by Dean Merrill 


Thank God for technology-really. Aren’t you glad for smartphones, cordless microphones, and e-mail? Long gone are the days of doing Sunday bulletins on messy mimeographs or having to fire up the church furnace by hand at 5 a.m. on winter mornings.

Sometimes, however, the gizmo gives us more than we bargained for. “Technology is not neutral,” says University of Southern Mississippi professor Arthur W. Hunt III in his book The Vanishing Word (Crossway, 2003). “It has the propensity to change beliefs and behavior. For example, any historian will tell you that the printing press hurled Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the Protestant Reformation….

“What most often escapes our notice in public discussion is how new technologies create unintended effects…. Techno-enthusiasts are incessantly expounding what a new machine can do for us, but little deliberation is ever afforded to what a new machine will do to us.”

When I read that, I paused to think about our now ubiquitous love affair with PowerPoint, SongShow and other projection technologies. Personally speaking, I love them; I design my own slides for whenever I speak, and occasionally help my church by running the system on a Sunday morning as part of the tech team. The multimedia impact is dramatic as we reinforce visually what’s being said orally from the platform. The pastor starts to preach, and up comes the Scripture text on the big screen for all to follow. How convenient.

But could we take a minute to ask what this is doing to the average person’s engagement with the Word of God? What used to be a passage on a page in a book is now a stand-alone sound bite. Every time the preacher goes to a new text, here comes the next sound bite.

As one result, it seems to me that fewer and fewer churchgoers are actually carrying their personal Bibles to church these days. Not just young moms laden down with a baby and a diaper bag plus a purse. I’m talking about the rest of us with free hands. “Why bother?” we say to ourselves. Anything important is going to be projected on the screen anyway.

Not that you get heavenly brownie points for lugging a Bible into the sanctuary. There is, however, some merit in being able to scan the context of a verse, to jump back a paragraph and see what Isaiah or Peter was saying just before, to connect the dots of the overall argument. You can bookmark the passage for later reflection during the week. You might even write yourself a cogent note in the margin.

PowerPoint unintentionally serves to atomize the Word of God, breaking it up into a random collection of short clips, rather than a unified revelation. God, in giving us the Bible, did not intend for it to become a grab bag of one-liners from which we select whatever happens to bolster our points. This kind of practice makes the Word less central to our life of faith.

And if you don’t especially need your Bible on Sundays, then maybe you can get along without it on weekdays, too. Personal devotions? Wrestling with the overall point of Nehemiah or Romans? That’s too daunting. After all, we can catch a little something from those books on the screen next month, or next year.

Just as the arrival of the microwave made profound changes in family mealtimes … just as the iPod revolutionized how the current generation selects and listens to popular music … so projection technology is impacting how (and how much) we absorb the riches of God’s Word. Not everything that can be done should be done.

More than a few Christian leaders know how it feels to give a newspaper reporter a 45-minute interview (despite a busy schedule), taking time to fully explain the nuances of a subject such as church growth or ethical decision making … and then see only two sentences used in the final article. We feel used, taken advantage of. We tried to give serious, intelligent answers to the questions, and all the reporter really wanted was a brief clip.

Does God feel that way, I wonder, when his revelation is boiled down to 25 words or less? What are we missing in our push for making everything concise?

Jim Mathias, an Assemblies of God missionary currently serving in Finland (and my son-in-law’s father), tells about his early days as a high school math teacher in Wisconsin. He would stand up in front of a basic-math class of remedial students–the slowest of the slow–and say on the first day with a twinkle in his eye, “Here’s a promise: I will pass you in this class if you bring your book, a pencil and paper every day of the semester.” The slouching kids would think, Hey, I’m home free. I don’t have to learn anything-just show up with the stuff.

What they didn’t realize was that the simple act of coming to class prepared turned them into better students. Having gone to the bother of collecting the book and other materials from their locker, they more easily got into the groove of paying attention to what Mr. Mathias had to say that day. In sixteen weeks they knew more math than they had ever expected to know.

Engaging pew-sitters on Sunday morning is a fervent desire of us all. None of us intend to marginalize the Word of God. We all wish that personal Bible reading in our congregations would grow instead of wither. Our challenge is make sure that technology aids that goal rather than working against it.

What if, instead of displaying a verse or two, we put only the reference on the screen, so people would be clear about where to open their Bibles and follow our spoken reading of the text? Granted, when a speaker says, “I want us to go to the account of the Triumphal Entry starting in Luke 19:28,” some listeners get the numbers garbled or maybe even miss the name of the book. It would be truly helpful for the screen to continue to show the text reference while the pastor reads aloud. That way everyone would be able to find their place eventually.

But if some don’t ever get to the correct paragraph–it’s not the end of the world. There’s also a benefit simply from listening to the Word of God. Some people, in fact, are far more adept at oral learning than at getting knowledge off a page or a screen. When Paul told his young apprentice to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13), I doubt that every member of the Ephesus church had a scroll in their lap. They became grounded in the truth of God mainly by hearing it.

Thousands of people in the worlds of business and higher education have suffered through seminars led by “PowerPoint slaves,” where virtually every spoken word from the podium also appears on the screen. The result is dullness. There’s no suspense, no dynamic surprise along the way. Far better for the speaker to hold “center court,” so to speak, engaging all the magic of good rhetoric-with visual enhancements wherever they fit best. But don’t let the visual steal the thunder of the oral. Don’t let the screen upstage the spoken rhythm. Keep some things to catch the audience off guard.

Whatever we do with our fancy new machines, let us not accidentally reduce the Bible to an ancillary role. It is far more than a resource for one-liners and prooftexts. It is our core revelation from God, the authoritative rule of faith and conduct. Anything that disconnects the individual believer from that storehouse of wisdom is not an improvement but rather a hindrance. We must always remain, and teach our congregations to remain, “people of the Book.”


This article was written 8 years ago by Dean Merrill, and it still poses a very relevant question:

How do you use technology to enhance communication without screening out the Word? Let us know in the comments what practices or tools have helped you avoid screening out the Word when preaching the Word.


Dean Merrill is the author of 10 books and co-author 35 other books. He has served the FCA and many other ministries through his gifts as a writer and editor. He and his wife, Grace, live in Colorado Springs. For more of his writings, see: This article first appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Enrichment Journal and subsequently on

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