Worship Media Arts

Big Ideas, How-To, and Articles on Worship, Media and the Arts

Communicating Visually 3: Text to Image

We (the MO Guys) have recently been appointed adjunct professors in the Master of Arts Program in Missional Leadership at Northwest Nazarene University in Boise, Idaho. This innovative online program seeks to equip leaders to effectively do ministry in our twenty-first century by taking ministry outside the walls of the church.

The first course on tap is titled “Communicating Visually”. It runs eight weeks beginning Monday October 22. Each week of the course has a topical emphasis. As a service to the larger community of those seeking effective ministry in this time, and as a glimpse into what the students are learning, we will publish the course’s weekly online lecture in this space.

In the interest of continuing education, we’d love to see your reactions in the comments below. Enjoy.

Note: Click on the image above to advance to the next one.

This online lecture is available for purchase as a PowerPoint file and is ideal for presentation to a church committee or group on the value of communication in ministry. For more information, CLICK HERE.

13 Comments so far »

  1. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on November 6, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

    What do you think? Leave a message if you have something to say about this article. No registration is required to post a comment, but we will moderate for spam and obscene language, so your comment will be delayed in posting until we clear it.

  2. Joel said,

    Wrote on November 6, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

    Text, of course, is much easier than image. It doesn’t take much to put 3 bullet points up on the screen.

    But to create an image takes a very different skill set and a lot more time.

    Our sermons used to be 30 or so slides long with lots of bulleted lists and pull quotes.

    Last week, we only had 14 slided, but I probably spent 3 to 4 times a long on it.

    But the end result was definitely worth it. I’m actually getting feedback and it’s all good. They say it’s much better now compared to when we put the “whole sermon” up on the screen.

  3. Don Johnson said,

    Wrote on November 6, 2007 @ 7:12 pm

    I think you have hit this point right on the head. I have seen many presentations that violate the basic presentation guidelines (like 6×6, sans-serif fonts, multiple ideas on a page, etc.). I have seen just a day or two ago a presentation that was filled with sentences, and the presenter read them to all of us. This could have easily been adapted to meaningful images in support of what he was saying, and in a couple of his slides, could have had images as the main conveyor of details.

    I wish I could take this presentation and give it to many of the speakers I have recently heard as a starting point in teaching them presentation skills!

    Thanks for your commitment to these good practices!


  4. Bob Almond said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 10:25 am

    But there’s an issue here you haven’t addressed. Marshall McLuhan rightly identified the interdependence of carrier and content – ‘The Medium is the Message.’ Image is no more value-free than text is. And while image is powerful, it is also, as you pointed out, highly ambiguous. The difference between image and text does not mirror all that well the relationship between written and spoken (or even incarnate) ‘word’, which is the metaphor we have from God with which to work. The medium we choose affects the message we can communicate, and it’s not just laziness or artistic limitations that press us to choose text over image; it is a desire to communicate ‘something’ rather than ‘anything’. Many of us believe we have something ‘objective’ to communicate.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the ‘text or image’ question is directly related to the ‘modern/post-modern’ debate, and isn’t just a matter of relating to culture. After all, contemporary culture has no trouble coping with vast amounts of text in other settings, from political debate through to modern fiction. The printed book is doing pretty well just at the moment, and vastly outsells the graphic novel!

    This isn’t just about style or presentation; it is about the content that a medium can effectively convey.

    Do you see (read: ‘read!’) what I mean?


  5. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    Hi Bob,

    The type of image we’re most passionate about and the type we’re referring to most often in our speaking and writing is “commercial” art (or art for the purpose of communication). Maybe we haven’t fully captured that yet, but this is an 8 week course and these presentations build on one another.

    In our methodology, art is not necessarily meant to stand on its own. We think of image working in tandem with the written and spoken word. Our congregations are ideally guided through the interpretation of the Word through the various communication forms at our disposal. This means that visuals are closely tied to sermon and bulletin.

    While some might advocate putting up an image and letting people draw their own meaning from it, we are fans of guiding an interpretation of image toward truth. Although fine and/or abstract art can be powerful, in terms of communication, those styles tend to have esoteric and/or open ended meanings. Commercial art can also bring about multiple meanings, but it is more focused than other forms.

    So when we use commercial art for worship, multiple levels of meaning (some we can’t control) will emerge. We’re not fearful of the ability art has to communicate additional meanings though. When image is bathed in prayer and study, the Spirit will work that part out.

    When it comes to the screen, we are adamant about the use of image over text. The screen is a visual medium.

    You are correct that novels still sell and sell well. They are part of a text based medium. Of course when novels become movies, they aren’t simply words on a screen for 2 hours, they are communicated through the visual medium with actors, sets, movement, special effects, and everything that is part of the visual language of film.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response, and for helping us to further refine this topic.

    – Jason
    The MO Guys

  6. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for writing. I want to concur with what Jason said and also add a couple of more cents.

    We’d agree that neither text, nor image, are value free, and we’d also agree that the medium we choose affects the message we communicate. I want to clarify that the use of image is not tied, in our mind, to relating to culture, any more than the decision of the Apsotle Paul to write with letters, make use of Roman roads, or any of his innovative methodologies was an attempt to “relate” to his culture. The implication of that statement is of “chasing the zeitgeist” or running after relevancy. To the contrary, we’re asking churches, if they aim to use the screen, which is a great idea, to develop some kind of understanding about it as a medium independent from the printed word.

    Each medium has its fortes. As Jason said, we’d do a disservice to our readership by not acknowledging the benefits each medium brings to the table. One of the beauties of image is its very ability to facilitate multiple meanings. This may scare some, as it would lead to “anything”, to use your word.

