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Strongest of the Senses

A news story I read today about a popular picture-sharing smartphone app included this quote: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.” This struck me. It’s common knowledge that pictures speak louder than words and that vision is one of the strongest of our senses. Why then do we have such trouble including pictures in our worship? Certainly it can’t be a carryover from the fifteenth-century Reformation, can it?

An accountant friend has described to me how he sees numbers in his mind. To him, numbers “float” rather than appear in the linear way I imagine them, spreadsheet-like, in rows and columns. In response, I can’t begin to describe to him how words or visual elements come together in my head. Do a quick survey and you’ll find big differences in how each of us imagines the world around us. So why should worship be words only, or words and music only?

It’s time to take those differences seriously and make some changes.

Dear pastor, it’s very likely that you’re part of the problem. You’re probably a word person—the kind of person who is wired to write and speak, one who gets great satisfaction out of finding new ways to present familiar stories and concepts. This might be hard for you to do, but perhaps you should find a picture person to share your worship plan with. Ask them to provide a picture—yes, just one—that you can use on-screen or on the bulletin cover to represent some part of the text you’ll be preaching on. Take some time—or let your volunteer do it for you—to describe to fellow worshipers why this image was chosen for this text. Then, as you preach, invite people to draw their own versions of what the text is saying to them. And do more than ask; provide paper and pens and be as interested in people’s visual responses as you are in their spoken comments about the sermon you just preached.

Illustrator John Hendrix has been drawing every day since he was seven years old, and he has sketched through almost every sermon he’s heard since. During worship, he says, “Simultaneous drawing and listening transforms familiar language into something new—a feedback loop of symbols, theology and wonder.”

Not everyone is a John Hendrix, of course, but more than half of the people sitting in worship are moved more by what they see than by what they hear. And we’re in the business of helping to move people . . . right?

John Hendrix has been drawing in church for years. See his sketchbooks, prints, and books for sale at store.johnhendrix.com.