Own It: Using Video and Drama with Your Message

“He did not say anything to them without using parables.” Mark 4:34 (NIV)

The power of story first came home to me when I performed a Christmas monologue many years ago for a large church in California (Listen! – available from Skit Guys). I was stunned to hear post-service that it had brought the Nativity story to life for many for the first time And that was after one of America’s best loved pastors had preached on the same topic. It wasn’t, I realized in a rare moment of humility, that my presentation was better than the sermon. It was that it had enhanced the sermon, had brought it “to life.” Together, we had created synergy. Suddenly 2 + 2 equaled 8.

But I also saw negative synergy at work when I served at another church for which my responsibilities included the incorporation of videos and dramas. Because of this church’s multi-preacher rotation, I had the opportunity to regularly observe how effective—or ineffective—such creative elements can be. I quickly learned that the single most important factor was the degree to which the person delivering the message owned those elements.

Pastor No-name (not his real name), a gifted preacher, had a tendency to “parachute in” on Sunday mornings and deliver a sermon he’d completely re-thought since communicating with the ministry team. The result was that, after he spoke, parishioners often complained about “weird” music choices and “unnecessary” videos or dramas. Elements that should have doubled the power of his message actually diminished it. Negative synergy: 2 + 2 = 1.

When my turn came to preach, I determined to avoid “Pastor No-name Effect.” I took my life into my hands by choosing to include a movie clip at the traditional service, the one where the standard response to a video was, “If I want to see a movie I’ll go to a movie theater.” It was the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz. I spoke about the events (“tornadoes”) in life that “carry us to places we never expected to go” and leave us “searching for a way home,” embedding the metaphor at the center of the message, and even including images of tornadoes in the on-screen notes. After the service, an older choir member began, “If I want to see a movie...” My heart sank. But to my delight, one of the most conservative women in the congregation interrupted, “Normally I’d agree, Mrs. Grumble (not her real name), but how could he have done the message without it? It was what the service was about.”

“Own it” became my motto. Henceforth, I made sure to get creative elements into the hands of whoever was speaking early on, encouraging them to incorporate the script’s or video’s themes and metaphors as deeply as they would a story of their own, to do this when first developing their message, to make it germane, i.e. let grow from the same “germ” or root as their key points. The reason Jesus’ parables resonate is that they’re part and parcel of His message. I can’t imagine His sermon about the Prodigal Son without the story that illustrated it, can you? Supported by His parables, His messages stick in our heads and hearts forever.

When a creative element is fully embraced, it creates synergy: the message is brought to life by the story, and the story doubles in power as it is elaborated upon. 2 + 2 = 8. If Jesus, the Master Storyteller, spoke at your church today and chose to use a video or drama, which one would He use? I don’t know, but I know He’d own it. And the effect would be breathtaking! The power of story. Own it.

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