Seeing the Good News

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

It’s not that words are unimportant or unnecessary. We can agree that words are crucial to the work and message of God. God spoke the world into existence, Jesus is the Word of God incarnate and God gave us the gospel message in written form. So, no arguments from me about the significance of words!

We can also agree that God thought enough of the power of images that he used similes and pictures to convey some of the complexities and depth of his message to his people: pillars of cloud and fire, a rainbow, a pile of 12 rocks, a prophet married to a prostitute. Any how many times did Jesus say, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” and then proceed to use an illustration from everyday life?

So it seems wise for worship planners to consider the power of both words and images in conveying the message. Used in tandem, words and images combine to help people understand and remember.

There are many ways to include visual or audio imagery in worship. Not all formats or styles will be welcome in all congregations, but if we pool our creativity, we might come up with some ideas that will start the wheels turning.

A reader shared this example of her congregation in Acton: For our Thanksgiving service we focused on thanking God for the stories of salvation and being our rock. On the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, each household took a large rock home and decorated it with their family name and other symbols. In our Thanksgiving Day service, our pastor invited families forward to create our own altar just as Joshua did with the Israelites. We kept the "rock pile" for several weeks and used as a reminder of God's faithfulness to us.

Here’s another use of rocks as a visual image: My congregation is traveling through the Old Testament at the rocket speed of one book per week. For the week of Joshua, we had a rock altar neatly stacked on the stage. The following week, to demonstrate the chaos of Judges, a teenager dismantled the rocks, tossing them down the stairs as two men read aloud the verses reminding us that God’s people did what was right in their own eyes. The visual image was even more powerful because of the loud banging sound effect and quaking floor as the rocks tumbled down the stairs and off the stage.

Images often work well when they can be sustained throughout a series, linking the Sunday services together. Advent invites the use of imagery, especially an image that can grow or change as the weeks go by. For example, a classic Advent theme of yearning for light can be demonstrated by a growing presence of light in the sanctuary through added candles, or raising the lighting in the sanctuary.

Another Advent series in our church focused on the various gifts of God, so we wrapped boxes as presents and put more of them on the stage every week. On Christmas Day, all the gifts went away except One. An Advent series on Ruth started with an empty manger and neatly stacked bales of hay. As each week went by, we piled more and more hay into the manger, representing the move from emptiness to fullness.

When I’m asked, “Where do you come up with these ideas?” I have two easy answers:.

  1. By reading and listening to other worship planners and borrowing from their creativity. (I hope that this Network site will become a place where we can share ideas that will bless one another in the work that God has asked us to do in our congregations.)
  2. By brainstorming with creative folks at church.

Here are some of the questions we ask:

  • What truth are we trying to convey in this series or service?
  • What Biblical images already exist to demonstrate this truth?
  • What hobbies, interests, jobs do the people of our congregation already have?
  • How could we connect the two worlds of the text and real life of our members?
  • How would people in our congregation understand the Biblical truth in their own language?

For example, a member of our congregation raises carrier pigeons. Imagine his delight when we asked if he would release a flock from the front yard of the church on Ascension Day.

What other concrete images have been helpful to you and your congregation to convey a Biblical theme?
How do you come up with creative ideas to show and tell God’s wonderful truth?

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