Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: 4
“Simply Entertainment?” by Rick Blackwood

ZA Blog on February 6th, 2009. Tagged under .

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In today's post I'll address the third question raised when considering multisensory preaching and teaching, "Is it simply entertainment?" But first some background:

Some fundamentalists view the pulpit itself as a doctrinal issue. Any form of teaching that replaces the pulpit as a means of communicating the Word is seen as compromising and as theological error. One well-known advocate of lecture only preaching complains that, "Instead of a pulpit, the focus is a stage."1 The suggestion seems to be that only pulpit teaching is pure, and any other method of teaching is deemed to be "entertainment."

The same well-known advocate of "lecture only" communication writes: "There seems almost no limit to what modern church leaders will do to entice people who aren’t interested in worship and preaching. Too many have bought the notion that the church must win the people by offering them alternative entertainment…"2

What does "Entertainment" Mean?

The implication is that any form of teaching other than lecture falls into the realm of entertainment. That criticism, however, raises a question: Exactly what is entertainment, and is entertaining teaching an unpardonable sin for teachers? Webster defines "entertainment" as, "something engaging." Is that not our goal as teachers of the Word, to engage their minds intellectually? The word "entertain" is also defined as,’ to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind." Is that not our mission as communicators of the scriptures? Are we not trying to keep, hold, and maintain in the mind the Word of God?

Multisensory I am struggling to understand the complaint? I am having a hard time finding a theological problem with that kind of teaching. Do we not wish to engage people’s minds? Do we not wish for people to hold and keep what we are teaching in mind? In fact, when I check the antonym of entertain on my computer, I get the word bore. You have to ask yourself, are we trying to bore our people, or are we trying to captivate their minds so we can impart truth?

Don’t get me wrong; if we are talking about grandstanding and trying to amuse people, then I too am against that. I have to admit; I have seen some multisensory teaching that was carnival like. I loathe that as much as any lover of the Word. That, however, is not my understanding of entertaining the mind of an audience. Hosea was attempting to use multisensory teaching to entertain the minds of the Jewish people. If that is what some people mean by entertaining…

I Plead Guilty

Calvin Miller makes a revealing contrast between "entertainment" and "interest." "Entertainment and interest pass very close. It’s difficult to tell if a sermon has interested or entertained the audience." He continues by saying, "In some sense then, I believe that all can experiment with how to hold an audience’s attention. To entertain means to occupy time engagingly. Every time I am prone to doubt the value of this engagement, I turn again to the arts for the best demonstration of this. Movies, plays, novel, paintings all have the same glorious virtue: the arts intrigue us as they teach us."3

It’s interesting that scripture admonishes us, "Do not forget to entertain strangers." Heb.13: 2. Each week, "strangers" show up at Christ Fellowship, and our goal is to entertain them mentally and relationally. By entertain, I don’t mean to put on a show for them, but I do mean to engage them intellectually and compassionately.

Answer to Question #3:

Multisensory teaching is entertaining in the sense that it engages the mind.

1) MacArthur. John F. 1993. Ashamed of the gospel: When the church becomes like the world. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 69-70 1993.

2) Ibid.

3) Miller, Calvin. 1994. The empowered communicator: Seven keys to unlocking an audience. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. 152-53

Blackwoodr Rick Blackwood (DMin, Grace Theological Seminary; EdD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship in Miami, Florida, a large and growing multicultural congregation comprised of more than seventy nationalities. Christ Fellowship has been listed in the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America. Prior to his ministry in Miami, Rick served churches in North Carolina. Rick lives with his wife and two children in Miami.

  • Pat 10 years ago

    Good use of a scripture that uses the word “entertain”. I don’t have access to my grammar, but what is the Greek meaning of “entertain” in that context? Might we be able to glean something from that passage to apply here?