    Let me ask this: Can you visualize the Sanhedrin, with their exact oral tradition, saying the same thing when Jesus would teach by simply speaking of a mustard seed or a lamp on a stand? (Pause for effect) We’d encourage anyone thinking through these things to study Mark 4:1-34, and notice Jesus’ specific decision to steer clear of the popular methodologies of his day and instead embrace a street-level, open-ended approach to communication.

    On Marshall McLuhan: Yes, he gave the world the gift of understanding the dynamics of, as you said, carrier and content. I would argue though that the reason his famous axiom still floats around popular culture (certainly moreso than around communications theory) is because of, well, its open-ended meaning. It’s a pithy one-liner that makes great ad copy. It induces multiple meanings. Basically, it’s an ad slogan. Yes, there’s a symbiotic relationship between medium and message. No, it’s not causal.

    For example, your preference for precision of meaning reveals your modern era sensibilities, and I would argue is a straw man. Text doesn’t have “objectivity” cornered. It is just as capable, as is the spoken word, of twisting truth. On the other hand, an image can represent truth quite well. Look to the Bible, for example, and the means by which God has communicated visually, form the burning bush to the use of parables, to, a you inferred, the very Incarnation itself, a visual manifestation of God, with all of the meaning that entails. Truth is mroe than facts.

    We hesitate to get too much into the morass of modernism versus whatever comes next. A lot of garbage has gotten sucked down into that incinerator. What we will do, though, is speak with confidence about the ability of the visual medium to communicate Jesus, the Word of God.

    – Len
    The MO Guys

  7. Midnight Oil Productions | Reading | Archive » Communicating Visually 1: Introduction said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

    […] Communicating Visually 3: Text to Image […]

  8. Mike Johnson said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

    I love images — we’re a small church but have a hi tech video person and a congregation that, though older, OK’d installing a failry sophisticated projector,computer, screen (we use MediaShout). And put a big flat screen TV in our entryway, too. I often do film clips as sermon illustrations. Rich (our “hi tech minister”) and I collaborate on main theme graphics. I have ideas, he’s great with PhotoShop. But in a small church coming up with images is really, really, really hard sometimes — especially if there’s not time to really think about it and let the theme marinate till an image comes to mind. And images are expensive, unless you can find the occasional copyright-free image via Google. Any image-source ideas for small-budget churches.

  9. Bob Almond said,

    Wrote on November 7, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

    Guys – thanks for the responses, most of which I concur with. And thanks for the clarifications. Incidentally, you come close to proving another pet theory of mine, which is that precision in communication follows not simply from the means of communication, but also (even predominantly) from the effectiveness of the feedback systems – we can come to understand each other well, because I can reply to you, and you to me. But, as I think you accept, some media lend themselves better to the communication of one aspect of truth than another.

    So – when Paul gets into a discussion about the relative merits of tongues and prophecy, and the need to prioritise the communication of God’s revelation to the unbeliever, the appropriate vehicle for that is largely words. And Paul often reasons in quite a similar way in his epistles to the Sanhedrin you mention. But Jesus has a different task to address when he teaches in parables – he explicitly indicates that he wants to leave ambiguity in what he says, so that some may opt not to believe.

    All I’m trying to suggest is that, while I agree with what you propose about image over text ‘on screen’ most of the time, there are, it seems to me, some occasions on which we could usefully either display text or display nothing.

    Here’s an example. It may sound trivial. During a song, we display the words of a song. Image is at best secondary, at worst a distraction. Why? Because we’re trying to communicate something quite tightly limited for a specific purpose. In just the same way, there are times during a sermon when I might want to do that, and use text, not image to do so. There are other times when I want people to imagine, to dream (not literally!), to explore. And open-ended image really helps there.

    Not disagreeing with you guys – just exploring. And enjoying the journey. You might like to know that the Church I pastor has been pioneering the use of image in worship and preaching for 10-12 years now, so I’m with you!


  10. Chris Marchio said,

    Wrote on November 8, 2007 @ 9:16 am

    Just thought I would share a technique my pastor uses at my church. He used to utilize a white-board up at the front to communicate main points and visual aid graphics that he would write/draw as he went along (nothing really pre-prepared). The drawbacks on that were limited space and poor visibility. To overcome those drawbacks, he has now migrated that same white-board style into the use of a tablet PC connected wirelessly to the projector system, working in tandem with any pre-prepared PowerPoint materials that are on the laptop back in the sound booth.

  11. Gene said,

    Wrote on November 8, 2007 @ 10:34 pm

    Mike — check out stock.xchng (http://www.sxc.hu). While not all the images there are freely usable (you need to check the terms for each image), many of them are, and there’s some great images there. It’s by far my favorite source of photos for use in church stuff.

    Of course, the ‘hands’ image that Jason and Len disparaged earlier is from there, too 🙂 I’ve actually used that very image, but not unmodified. I added “Give Thanks” in various places on the image, using different fonts, to show that there are various ways to give thanks. More recently, I did a version with the background blurred, to use behind a sermon on giving thanks as well as songs like Paul Baloche’s “Thank You Lord” that we did as part of that service. The original “Give Thanks” slide was the sermon title image.

  12. Vera said,

    Wrote on November 9, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

    A return to the wordless Word (eg. Ps.19 and Jesus as a baby). I went through your 3 presentations with so many uh-huhs and oh-mys. I am blessed. Thankyou. ThankYou.

  13. Midnight Oil Productions | Reading | Archive » Communicating Visually 7: Recap said,

    Wrote on December 4, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

    […] Communicating Visually 3: Text to Image […]

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