be involved. So I'm pretty involved. I am the head elder, worship leader and I do ALL of the technical (ie computer stuff) at our church.

I meet with our pastor at least once a month to discuss a things at church. Some of that discussion will include planning sermon series, coming up with themes and sermon titles. Often this is enough for me to begin making a background or metaphor to go with the sermon. If I need more clarification, an email or two is usually sufficient to clarify and let me continue. I guess this is kind of like brainstorming, but we end with a fairly good idea of what we want to do for a sermon or a series.

I also have a friend that I met online who lives 3000 miles away who helps create graphics. He is much more talented at it than I am. He and I will email some ideas back and forth, then usually he creates a slide background for me to use. Then I all I have to do is add the pastor's points and maybe a Bible passage. We are usually working on metaphors and themes a month or two ahead. Right now I have a sermon title and theme all the way through July - although all of the metaphors are not flushed out yet.

The pastor sends me sermon notes Thursday evening before they are preached that Sabbath and I make a sermon notes hand out for the bulletin and the power point slides. If we want to use a video for an illustration, I have usually coordinated that before this. For example right now I know that I need two videos for May, at least one in June (probably 2) and at least one in July. So I can already be working on those.

This doesn't include the video loops that we might be using behind the songs. (We aren't actually using PowerPoint in church, but Worship Presentation Software so we can video more easily).

So the time spent on any one sermon is hard to measure because it's spread out over time. We are working out in advance. I can make the sermon slides for a 3 or 4 point sermon with supporting Bible texts in under an hour. That's the easy part. The backgrounds are sometimes easy, sometimes hard. Sometimes my friend makes it, sometimes I make it. So that varies wildly.

The key for our success is in planning in advance and prompt answering of emails on the topic. It sounds hard and like it's a lot of work. In some ways it is. But my pastor told me since we've been planning out in advance, it makes his job a lot easier. This is a big deal coming from him, cause if he's not the King of doing it at the last minute, he's the runner up. So it was some work to get to where we are now, but we wouldn't go back for a minute.

You can check out some of our Presentations on our church website at Check out the Online Sermons section.

Contact me any time with any questions you might have about our process. We aren't experts by any means, but we continually attempting to raise the bar.

Pastor Greg said...

Okay, I'm impressed! (Nice web-page too!)

And thanks to your comments, we now know what it takes to deal with the issues I raised, ie:

The jolly thing doesn't work.
Solution: don't use PowerPoint; use Worship Presentation Software.

We don't know how to use graphics.
Solution: get somebody else to do it who knows what they're doing.

We don't have time to do it right.
Solution: see above.

A good sermon doesn't need it (and a bad sermon isn't helped by it.
Response: yes, but it can make a good sermon that much better for some of the people in your audience.

Good stuff -- but given the fact that most of the PowerPoint sermons I've seen were kludged together by the pastors themselves, I'm still thinking that most pastors would do well to:
1. Turn off PowerPoint.
2. Learn to preach without it.

Once they've done that, then they can set up the kind of process you've outlined.

What do you think?

Bill A said...

Your premise is that some pastors/churches do the "powerpointed sermon" very badly and that shouldn't continue. I whole heartedly agree.

I think our difference is you hold the position that we can do without visual media until we can "do it right." I hold the position that we CANNOT do without visual media and we need to start today on "doing it right."

In the over all scheme of things, probably a fairly small difference - as long as the pastors start heading down the road of "doing it right" sooner instead of later.

This is a pretty good article on this very topic.

I just think this is really important and that we need to do it right - quickly. We don't have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for someone to drop into our laps and fix it for us. Souls are going to hell this very day. We need to be willing to put in the long hours and try to arrest their attention (quote from EGW) and stop that.

If a psstor's sermon is not working because the computer keeps crashing, the projector isn't bright enough, the slides are poorly done or whatever, then those things should take the highest priority. What higher priority do we have other than preaching the gospel?

Bill A said...

The link for Monday Morning Insight didn't work very well. It's on the main page today. The title is "Church Video Ideas: Communicating to those who listen with their eyes" in case you have to search for it.

Thanks for the kind words about the website.

Dave said...

Maybe I'm completely out of touch, but I do almost everything wrong according to the post and people seem to like it. I have received complements, especially from other pastors, for the way I have used powerpoint in sermons. So am I out of touch?

Essentially I put my Bible texts and bullet points on a simply designed slide, no graphics. I use the most subtle animations and transitions. My aesthetic could best be described as minimalist.

I try to preach as though I wasn't using powerpoint, changing the slides and bringing up bullet points as I go along with a small, simple, remote. (BTW, if you're going to change your own slides, do yourself a favor and get a product called a "Power Presenter Remote").

Why do I use the method? People who are visual learners can pay attention to the screen, and people who are aural learners can pay attention to me. My missing link is handouts for the kinesthetic learners.

I use this method for about %80 of the sermons I preach. The others I preach from an outline. My question, would you want to listen to a preach like me? (No hard feelings if you give a completely honest answer.)

Pastor Greg said...

Not having been there for one of your sermons, it's impossible for me to say how effective is your use of PowerPoint -- but I'm hearing three things that I like:

1. You're preaching your sermon -- not reading slides.

2. You're keeping things simple -- not wasting time on elaborate visual effects.

3. You're avoiding the use of artwork -- and given the fact that most pastors are not trained in the visual arts, that's probably a good idea. (Then too, this saves you lots of time!)

Suggestion: can you get someone to videotape one of your sermons? Watching that would probably be the best way to answer your question.

Lacking that, try pulling out a sermon you did several months ago, run through it again with PowerPoint, and see what you pick up this time 'round.

Dave said...

Thanks for the feedback, Greg.

Ryan said...

I realize I'm coming a little late to this discussion but I just CAN'T resist commenting. First of all, kudos to Tuft for a brilliant turn of phrase, "...PowerPoint corrupts absolutely!" I laughed out loud.

I couldn't agree with you more about PP. I've never used it in my sermons on a regular basis, and I cut my eye teeth on the church growth movement and Bill Hybels and Rick Warren and all the rest. I've actually had to defend myself to people who can't beleive I don't use PowerPoint. But I simply tell them that I use it when I need it. If I don't need it, I don't use it. I taught a class at Andrews the other day and there was a photo from my neighborhood that made a powerful point, so I used it, but most of my presentation, I didn't bother.

On the otherhand, I've seen it done very effectively, but I totally agree that if it's just cheesy photos and graphics and words splashed on the screen, what's the point!!!???