  • Rick Blackwood 10 years ago

    Great thoughts guys. Let me share a quick story. Recently, my wife was on an airplane flying from Miami to Charlotte, NC. In the seat next to her was a teenage boy, and he was playing with a multi-sensory devise called a Gameboy. The electronic toy combines verbal, visual, and interactive elements. Rhonda was amazed, not with the devise itself, but the power with which it held this boy’s attention. He rarely looked up. The verbal, visual, and interactive game absorbed his attention for the entire 2-hours.
    Modern technology has definitely become more and more multi-sensory in its communication. We can see the increased stimulation of the senses by looking at the technological progression from radio, to television, to computers. The radio is strictly mono-sensory in its communication, i.e. hearing only.The television is dual-sensory i.e., hearing and seeing.The computer is multi-sensory, i.e., hearing, seeing, and interacting.
    As I thought about how totally absorbed this boy was with his devise, I was reminded of recent research. Some neurological and cognitive experts believe multi-sensory technology has created a multi-sensory dependant culture. In other words, modern technology has made many people in our culture – multi-sensory dependant. Such people struggle to pay attention unless the teaching is presented in a multi-sensory form.
    Researchers believe early exposure to television and other forms of communication technologies generate the onset of this dependency. For example, recent neurological research links attention deficit in children to early exposure to television watching. In fact, according to a study from the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, early television exposure in children ages 1 to 3 is associated with attention problems by age seven. Conclusions from the research, which appeared in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics, indicates that television might over stimulate and permanently rewire the developing brain to be visually dependant when it comes to attention span. Researchers wrote, “We hypothesize that very early exposure to television during the critical periods of synaptic development would be associated with subsequent attention problems.”
    Simply stated: Many people who sit in our congregation, especially the younger people, have brains that are neurologically rewired and neurologically dependant on multi-sensory teaching. Their minds require multi-sensory teaching for maximum attention, comprehension, and retention. Pastors, Christian teachers, and others who communicate the Word have to come to terms with this reality.
    John Stott acknowledges this dependency and the problems it poses for pastors: “Television makes it harder for people to listen attentively and responsively, and therefore for preachers to hold a congregations attention.”
    Anyone who seeks to teach, however, must embrace these neurological facts. Pastors and teachers may wish that their students were more auditory, but the fact is that many are visual and interactive learners. We may wish they were able to learn from our lectures, but the fact is, many cannot. They need to hear our teaching, see our teaching, and interact with it for maximum learning. Multi-sensory communication meets this multi-sensory need.

  • Brian 10 years ago

    That quote from Hebrews did not help your argument. The word for “entertain strangers” is “philoxenia” and has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Any preaching from a pulpit is already multi-sensory–it’s not just someone reading a lecture with no voice inflection or movement or change in facial expression. Like so many things, it has to do with the motivation and who is getting the attention. If entertainment is used to try and overcome someone’s hardheartedness towards God’s Word, then it will fail; if multisenses are used to help make the point to the humble, then it will be successful.

  • Luke Isham 10 years ago

    I’ve been reading the posts and comments so far; an interesting topic but I still don’t see the distinction between the judicious use of good props and multi-sensory preaching. There is something deep in the human psyche that craves simply listening to a good story well told. From sitting around dusty middle eastern courtyards to hearing high quality modern oratory, we crave “preaching.” Every so often a good speaker uses a prop or location to great effect but it’s the act of speaking to people in a space that is timeless and powerful. So if preaching taps into this using the occasional well chosen prop why do we need more? How is multi-sensory preaching different to what I’ve described?

  • Irving Salzman 10 years ago

    Great series of posts. Thanks Rick. I tend to be much more of a traditional, lecture-oriented preacher (though I strive hard at verbal inflection, rate, pitch, etc.). But the points you make are not only compelling, but, I must add, undeniable. The annual Passover Seder/feast was to include items that provoked the children to ask their parents, “Why are you doing this?” In turn, this invited parents to respond and teach their children about the most important redemptive truth in the Israelite nation’s history. Yea, the singular, most significant redemptive act in their history. And the redemptive act to which it pointed in type – the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah as the Passover Lamb of God – was and is itself memorialized by its own multi-sensory ritual: the Lord’s Supper. God couldn’t have chosen more important truths to be conveyed by these multi-sensory rituals.

    No one can deny, as you wrote earlier in the series, that we (humans) learn best differently; some being visual, some being auditory, etc. And, there’s no denying that, throughout scripture, God used multi-sensory revelation and teaching tools to convey important revelation (Jacob’s dream at Beth El, etc.). So, I am with you, Rick! Keep preaching this message. The truth is, if I were any more skilled and adept at PowerPoint, I would use it a whole lot more than I do. But to be sure, we should by all means be willing to utilize any tools at our disposal to better engage people’s minds and hearts with God’s Word, to His glory!

  • David 10 years ago

    I’d never thought of it this way until reading these posts, but based on what Scripture says about baptism and the Lord’s Supper/Communion, are they not both multi-sensory communication? 1 Cor 11:26 says when we eat & drink we “proclaim the Lord’s death”, and is it not one of the chief reasons that many of us immerse that it gives a graphic depiction of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, as well as our identification with Him in that act?
    I tell people all the time that when they get baptized and partake in communion, they’re preaching “without saying a word.” Would that not be true?