Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: 1
Introducing the Controversy by Rick Blackwood
Rick Blackwood is the pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Miami Florida, a multicultural congregation that boasts more than 70 nationalities. This week he'll discuss The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching in a 4-part series. — Andrew
A new methodology of preaching delivery is sweeping Christianity in America. It is called multisensory, because it interfaces with multiple senses. Unlike conventional lecture preaching, which stimulates only the sense of hearing, multisensory communication stimulates multiple senses, i.e. the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, and sometimes even smell and taste.
Simply put, the multisensory teacher recognizes the senses as information receptors. In other words, the senses act as antennas, which receive information, and then transmit that information to the brain for processing, learning, and action. With that neurological fact in mind, the multisensory teacher aims his teaching at as many of those receptors as possible; knowing the more senses he stimulates in the teaching, the higher the levels of learning in the audience.
In addition, the multisensory teacher understands that people have learning preferences by which they prefer to learn and by which they learn best. Stated another way: Some people in our congregations prefer to learn by hearing; others need to see the concept in order to learn it; still many learn best by interacting with the teacher. Bible teacher, John MacArthur, reminds us of learning preferences when he writes: "How do you learn best? Preferences vary from person to person."1 MacArthur goes on to show how Jesus matched his teaching style with learning preference of Peter.
If someone would have asked the apostle Peter what learning style he preferred, he might well have said that the up-close, hands-on style was his favorite. That certainly would have fit his character as an action-oriented man of initiative. As his mentor and Lord, Christ knew exactly how best to convey the truth to Peter’s heart and mind. And as the perfect teacher, Jesus wisely involved him directly and indirectly, in His miracles, parables and sermons.2
The multisensory communicator is sensitive to individual learning preferences and strategically plans his teaching to connect with all learners in his audience, not just some of them. Recognizing that a congregation will be filled with auditory learners, visual learners, and interactive learners, the multisensory teacher varies his teaching style, and mixes verbal, visual, and interactive elements in his communication.
The identifying characteristic of multisensory preaching is the use of props, object lessons, interactive tools, video clips, drama, art, music, thematic backdrops, food, water, smells, and other creative elements that stimulate sensory perception. A growing number of pastor-teachers are making use of multi-sensory communication to elevate the impact of their teaching, and they are doing so without compromising the integrity of biblical teaching.
In this blog series I will demonstrate that multisensory preaching significantly increases levels of learning in our congregation. Levels of attention, comprehension, and retention increase significantly when an audience is treated with multisensory communication as opposed to mono-sensory communication.
There is, however, a heated debate in evangelical churches about the use of multisensory preaching. One evangelical who has been very outspoken against multisensory communication proposes that multi-sensory teaching leads us in the path of pagans. He contrasts our Judeo-Christian heritage, which he states is "word dependant," with paganism, which he says is "image dependant." He warns that by exalting visual imagery we risk becoming mindless pagans, and that we are open to abuse by those who exploit image, but neglect the Word.3 That is quite an indictment against multi-sensory preaching. John MacArthur writes this about the use of multisensory preaching.
Some will maintain that if biblical principles are presented, the medium doesn’t matter. That is nonsense. If an entertaining medium is the key to winning people, why not go all out? Why not have a real carnival? A tattooed acrobat on a high wire could juggle chain saws and shout Bible verses while a trick dog is balanced on his head. That would draw a crowd. And the content of the message would still be biblical. It’s a bizarre scenario, but one that illustrates the median can cheapen the message.4
This author makes a major leap from multisensory preaching to a "real carnival with a tattooed acrobat on a high wire juggling a chain saw and shouting Bible verses." He recognizes that Jesus taught in a multisensory form, but then condemns modern day pastors for engaging in it.
Sides are taken and theological swords have been drawn. In this brief series I simply want to be biblically sensible. The goal is to answer three questions that have been raised with regard to multisensory preaching.
#1. Does the Bible forbid the use of multi-sensory teaching?
#2. Does multi-sensory teaching "water down" the gospel message?
#3. Is multi-sensory teaching simply entertainment?
The first question has to do with permission. Do we have biblical permission to teach in a multisensory form, or is it prohibited? The second question has to do with purity? Does multisensory preaching compromise the purity of the text? The third question has to do with objectives. Does multisensory preaching seek to amuse the audience? Stay tuned as we plow through these questions.
1. MacArthur, John. 2000. Why government can’t save you: An alternative to political activism (Word Publishing), 69.
3. Hunt, Authur W. 2003. The vanishing word: The veneration of visual imagery in the post-modern world. (Crossway Books), 190
4. MacArthur, John. 1993. Ashamed of the gospel: When the church becomes like the world. (Crossway Books), 69